Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…
It’s hard to believe, but General Convention—that great, crazy, amazing gathering of Episcopalians—is over until we gather again in Salt Lake City three years from now. What did it all mean?
The world at large has responded to our General Convention by saying that the Episcopal Church is a dying breed (see Wall Street Journal opinion piece, House of Worship, by Jay Akasie, and the Sunday New York Times Editorial Page, Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? by Ross Douthat). But what I feel after 10 days in Indianapolis with a whole grand group of faithful Episcopalians who deeply love and are deeply dedicated to this church is an exciting sense of hope. Hope for a future that we just can’t quite see yet.
In Ross Douthat’s editorial in Sunday’s New York Times, he noted that “the more progressive the Episcopal Church becomes, the more it shrinks.” Yet he also said this: “The defining idea of liberal Christianity—that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion—has been an immensely positive force in our national life.” From the time of Bishop William White (whose life we honor today) through the Social Gospel movement of the nineteenth century into the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Episcopal Church has been at its best when lives out the Gospel in the world. I felt that very same Episcopal Church at General Convention—not only when we passed the resolution continuing our work on the theology of marriage and life-long covenanted relationships but also when we passed resolutions of the relationship between Palestine and Israel, on anti-racism, on the inclusion of transgendered persons in the life of the church, and more. Truth be told, the leadership of the Episcopal Church knows that we need different structures in the 21st century to live out these Gospel imperatives. The task force to study our structure in these next three years before General Convention 2015 will be about making us a church that is more nimble (the catch word of the 2012 General Convention) as an institution to respond to the work of the Kingdom.
Douthat also wrote that “What should be wished for…is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence….the Christianity that animated causes like the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” We have to know who we are and whose we are—and proclaim it. Perhaps we have to get back to Jesus’ essential message: Feed my sheep. Operative words are feed—the action. And my—the people of God. The broken world. It’s possible. We have a great cloud of living witnesses to the Episcopal tradition of living the Gospel. I saw it for 10 days in Indianapolis. In the grand scope of the world’s religions, it might be small, but it is mighty. Just like a dusty group of disciples and a teacher walking the roads of Galilee a few centuries ago. The institutional structures of the church may be wasting away, but the tradition lives on strong as ever before.