July 4, 2012
I got a text message from my wife Suzanne today. It included a picture of the thermometer on our screen porch in Madison. That thermometer read 102 degrees! My response was to send a photo of the signboard in the lobby of the hotel that listed the temperature here in Indianapolis as 100 degrees! It is hot all over as the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church gets under way.
One of the big issues at this convention will focus on the budget for the next triennium and what that budget says about who we are and who we believe God is calling us to be. There has been some high level infighting over the budget process and what has felt like an attempt to legislate through funding/defunding ministries, programs, and positions in the church. The conversation has not been pretty but there is some redeeming grace in the history that has brought us to this point. The process around creating a budget for the next three years has become a conversation about the need to restructure, to become more “nimble,” and to position ourselves for ministry in a changing and evolving context. Who is God calling us to be? God is calling us to be the Church, the Body of Christ, working “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” God is calling us to “pray, worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love” (BCP page 855). The call has not changed but there are some realities that we need to recognize and acknowledge. The debate, the fight that we have been having about the budget has pushed those realities into the light in a way that makes it impossible for us to ignore them.
We: parishes, dioceses, the larger church, are all grappling with the need and desire to live into our vocation, to be the Church with diminishing financial resources in an increasingly secular world. The numbers in the Report of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church are not encouraging. We need to look seriously at the way that we are structured, the way that we do evangelism, and the way that we talk to the people who are not coming to church on Sunday morning. How can we fulfill our mission, how do we live into our vocation, if people don’t hear what we have to say, or even worse, hear what we have to say and find us irrelevant or even offensive? The struggle over our budget is forcing us to begin a conversation that is long overdue.
The Episcopal News Service article about a new direction for the budget process is here. Reading the article you will hear echoes of the conflict. You will also hear echoes of that conflict, and you will probably wonder about the history behind it, in the opening remarks by the President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson. I hope that you will spend some time with the opening remarks of our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori. As this convention heats up, I hope that we hear her words over and over again:
“I would invite everyone here to take a deep breath. Breathe in Holy Spirit, the source of life. Remember that we depend on that divine gift for all that we are and all that we have. Breathe deep, for the spirit is blowing a fresh wind, and bringing new creation out of the chaos of the deep. Contemplating that chaos frightens some, for we never know what is coming, but there is no creation without it – like the death that must precede resurrected life. We struggle with it because we can’t yet see what is aloft on that breeze. Yet we are the stuff of God’s creation, we are borne on that wind as partners in God’s re-creation, reconciling, and healing of this world. Breathe deep, and be not afraid, for God is at work in our midst.”
Tomorrow we begin with a legislative session at 8:00 am followed by our opening Eucharist at 9:30. I’ll have more to report tomorrow afternoon and evening.