It’s gloriously springtime in the piney woods of east Texas, as this shot of a blooming redbud show. Is it also springtime for evangelism in the Episcopal Church? The House of Bishops spent most of another day examining the subject.
Once again, we began with a celebration of the Eucharist, at which the Bishop of the Dominican Republic presided (in Spanish) and the Bishop of Indianapolis preached (about “relational courage”). We then spent some time in table groups with another set of starter questions, this time derived from some of the vows bishops take at their consecration, and intended to elicit personal narrative about speaking the gospel into both ordinary and demanding situations.
The final hour or so was given over to more consideration of the ministry of Renewal Works, with its head, the Revd Jay Sidebotham, leading the discussion. There was a particular emphasis on how Renewal Works attempts to translate the process from the pan-evangelical milieu which is its origin into language and categories that are more comfortable and familiar to Episcopalians. I told a colleague in passing walking out of the session that the discussion felt to me like doing surgery on metastatic cancer (not that I’ve ever done that, so … ): the diseased tissue is so finely interwoven with healthy tissue that it’s impossible to separate the two. Much of what I heard rang very true. In assessing the spiritual vitality of an Episcopal congregation, questions around the liturgy and the experience of the Eucharist need to be asked. As Catholic Christians, we are more communal and less individualistic in the way we articulate and engage Christian faith and practice. At the same time, I get very jittery when I hear resistance to expressions like “salvation by grace” or “the authority of scripture,” or reinterpretations of such expressions so as to rob them of their classic meaning. (See my comments on Day 1 about getting comfortable with evangelism just by redefining it.)
After lunch, there were a number of breakout groups available to us on a range of topics broadly related to evangelism. I will confess–and don’t judge me, because I’ve probably already judged myself more harshly–that I elected to take advantage of the beautiful weather (sunny, 60s, low humidity) for a long and brisk walk through the woods. Considering the attractive unhealthiness of much of the Camp Allen food, exercise was what I needed. I did think about evangelism while walking, however!
At 3:30, we reconvened in plenary session, and after a couple of preliminaries, back into formal business session. (In my time in the HOB, this is the first time the business session has not occurred as the last item on the agenda on the last day of the meeting.) We adopted a statement about #MeToo, with plans for activities looking into that subject at this summer’s General Convention. We also re-0pened consideration of the gun violence resolution, agreeing to look at an entirely rewritten substitute for the text we talked about yesterday. Instead of jabbing the NRA directly, it attempts to ride the wave created by the students from Parkland themselves.
I’m not going to reproduce the text here; you can find it pretty easily using a search engine, I’m sure. It passed unanimously, which means I voted for it. Am I comfortable with every aspect of it? No. I’m highly allergic to any language suggesting that God has a “dream.” God is sovereign. He doesn’t have dreams; he has plans! And I have no intention of participating in any sort of protest march on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. But politics, as they say, is the art of the possible. So I swallow those bits of discomfort for the sake of the following language, which I moved as an amendment, and which was adopted into the final version of the statement:
In addition, we pledge ourselves to bring the values of the gospel to bear on a society that increasingly glorifies violence and trivializes the sacredness of every human life.
Legislative action to make military-grade weapons and ammunition less accessible may indeed save some lives in the near term. (In voting for this, have I violated my rubric about taking a stand on an issues about which Christians of goodwill and an informed conscience might legitimately disagree? I’m not sure, but it’s difficult for me to imagine a compelling moral argument for bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.) But we would be derelict in taking such action if we do not at the same time try to prevent mass violence that might occur ten and twenty years from now. Popular culture (music, video games, etc.) is one of the toxic ingredients in the stew that leads to tragic events like Parkland.
After Evening Prayer, most of the bishops went off site for “class” dinners. My Class of 2011 (all those elected in 2010) perpetuated our tradition, when we are at Camp Allen, of going to Chuy’s, a chain Mexican restaurant in College Station (about a 40 minute drive). I am blessed to be part of an amazing class. We have become really good friends over the years. We had a wonderful time.