A Long, Hard Day at #GC77

The Feast of Saint Benedict, 2012

Dear Friends,

This morning I am not going to discuss the lessons appointed for Sunday, and instead I’m going to write to you from my heart. Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life, hands down. It can be said that I haven’t suffered much in my 32 years, and that would be true, but I have certainly had some hard days.

The night, my first year in Seminary, when it became clear to me that ordination to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church was going to be monumentally difficult, was a difficult day. My six months at Virginia Theological Seminary (and the two and a half years of discernment before that) were mired in the depths of the Gene Robinson controversy. I was torn between my call from God and my understanding of what God had in mind for his Church. Thanks to the support, prayer, and confidence of some wise colleagues, I stayed at VTS – eventually being elected Student Body President – and was ordained into The Episcopal Church as a Deacon in June 2007 and a Priest in January 2008. Without the support of my friends, I’d have never been called to Foley, where I am blessed to serve a community of committed disciples who reach up in worship, in to serve, and out in love to the glory of Jesus Christ. I’m forever grateful to those folks who talked me out of dropping out on that night in the West Virginia hills.

Yesterday was hard. It started out like any other day. I had breakfast. I drank coffee. I did some laundry. I attended worship. I left our worship hall on the third floor of the JW Marriott, blissfully unaware of what the day would bring. Sure, I knew what work lay before the House of Deputies, but I was unprepared for what would happen as the day went on. The morning session began rather innocuously. We made some declarations, we passed some legislation, we prayed, and we broke for lunch. Everybody knew what was ahead of us for the afternoon of 10 July 2012, our sixth legislative day.

  • D008 – Affirm Anglican Communion Participation
  • B005 – Ongoing Commitment to the Anglican Covenant Process
  • C095 – Structural Reform
  • A049 – Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships

These were the three hot button issues that have been the elephants in the room since day one: the Anglican Covenant, Structure, and Same-Sex Blessings. They all came to us in the same day. People spoke passionately from their perspective. Stories were shared (which I don’t find all that helpful on the floor of a legislative body, but that’s for another place and time). Prayers were offered. In the end, the House of Deputies voted:

  •  Yes on D008, giving thanks for our place at the table in the Anglican Communion. It goes on to the House of Bishops.
  • Yes on B005, taking three more years to evaluate the Anglican Covenant and to stay in the conversation as it changes and evolves. It goes on to the House of Bishops.
  • Unanimously Yes on C095, developing a task force to study structure and reform. It goes on to the House of Bishops.
  • Yes on A049, concurring with action already taken in the House of Bishops authorizing for “provisional use” liturgical resources for the blessing of committed, monogamous, same-sex couples.

Probably the only thing you’ve heard about, unless you pay attention to this stuff, is the last part. It got picked up by FOXNEWS, MSNBC, NPR, CNN, and was the front page of the Pensacola News Journal. The matter of Same Sex Blessings passed the House of Bishops, in a roll call vote, by a tally of 111 for, 41 against, and 3 abstentions. Our Bishop voted against it. It passed the House of Deputies, in a vote by orders. In the Lay Order, the tally was 86 deputations for, 19 against, and 5 divided (2 for and 2 against). In the Clergy Order, the tally was 85 deputations for, 22 against, and 4 divided. 78% of Lay Deputations voted yes and 76% of Clergy Deputations did the same. In the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, our Lay Deputation voted against (3 to 1) and our Clergy Deputation voted for (3 to 1).

I voted yes.

Here I have a choice. I could start into my story, and how that story played a part in my vote. I could tell you of my Uncle Bob, a gay man who died of AIDS in 2001. I could tell you of his partner, Dan, who died several years earlier, whose parents declared rights to the body, and whose funeral was celebrated by a clergyman who had never met him, and, in fact, called him by the wrong name. I could tell you all that, and some of you would still be convinced that I had defiled the faith as it has been passed down. I understand that. I felt that way, for a long time, not all that long ago.

I could tell you that what we did today wasn’t that significant, how much of what A049 says is very much needed in the life the Church, and that for these reasons I voted the way I did. I could tell you that we didn’t redefine marriage, it is still, in our Prayer Book and Canons, understood as between one man and one woman. I could tell you that our “provisional” use means that we didn’t amend the Prayer Book. I could tell you that what happened today was merely the standardization of something that has already been happening in places like New York, Maryland, and Iowa, where same-sex relationships can become state recognized unions. I could tell you that this leads us into a much larger conversation on the nature of life-long, committed relationships that has needed to happen for a long time. I could tell you all that, and some would say it is all smoke and mirrors and that the sanctity of marriage has been irrevocably corrupted. I understand that. I felt that way, for a long time, not all that long ago.

I could tell you the story of the 90 minutes from 5pm Eastern until 6:30pm. I could tell you the painful intricacies of Parliamentary Procedure. I could tell you how Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies earned a lot of respect from me as she attempted to give many of us an out in a motion to separate. I could tell you how the Vote By Orders form sat in front of me for what felt like an eternity as I struggled, like many in our Deputation, to hear the voice of God in the midst of the many competing voices. I could tell you of the somber mood of the House, compared to the joy and singing of 120 minutes earlier when C095 passed unanimously, as we went into recess for the night. I could tell you all that, and some would still be convinced that I had betrayed their trust and ventured into heresy. I understand that. I felt that way, for a long time, not all that long ago.

I will not try to change your mind. I will not offer apologies for my vote. I will not hem and haw.

I will, instead, say this. I appreciate your trust. I thank you for your prayers. I pray that we can stay in conversation. And, I hope you understand that just because my mind has been changed, I don’t, for one second, think that yours needs to be. We need not agree on this subject to remain in fellowship with one another. This is not a time for arrogant progressive thinking, but instead a time to love one another, to pray for one another, and to give thanks to God that his grace covers myriad mistakes.

Whether you agree with me or not, I encourage you to talk with me. Not by text, tweet or email, but in person. Call me (251-752-0466), and we’ll grab a cup of coffee or a beer and talk, pray, study, and dream. Let’s dream of a Church that seeks after the Kingdom of God and encourages us all to come before the altar of God and partake in the heavenly banquet.

I leave you with the recent publication from my Seminary, VTS, and the call to stay in relationship.

Amen.

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Worship the Lord at #GC77

David knew how to worship the Lord.  In Sunday’s track one Old Testament lesson we hear that not only did David know how to worship, but he knew how to do it extravagantly.  Every six paces, the text tells us, he’d stop, slaughter two animals to the Lord and then dance like a fool.  David’s joy at having restored the Ark of the Covenant was so overwhelming that he couldn’t make it six paces without offer God some sort of thanks and praise.

In the years following 1979, Episcopalians have become more and more extravagant in their worship.  It seems that we take Jesus’ promise that “whenever two or three are gathered together in [his] name [he] will be in the midst of them” and assumed that meant he’d be present in the form of bread and wine, Body and Blood.  Don’t get me wrong, I love our Communion service (well, most of them anyway *cough prayer c cough*), but I don’t quite get why we do the communion thing all the time.  Our Daily Offices are rich, vibrant, beautiful services of prayer and praise.  One might go so far as to call them extravagant.  I’d say, if we’re going to worship together for 10 days, we should say the Daily Office on days other than Sunday.  But I’ve digressed.

What I endeavored to write about this morning is how good and pleasant it is to worship with a thousand other disciples on a daily basis.  As one who sings “in the key of suck,” I’ve deeply appreciated the musical talents of those around me.  The preaching has been elevated and inspiring since Bishop Curry of North Carolina raised the bar for Convention sermons.  People who disagree on almost everything can stand together and promise to give their hearts over to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by way of thanks and praise.  It seems that, if only for an hour, politics as usual go away and the Feast of the Kingdom promised by Isaiah is spread out before us.

I hope that in these last few days, we remember to pray, to worship, to sing, and give thanks.  I hope we don’t get so bogged down in the political machinations as to forget that we are the people of God, the Body of Christ.  I hope that when the painful votes come (and they already have) that as a community, we’ll stand up and say “Come Holy Spirit” and “thank you Lord” at least as often as we say “I encourage you to defeat/adopt this resolution.”

Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in us the fire of your love. That together we might bring forth the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Rash Decisions Don’t Work

It is early, too early, in the morning of the Fifth Legislative Day here at the 77th General Convention.  We’ve only got four more Legislative Days left, and aside from the House of Deputies decision to sell 815 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, we’ve done nothing of any substance.

In a convention hell bent on change, we’ve talked and talked and talked about process.

In a convention seeking marriage equality (or a pathetic facsimile of liturgical equality), we’ve had long debates.

In a convention over-shadowed by a budgetary disaster, we’ve made sure voices are heard.

Some will say that this time has been wasted, that we should be voting on these things and taking our stand NOW.  I was once one of those people.  I’m not much for talking for the sake of talking.  I don’t like meetings that end with pats on the back even when nothing has been accomplished.  I wish we could do this whole thing in 4 days so that I can go home and see my family.

The problem with quick decisions is that they often don’t work.  John the Baptist knows the mess that can come from rash decisions.  In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Mark recounts the story of Herod’s awkward, drunken, lustful promise to his step-daughter, “Ask for anything and I’ll give it to you.”  John’s head ends up on a silver platter because of rash decisions.

Here in Indianapolis, we risk problems of unspecified magnitude if we rush to decisions.  As we heard from The Rev. Frank Wade yesterday, institutional memory is short.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars are ordered to be spent at one Convention, and we forget to ask about the results the next time.  As my deputation has realized, sometimes that money ends up being only represented by a “discharge – other reasons” on the consent calendar in the House of Bishops.

The Good News we have to share is too important to be put in the hands of a Church that makes rash decisions.  So, as the onslaught of legislation comes before us in the next 4 days, my fellow Deputies, first, give thanks for the work done by the committees, and then, be sure you do the work of prayer and discernment.  Listen to the speakers.  Listen for God.  And vote your conscience knowing that a little bit of time spent now saves a lot of time and money down the road.

Deeds of Power at #GC77

The minutia takes over very quickly at General Convention.  After a committee spends some time wordsmithing a resolution, it comes to the floor of the House and we do it all over again.  In yesterday’s Center Aisle, John Ohmer pointed out that 15 minutes of useless wordsmith debate in the House of Deputies equates to more than five 40 hour work weeks.  Yesterday, we wasted close to a year.

I went to bed with parliamentary procedure and process on my brain.  It is easy to sleep when one thinks over amendments to amendments for more than about 22 seconds.  However, as I woke up this morning, I found myself excited, refreshed, and renewed.  It might have something to do with the fact that I got more than 5 hours of sleep last night, but I think it is larger than that.

In the midst of all the  minutia, Deeds of Power are happening here.

Last night, Committee 6, Structure, offered a draft resolution outlining their plan for evaluating and reforming the Structure of The Episcopal Church.  You can read it here.  The resolution begins like few I’ve seen thus far have: with a nod to the work of the Spirit.  “The Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself grounded in our rich heritage and open to our creative future so that we may more faithfully: Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; Teach, baptize and nurture new believers; Respond to human need by loving service; Seek to transform unjust structures of society; Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”  The resolution calls for study, for prayer, and for a gathering of a bishop, a lay deputy, a clergy deputy, and one person under 40 from every Diocese.  This resolution is a Deed of Power because the Holy Spirit is at work.

Deeds of Power are happening in the midst of the duldrums.  I read a story of a woman who was baptized in the fountain at the Westin Hotel yesterday.  Two members of The Official Youth Presence, having testified to opposite sides of the same resolution, shook hands and congratulated each other when they were finished.  People are leaving money at the font during worship even when an offering is not taken.  Deeds of Power are happening.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we hear that Jesus could do no deeds of power in his hometown “because the people took offense at him.”  Let’s not take offense at Jesus.  Let’s welcome him into our midst.  And then, by God, let’s be ready for the amazing Deeds of Power that follow.

there is power in weakness #GC77

Yesterday was a big first step toward wholesale changes in the way The Episcopal Church does business.  It is important to remember that when it comes to high level machinations, most local congregations won’t notice that anything is different, but eventually systemic changes affect the whole organization.

The first step toward fundamental change came when the House of Deputies voted to sell The Episcopal Church Center office building at 815 2nd Ave., Manhattan.  Our budgetary cycle is three years, so these numbers seem inflated, but it is how we do business: debt service for 815 is $8.7 million for 2012-2015, and maintenance is $6.1 million for the same time frame.  Even with a modest rental income, 815 costs the church more than $11 million to operate.  That’s just to open the doors.  My friend Evan Garner has a good post this morning on the symbolism of this vote.

“For many, the Episcopal Center has come to represent the bureaucracy of our church. Often, when someone wants to talk about our church’s administration, they say, “815” to encapsulate it. Using the street address for the building is insider slang for the whole organization. Selling the headquarters, therefore, has less to do with saving money than it does with redefining how we do church.”

The second step toward fundamental change happened when a resolution requesting $200k+ to develop online networks and resource databases was tabled by the House of Deputies pending future resolutions on structure.  This is seen, by my deputation at least, as a harbinger of things to come.  The House is looking for wholesale changes so that congregations, dioceses, provinces, and The Episcopal Church as a whole can more effectively, efficiently, and with greater stewardship of resources preach the Good News of God in Christ.

We are willing to wait.  Of course, we can’t wait forever.

All of this talk of change comes from the fact that the way things have been done before can’t be the way they get done in the future.  Much of it has to do with money, but some of it has to do with worldviews and ideologies.  As one Deputy from Pittsburgh said yesterday regarding 815, “Constantine has left the building.  Unfortunately, Constantine has left us with the building.”  Many see the death of Christendom as a bad thing – a weakness, but this morning, thanks to Paul’s crazy words to the Church in Corinth that will get read tomorrow, “[God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Let’s embrace our newly realized weak state (that has actually existed for 40+ years).  Let’s give thanks that God is leading us to new and exciting ways to preach the Gospel.  Let’s allow the Spirit to make us perfect in our weakness.  Let’s be the Church.  Let’s be the Body of Christ.  Today and forever more.

Mortal, Stand Up! #Acts8

Yesterday really was an amazing day.  The full work of The 77th General Convention got underway as both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops organized for business and began to vote on legislation that had made its way out of committees.  At 7:30pm, approximately 600 people (according to @LelandaLee) showed up to listen to testimony about the structure that will take The Episcopal Church into Christianity’s 3rd millennium.  Finally, at 9:30pm 125 or so folks gathered in the Westin Hotel to dream dreams about that same future.

The Acts 8 Moment gathering was convened by Susan Browne Snook (A Good and Joyful Thing), Scott Gunn (Seven Whole Days), and Tom Ferguson (Crusty Old Dean) to pray, study Scripture, and dream together about how The Episcopal Church might serve God in the years to come.  After we heard readings from Acts, chapter 8, folks shared what struck them.  We heard things like “they went to Samaria… to those people,” “great fear lead to great joy,” and “Philip did something.”  The most important part of the evening came when whoever wanted to come to the mic was asked to finish one sentance.

“I dream of a Church that…”

I encourage you to check out @melodyshobe on Twitter, she is a speedy one on her iphone and got a lot of the responses on her feed.  Sound bytes include:

  • “I dream of a church that…” is more worried about laying its life down for the life of the world than about self preservation
  • “I dream of a church that…” has made peace with the fact that it not a corporation or a kingdom or a government.
  • “I dream of a church that…” is willing to take risks knowing that what God does not bless, God will redeem.
  • “I dream of a church that…” isn’t ashamed to proclaim Jesus. (that was my answer)

(The Diocese of Maine’s communications staff got it all on video – “I dream of a Church that…”)

It was a powerful time of sharing, of hoping for the future, and of mourning for the way things are.  As we prepared to end our time, ready to regather on the 11th, several people stood up and said, “Wait!  We need to actually do something.”  And so, with and empowering word from Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, five affinity groups were formed: one to propose candidates for HoD offices, one to draft legislation, one on dream sharing, one on local contexts, and one to pray for the whole thing.

Some in the room were uncomfortable with some of these actions steps, especially those that use the machinations of Convention, but I have to say that I was relieved to hear other folks who were ready to DO something.  As I drifted to sleep late last night, the opening line in this Sunday’s Ezekiel text would not leave me alone.

“Mortal,” the LORD says to Ezekiel, “stand up!”  Get up.  Get moving.  Get to work.  And make that dream a reality.

Maybe I’m naive, but I honestly thing change is possible.  I really think that if enough of us commit to changing the discourse in the church from anxiety and death to joy and hopefulness that the rest of the Church will follow suite.  I truly believe that if we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, amazing things will happen.  It happened over and over in Scripture.  Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel told the story of God and amazing things happened.  The Apostles told the Good News and dead people were literally brought back to life.  Change is possible, but only if we act.

Mortal(s), Friends, Fellow Dreamers.

Stand Up!

our fundamental identity

The 77th General Convention started to rev up yesterday.  Legislative Committees had several hours worth of meetings, deputies and bishops were oriented, and the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies both offered opening remarks.  During the PHoD’s speech, I began to realize the fullness of our problem.  I tweeted “I’m realizing that the PHoD and I live in two different worlds. Her’s informs mine, but the foundations are fundamentally different.”

She, and many like her, had their lives profoundly shaped by the struggle for equality in the 1960s and 70s.  Out of those struggles, many boomers developed two very strong identities (broad brush warning).  Some are fighters: they continue to seek out problems that are in need of solutions, especially in areas of equality.  Others are guilt carriers: they continue to emote the guilt that comes with realizing one’s privilege at the expense of millions who carried the full burden it took to create that privilege.  Some, I’m guessing the PHoD falls into this category, carry both identities with in them.

I grew up in the excesses of the 1980s and 90s.  Bubble economies, the rise of hip-hop, and the beginnings of digital communities have lead many in my generation to feel disconnected from the guilt-ridden fighting that has come to define so much of the rhetoric in our current debate.  Sure, my world was cushy because of the world that two generations before me struggled to create, but my fundamental identity is not based in social change.  And while I very much appreciate the hard work done by the generations that came before, I’m wondering how long guilt, shame, and partisanship has to rule our discourse?  As I looked at the dais yesterday during orientation, as I realized that the leading candidate to replace the current PHoD and the leading VP candidate were two of the four bodies up there throughout.  I’m thinking that we’ve got at least three more years in this transition.

The Old Testament lesson for Sunday tells us that David was 30 years old when the elders anointed him King over Israel.  Youthful leadership is not something that is without precedent.  It has been lamented all over the internet that there aren’t enough younger people present in the councils of the Church, and I agree.  The problem is that we have made leadership roles all but impossible for those who still have to work a day-to-day job to make ends meet.  How can we bring more voices to the table?  How can we make sure that one group’s experience doesn’t define our fundamental identity?  How can we enjoy the fullness of who we are, the truth that exists within every believer?  I don’t have the answers at this point, but I’m certain they are out there.

Perhaps a starting place is forgiveness.  I offer you the Prayer for the Mission of The Church (BCP, 816-7)

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.