Beloved in Christ,
Having just emerged from the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and in the midst of this uncommonly hot and dry weather (please join me in prayer for rain and for more moderate temperatures, for the sake of all whose livelihoods depend on agriculture), I have much to share with you.
First, let me offer just a few reflections on General Convention.
Your deputation worked very hard, and conducted itself with distinction. I could not be more proud of our lay deputies: Elisabeth Langford (Trinity, Jacksonville), Kevin Babb (St Andrew’s, Edwardsville), Gerry Smith (Christ the King, Normal), with the fourth slot shared by Rick Velde (Christ Church, Springfield) and Joe Patterson (St Paul’s Cathedral); and our clergy deputies: Shawn Denney (St Luke’s, Springfield and Archdeacon), Kip Ashmore (Trinity, Jacksonville), Geoffrey Scanlon (Holy Trinity, Danville), and Gene Tucker (Trinity, Mt Vernon). The work of a Deputy is, quite frankly, grueling, with early morning committee meetings, long legislative sessions, and several evening commitments. If their experience was anything like mine, they returned home sleep-deprived and slightly disoriented. When you see any of them, please express your hearty thanks. We were also represented in the ECW Triennial by Jan Goosens (St Thomas’, Glen Carbon), Chris DeWitt (St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel), Deacon Ann Tofani (St Mary’s, Robinson), Roberta Clark (St Michael’s, O’Fallon), and Mother Sherry Black (St James’, Marion). I also spotted Linda Toberman from St James’, Marion helping out in one of the exhibitor’s booths.
Significant steps were taken toward a structural reform of historic proportions. The level of pain felt across the Episcopal Church resulting from precipitous decline in membership has reached critical mass. The convention authorized the creation of a Special Task Force of around twenty people that will operate outside the usual governance structures of the church. Its job will be to re-imagine the mission, administration, and governance of the Episcopal Church. Part of this will involve a special gathering, to which every diocese will be invited to send one bishop, one priest, one lay person, and one other person who must be younger than 35. While the 2015 General Convention will still need to approve any changes this task force proposes, the special gathering will effectively be a constitutional convention. Everything–our entire constitution and canons, and everything else about our common life–is on the table for review. This process evokes both hope and fear. I believe we are in for lots of surprises, some of which may be pleasant, and others less so. I choose to live in hope. But I am already holding this process in my prayers.
The growing movement to rethink the traditional sacramental order of Baptism first, then Eucharist, hit a brick wall. The resolution that was reported out of the Evangelism Committee, and subsequently passed by the House of Deputies without amendment, left the door implicitly ajar for the uncanonical practice, followed in many places, of formally inviting all who are in attendance to recieve Holy Communion, regardless of their baptismal status. The House of Bishops, however, slammed the door hard, removing any ambiguity, and sent it back to the Deputies on the afternoon of the last day of convention, where it was concurred and therefore formally adopted. I voted with the overwhelming majority of the bishops on this, and was pleased to see my colleagues stepping up and exercising the teaching authority that comes with the office.
A provisional liturgical form for the blessing of marriage and marriage-like relationships between persons of the same sex was authorized for use. This was, of course, simultaneously completely predictable–no one doubted it would happen–and the most intensely contested act of the convention. It carried by roughly a 3:1 margin in both houses. It should come as no surprise that I voted with the minority, as did our entire deputation. I must say that, for the most part, the conversation was carried on in a respectful manner, and with a minimum of chest-thumping by the victorious side after the results became clear. For this I am grateful. I am also grateful for clear provisions that protect the conscience of bishops and dioceses in this largely “progressive” church, as well as clergy and parishes in “progressive” dioceses. This rite, or anything like it, will not be authorized for use in the Diocese of Springfield. That said, I am not unaware that there are some in this diocese, clergy and laity, who find my position disheartening. It gives me no joy to be the source of disappointment or pain to anyone. I honor the witness of faithful lesbian and gay Episcopalians in the diocese. They enrich our life together, and it is my desire to be a pastor to all, especially those who are hurt by decisions I must make. I pledge a special effort to stay connected and in dialogue with those who feel marginalized by my words or actions. I wish there were an easier way through this.
I cannot describe how excited and encouraged I am by the conversations I’ve been having with congregations all around the dioceses about our mission strategy vision. Together, we are embracing a future that will demand a great deal of us as our surrounding culture plunges into secularization. I believe the Holy Spirit is leading us into the path through which we will be able to negotiate that change as faithful disciples of Jesus and faithful witnesses to the gospel.
As you see this post, I am beginning my annual sabbath rest. I look forward to this time of recollection and refreshment. Brenda and I will be visiting with family members and spending some time in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ll be back in the office on August 22.
Faithfully in Christ,