General Convention – Zero Minus One and Counting!

An awful lot happened on the last day before General Convention officially opens. Legislative Committees held meetings and Open Hearings at seven a.m. We all, Bishops and Deputies, gathered in the House of Deputies to hear opening statements from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings. The House of Deputies had a two hour orientation to the new “Virtual Binder,” and at 1:30 in the afternoon we got the opportunity to hear from all four candidates for Presiding Bishop.   In the evening there were receptions hosted by The National Cathedral, The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Integrity and a “host” of others. Then at seven p.m. the legislative committees reconvened for more meetings and open hearings. My day ended with a gathering of the Deputation from our diocese debriefing the meetings and hearings we had attended, sharing our impressions of the candidates for Presiding Bishop, and speculating about the shape and scope of the resolutions that would come out of the various committees in the next few days. It was a very busy day!

There are lots folks posting news, reviews, and resources to help the whole church stay informed about what is happening here.

I would highly recommend the opening statements by our Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. You can view a video of their presentations here. If you are a Trekkie, and you know who you are, you will appreciate the way that Bishop Katherine riffs on the TREC (Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church) and the Episcopal Church’s mission to go where only one man has gone before… You can read an article about their opening remarks on the Episcopal News Service here. You can read the text of Bishop Katherine’s remarks here and the text of Rev. Jennings remarks here.

Our joint session for the presentation of the candidates for Presiding Bishop is also available to view on line. You can watch it here. And the accompanying article from the Episcopal News Service is available here. You can watch a short video of Deputies to convention sharing their impressions of the candidates here.

After all of this “pre work” the Convention officially opens today with an eight am legislative session to elect officers and begin the process of organizing the convention, the opening Eucharist, a full afternoon of legislative meetings and hearings, a two hour legislative session late this afternoon and more meetings and hearings after dinner.

I will post again later today with more news about the work of the various committees and the resolutions that are coming before the convention. Don’t forget to check out the Diocese of Milwaukee at General Convention for resources and info. We also have a facebook page where we are posting updates. The Rev Dorota Pruski, Associate at Saint Andrew’s in Madison is writing for Episcopal Herald, and our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, is blogging at MilwaukeeBishop.

 

Peace,

Andy+

 

 

 

General Convention – Zero Minus Two and Counting

If you look at the official web site for the General Convention you will see that it is scheduled to run from June 25th through July 3rd. The truth is that everyone is here already and the “work” of convention has already begun.

This morning deputies and Bishops lined up starting at 9 am to be certified (some of us have been certifiable for a long time but that is another story) to register and to receive the iPads that are going to make this a nearly paperless convention. It turns out that it is cheaper to rent an iPad for every Bishop and Deputy than it is to print the reams of paper that have traditionally been handed out during the week and a half of convention. You could see impromptu tutorials in iPad navigation happening all over the convention center as we all work to become accustomed to this “innovation.”

The Exhibit Hall was open at 9 am this morning with displays from vendors, Episcopal Seminaries, outreach organizations and ministries. I walked through the Exhibit Hall about six times today, not because I was looking for something to buy (didn’t spend a cent) but because every time I went into the space I ran into someone else I know but haven’t seen for a while: seminary classmates, colleagues form other dioceses, people with whom I correspond regularly on Facebook but have never met in person. The Episcopal Church isn’t really that big, we are very much like a family, and General Convention is our family reunion.

Legislative Committees began their work today, beginning to sift through the resolutions and proposal that fall under their purview, establishing schedules for open hearing and working sessions that will help to craft the resolutions that finally come before the floor of convention. And as all of this work was happening our iPads were magically populated with files, calendars, resource documents and draft resolutions.

The Deputation from the Diocese of Milwaukee met for an hour tonight to look at the legislative sessions scheduled for 7 am and 7 pm tomorrow, making notes about who would cover each of these sessions that they might report back to the larger group. The day will begin before seven am and will go close to ten o’clock tomorrow night and there isn’t much down time in the schedule between those legislative meetings and hearings tomorrow.

At 9 am both houses, The House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, will meet in joint session to hear presentations from Presiding Bishop The Most Rev. Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori and from the President of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings.

At ten o’clock the houses will adjourn to their respective halls for a two hour orientation and then at 1:30 we all will reconvene to meet the four candidates for Presiding Bishop. All of that will happen tomorrow, prior to the first “official” day of General Convention.

Check back tomorrow for “General Convention – Zero Minus One and Counting” and then again on Thursday for “General Convention – Day One!”

Peace,

Andy+

There are lots of resources for following General Convention on the Diocese of Milwaukee Deputation’s web site and regular updates will be posted to our facebook page.

Ashes To Go: A Retrospective

Last week Saint Andrew’s offered the Proper Liturgy for Ash Wednesday with Eucharist and Imposition of Ashes at 7:00 am noon and 7:00 pm.  All three services were profoundly powerful.  We began the season of Lent by confessing that we have hurt the one who loves us unconditionally and beyond measure.  We acknowledged that we are broken, and with broken hearts we began the work of reconciliation, promising to make amends with the one whom we love above all others; not in fear, not in shame, but with the hope and confidence that nothing we can ever do will separate us from the love of God, and with the desperate longing for reconciliation and the strength to love more fully.

So while the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday urges us to “shut the door and pray to our father who is in secret,” I suggested that people leave the church with the ashes still clinging to their foreheads.  In our passage from the Gospel of Luke Jesus warns us not to pray like the “hypocrites.”   He warns us against public displays of piety that are designed to increase our rank or status in the community, that beg others to see us as “better than the rest,” that are meant not to serve God and our community but which serve us instead.  What would it be like, I asked, if we wore our ashes through the day and whenever someone pointed out the smudge on our forehead we replied that we are wearing these ashes because we are in love; because we have not been faithful to the one that we love, the one that loves us beyond measure; because we know that the one we love will never abandon us; and because we are working to love in the way that we ourselves have been loved?  Can you imagine how powerful that would be?  If we were to do that… the whole world might be…

“put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and the need of which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith” (BCP page 265 – The Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent).

Grace, love, betrayal, repentance, forgiveness, a love that can never be broken…  It is a story of gift upon gift, a transformative story that has the power to change lives!  Imagine what might happen if word got out!

Well word did get out!  After our 7:00 am and noon services, still dressed in my alb and chasuble, I took some ashes and headed out to two very busy street corners a couple of blocks from the church.

From 8:30 – 9:30 I stood on the corner of Regent and Monroe Streets.  About 15 people stopped and asked for ashes.  Included in that number were two members of Saint Andrew’s who came by with their kids in the car and a cup of coffee for the Priest.  There were several people who were surprised and delighted to find us, saying that their work schedule was going to prevent their attending services at their own community, and who were grateful for the opportunity to participate in something that was very important to them.  While we were standing there a man approached us and said that he had five passengers in a paratransit van, none of whom were able to get out of the car without assistance.  I walked up the block, climbed into the van and administered ashes to five very grateful people.  The most moving experience during that hour was the woman who pulled over and parked her car, got out and told me that her mother had died that weekend, that she was running around making arrangements for the funeral and didn’t think she would be able to get to church that day.  I asked her mother’s name, she told me and began to cry, we prayed, and she received ashes.  It was a very powerful and moving moment.

After the noon service I stood on the plaza next to Trader Joe’s on Monroe Street.  A young mother from our parish brought her three year old to see me saying that she wanted to introduce her daughter to Ash Wednesday but knew that the full liturgy would be too long for her.   Meeting me “on the go” was a perfect solution.  Another parishioner who lives nearby walked over with a neighbor, a young woman who is in the middle of chemotherapy, to pray and receive ashes.  There were several elderly women who had read about us in the paper and had their children or friends bring them to the curbside where we chatted and prayed before administering the ashes.  I was trying to keep count but I lost track after a while.  I am sure that there were well over 30 people who participated during that hour.  I packed up my little table and brochures, my sign and my ashes, and still wearing my chasuble, got in the car and returned to the church sure that we had offered the Gospel to people there on the streets of Madison.

 

Some reflections:

I believe that most, if not all, of the people who received ashes from me last Wednesday were familiar with the tradition.  I didn’t ask them, and there was no sense that they had to be a member of a faith community to participate, but almost all of them told me that scheduling issues were going to keep them from participating in their own church’s observation of Ash Wednesday.

There were a couple of people who told me that they were without a spiritual home, some had just moved to Madison, others were struggling with the tradition they had grown up with.  They were all very grateful and excited to find a church that was reaching out to them.

I was asked by a reporter from the State Journal if we were demeaning the traditions of the church by offering ashes on street corners.  I told him, and he observed for himself, how quickly people seemed to move into “sacred space” as I said the familiar words and made the sign of the cross on their foreheads.  I pointed out that we were doing this with great reverence, that it was not a parody of slapstick and I challenged the idea that this practice was diminishing the tradition and ritual of the church in any way.

He went on to tell me that when he goes to church he likes to sit in the quiet, to step away from the busy ness that is his life, and to spend time in reflection and prayer.  He wondered if we were just accommodating a pace of life that doesn’t make room for the sacred and the holy.  I pointed out, and he observed that there were people who walked past me on that street corner who refused to make eye contact with me.  We believe that the traditions and rites of the church are transformative, that they have great value, that they can change people’s lives and even change the world.  If we sequester those traditions and rites inside the walls of the church we will have denied them to the people who would never walk through our doors.  Perhaps by meeting people where they are we will  give them a taste of what we have to offer, give them a sense that we are not the caricature of Christianity that gets all of the airtime in the media, and they might one day risk crossing our threshold.  I wasn’t sure that he was convinced when we parted so I was very pleased that the article he wrote proclaimed that the message of Ash Wednesday is still relevant, even on the street.

 

In Conclusion:

Ashes To Go has been “happening” around the church for several years.  This was the first time that I have participated.  As an introvert I was more than a little out of my comfort zone but I would definitely do this again!

Our ashes are a sign that we are in love.  They are a sign that we have not been faithful to the one that we love, the one that loves us beyond measure.  We dare to wear them because we know that the one we love will never abandon us and because we are working to love in the way that we ourselves have been loved.  We wear them because we know that no matter how far from home, no matter how lost we are, our God is always reaching out to us, offering us the opportunity to turn, to come home, to live in the light of God’s love.

Ashes To Go are a sign to the world that the Episcopal Church welcomes you, no matter how far from home, no matter how lost you are, we are ready to walk with you, to hold you up, to share our deepest and most powerful experiences with you, so that you too can live in this light that is a gift beyond measure.