Give me the head of John the Baptist! A sermon for July 15, 2012

The Very Rev. Andy Jones

July 15, 2012

This Sermon is based on the readings for Proper 10 Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary.  You will find those readings here.

This story is full of graphic and sensual images.  I would imagine that, thanks to multiple artists, playwrights and composers, none of us in this room has any difficulty conjuring up this scene.  A dimly lit space, stone pillars supporting an ornately carved ceiling, powerful people reclining on richly embroidered cushions while women in “exotic” dress move in and out serving platters of spicy food and drink.  There are open braziers in the corners and the smell of smoke and incense fill the room.

Then the music changes, a young girl enters the room, and she begins to dance.  The dance starts out slowly and then gains momentum and power.  The room is transfixed.  All eyes are upon her.  No one even tries to disguise his or her stares.  She has them all in the palm of her hand. And then she turns her gaze upon the king.

We jump now to a cell where John the Baptist has been imprisoned.  The guards storm in and before he can begin to defend himself they pin him to the floor and swing a sword.

The banquet hall falls silent as a platter is carried in and presented to the girl; a platter bearing the head of John the Baptist.

A visual, sensual and graphic story that comes easily to mind, complete with special effects and a soundtrack.  Mark, our Gospel writer, is a master of his craft and in this passage he has constructed a true work of art.  And yet all of the details, the sights, sounds, smells, that rush to mind when we hear this story can be problematic.  They can distract us from the real point of this story; a point that would be easy to miss unless we know a little history.

The Herod of our story is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.  It was Herod the Great who ordered the slaughter of the innocents when the Magi told him that a King had been born to the People of Israel.  This same Herod the Great had two of his sons executed in order to secure his throne as King of Judea.  Another of sons was convicted of trying to poison him.  At this point, with three older brothers removed from the line of succession, Herod Antipas, who appears in our gospel reading this morning, became heir to the throne.  But on his deathbed, in the last days of his illness, Herod the Great revised his will and divided the kingdom between Herod Antipas and two of his remaining brothers.  The three of them to their case to Rome, and despite an early disposition towards Herod’s argument of sole succession, in the end he inherited only a small portion of what he thought would be his.

In a family like his, in a time where accession to power happens through the blade of a knife, a poisoned cup, the clash of armed men, Herod’s hold on his rule must have felt tenuous and insecure.  Everyone in that room with him was a potential threat, a would be assassin, coveting his throne, status, and power.

Into this highly charged setting comes a girl, his wife’s daughter, who beguiles everyone in the room and seduces Herod into an extravagant promise.  “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:22b,23).  She runs to consult her mother and when she returns she says, “Oh father, I am but a child.  I would never presume to ask you for half of your kingdom.  Please, I would ask for something much less significant.  Give me the head of John the Baptizer, that evil gadfly who has been making my mother’s life miserable.  Give me his head on a platter!”

Here is the real crux of this story.  Herod has divorced his own wife and married the wife of his brother while his brother is yet alive.  John has been condemning Herod in public, saying that it is not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife.  The wife, Herodias, has been asking Herod to have John killed.  But Herod, until now, has refused and has protected John.  John’s words perplex and challenge him but the Gospel tells us, he thought John a Holy and Righteous man and he liked to listen to his words.  He must have recognized the truth in what John was saying, even if it did make him uncomfortable and make his wife angry.  But now Herod was in real trouble.

I am sure that when Herod made his promise to his daughter the crowd sucked in their breath.  This was an impetuous, even foolish promise.  What if she did ask for half the kingdom?  Would Herod make good on his vow?  When she came back into the room and told them that all she wanted was the head of John the Baptist the crowd probably laughed.  “Silly little girl.  She let him off too easily.  Well at least he can finally be rid of that tiresome preacher and make his wife happy.”

In this moment the trap is sprung, the set up is complete, and Herod is in a bind.  The Gospel tells us that “out of regard for his oaths and for his guests” he could not refuse the girl’s request.  If he had refused this easy way out of his predicament his guests would have seen it as a crack in his armor, a sign of weakness.  In this moment Herod is confronted with a choice.  With a little historical perspective we begin to see the true nature of that choice.  Does he continue to protect John?  Does he continue to wrestle with John’s words?  Does he stand up and defend the Truth?  Or does he do the politically expedient thing, grant the girl’s request, and protect his own power, status, and rank, and prestige?

Our Gospel passage this morning asks us the same question.  When we are offered the an opportunity to stand up for the truth; that all of creation is beloved of God, that we are all one, that the people on the fringes of our culture and society, the poor and the disabled are our brothers and sisters…  will we stand up for that truth or will we choose to protect the power we believe we have and our vain need to be in control?  Look again at our Epistle reading for the day,  “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”  (Ephesians 1:8b-10).  All things!  It is God’s good pleasure that all things, all people, and all of creation, live in Him.  Do we open our hearts, our minds and our doors to the “other” and embrace them as co inheritors of God’s love and grace?  Do we proclaim the good news and insist that everyone receive the benefits of the garden?  Or do we cast our eyes aside, take the politically expedient path, defend the status quo and thereby protect our own position in the smoky filled, dimly lit room as we recline on the cushions in Herod’s palace?

This is the same Herod who later in the Gospel will send Jesus back to Pilate to be condemned.  Today Herod is confronted with the truth in John the Baptist.  In a few chapters he will be confronted by the Truth in the person of Jesus.  When we recognize the parallel in this story, when the weigh of what is happening as the girl makes her request of Herod, everything else in the room should melt away leaving the spotlight to just two people…  Herod and… Jesus.

What would have happened if Herod had encountered Jesus before he encountered John?  Of course we can’t know that but I can’t help but wonder.  Having made the decision to protect our own status, position, power and rank, once we have denied and betrayed the truth, do we become locked into a pattern of behavior that is almost impossible to escape?  When we have chosen ourselves over the truth we become complicit in the crucifixion.  “Repenting,” turning back to the truth would require us to confront and to acknowledge our past behavior.  It is a slippery slope.  If we can’t be faithful to the truth in the small things, who will we be faithful to the truth in the big things?

I said a few moments ago that when Pilate is asked for the head of John the Baptist everything else in the room should melt away.  We suddenly understand that the lavish imagery that we have constructed is a distraction, and maybe a dodge.  There is a lot more at stake here than a vengeful unfaithful wife, a conniving despot and the girl who has become their tool.  Through the artistry of his writing Mark has dragged us into the spotlight as well.  Jesus stands before us asking Herod to choose and he is asking us to choose as well.  Will we in acquiesce, make the politically expedient and safe decision, or will we risk it all by opening the door to John’s prison cell and setting the truth free to transform the world?

Peace, Andy+

Sing a New Church into Being!

On July 10th the House of Deputies voted unanimously to adopt resolution C095 Structural Reform

The next day the House of Bishops also voted unanimously to concur.  C095 had passed!

When the vote passed in the House of deputies we all stood clapped, cheered, hugged and sang:

Sing a New Church

Delores Dufner, OSB
(sung to “Nettleton,” the melody for “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)

Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity.

Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.

Radiant risen from the water,
robed in holiness and light,
male and female in God’s image,
male and female, God’s delight.


Trust the goodness of creation;
trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised,
sprung from seed of what has been.


Bring the hopes of every nation;
bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice;
let it sound through time and space.


Draw together at one table,
all the human family;
shape a circle ever wider
and a people ever free.


The General Convention: Epilogue or Sequel?

July 14, 2012

“Epilogue” connotes some level of closure, of conclusion, tying up the loose ends so that you can put the story down without having to wonder what happened to all of those secondary story lines and incidental characters.  A sequel on the other hand picks up more or less where the original story left off, sometimes offering further development of the main story line, sometimes exploring those secondary story lines or the unexpected consequences of the major events and happenings in the original.

Given those non technical definitions it is clear that we don’t want to write an epilogue.  The Acts of General Convention are not taken in a vacuum.  They are intended to guide, shape, and move our common life as the Body of Christ.  As General Convention comes to a close and we all head home from Indianapolis the conversation doesn’t come to an end.  It moves to the diocesan and parish level.  We need to begin work on the first of many sequels, stories about local dioceses and parishes that take up the work of General Convention, exploring and implementing the resolutions passed on the floor of our triennial family reunion and business meeting.  There should be sequel after sequel, coming from diverse bodies and places all over the church as we move forward together.

But what to name these stories?  “General Convention: The Sequel” is too generic.  That probably wouldn’t garner much attention.  We need something with a little flair and a solid hook.  Something that will grab the interest of people outside the church and draw them to our story, that will help them to appreciate the way the Episcopal Church is working for reconciliation in the world.  Unfortunately, as I scanned the internet, my face book feed, and emails, a rather overused title presented itself for the first of our series of sequels: “The General Convention meets Frankenstein”!

The General Convention Meets Frankenstein would be a perfect title for the story of the media coverage that we are receiving.  Both my face book feed and my inbox were filled with inquiries and statements of outrage over an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Jay Akasie entitled, “What Ails the Episcopalians.”  Mr. Akasie’s article is full of errors and untruths.  He seems to be arguing two sides of the same arguments, and his sense of the history and future of the church seem to be skewed by a vitriolic anger the source of which we are left to guess on our own.  There are several good articles and blogs that offer a line by line corrective to Mr. Akasie’s article and I list them below.  I hope that you will take the time to read them.  If, like several of the people who wrote directly to me yesterday, someone has sent Mr. Akasie’s work of fiction to you as a challenge or a slap at the Episcopal Church, you will find all the information you need to refute their concerns or slights in these responses.

The General Convention Meets Frankenstein…  clearly not the sequel that we want spreading the news about the Episcopal Church and what we did together at General Convention.  But this chapter of the story about General Convention makes it clear that “WE” need to be the ones telling the stories, reporting on our history and looking to our future, talking about the ways that we engage the outcomes of General Convention, and writing the titles of the many sequels that are to come.

I have to say that after 10 days of living in a hotel, eating at restaurants, and spending at least ten hours a day on the work of the church gathered for convention, I am exhausted.   And yet I am committed to speaking up and speaking out, to telling our story and to making sure that we are represented fairly and honestly both within and without the church.  It was that same commitment that drove me to spend a couple of hours at the end of those very long days blogging and telling our story.  We need to be the ones that tell our story.  If we are silent, if we leave it to others to tell the story, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when the story that people hear and believe is the wrong one!

We have to move fast.  If we leave a vacuum, if we wait until we are rested, if we take the next two weeks off to recover from the marathon we have just run we will find ourselves behind and our story will have been thoroughly spun in the interests of those whose livelihood depends on writing sequels full of vitriol, conflict, and scandal.

The General Convention is now in recess until 2015 but the work of convention goes on.  We now take up that work at the diocesan and parish level.  We need to continue to tell our stories, to find ways to spread the good news of God in Christ, and the ways tat we are working to realize the Kingdom of God here and now, in our own communities and dioceses.

I am calling on deputations from every diocese, on all of the Bishops who were present, on each and every diocese where we will be working to embody the work of General Convention, to tell your stories now!  The temptation to rest is strong but we cannot afford to allow someone else to tell our story.  The longer we wait the harder it will be to convince people of the truth.  A vacuum breeds anxiety.  If we don’t speak up now that growing anxiety will cause people to grasp at even Mr. Akasie’s article as a referent for understanding our church.  We must speak up!

I did not create a link to Mr. Akasie’s article when I cited it in the paragraphs above because I don’t want you to read his highly skewed version of General Convention until you have read the church’s description of what we did in Indianapolis.  Please read “Convention wrap-up: Re-envisioning church for the 21st century” on the Episcopal News Service web site first.  You might also read, “Summarizing General Convention #77” on the Episcopal Café web site.

If you want to read Mr. Akasie’s article for the Wall Street Journal you can find it here.

The Rev. Scott Gunn, one of the bloggers whose writings helped to create The Acts 8 Moment and the Executive Director of Forward Movement Publications writes an excellent response to Mr. Akasie’s article here.

The Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith, Bishop of Arizona writes about Mr. Akasie’s article on his blog.

George Conger writes for in response the Akasie’s editorial here.

And our own Fr. Jonathan Grieser responds on his blog here.

Peace, Andy+

The Closing Act….

The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is in the books.  And I would say that this one goes in the “win” column.

We had two legislative sessions today.  The first went from 8:00 to 11:00 am.  We celebrated the Closing Eucharist at 11:30.  The final legislative session went from 2:15 until past 6:00 pm!  It was a marathon day!

It is 10:30 here and I need to meet folks in the lobby at 5 am so we can catch a cab to the airport.  I am still trying to stuff all of my belongings back into my bags.  I only bought a couple of books at the exhibition hall but I have a whole shelf worth of materials from the floor of convention.  I hope they don’t charge me extra for my bag!

Here are some links to the “news of the day.”  I will be writing more in the next couple of days as I process this last day of work.  See you all in church on Sunday!

Peace, Andy+

Stories from the Episcopal News Service:

Convention calls for new rites, prayers for care of beloved animals

The Presiding Bishop’s closing sermon

House of Deputies consider a flurry resolutions on its final day

Bishops end convention with busy legislative session

General Convention digest

Convention wrap-up: Re-envisioning church for the 21st century


A reflection from Fr. Jonathan Grieser, Rector of Grace Madison

A reflection from The Cristy Old Dean

The Center Aisle, a great source for information about General Convention

General Convention Day 8: Part 2

July 11, 2012

This was a different kind of day for me.  The Diocese of Milwaukee sent four Lay and four Clergy Deputies to General Convention.  The Diocese also sent one Lay Alternate and one Clergy Alternate.  When I got up this morning I knew I needed The Rev. Anna Doherty, Rector of Saint Aiden’s Hartford, to take my seat on the floor.  I was glad that she was here to give me a chance rest.

I went to the morning session to hear the beginning of our discussion of the budget.  We adopted a special rule that allowed us to sit in small groups and share our thoughts and concerns for 15 minutes.  We then discussed the budget using the microphones placed around the room but with a 45-minute suspension on the ability to amend, substitute, or call the question.  When the time allotted for the “Committee of the Whole” we began returned to our usual rules of order.  The conversations in small groups were interesting and helpful.  The fact that some dioceses are not paying the full asking to the church is a major concern for some people.  Some dioceses cannot afford to pay the full 19% asking.  Others seem to be making a political statement, voting with their checkbook, or simply choosing to keep the funding at home.  There was a call for some accountability and a system whereby diocese might explain the circumstances around their lack of financial support for the work of the larger church.

The discussion before the larger group demonstrated the care and concern people have for this church, its ministries and programs and their commitment to good stewardship of the resources and gifts that we have.  It was a very encouraging conversation… but it was still going strong at 12:45 and we suspended the debate for lunch.

Before heading off to lunch Anna Doherty and I went to the certification desk and filled out the paperwork that would allow her onto the floor for the afternoon session.

At 2:00 the rest of our deputation took their lunch, which had just arrived at the tables, stuffed it into to-go boxes and rushed across the street for the afternoon legislative session.  I sat and ate with a young member of the deputation from Southern Virginia who had spoken before the house during the budget debate.  I had never met him before but we had extra seats at our table and we grabbed the next party of two waiting for a table and invited them to join us.  This has been a wonderful time to meet people and to learn about other parts of the church.  Of course it turned out that we had several friends and acquaintances in common.  We had a great conversation.

After lunch I sat in on the House of Deputies.  This was the first time I had ventured down the hall and “across the aisle.”  My first impression was that they are a much smaller group.  We have 840, plus or minus a few, on the floor of the House f Deputies every day.  There are only about 150 Bishops in their room at the convention center.  The only way to conduct a conversation with a group as large as the House of Deputies is to adhere strictly to the rules of order.  We are reminded often that we are not to applaud unless given leave by the President.  The turn taking procedures are strictly adhered to and the conversation, most of the time, seems stiff and formal.  There are exceptions of course.  There are funny moments and laughter.  But if we are going to accomplish the work before us, and do it with decorum and grace, and if we want to leave convention with a common understanding and interpretation of what has transpired, we need to follow the rules.  Things are a little more relaxed in the House of Bishops.

Unlike the House of Deputies, which gathers every three years, the House of Bishops gathers several times a year.  They all know each other pretty well.  The House of Deputies sits at long straight tables neatly arranged in ranks and files on the floor of the house and go to one of eight microphones set up on the floor.  The Bishops sit gathered at round tables with a microphone on each table.  And raise a card when they wish to speak and the house of Bishops lacks the two “jumbo tron” screens that hang on either side of the platform on the House of Deputies.  I had spent so many hours on the floor of the House of Deputies that it took me while to get oriented.

I didn’t stay long.  I wasn’t there to monitor and track the legislation they were addressing.  I really wanted to observe how they worked, how they related to one another, and how they function as the House of Bishops.  I was delighted with what I saw.  They were serious about their work.  The questions asked and the points being offered were important and valuable but they were also able to laugh.  At one point the Presiding Bishop had to remove her glasses and wipe tears from her eyes she was laughing so hard!  Our won bishop allowed his sense of humor to show he rose to speak.  It was a collegial and close knit group.  It made me proud.

I returned to the House of Deputies to find that it is much harder to follow the legislative process from the visitor’s gallery that it is when you are on the floor.  People are coming and going.  Friends stop by to say hello and chat.  And people all around you are engaged in a variety of activities: caucusing their small groups, organizing to hand out literature, searching for the volunteer who is supposed to cover the next shift…  And I thought the floor of the House was a busy place!  There is special seating for alternates only and I suppose I could have moved to that calmer environment.  But I was so tired at that point it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.  So I allowed my introvert to take shelter with a small group of seminary friends and I watched the chaos swirl around me.

By the end of the afternoon the House had passed a budget,

Elected a new President to the House of Deputies,

and dealt with a large chunk of the legislative business before the house.

We still have over 60 resolutions to address.  Tomorrow we have a legislative session from 8:00 am to 11:00 am.  The closing Eucharist is scheduled for 11:30 to 12:45.  Our final legislative session begins at 2:45 and we are scheduled to adjourn around 5:00.  It will be a very busy day.

So how do you wrap up something like the General Convention?  I am not sure what you would do but several members of the Milwaukee Deputation are considering doing something completely different and going to see Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter tomorrow night.  Maybe when all of this is over I’ll turn my attention from Convention to movie reviews!

Peace, Andy+

General Convention Day 8: part 1b

July 11, 2012

Dance?  Why would we want to dance?

Our preacher at the Community Eucharist this morning said,

“Benedict would say this is not so. To be Christian is to engage in a dance. To be Anglican is to engage in a dance.”

She was talking about the kind of radical hospitality practiced by the people who live according Saint Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries; he kind of hospitality that greets every guest the way that we would greet Jesus if he came to our door.

Still don’t see how dancing fits in?

If we greeted Jesus at the door we would expect that his presence in our midst would change us.  We would be excited about that possibility.  In fact we come to church on Sunday morning longing to be changed by his presence.  What would it look like if we expected to be changed.  What would it look like if we were excited about the possibility, even longed for the opportunity to be with our guests so that in the dance of give and take, of sharing and interacting, we might be changed, might grow, might learn?

What would that look like for us at Saint Andrew’s?  Let me paint a picture for you.

We might change our Sunday morning schedule in the hope that having everyone: children, youth and adults in formation classes at the same time, and allowing everyone the opportunity to worship together would deepen our common life and prayer.

Seeing the growing number of young families and children on Sunday morning, and knowing that our music program is one of the gifts we have to offer we might decide to start our Sunday morning Church School with Music with Mr. Stancer.  Fifteen minutes of singing songs, hymns, and psalms.  We might use that opportunity to do some music education, helping our children to understand the importance of music and hymnody in our faith.  We might even  adjust the age requirements for the Choristers, our children’s choir, so that more of our Church School kids would have a liturgical outlet for the music skills they are acquiring.

Being involved in that dance would mean that every year we checked in with the poeple in the program.  Does this schedule still work?  Is there something we need to tweak?  Is there something we need to add or to stop doing?  Being involved in the dance would mean that we stayed on the first floor for more than one number.

Seeing that there are lots of mothers who bring the children to Sunday School who need a place to connect with one another and with the rest of the parish we might offer space in the Rector’s office for a Sunday Morning Women’s Spirituality Group.  And when the needs of that group change and it morphs into a group for mom’s with babies we would smile an embrace that change too!

Being involved in that dance, you know, the one that changes everyone who is willing to get on their feet and venture onto the dance floor, might also lead us to start a “Young Families Night” where people whose lives tend to be centered around work and caring for their young children, poeple who don’t often get to socialize at coffee hour because after a long morning their kids are ready to go home, people who really need a way to be in relationship with folks who share their needs and concerns, can come be together and develop and nurture relationships in the church.  We might even learn from them that they can’t participate as easily if it is pot luck.  “Life is busy enough.  I can’t possibly make a casserole or salad to take to a church dinner tonight!”  And we might set the evening up as a gift to them, organizing, arranging and hosting so that they can share in our community and share with us.

Being involved in that dance might mean recognizing that we have a lot of single people and people whose partners don’t attend Saint Andrew’s who would love to gather in a context that doesn’t assume that everyone comes two by two, and working to creat an opportunity for them to tell their stories to one another and to us.

Being involved in that dance might mean that we begin a Men’s Ministry and structure it in such a way that guys who are new to the parish, new to the Episcopal Church, even Guys who don’t come on Sunday but are curious about the church that their wives attend can feel comfortable and participate.

So I stirred the pot a little today.  We are having a conversation about the church on a national, and international level and I shared that here.  It raised some concerns and questions, questions that I hope we can address without anxiety or fear.  How do we practice the kind of radical hospitality that the Benedictines practice?  How do we engage with people so that we are open to the things that they have to tell and to teach us?

Saint Andrew’s is better at this than most places I know and I am not suggesting that we install power point projectors, drop down screens, and a drum kit in the sanctuary.  I am however suggesting that we should be saying the opening collect that we used this morning to honor the feast day of Benedict of Nursia.  There are people in or pews whose stories we haven’t listened to, who have things to tell us about their experience of God and the Holy.  We need to be willing to dance with them the same way that we long to dance with Jesus.

As our preacher told us this morning:

“The prayer to be like Benedict will shatter our well-drawn boundaries, it breaks our hearts, it grows our capacity to love and to fail, and sends us humble as beggars into the arms of Jesus and the arms of the stranger. It is a dangerous prayer. Pray it anyway. And then watch out. God might just give you what you prayed for.”

It is a dangerous prayer.  Please join me in praying it anyway.

The Collect for the Feat of Benedict of Nursia

Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord’s service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Peace, Andy+

General Convention Day 8 part 1

I almost didn’t go.  I was up until two am and I had thought that I might sleep through the morning Eucharist so that I could begin the day with more than five hours of sleep.  But then my eyes opened at 7:00.  I looked at the clock, reminded myself that I was going to sleep in, and then realized that after the day we had here at General Convention yesterday I really needed and wanted to attend the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving.  I am so glad that I did.

When I entered the worship space the choir was singing, chanting, the graceful steady rhythms of Gregorian Chant.  I looked at my bulletin and it hit me.  Tis is the feast day of Benedict of Nursia, author of St. Benedict’s rule for monasteries.  As I sat there bathing in the power of our tradition I recalled a day ten years ago when, having been newly ordained and deployed to my first parish, I traveled from Frederick, Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. to observe the feast of St. Benedict with my mentor and field Ed supervisor The Rev. Betty McWhorter at Saint Patrick’s Episcopal Church.  I was deeply moved by the smile that lit her face when she walked into the small chapel and found me waiting there.  This morning I was filled with gratitude for ttie gentle reminder of the poeple who have walked this path with me, Benedict, Betty, and all the saints who have gone before us.  Our tradition and history are rich and they represent a precious gift.

Then there was the sermon.

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, priest to The Crossing, the emergent worship congregation at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, was recently named one of two chaplains to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, a two-year appointment that she shares with the Rev. Canon Simon Bautista, Latino Missioner in the Diocese of Washington (D.C.).

Her sermon touched me very deeply.  I have heard from some folks in the last week who are afraid that all of this talk of change will lead us to throw the baby out with the bath water.  In fact a few have suggested that we may throw out more than one baby in our attempts to refresh the waters.  On Tuesday we heard Bishop Robinson preach at the Integrity Eucharist.  He told us:

“You know what?” he asked. “I want some answers to things. I want things to stay where I put them and to stay where I think them, and I don’t like to be asked to move on and then move on again and to move on again. And yet, it seems to be the biblical witness that God means for us to live in tents and to move from place to place and to never finally settle down until we’re all in heaven. We are meant to live, in this world at least, in tents.”

Just when we think we have arrived God says nope, you’re not there yet.  Keep on moving.  We are called to be itinerant, on the road, constantly moving, following where the Holy Spirit leads, and resisting the impulse to build foundations that will ties us to one place, one way of thinking one way of being.

Here is how this morning’s preacher, The Rev. Stephanie Spellers talked about our desire and our willingness to change:

“Throughout this Convention, we have prayed and proclaimed our desire to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to welcome emerging generations and cultures. Did we mean to pray that? Do we want the conversion that hospitality entails?

I pray that we do. Because right now, here’s what our legendary welcome sounds like: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. We’re so glad you’re here! Now, this is the Book of Common Prayer. Obey it. This is our musical tradition. Master it. This is our English heritage. Adopt it. This is our sense of order. Assimilate it. And the gifts from your home culture, your young culture, your lower-class culture? Would you leave them at the door and pick them up on your way out? They’re not quite Episcopal enough.

I do not think we mean to be unkind or unwelcoming. I think we love what we have received and the most natural thing in the world is to share it with others in that very form. I think we are afraid that opening to two-way transformation with The Other could shatter or simply erase the foundations of our Episcopal identity.

Benedict would say this is not so. To be Christian is to engage in a dance. To be Anglican is to engage in a dance. Stabilitas keeps us anchored, holding fast to what is holy and true. Conversatio morum makes us free to say, “Here is the way we have known Jesus. May this path bless you. How have you known him? What song sounds like God to you? What dream has the Spirit whispered to you in your ear? I am confused, I am scared. But I embrace this dying and rising, this sacrifice and blessing, this transformation into the fullness of Christ. And, I embrace you.”

I hope you will read her whole sermon.  It is posted here.

Oh, and by the way.  The House of Bishops passed the resolution on restructuring the church unanimously today!

The Acts 8 Moment is gathering again this evening.


Peace, Andy+



General Convention Day 7

July 10, 2012

So much to say… So little time…

The only way to deal with everything that happened at the 77th General Convention today is to take them chronologically from the opening of the legislative session this morning.

The first big items to hit the floor today were resolutions D008 and B005, responding to the Anglican Covenant.

It is amazing to me how invested we all are in what is happening here.  When I recognized that these resolutions were before us I got a real adrenaline rush.  I texted Dorota Pruski, the Seminarian from our Diocese who has been following these resolutions through committee to make sure that she was in the house.  She responded that she was in the visitor’s gallery behind us and that she was “nervous.”  So was I!  The first couple of speakers made it clear how critical these resolutions are.

The Rev. Tobias Haller, Deputy from the Diocese of New York, told us that the Continuing Indaba process, is the lifeblood and breath of the Anglican Communion. According the Anglican Communion web site “Continuing Indaba a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”   Deputy Cole from the Diocese of Colorado said, “We don’t need a piece of paper to be in relationship with one another.  We need to be in relationship with one another and the Continuing Indaba Process puts us in relationship.”  Affirming our commitment to the Anglican Communion keeps us part of the conversation and keeps us in relationship with one another.

The first resolution, D008 Affirm Anglican Communion Participation, passed pretty easily.  Resolution B005 Ongoing Commitment to the Anglican Covenant Process was going to be a different story.  There were articles published last night that decried this resolution as contrary to the will of the House.  People had overwhelmingly expressed a desire to vote with a resounding “no” on the Anglican Covenant.  This resolution called for us to not vote on adopting the covenant at all.

In the end one of the members of the Committee that produced the resolution said it perfectly.  “This resolution is not about our wants but about the needs of the church.  What we need is a way to be in dialog, not to satisfy our need for winners and losers.”  He went on to say “There are many people who would like to say ‘no’ to the Covenant, and to say it with a vivid hand gesture.  But that would not be helpful.  That is not what we need.”  There was no pressure on us to vote one way or the other.  With so many of our partners in the Anglican Communion having rejected the Covenant it is not going to be a decisive factor in the life of the Anglican Communion anyway.   Why respond to our Communion Partners with a vivid hand gesture when there is so little at stake for us?

Dorota and I breathed a sigh of relief and shared our pride in our church when Resolution D008 passed!

Episcopal News Service article on the Anglican Covenant

Father Jonathan Grieser on the General Convention and the Anglican Covenant

Dorota Pruski writes about the Resolutions regarding the Anglican Covenant

Next up…  The election of the next President of the House of Deputies!

Coming into convention there were two clear candidates.  Martha Alexander, a Trustee of the Church Pension Fund and N.C. states legislator, and The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, former Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Ohio, staff member of the church wellness group Credo, and former member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council.  Both are well established members of the larger church and would seem to have all of the credentials necessary for leading the House of Deputies.

In the days since The Acts 8 Movement first broke here at General Convention another candidate came to the fore.  The Rev. Canon Frank Logue of the Diocese of Georgia accepted calls for his nomination and announced his willingness to stand for election just a few days ago.

In the end The Rev. Gail Jennings won the election but I was struck by the numbers that were reported to us.  Gail Jennings received 426 votes.  Martha Alexander received 140.  Frank Logue received 266!  In my mind the number of votes cast for a last minute candidate who “ran” on a platform of change says a lot about the mind of the church and the reality that the status quo is no longer acceptable!

ENS article on the Election of the President of the Hose of Deputies

After lunch we did something that I have been wishing for since the second day of convention.  Last night my good friend the Rev. Gary Manning of Trinity Wauwatosa, who is here working for Living Compass in the Exhibition Hall, asked me what I found the most exciting about convention.  I told him that I was surprised how little interaction the House of Deputies has with the House of Bishops.  It is almost like we are locked in parallel processes and we only communicate with one another through official messages, duly reported and logged in our convention binders.  I told Gary that I wished we could have more dialog.

Well this afternoon the Bishops all came into the House of Deputies and sat with us in plenary session for a presentation of the budget by Program, Budget and Finance.  Before the legislative session resumed there were photo ops, people milling around and chatting, greeting one another, looking for people to take the camera and record the moment.  It was wonderful.  At the conclusion of the presentation of the budget the Presiding Bishop said that she hope we would find a way to bring the two houses together more often at future conventions.  And then, echoing the call of the Acts 8 Moment she asked us, “What is it that you dream for this church in the coming years and what gift or art do you have to offer to that dream?”  It was another in a long list of wonderful moments at General Convention!

So what about the budget?  There was a power point presentation.  There was a narrative description.  And there was a handout, 15 pages long.  I can give you some basic facts and numbers and then, since I haven’t had a moment to look closely at the budget myself, I will give you some links to other people’s thoughts and commentary.

The “asking” of each diocese for the coming triennium is still 19%

Between the Diocesan Asking and the draw from our endowments (a total of 5.8%), and some rental income from the property at 815 we will generate $111,500,000.

The budget, as presented has a surplus of $30,000.

The budget uses the model offered by the Presiding Bishop and is built around the five marks of mission.

Money has been restored for Lifelong Christian Formation and for the Episcopal Youth Event.

There is money for “block grants” to fund Mission Enterprise Zones and Church Planting.

There is a one time allocation of funds to establish a Development Office.

The General Board of Examining Chaplains (the folks who write, manage, and grade the General Ordination Exams) has been funded as has The College of Bishops (training and formation for newly elected Bishops).

There is $200,000 in the budget for “restructuring the church.”

The budget also imposes some cuts in staff at the Church Office.  The Budget requires the elimination of 12 staff positions, or 10.75 fte.

Here is the ENS article on the budget.

Here is Tom Ferguson’s (the Crusty Old Dean’s) commentary

I will write more about the implications of the budget as we have a chance to study it together.

Next up… Resolution C095 Structural Reform.

With all of the talk about change…

With at least 51 resolutions offering ideas and process…

With about 840 deputies on the floor of the House of Deputies…

How were we going to make sense of this?

We did it by voting unanimously!

After a period of discussion we sat quietly as the President of the House of Deputies said, “All in favor say ‘Yes.’”  There was a resounding response.

We waited for the other shoe to drop.  “All opposed say ‘no.’”

Silence!  The President’s eyebrows, visible on the “jumbo tron” went up.  She looked around the room.  A smile began to cross her face and you could feel the energy grow!  She stood up, raised her hands inviting all of us to stand and then we clapped, cheered, hugged, and sang!

The Committee on structure had written new words to the hymn Come thou font of every blessing.  The final repeating lines of each stanza were, “Sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and grace.”  I am getting goose bumps even now!  The committee on structure promised to publish the rest of the words and I will send them along as soon as I have them.  There are some videos on face book but the audio quality isn’t good enough to catch all of the words.  I hope that we got some good video footage because I would love to give you a sense of the Spirit that filled the house at this magical moment!

Here is some commentary on the resolution on structure:

Episcopal News Service on restructure

Tom Ferguson on restructure

Earlier in the day we had passed a resolution setting a time certain to begin work on Resolution A049 Authorization to Bless Same Gender Relationships.  We finished the work on the resolution on structure at 4:48.  We took up A049 at 5:00.  Right on schedule!

I think that the arguments on both sides of this issue have been well rehearsed.  We have been working this conversation pretty intensely in the last several months and I wrote about the debate in the House of Bishops yesterday.  But there was one new wrinkle today and it was of our own making.  If the Anglican Communion is so important to us, if the Continuing Indaba process is so crucial, if we really want to stay at the table, why would we approve this resolution and stir the pot all over again?  Earlier today we passed D008 and B005 telling our brothers and sisters around the world that we value them and want to stay at the table, in conversation, in communion.  Why then would we take this action and risk rupturing those relationships?

You can see that this is a good question and it makes you stop and think.  Are we being hypocritical if we authorize the use of these blessing rites?  I think that the key to this question is what is at stake for us as we address both the covenant and the blessing rites.

I stated earlier that there was little at stake for us in a vote on the Anglican Covenant.  So many of the other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England where it “originated” have already rejected it that our vote doesn’t really matter.  The Covenant not be a major factor in the life of the Anglican Communion whether we vote yes or no.  It would make a difference to us at home if we voted yes.  There are parts of the covenant that would likely force us to change our polity.  But choosing not to vote and to affirm our commitment to the communion and to the Continuing Idaba process leaves us in a place to be in conversation.

I believe that there is a lot at stake for us in our decisions around the blessing of same-gender relationships.  As I have said before I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading us into all truth.  Not a new truth but a deeper and better understanding of the truth that was revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  The incarnational evidence that we have experienced in the lives and partnerships of the LGBT people in our midst has called us to reexamine our understanding of scripture and we have seen that our tradition, our interpretation of our holy texts has been wrong.  There is a lot at stake here!

We have been working these issues since General Convention since 1976.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ, right here in our churches, in our pews, kneeling beside as at the rail… they have been waiting, longing, hurting for this moment.  In our refusal to acknowledge God’s light in their lives and in their unions with one another we have done them unspeakable harm.  In forcing people to hide the truth about themselves, in shaming them about the way that they are made, in asking them to wait until we get it right and it is comfortable for us to acknowledge the manifestation of God that we see in them we have wounded one another and we have wounded ourselves in a way that I believe is indefensible.  There is a lot at stake here!

So what do we say to our brothers and sisters around the world?  What have we said to them today?

I believe that we have told them that they are deeply important to us.  We have told them we believe that we are diminished when we are alienated one from another and that we want to be at the table in communion with them.  I believe that we have also told them that our LGBT brothers and sisters are important to us as well, that when one of us is diminished we are all diminished and that we are working very hard to love one another in the ways that God loves us.  In a world that seems increasingly hostile to any colors but black and white we have offered, in love, the best we know how, a response that is nuanced, honest, and grounded in love.

The discussion on the floor of the house was difficult.  When you have 840 people wanting to be heard, working through something this sensitive and charged, it is difficult to stay focused and calm.  Dorota and I were texting back and forth, wishing that we could move to a calmer place as we worked through the legislative wrangling in the closing minutes of debate.  Then one of my seminary classmates, The Rev. Phil Dinwiddie, Deputy from the Diocese of Michigan, rose for a Point of Personal Privilege.  “Madam President, is it too soon to pray?”

The laughter that filled the room broke the tension.  The President called the chaplain to the podium and we all took a moment to remind ourselves why we were there.  Then a vote by orders was conducted.  A few more housekeeping items were discharged, and we prayed again.  President Anderson then announced the results of the vote for resolution A049 and adjourned the house.

In the Lay order the resolution passed by 78%.  In the Clergy order it passed by 76%.

ENS article on Blessings

The Episcopal Cafe on Blessings

Father Jonathan Grieser on Blessings

It has been a long day!

Here are some reflections from other members of our deputation

Peace, Andy+

General Convention Day 6: A look back at a very full day!

July 9, 2012

Yesterday was incredible.  So much happened and so many things cleared committees so that we will be able to engage them today.  By the time I got back to my room late last night there was now way I could write anything sensible or appropriate.  I needed to sleep on it before I attempted to sort it out for you.  So, with my first cup of coffee “brewing” in the little machine here in my room….

The big news, in my mind, is that the House of Bishops has passes A049 – Authorization to Bless Same Gender Relationships.  That means that the resolution will probably come to the House of Deputies today.  If it passes it will become an act of Convention.  The House of Bishops approved the resolution by an overwhelming margin: yes – 111, no – 41, abstain – 3.  They did however make some changes to the text.  You can download a copy of this resolution as a pdf file here.  Scroll through the list to the number of the resolution and click on “English, current.”

Everywhere the original text used the words, “same-gender” the Bishops have substituted the words “same-sex.”  And everywhere the original document used the words, “Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships,” the Bishops substituted, “Witnessing and Blessing of a Life-Long Covenant in a Same-Sex Relationship.”  If you look at the document linked above you will see that there were other changes made, mostly wordsmithing of the liturgy itself, and I am looking forward to hearing some explication from the chair of the Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music today when he introduces the resolution on the floor of the House of Deputies.  You will find and ENS article about the debate in the House of Deputies here.

There were three other resolutions passed yesterday in the House of Deputies.  Each of these had already passed in the House of Bishops so we were asked to vote on a resolution to “concur.”  When those resolutions passed the House of Deputies they became acts of the General Convention.

D019 Amend Canon I.17.5 – Extending the Rights of Laity

This resolution says that no one shall be denied rights, status or access in the life, worship, and governance of this church.  This resolution adds the transgendered community, the “T” in LGBT to the list of people already contained in the canon.

D002 Affirming Access to Discernment Process for Ministry

This resolution is rightly paired with D002 because it adds “gender identity and expression” to the list of people who cannot be denied access to the discernment process for Holy Orders in this church.

ENS Article: Gender identity should not be basis for exclusion, convention agrees

A050 Create Task Force on the Study of Marriage

As the church has wrestled with the issues around the blessing of same-sex relationships we have come to realize that we do not have a clear theology of marriage.  Are we blessing something that has already happened, something that has happened in our presence, or are we in fact the agents in the creation of the union that we are witnessing and blessing?  How doe we navigate the reality that when we preside or officiate at a marriage we are functioning as agents of the state?  There are a lot of questions on the table here.  This resolution does ask specifically for a study that will allow us to continue to explore the blessing of a life long covenant between same sex couples, and it will allow us to explore these fundamental questions that pertain to anyone who comes to the church asking to be “married.”

OK… Second cup of coffee in hand…

Yesterday we also completed nominations for President of the House of Deputies.  There are three candidates running.  We will elect a President for the coming triennium today at noon.

ENS Article: Three are nominated for president of the House of Deputies

We will also see two resolutions regarding the Anglican Covenant today.  Dorota Pruski, a senior at Virginia Seminary from the Diocese of Milwaukee, has been following this debate through committee and the House of Bishops.  Dorota and I both studied with The Rev. Doctor Kathy Grieb, New Testament Professor at VTS, who is a part of the group who helped to draft the covenant.  We have been luck to have someone so familiar with the covenant process to help the deputation understand the reasoning behind the two resolutions that come before us today.  The first resolution affirms our commitment to and place in the Anglican Communion.  The second states that opinion in this church is too divided for us to vote on the measure at this time.  There are some who are describing this second resolution as “kicking the can down the road.”  Dorota’s sense is that this is a way to keep everyone at the table, to find a pastoral via media, that will allow us to continue the dialog with our brothers and sisters around the world.  Stay tuned for a lively debate!

ENS Article: Anglican Covenant resolutions addressed at public hearing

An Article at The Episcopal Cafe: World Mission “punts” Covenant resolution

This afternoon we will do something that has not happened in the 6 days that we have been in Indianapolis.  The House of Deputies and the House of Bishops will come together in one place for a conversation about the budget.  Being a newbie to General Convention I don’t know how this will work yet.  Will the Bishops come to the floor of the House of Deputies and sit together or will they come and sit with their deputations?  I am looking forward to being together in one place more than I am to the debate about the budget!

There are several pieces to the budget debate.  On the revenue side we will need to address the “asking,”  Currently each Diocese is asked to give 19% of its operating budget to the work of the larger church.  The Diocese of Milwaukee gives the full asking but there are many, in fact a majority of Dioceses, that do not.  There was actually a resolution on the floor several days ago that would have required any deputy who rose to speak to identify themselves by name, diocese (something that we all do now), and by stating what percentage their diocese gives.  Happily, this resolution was defeated but it does demonstrate the tension around the resourcing of the work of the larger church and the way we all share that burden.

One of the ideas that will come to the floor suggests that we reduce the asking to 15% and require all dioceses to meet that level of asking by the end of the next triennium.  What I know from talking with friends from other dioceses is that the hardship this would impose might mean the loss of jobs at the diocesan level in many of our dioceses.

On the expense side, the resolutions that come before us on the floor of convention all indicate whether or not the cost of the action contained in the resolution is already part of the proposed budget.  We have passed many resolutions that were not funded in the draft budgets that have been proposed.  Restoring funding for the national Episcopal youth Event is an example that I have written about already.  The language of the resolution to restore funding “directed” Program, Budget, and Finance to restore $300,000 for this important ministry.  PB&F has completed their work on the budget.  It had to be delivered to the printers yesterday at noon in order for us to have it by 2:15 today.  Directing, requesting, urging PB&F to fund something doesn’t ensure that the money will be allocated.  The revenue side of the budget will be set by resolution and a realistic projection of actual revenues will be made based on conversations with each diocese and their commitment for the coming triennium.  The conversations that we all have: at home, at work, in our parishes, and in our own dioceses will happen on the floor of convention today.  Given our limited resources… what will we fund, and what will we cut?  Please pray for the convention today.

Third cup of coffee in hand…  awake but feeling the need to find some food to moderate the effect of all this caffeine…

I want to close this morning with some thoughts about our common life together.  Yesterday was an emotional day for me.  We were sitting in the House of Deputies following the twitter feed on the Episcopal Digital Network Media Hub as the House of Bishops began their role call vote on A049.  I have been very invested in the debate around this resolution.  When we saw that the House had passed it I was literally shaking.  A sense of relief, exhilaration, of exhaustion were all competing with a real need to respect the decorum of the floor and to respect the people around me who might be grieving even as I longed to celebrate.  We are not of one mind in this church.  That is a good and Holy thing!  Our ability to rise above our differences and to stay together at the table as we work to find our way forward is a unique and wonderful part of what it means to be an Episcopalian and an Anglican.  We will need to be sensitive to our differences for a while as we unpack and process the events of General Convention.  We need to be sensitive because we value our diversity of opinion as much as we value the other diverse aspect of our church.

When I got back to my room at midnight last night I wrote a post for this blog that was less than sensitive to my brothers and sisters who may be grieving.  I celebrated in the way that anyone who has been as engaged in the debate as deeply as I have would celebrate when the outcome is in line with their hopes and goals.  I left that post up for about fifteen minutes and then realized that I needed to remove it.  I thank my brother, The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Grieser and his blog post asking us all to be careful of the many and varied sensibilities that come together under the big tent that is the Episcopal Church.  I am delighted at the outcome of yesterday’s legislative sessions but I know that there are many in our church who are not.  In the days to come we will all have to work through the implications of these resolutions, at the diocesan, parish, and personal level.  Please my brothers and sisters in Christ, stay at the table.  We need to hear everyone’s voices.  We need to hear everyone’s stories.  When people leave we are diminished as a whole.

I am committing myself to a prayerful, civil, and open conversation, one that will honor and value all perspective and concerns as we, guided by the Holy Spirit, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Peace, Andy+