Wednesday, July 08, 2009

General Convention, Day 1, Wed., July 8

Wednesday, July 8

8:00 a.m.: Opening Session of the House of Deputies

We are called to order.

I'm delighted that Frank Wade will serve as our Chaplain. He did so at a previous Convention. He opened our first session with a Meditation and Prayer.

The first meditation by Frank Wade: "Ubuntu"
Not a natural notion for him. Growing up, he learned that the emphasis was on our individualism. Individuals come together to form community.

Ubuntu says that community creates individuals. Ubuntu is a foreign concept, hard for him to wrap his mind around. It comes from South Africa. The closest he's been to South Africa is South Carolina. It is a stretch to hold on to a truth from another culture.

Yet he recognizes that his own individualism was never his own invention. His life was derived – from God, ancestors, mentors, tormentors, those who loved him... long list.
Ubuntu does not negate individualism, with its emphasis on responsibility, peculiarities, etc. They are in fact enriched in community,.

Yet, for him, as a product of our culture, Ubuntu is hard to grasp. He had been thinking about Ubuntu on the plane from Washington D.C. to Anaheim. He said that he had just about wrapped his head around Ubuntu, when he landed at "John Wayne Airport." "John Wayne is to Ubuntu what Darth Vader is to the 23rd Psalm." If there is a word for Un-Umbutu, it would be symbolized by the characters that John Wayne played. Frank said he grew up strongly influenced by those characters. John Wayne has had more influence on his life than Bantu wisdom. Frank felt like he was trying to smuggle Ubuntu through the airport, just waiting for the sound system to begin to play Frank Sinatra singing "I did it my way."

Our culture of individualism has planted strong influences upon our souls, influences that are not without merit. But Ubuntu is a deep wisdom from another culture. "We'll work on it. Together." Together is not only what we are but together is also who we are.
________

President of the House, Bonnie Anderson quoted former President Pam Chinnis, telling some history. The House of Deputies was an innovation in the church, following the American Revolution. During colonial times, not one bishop from England visited the colonies; all ordinations occurred in England; during the colonial period there were no confirmations in America and no churches consecrated. When we accomplished our independence, our church knew that it could thrive without the particular presence of bishops, and we knew that we didn't want "prince bishops" any more than we wanted a king.

So our structure with a House of Deputies was an innovation. Whenever we pass controversial or very important legislation, we always do so with a "vote by orders," meaning that all three orders of ministry – lay, bishops and priests – must agree for something to pass. Each order has the power of veto. Ours is a model of shared leadership.
________

9:15 a.m. Eucharist

It is so moving to participate in a Eucharist with nearly 2000 Episcopalians. Inspiring music and wonderful energy. Our music was led by some South African styled singers and percussionists. Exciting stuff. Worship is wonderful. Times like this make me so glad that I am an Episcopalian.

Presiding Bishop Schori preached.
Her opening story recalled an ordination she participated in. Nedi Rivera was being ordained bishop in Olympia. At the end of the service, her father, bishop Victor Rivera wrapped her in his Episcopal cope. Bishop Rivera did not accept the ordination of women; he had not attended Nedi's ordination to the priesthood; he had never received communion from her. Katharine asked Nedi, "When did your father change his mind?" Nedi answered, "He didn't change his mind. He changed his heart."

The PB picked up from the reading in Ezekiel, "A new heart I will give you," and extended the heart metaphor throughout her sermon. Ezekiel, she said, told us that God is giving us a heart transplant. We do that medically now, but brain transplants are not yet possible. However, the heart for Ezekiel was the seat of both emotion and mind – a clean and new brain and heart, and a new spirit.

Ezekiel imaged an inward looking, small, fearful body of dry bones in need of the moist breath of the creative spirit. The Presiding Bishop, as a metaphor, told the story of the growing heart and abundance of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines. In 1898, a small group of U.S. Army chaplains as part of an occupying force, planted the Episcopal Church there. In 1901, it became a missionary diocese; in 1937, a diocese of the Episcopal Church. In 1990, The Episcopal Church of the Philippines became an autonomous church of the Anglican Communion. (I was a deputy at that convention, and went to the microphone to note that at the moment of the birth of the new church, the statistics that track the membership of the Episcopal Church took a dramatic declince; that should not be interpreted as a loss of membership or vitality, but as evidence of growth. Beware of statistics that don't tell the full story.) The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of the Philippines are in a cordial covenant relationship. In 2007, that church achieved self-sufficiency. Today, the Prime Bishop came as a visitor to give to us a thanksgiving gift from the people of the Philippine Church.

The PB continued with her metaphor of the heart, saying that we have received our heart from an organ donor who gave his life for us with the promise of abundant life. Jesus is the giver of our new heart, and every time the church gathers the Spirit gives our hearts a pacemaker charge. Will the heart muscle respond? Will we accept the transplant? Will we live with new abundance, the life of metanoia – repentance; new heart/new mind. How will our heart push more blood? "Can you hear the heartbeat," she concluded. "Mission... Mission... Mission..."

________

11:00 – Committee meetings

Prayer Book, Liturgy and Worship
We began by finishing our work on the new calendar "Holy Women, Holy Men." A major piece of work and some tedious editing. We made a series of corrections and passed this significant proposal. It will now go to the House of Bishops.

Lunch break

2:00 – Committee meetings continue
We held public hearings about the resources of litanies and prayers surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, as well as hearings about the resolutions that involve budgetary expenses.

A young deputy offered a moving testimony on behalf of a proposed work to combat anti-Judaism in the Christian tradition. She told of her experience of taking a class in college on the history of anti-Semitism. Her testimony about her visit to a holocaust gas chamber brought tears to my eyes.

We heard testimony about "Rachael's Tears, Hannah's Hopes" –
Devon Anderson who was the chair of the committee that worked on this resource for six years told about its evolution. She said that she wished that she had such a resource when she and her husband had a child who they discovered had special needs. She also spoke of a couple in her church who had a stillborn child after eight years of infertility. Resources like the prayers in this collection would have been so helpful. With these prayers, the church can walk with parents through their pain, without hurrying, and moving into hope.

This proposed publication originated from a request from NOEL, the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life. They asked for a rite of reconciliation for women after abortion. The Standing Commission expanded the scope of the work, and maintained the involvement of NOEL (which is now Anglicans for Life) throughout the various steps of composition, which included three complete overhauls. The result is a collection of liturgical resources that has received praise from people across both sides of the great fault line of abortion.

After a bit of conversation about the nature of reconciliation, the committee passed "Rachael's Tears, Hannah's Hopes." It will go to the House of Bishops.

We finished by passing all of the resolutions that have budgetary requests from our committee. It is important to get those resolutions to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee – the hardest work of the house – which Pan Adams from Arkansas chairs.

Our committee has done some incredible work very efficiently
_________

4:30 p.m. House of Deputies Legislative Session

We established a special order to allow conversation in a non-debate style forum about the controversial resolution B-033 that the General Convention passed in the previous Convention, adopting what amounts to a moratorium on consents to the election of any bishop in a same-gender committed relationship. We will have two opportunities this week to discuss the matter. There will be a random lottery system for speakers in order to try to facilitate comments that are representative of the house.

PB&F (Program, Budget and Finance) passed the budget priorities that will guide the way we allocate our resources: Networking the members of the Body of Christ; Alleviating Poverty and Injustice; Claiming our Identity; Growing Congregations and the Next Generations of Faith; Strengthening Governance and Foundations for Ministry.

We adopted the "Five Marks of Mission" as articulated by the Anglican Communion:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

We passed a resolution to support development of resources for diocesan camps and camping programs.
___________

6:00 p.m. Special event: Christian Faithfulness in a Global Economic Crisis
featuring Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury

We adjourned into a large ballroom where former Arkansan and once Rector of St. Peter's, Conway, Bishop Greg Rickel, Bishop of Olympia introduced the evening's program on global poverty, our collective problem.

Greg quoted someone (I didn't get it) saying that the three wrong ways to meet a crisis are: 1. Fail to see it. 2. See it and be afraid. 3. Be so custom bound that you fail to respond.

He introduced the Presiding Bishop who used some great imagery to emphasize the interconnectedness of the global economic and ecological systems. Her brief comments are worth looking up if they are published in transcript form. She is a compelling speaker.

The PB introduced the ABC (i.e. the Presiding Bishop introduced the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

Archbishop Williams began by citing a Papal Encyclical from Pope Benedict published just yesterday about the world economic crisis titled "Caritas in Veritate" (sp?) – "Love in Truth."

Williams said that we are in a crisis of truthfulness. We have been lying to ourselves.

1. Ordinary truthfulness and transparency, especially in high finance, has become compromised. There has been an erosion of ordinary values in financial life. "Our word has not been our bond," he said.

2. We have lost the truth about our place in creation. We have lied to ourselves as if we could produce limitless material growth in a limited creation. We've lied about the limitations of the earth. We have pretended that there can be profit without risk, and speculators have manipulated figures to hide risk.

3. We have been dishonest by acting as if one person's profit can be isolated from another's well-being.

There is no normal any longer, he said. Therefore, we cannot seek restoration, because it would be restoration to dysfunction. Instead, we have to name this financial crisis as a crisis of truthfulness. Then we must determine to live in the truth.

1. We must speak truth in our dealings with one another. There must be transparency. We must rebuild trust, but trust takes time and relationship. It is necessary that we build a culture of patience in order to rebuild trust.

2. We must tell the truth about the world. Our lifestyles and policies must have respect for the world's material limits. We are embodied in a material world, which is finite. All our decisions involve risk. Profit doesn't come without cost. We always have to ask, who bears that cost?

3. We need truth telling about the common good. The good of the individual is not enough. Anyone who has sung in a choir knows that there are social and shared goals. With a process of mutual attention we can discern what can be done, and yet doesn't have to be done.

The market is not a satisfactory moral outline. "What the market will bear" is not adequate, for we must live with one another tomorrow. The metaphor of the Body of Christ instructs us to recognize the common good. What is given to us is to be given to anotyher. We are the active presence of Jesus Christ.

The Archbishop tried to be more specific with five points.

1. The need to move from a model of economics toward trust takes time. We need to define what we mean by wealth? In its original sense, it means "well being." Well being includes being at home with our world.

2. We must account for environmental costs in all economic calculations. "The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment."

3. In our era, the role of democratic governments has been undermined by the flow of money from some multinationals. The economy of a small country can be undermined. We need to ask about the ethics of nations serving as "cheap labor havens." We have need for capital controls.

4. International instruments (World Bank, G-7, etc.) How can these be reconceived in order to give protection for the disadvantaged?

5. Reconstructive policy. What does the real economy need to do? After the emergency, what will sustain long-term well-being?

The Archbishop decried cynicism about politics. Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism is not. We need revival of small scale economic things – microfinance, Habitat... Small economic development offers a place and partnership with faith communities, especially in Africa.

Churches believe that human beings are made in the image of God. While we are in the process of growing, we are making the image of God manifest.
__________

We closed with a video and conversation with three Episcopalians.

Sarah Eaglehart is a Lakota from South Dakota. She told of the poverty related challenges faced by her people, and the need for mission to bring hope and education to their reservations and communities.

Michael Scott comes from a farming family that has lost the family farm in the northeast. His home is now a superfund cleanup site. There are few family farms today. He says, if we get farming right, we get a lot of things right.

Steven Zizi of Ghana is a physician who coordinates "Nets for Life," providing medicated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. Lives are being saved, he showed us.
___________

Tomorrow I'll serve for the first time as a Media Briefing Officer. And we'll continue our work.

As we had dinner around 9:00 this evening, someone looked up with a tired expression. Day 1. So that was Day 1. What are we going to feel like on Day 10?

I hope nobody asks me, "How did you enjoy your vacation?"

Lowell

4 Comments:

At 6:18 AM , Blogger Malcolm said...

Lowell,
You do an amazing job of conveying not just information, but tone and emotion from the convention. I look forward to this each year - thanks for your hard work.

 
At 8:01 AM , Blogger Bill Fulton said...

Thanks for giving us a blow-by-blow account of your day at GC. It's really helpful to hear about it from a source inside the convention. You're doing a marvelous job.

 
At 6:36 PM , Blogger Sarah said...

This is probably the best info blog I have read. Thanks.

 
At 11:28 PM , Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

It helps when the hours get so long.

The spirit of the Convention seems like a good spirit.

Lowell

 

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