Friday, June 23, 2006
A MONTHLY COMMUNICATION
TO Clergy, Wardens and Lay Leaders of the
Diocese of Nebraska
June 23, 2006 (Post General Convention issue!)
From the Bishop
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The following is a brief summary of actions from the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which concluded its nine day triennial gathering in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday evening, June 21. I will be offering some personal perspectives on these developments which will be sent to you in a separateemail as soon as editing is completed.
This convention was historic, of course, in that the Bishops elected—and the Deputies endorsed the election of—the first female Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada. Jefferts-Schori has promised to focus on mission in her nine year tenure as Presiding Bishop. Indeed, by far the overarching theme and work of the entire convention focused on global mission and reconciliation. Resolutions calling for the funding and implementation at all levels of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals(MDG) received wide support. Deputies and bishops also addressed issues of violence and poverty in areas of the world under oppression or torn by war and internal violence. Far reaching steps in domestic mission and evangelism, including supporting leadership training and raising funds for new church planting, were also embraced. Clearly worded statements apologizing for the Episcopal Church’s complicity in the historic sin of racism, and specifically in supporting slavery, also called for taking stock of ways in which the church might begin to make amends for past wrongs with living generations of those affected by these actions.
Blessed with the presence of many ecumenical and interfaith representatives,the church took steps to further its conversations and relationships under the auspices of its ecumenical office, and in particular approved an agreement for “interim Eucharistic sharing” (intercommunion) with the United Methodist Church, which includes recognition of the UMC as a member of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church in which the Gospel is rightly preached and taught, and encourages the development of a common Christian life between the two bodies. The agreement permits common, joint celebrations of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) between the two churches.
Deputies also concurred with bishops in adopting a resolution calling for equal representation of women and men on all decision-making bodies within the church at local, diocesan and national levels. This recommendation originated with the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, an international body.
The deputies also concurred with the House of Bishops in a mission initiative resolution for the New Orleans area that will gather data that can be used to advance evangelism elsewhere in the church.
Additional resolutions were passed that came from the special committee that considered resolutions in response to the Windsor Report, a document issued by an international panel of Anglican leaders in response to strains in parts of the world wide Anglican Communion following the consecration in 2003 of an openly gay bishop living in a partnered relationship. The convention affirmed the strong desire of this church to continue as a full and faithful partner in the world wide Anglican communion, while at the same time reiterating the historic separate and independent status of the churches of the Anglican Communion. The "Windsor process" to discern the nature and unity of the church, and the report's call for a listening process, were also affirmed. In particular, the convention approved a resolution that calls on bishops and Standing Committees to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the
consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on
Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops in opposing the criminalization of homosexuality, opposing state or federal constitutional amendments that prohibits same-gender civil marriage or civil unions and affirming the civil rights of gays and lesbians. Another resolution reiterates Episcopal Church support of gay and lesbian people as "children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church."
Deputies also concurred in creating a new task force to study aspects of church disciplinary canons. Proposed changes would have replaced the current court-oriented system with a multi-layered approach intended to focus on mediation and reconciliation which included a controversial provision that would subject certain lay leaders to the new canons. After hearing significant concern about the proposal,particularly about subjecting laity to ecclesiastical discipline,the legislative committee moved to refer the continuing work to the task force for continued revisions over the next three years.
Thank you for your prayers during these long and tiring days. Your deputies and alternates served you and the wider church well in their prayer, work, and
deliberation. We are glad to be home!
Faithfully in Christ,
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
I speak with you today in the name of the loving God. Amen!
Several years ago, when I was a camp counselor, and still to this day when I’m running retreats, I prefer for participants not to wear watches. I’ve noticed that campers or retreatants who wear watches are always wondering what’s next. They tend, as my wife says, to anticipate rather than participate. I don’t like this phenomenon. Going to camp or being on retreat is a chance to be fully present in the moment; not to worry what comes next; not to be constantly pulled by the commitments and expectations of our day to day agendas.
Now, I could simply inform people of this opportunity. I could explain to them my reasoning and show them the advantages to letting go of their watches for awhile. I could wax eloquently and with much passion about how God is present with us in this very moment and to constantly worry about what comes next is a rejection of God’s grace present in the present. But where would the fun be in that. Instead I prefer to be a rascal. Therefore, when a camper asks what me what time it is, I more likely than not answer with some sort of comment like, “penguins don’t wear shoes, or Ice Cream has no bones.” I must confess to taking a distinct guilty pleasure in watching the camper’s confusion. It really brightens my day to bewilder and frustrate someone’s expectations.
My intention—beyond selfish entertainment at the expense of others—is to draw people into the here and now. My hope is to instigate awareness to what is going on right now in this moment because that is where we are most likely to hear God. See there is more going on in this moment than we are aware of. Too often we are clouded by our limited perceptions of things. We have particular categories, boxes in which we place every thing and every person. As long as these people and things function within our conceptions of whom and what they should be we are able to blithely mosey along without paying much attention, without giving ourselves to the moment or each other.
We do this in all aspects of our lives, even our faith. Furthermore, we have been doing this since the beginning of time. Look at our dear brother Nicodemus. Nicodemus was, as one commentator put it, “thoroughly informed and utterly inert,” and “was under the influence of a religious tradition that taught a faith that was to be managed, protected, and guarded.” Do this. Don’t do that. Complete the checklist. That was the path to holiness, the path to God. Now, Nicodemus found himself in a quandary. See, on the one hand he could not deny that Jesus was doing Godly things—signs that could only be done by one who was at least on God’s side. But on the other hand he couldn’t place limits on Jesus, he could not categorize Jesus. Jesus would not fit into one of Nic’s well crafted boxes of understanding. Nicodemus wanted an exact method, a procedure, a set of rules to live by. Jesus gave him poetry. Nicodemus wanted a course; a path to follow that led him in a guaranteed direction to a pre-determined place. Jesus says the wind blows where the wind blows. Nicodemus wanted to know the cause so he could predict the exact effect. Jesus calls him to relationship.
This is what a I call a swift kick of Christian love. Jesus is trying to crack open Nicodemus mind, trying to get good old nick to realize the connection between the physical and spiritual.
Now many a theologian over the years has interpreted this passage, and the passage we read from Paul this morning, to mean that there is a separation between the body and spirit and that the spirit or spiritual things are all that Christians should be concerned with. They are quite frankly wrong.
Consequently, this misinterpretation has led to really bad Christian behavior. For example, it has become at times in the church’s history, fashionable to mutilate the body in order to free the spirit. More common in our society today is the idea that since the spirit is saved then what we do with creation doesn’t matter. Since our souls are redeemed, we are free to use creation, to consume our natural resources with ne’er a second thought. Finally, a separation of matter and spirit leads some to think that the church should not be concerned about the social order. That the church and its members should be about ministering to the spiritual needs of people only. The church should be only concerned about the physical in order to relieve the symptoms of poverty and injustice but never question why poverty and injustice persist.
This interpretation and the resulting behavior are wrong because that is simply not what Jesus says. Jesus says to Nicodemus that one must be born of BOTH water—that is to say matter, physical substance, the stuff of creation—AND the spirit. Later in today’s Gospel Jesus says the most famous piece of scripture in
Jesus today is calling Nicodemus into relationship. Jesus is calling him away from a personal faith based on completing a checklist. Jesus is calling him into a faith that is relational. Jesus calls us to see the connection between heaven and earth, between body and spirit. This is hard for Nicodemus and us, because a checklist faith is ordered. A relational faith is messy. A relational faith requires us to be open to the spirit. Open to the fact that the spirit may lead us somewhere where we never thought we might go.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Now it is traditional to have assistant priests and curates preach on Trinity Sunday. It is a rite of passage for us to stand up and try and explain the Trinity. So I went looking for a decent definition, one that was simple, relatively short, and adequately explained the Trinity. I failed in this quest. People have written tomes upon tomes about the trinity. They have used philosophical language, mathematical language, sign language and symbols. But they just can’t get it done. This is because we can categorize God. We can’t with precision describe God completely. What we know of God is in relationship not as an item. The doctrine of the trinity is the teaching of God in relationship. Whether we say “father, son, and holy spirit” or “speaker, word, and breath” or “creator, redeemer, and sustainer” we are communicating a relationship. We are communicating our understanding that God is in relation with us in multiple ways that some how make us one as God, Jesus, and the Spirit are one.
To stay in relationship we must remain open. We must be open to God speaking the word Jesus Christ through the Spirit breath. We neither know where the wind comes from nor where it is headed, but if we are open God will lead us.
This week the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will gather to do business. We only do this once every three years, which is good. We should be about living Christ in our daily lives, not constantly sitting in business meetings quibbling over minute points of grammar. So, once every three years is enough. This convention, as all of them have, will confront questions of relationships—our relationships to money, our relationships to power, our relationships with each other. I is my hopeful prayer that the Bishops and Deputies of the general convention are the wisdom and stamina to remain open to the Spirit on every issue, open to the fact that we can not predict what God is willing to do in order to show us God loves us.
Now, just as the deputies and Bishops do not represent a specific constituency—rather they are to vote their conscience on every topic—they can’t live our faith for us either. Therefore, I too pray for all of us to remain open to God. Listening with open hearts to hear what God wants us to do in every moment, every relationship, and every breath of our lives.
Being open starts today as we kneel and pray. Being open starts today as we confess our sins, admitting to God and our neighbor when our hearts and minds have been closed to heaven and earth. Being open starts today when we walk this aisle and come to God’s heavenly table where we receive and consume the Body and Blood of Christ to go be the Body and Blood of Christ. Amen!
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Please forgive the pun, but in general I enjoyed General Convention. There will be much hoopla in the following days and months about the election of woman as Presiding Bishop, and even more about the Windsor Report. However, these are not the most radical and progressive things that occurred at General Convention.
If you read the papers and/or consume other forms of public media you would think that all we talked about at General Convention was sex. This could not be further from the truth. There was a lot of talk about ministry, even more about mission, and the most was about money. It's a business meeting; so, it makes sense that money dominated the debate. From these discussions of ministry, mission, and money the Episcopal Church has done the most radical thing it could at general convention. We have heard the call of God in the scriptures to charity AND justice. Consequently, we have adopted the millennium Development Goals as tools to focus our mission. So you tell me which is more radical: electing a woman to an executive position, or a denomination that represents less than 1% of the U.S. population deciding to eradicate extreme poverty in nine years? My vote is with the later!
Monday, June 19, 2006
From the Desk of The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, Presiding Bishop Elect of the Episcopal Church USA
“What do you consider the most important priorities
for the Presiding Bishop?”
The Presiding Bishop keeps us focused on the Reign of God, through unceasing attention to mission in the context of baptismal ministry. Christians and their communities are meant to be transformative elements in this world, laboring to create something much more like God’s Reign. The church’s work is to recognize where we have not yet attained God’s dream, speak gospel to that reality, and equip and empower all the baptized to do the work of transforming those places of not-yet. There are two obvious foci for our ministry: moving our sanctuaries into the streets to encounter and transform the bad news of this world; and implementing the Millennium Development Goals, which provide a signal opportunity in this age to realize the dream of God for all creation.
This church must embrace and celebrate all the diverse cultures, languages, and origins of the many parts of the Episcopal Church – Haiti, Taiwan, Province IX, the Churches in Europe, Virgin Islands, as well as the many cultures within the U.S. – First Nations, African-American, Spanishspeaking, Asian, and all Anglo varieties. None is more important than another; all are essential to the transforming work of the Body of Christ. Ultimately, the Presiding Bishop’s role is one of bridge-building and boundary crossing. If we are to reconcile the world, we must be bold enough to enter unfamiliar territory and partner wherever necessary to build toward the Reign of God. The Body is strengthened as all parts are honored, whatever their color or language, or liturgical, theological, or political stripe. God is to be found in that wilderness of difference, and reconciliation requires the crossing.
So, now I must make yet another confession. When I heard the slate of nominees for the presiding Bishop, I had not even considered Bishop Schori...not because she is a woman. I am married to a middle school math teacher. I have no doubts about the administrative leadership abilities of women in general. What I must confess is a lack of faith in the House of Bishops to truly consider each candidate. I assumed that they would write Bishop Schori off; so I wrote her off. There is an old adage about making assumptions. I thought I had learned it well a long time ago, but I guess I needed a refresher.
I leave General Convention today. I am eager to return to Nebraska, because there is a tremendous amount of work to be done before I leave for vacation next week. However, a lot of the weightier issues will be handled in the next few days, i.e. the budget, and Windsor Report resolutions. So, I'm a little a sad to miss those moments. I am more sad to once again leave friends that I had not seen in awhile. I got to spend considerable time with one of my roommates from seminary, Fr. Bob Griffith, and I was once again reminded how much I miss a lot of my friends. I wish them God speed, and I hope to run into them again someday!
Sunday, June 18, 2006
On Friday night of General Convention, I was blessed to be able to attend the Eucharist Hosted by Integrity (a grass roots advocacy group for the full inclusion of the GLBT community in the Episcopal Church). I say I was blessed for three reasons:
- I actually got in and got a seat. Trinity Episcopal church in downtown Columbus was completely FULL. Your read that right. An Episcopal Church was filled beyond capacity and it was neither Christmas nor Easter. They literally had to turn some people away because of safety reasons. Rarely, in my time as an Episcopalian, have I worship so closely with so many--closely in the we were literally sitting shoulder to shoulder snese. Would it not be wonderful if all our churches were overflowing every Sunday. Yes, our bodies might be a bit uncomfortable, but our souls would be the better. My first spiritual director taught me that our soul, our lives of faith, grow in community. They grow when we have to rub up against each other, when we can not isolate ourselves in a space where our egos and perceptions go unchecked. Plus, with that many people in a small space, singing becomes a whole lot of FUN!
- I was blessed to see so many from Nebraska at the Eucharist. The Bishop and Marty, Dean Hurly, Ruth and Larry Jaynes, Jody Kressenbock from Crete, and probably more that I could not see in the crowd were all there. Others wanted to attend, but either got there too late and it was full, or they went to another Eucharist hosted by the office of Hispanic Ministries--an equally attended and energetic worship experience.
- I was blessed to hear the Bishop of New Hampshire preach the Gospel. His message was simple: Love! Love those that love you and, more importantly, love those that don't love, and even hate, you. If ever there was a person that had a right to be angry, to be mad, to be vengeful it is him. I can not imagine what is like to have my life threatened simply becuase of how I was born. I can not imagine what it is like to have vicious hateful things said about and to me simply because of whom I love. I can not imagine having to wear a bullet-proof vest under my vestments simply to celebrate the Eucharist. Bishop Robinson has experienced all these things many, many times over. Yet, he is hopeful, kind, and loving. In the face of the negative and hateful energy that has been sent his way he has consistently responded with love and kindness. Indeed he is a faithfilled man. Indeed he is a role-model. Indeed he is an amazing pastor. Once again, I am sure that the Diocese of New Hampshire elected him, not because he is gay, but because he is an amazing pastor. I am a pretty cynical guy, and out of arrogance am pretty judgemental of all preachers. I was in tears from this sermon: tears of repentence for when I have not been loving, tears of wonder at the light of Christ shining from this man, and tears of hope that we in the pews would be inspired to love as Christ loves and make the world a merrier place.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Last night I attended the Presiding Bishop's forum on Reconciliation. He had gathered four speakers to promote the ministry of reconciliation as the primary mission of the Episcopal church. It was an outstanding forum, filled with passionate inspiring rhetoric that also included practical ways to get involved in the ministry of Reconciliation. Here are a few of the ways to be involved:
- Whenever someone who has been watching the news asks you about the "contreversies of the church" begin your response witht the statement that the churches mission is reconciliation and we therefore must have people of different minds coming together.
- ERD!!!!!!! Episcopal Relief and Development is an amazing institution with a proved track record of emergency response and continuing aid.
- The ONE Episcopalian Campaign: Just as ERD deals with the charity side of the reconciliation coin this, movement deals with the justice side. To paraphrase Dr. King we are to be the Good Samaritan, but the we must work to make the Jericho Road safe to all travelers as well.
- Prayer! Thomas Merton said(again paraphrasing) that you can't be a contemplative for long without eventually enaging the world for the betterment of it. Conversely, you can't engage the struggles of this creation without burning out if you aren't a contemplative. We must stay active in both out private prayer lives and our corporate worship. It's like what the singer/rockstar Bono once wrote in a lyric, "if you want to learn how to fly, you must learn how to kneel."
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
- Attended a committee hearing on Millenium Development Goals
- Participated in two sessions with author Lauren Winner on Sabbath Keeping and Spiritual Writing.
- Interviewed a prospective intern for the Resurrection House program
- Went to a reception for world missions
- Attend a U2charist (more on this in a moment)
- Purchased a table for and helped set up the booth to advertise the intern programs
- Met countless people
- Met several old friends I had not seen in awhile
- Attended a convention Eucharist
- Examined the exhibit booths with my roommate from seminary that works for the pension fund.
- Took a nap
- attended a working session of the special committee on the Windsor report: no testimony from non-committee members just word smithing by the committee
- Worked at the Intern booth
- attended receptions for General Seminary and the Episcopal Public Policy Network
- attended a hearing of the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee
I really can not describe all of these items in detail, because that would take all night. But I would like to offer a couple of reflections on the U2charist and the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee hearing.
A U2charist is an Episcopal worship service of communion with music by the band U2 and a message regarding the MDGs and the ONE campaign. They expected about a hundred people to attend and had over 700. Many would think that only "youth" would attend, but there were people of all ages there. Bishop Curry of North Carolina preached. My goodness this man can preach. He is one of those people that could read the phone book and you would want to give your heart to Jesus. It was a wonderful experience. The bishops message was simple: We can live out our witness of the love of Christ, we can practice what we preach by fulfilling the MDGs.
Second in the P,B, and F committee hearing I heard several Episcopalians speak on behalf of items in the budget ranging from Peace and Justice to Christian Education, from Navajo Ministries to support for ministries at Traditionally African American Colleges. My first reflection was of pride in the passion and eloquence with which the speakers expressed themselves. Second was that none of them brought forth a bad idea or a insignificant program; so, to which one do we say no? I in no way envy the people on that committee. There is so much work to be done and so many capable Episcopalians wanting to get the work done, but we don't have the funds to adequately fund all of them to the extent that is needed. God help us!
Monday, June 12, 2006
I am excited about the number of peopl at the young adult festival (about 150 or so) and the number of young adults here for other reason: volunteers, activists, staff, and even as DEPUTIES!!!! It is great to see people in the their 20s/30s as part of the decision making of the church! It has also been nice to run into old friends and aquaintences. The Episcopal church is a small church; so if you sick around it long enough you run into a lot of the same people.
Tomorrow morning I'm going to an open committee meeting concerning a piece of legislation asking every person, congregation, and diocese to commit 0.7% of thier income towards ministries working on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Their are 8 MDGs that call us to fix major problems in the world. Truly, for the first time in history, abject poverty is solely a political problem. The human race has the ability to feed, clothe, and provide basic medical care for itself. The fact that there are people who live at less than this minimal level is a social/political problem. If we are looking to be reconciled to each other the way we are to God--to love God, neighbor and oursleves in that order--then we should be about organizing our lives, our communities, our states, and our world so that all can have a chance at life. The legislation is about making the call for us to commit our money and ourselves to these goals. You can probably guess that I'm already in favor if it, but I haven't, as of yet, made this type of finanicial commitment. So, after the committee I'll have to swing by the exhibit hall and find some ministries I can support that work in these goals.
Time to sleep!
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I could go on and on about how wrong I think the House of Representitive Immigration Bill is wrong. I could build a strong intellectual case against every facet of the bill, but that's not what I'm feeling right now. I am feeling that I should make my confession. I should confess to you and God that I have not loved the alien as myself. It seems in this moment that the most truthful thing I can say is that I am more concerned about my well being--the roof over my head, the food in my stomach--then anyone elses, even my wife's. I don't befriend those different from me very well, but I should.
I ask God to forgive me. I ask you to forgive me. I ask God to change me, and I ask you to help me change.