Day 2 of the spring 2019 meeting of the House of Bishops. We had two principal speakers today, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,.
The morning speaker was Vashti McKenzie, a bishop for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It wasn’t a sermon, strictly speaking, as it wasn’t in the context of public worship and wasn’t grounded in a scriptural text or set of lections. But it had all the hallmarks of a sermon, particularly a sermon in the great African American tradition of preaching, which can be quite compelling.
As rhetorically awesome as it was, however, I found it difficult to discern where she was tried to go with it. Eventually, things coalesced somewhat: She was trying to get us to examine whether, as Episcopalians, we are disposed to be more attached to the church qua institution than to the church’s Lord, more devoted to the infrastructure of our ecclesial life than to its mission and purpose. I can certainly give an “Amen” to this. As one who was drawn into the Anglican-Catholic tradition from free-church evangelicalism nearly five decades ago, there’s still a part of me that wonders whether people I meet in the church really “know the Lord.” On this, Bishop McKenzie and I are singing the same tune. (I must confess some discomfort, though, with her opposition of “churchianity” and “Christ-ianity.” If the Church isn the Body of Christ, and Christ is the Head of the Church, there is no avoiding the church; one cannot be connected to the Head without being connected to the Body.)
I was less appreciative, however, of lines like this: “We preach Jesus rather than preaching what Jesus preached.” She said this in criticism. Maybe I’m overly cynical, but where it felt to me that statements like this point is to a “let’s-change-the-world” ethical theism rather than a faith grounded in the paschal mystery that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I’m all for trying to pattern our lives after the teaching of Jesus. But Jesus’ teaching is probably the least interesting thing about him. She closed her presentation with what I took to be her summary of the gospel: “You are worthy of neighbor-love. Now take that neighbor-love and share it with someone else.” My question is, Where’s the cross? Where’s the resurrection? Where’s the paschal mystery?
The afternoon presenter was Ric Thorp, the Bishop of Islington, which is a suffragan bishopric in the Diocese of London. He has a very unusual remit, with no geographic responsibility. His job is to plant/revitalize churches and then turn them over to a bishop who does have territorial jurisdiction. Bishop Thorp comes from the evangelical stream in the Church of England, and spend a substantial amount of time on the staff of Holy Trinity, Brompton, the evangelism dynamo parish in west London that spawned the Alpha Course. His presentation was concrete, thorough, and too long for his time slot, which required him to shorten it considerably toward the end. But there was an infectious quality to his presentation, one that imparted a sense that evangelism and church revitalization is something that can be done, that it is a learnable skill, that there are proven sets of “best practices.” It was very encouraging.
Following Bishop Thorp, there was a panel discussion between him, the Presiding Bishop, and Bishop McKenzie.
This was an evening devoted a “class” dinners. Mine is the Class 0f 2011, which consists of all the bishops where were elected in 2010, and consecrated either in that year, or in 2011. It is a marvelous group of colleagues, and we have become great friends over the years. One of us, who is now retired, has a home in nearby Hendersonville, where he and his wife hosted the dinner.