Day 7: The State of the Church
Beloved: today was very, very full with legislation, but also with taking the temperature of the Church and determining where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Of course, part of the trick of this is that when you get some Christians (over 800!) in a room, they will not all agree about what direction the Spirit is blowing. This means there is disagreement. But there need not be disunity. Grace is called upon to fill in the gaps so that we can continue to make room for one another.
Today we talked about the approved Marriage Rites for all people (including same-sex couples) which were approved at the 2015 Convention. In the Episcopal Church, marriage is a sacrament for which the Rector or priest-in-charge of a parish has authority to celebrate or not (except in the case of remarriage in which the Bishop is to be consulted). However, with the resolution passed in 2015, right now a priest who desires to celebrate the marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple must have permission from the Bishop. So the resolution proposed for this General Convention is seeking to place same-sex marriage rites on the same playing field as heterosexual marriage rites, while also insuring that the liturgies themselves end up in any Revised Book of Common Prayer in the future, and not in a supplemental book of liturgies. Since this issue is still tender for many folks, there was much debate. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved in the House of Deputies, but the resolution also needs to pass in the House of Bishops.
We also listened to quite a bit of discussion and debate concerning the desire that the Episcopal Church "continues its firm support for the right of Israel to exist in secure borders as established and recognized by the United Nations, but also continues its strong opposition to Israel’s occupation in perpetuity of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip which is now recognized by the United Nations as the sovereign state of Palestine." The resolution is asking for the Church "to develop a human rights social criteria investment screen based on the social teachings of this Church and 70 years of Church policy on Israel/Palestine ." This is not easy stuff. The Church wants to make clear that this is not an anti-semitism statement, but a statement of recognizing the rights of both Palestine and Israel and to make sure that our investments line up with our social teaching of the Gospel. You know, living out what is preached. It's complex and complicated business. (as it is for all of us on a day to day basis). This resolution passed the House of Deputies.
And then, as if that were not enough, today we also considered a resolution about Seeking Truth, Reconciliation and Healing regarding sexual harassment and abuse within the Church. There was quite a bit of testimony given, allowing people to bring their voice to the conversation---voices that have often been silenced when the Church has been complicit in the harassment and the abuse. This resolution passed the House of Deputies.
And beloved, it warms my heart to say that when we are coming up to a vote that we know will cause pain to folks within the House due to the strong feelings about the issue, we stop and pray---collectively---and we remind ourselves of two truths: We are one together, and All manner of things shall be well.
As part of taking care of many resolutions (over 450 have been presented to the General Convention), many resolutions end up on the Consent Calendar. This is a list of resolutions that the committee dealing with the resolution feels will not need debate or resolutions that are not being moved forward for action or that have been rejected by the committee. A resolution can be taken off the consent calendar in many ways, including at the request of any three deputies. For example, yesterday on the consent calendar was a resolution to continue developing "a church-wide network for planting congregations, training and recruiting planters and mission developers." (This is the source of the Mission Enterprise Zone grant Intercession Episcopal received in June of 2017). Since a similar resolution has passed in the past two conventions, it was placed on the consent calendar. The resolution asks for almost 6 million to be provided for this effort because there has been a lot of success from this endeavor in the past 6 years. Now it moves to the Bishops' calendar....as do all the other approved resolutions.
Beloved, it seems to me that we are at a time of great discernment, a time of taking the "temperature" of the Church and trying to adjust the sails to move with the Holy Spirit. Some of the Beloved agree with my take on the direction, and some do not. No matter where I might personally wish the Church to go, the Gospel calls me to make room for the One(s) who does not agree with me and my understanding. The Gospel calls me to recognize that, ultimately, God has the ship in hand and to trust that God's will shall prevail---even in the storm or the wind or the waves----and to recognize that if a sibling in Christ seems to be standing on the other side of the shore, I cannot just abandon my sibling. I must find my way toward my sibling, repairing the breach, seeking common ground and refuge for all. Pray for us all as we listen to stories and desires and people's very real woundedness. Pray for us to listen well to our siblings, members of this Body of the Risen Christ. Pray that we all might know that this work of discernment isn't about "winning." Pray, Beloved, pray that we keep our hearts leaning in toward God's justice and dream---leaning in toward one another so that Jesus can continue to bind us together. We are one together. Gospel Truth.
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Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.