July 7 – Evangelism

I was asked to serve as the bishop vice-chair of the Evangelism and Mission Legislative Committee at this convention – and happily so, as I requested this assignment of the presiding bishop.  I chose this particular committee out of my personal interest and calling as the chief evangelist in the Diocese of Maryland, but also because of the Diocese’s commitment to evangelism as expressed in our Horizons 2015 priorities.

Of the several resolutions the committee is dealing with, two especially have some impact on the Diocese.  Today, I want to discuss one of them, and write about the other one tomorrow.

The first one is the proposal (Resolution A073) that calls for the development and funding of  “Mission Enterprise Zones” within dioceses wherein creative initiatives are launched to evangelize under-represented groups in the Episcopal Church.  These groups included youth and young adults, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high school diploma or less, and/or people with little or no church background or involvement.

This is a very fine proposal which I think can result in much evangelism being incubated across our Church.  As many have well-documented, these have not been good years for evangelization and church growth for the Episcopal Church.  We – as all but a very few denominations in the United States – have been faced with steady declines in church attendance and membership, and we need to find ways to tell our faith stories as Anglicans to many more people. Young people especially are not going to our churches in droves, and those who are not white, relatively affluent and well-educated are not well represented in our pews in the Diocese of Maryland given their numbers in our State.

These Mission Enterprise Zones will be initiated, developed, monitored and mostly funded on the local levels, i.e. dioceses.  What the General Convention is being asked is to establish a denomination-wide “Mission Enterprise Fund” of $1 million over the next three years able to make $20,000 grants to the local mission enterprise zones.

I enthusiastically support this proposal.  This is exactly the kind of thing that many of us have been wanting our national church’s mission units to do.  What could $20,000 do?  A lot, I think.  Such a grant could seed initiatives in the Diocese of Maryland to, say:

  • Start neighborhood youth choirs
  • Fix up houses in low-income areas to be used for creative ministries
  • Provide foreign language training for clergy and lay missioners
  • Set up a coffeehouse ministry
  • Fund a new campus ministry
  • A thousand other ideas…

What could your parish or community do with a $20,000 grant to spread the gospel to more people?

+Eugene

General Convention Day 2

Early Monday morning, as the car turned west on 1-70 and we headed to Indianapolis and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I began to wonder: What sort of convention might this be? I was traveling with two veterans of all things Episcopal-Scott Bellows (Rector of St. David’s, Roland Park) and Alma Bell (Memorialite and Episcopalian extraordinaire) They both were giving me all kinds of tips about convention-from how you open your binder during each session to meeting for lunch to evening receptions and much, much more. But I kept wondering: To what could I compare this 10 – day church convention that meets once every three years?

Would it be like a political convention with crazy hats and banners and cheering (incuding Bronx cheering) in the convention hall? Would there be nominating speeches amid the resolutions? Or would it be like the convention I saw gathering in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel in downtown Denver-the Beta Gamma Phi sorority with women of all ages in cowboy hats having a good ole’ time of fun and fellowship? Or would these 10 days feel more like a business convention with educational events and ways to do church better? Would this feel like work or play? Would it be inspirational or workmanlike in character? Since this is my first General Convention, I imagine that it will feel a bit like both-with the business of running the church in resolutions and committee meetings combined with the inspiration of a community that tries to build its foundation and ministry on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But what I know from my friends that have come to Convention before is this fact: They absolutely LOVE it. But why?

Here’s my initial guess: What I’ve found already is that General Convention feels a little like another summer-type gathering: a family reunion. Since arriving Monday afternoon, I have seen friends in the Episcopal Church from all over the country. I’ve seen Karen from Massachusetts, Ken from Idaho, Luke from Florida, Margaret from New York, and Bruce from Atlanta. And that’s just in the first 24 hours! All these folks are from different time periods of my life and have influenced my ministry in some way over the years. I can only imagine how this will grow over our 10 days in Indianapolis. Just like a family reunion, you begin to realize how blessed you are with the great cloud of witnesses that are part of your life-and that you only see from time to time. We all need to be reminded that when we choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to join Christ’s Body, the Church, we gain a whole amazing family that extends past our parish, across the country, and around the world. Alleluia for the Episcopal Family Reunion!

Blessings in Christ,

The Rev. Martha N. Macgill

Read more posts by Martha at Mother Martha’s Meditations

What is Our Role in Peace for Palestine?

Yesterday afternoon, the Committee for National and International Concerns heard testimony on about 12 resolutions encouraging the church to act in support of the Palestinian people. Even our own Diocese of Maryland put forth a resolution on this complex issue. After reading the resolutions and listening to the testimony, here is my distillation of the arguments at hand.
No one disagrees that Palestine and the minority community of Palestinian Christians are being oppressed, persecuted, and denied basic human rights. Everyone also agrees that in the United States, the story of the Palestinian Christian people is not widely known and they feel forgotten by their brothers and sisters in the West.

But how do you fight the oppression and discrimination of a people?

Some resolutions called for only taking action that was in support of Palestine: building relationships, supporting education, making pilgrimage, investing in their economy, telling their story and being very careful not to paint a negative picture of Israel. These resolutions were endorsed by the presiding bishop and others as a way to move towards justice with our Palestinian brothers and sisters without alienating our relationship with Israel. Presiding Bishop Katharine wrote, “The process towards peace is often unbearably and indefensibly slow…” But this is the path that keeps us faithful to all of our relationships in the Middle East.
Other resolutions called for more aggressive measures, calling for all the same action of the more conservative resolutions and pressure for the divestment of the Israeli settlements, economic boycott of Israel, and endorsing materials for education about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict that criticize the unjust policies of Israel. The two controversial materials are “Kairos”, a document written by the Palestinian people about their situation and “Steadfast Hope”, a teaching resource adopted from the original publication by the Presbyterian Church that criticizes Israel for their treatment of the Palestinian people.
One man testified, “One side does not hold all the blame, but one side holds all the power.” He continued to describe how “behind the scenes work towards peace and justice is no longer working. Putting pressure on unjust policies of the Israeli government is not anti-semitism, it is the only faithful thing we can do.”
Another man testified that the education materials being recommended told a one-sided and false account of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He criticized Kairos and Steadfast Hope as unhelpful and vilifying the people of Israel, “this is not the kind of education we need to be promoting.”
When I first entered the room for the hearing I quickly noticed a few people with yarmulke’s and I wondered what kind of testimony they would be giving. Serving a parish in Pikesville, MD – a predominately Jewish community – and having been part of conversations between Christian and Jewish clergy about Israel and Palestine, I am very sensitive to the way the Jewish community refuses to publicly criticize Israel. I was surprised and moved by what they had to say because of their passion and their unusual willingness to speak critically of Israel.
One woman, an 80 year old survivor of the holocaust who escaped as a child. Her entire family was killed in Auschwitz. Her parents had been anti-Zionist. She spoke passionately about the need to support the Palestinian people. She saw their persecution in the light of her own experience of persecution and had spent her life traveling and speaking out in defense of them, even though it caused her much criticism from the Jewish community.
A man who was raised in a Jewish settlement, served in the Israeli military, and was now a Cantor in a reform synagogue said that the only faithful response was to criticize Israel so that they might move towards respectful relationships with Palestine and benefit from a peace with their neighbors instead of constant fear of terrorism from an enemy.
After listening to all of the testimony offered, I was even more convinced that this issue is terribly complicated and even with the best of intentions, it is unclear what is a faithful path forward. The only thing I am clear about is the need to stay in relationship. Be in honest communication with everyone about the injustices that have been witnessed and proclaim the hope for reconciliation that will bring healing for all involved.

We Need Some Crazy Christians!

Bishop Curry and his fans

Bishop Michael Curry and his fans. Photo by Val Hymes

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, bishop of North Carolina, preached at the community Eucharist this morning on the feast day celebrating Harriet Beecher Stowe. (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/07/07/north-carolina-bishop-michael-curry-preaches-at-convention-eucharist/) Using Mark 3: 10-21 he noted that those who heard Jesus speak and saw what he was doing, thought he was crazy and he was! And, Bishop Curry said, “those who would follow in his footsteps, those who would be his disciples are called, and summoned, and challenged to be just as crazy as he is!” Crazy Christians who will not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. Crazy Christians who will be servants for Christ. Curry suggested that, “it is our calling to be different.  It is to love when it is easier to hate. To give and not to count the cost. To speak when others would be silent. To stand up when it is more tempting to sit down.  To stand up, stand up for Jesus.  Stand up for his love, to stand up for his goodness, to stand up for his compassion, to stand up until the nightmare of this world is overcome by God’s dream for it. We need some crazy Christians.”

(And might I add we need more crazy preachers to follow in the preaching footsteps of Rev. Curry. We need to be the kind of preachers that people want to hear from, who are excited to hear from and come to our churches to hear from! We need some crazy preachers!)

At a ministry panel as part of the Young Adult Festival, four crazy Christians spoke to us about their calls and journeys of ministry. All of them were crazy enough to listen to where God was calling them and crazy enough to follow.  The Rev. Caro Hall is crazy enough to have come out as a lesbian, discerned a calling to the priesthood and accepted the invitation to be president of INTEGRITY, the Episcopal Church’s national and leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church and our equal access to its rites. Kim Robey is crazy enough to speak out for gender justice and women’s empowerment all over the globe and become the Executive Director of Anglican Women’s Empowerment.  She leads other crazy women and men in standing up and speaking out for the equal rights and treatment of women and girls against world powers who have a vested interest in maintaining the unjust status quo. The Rev. Matthew J. Moretz is crazy enough to have created  ”Father Matthew Presents,” a series of video blogs focusing on issues of faith and ministry from the perspective of an Episcopal priest.  The series is a close-up view of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century.  Father Matthew seeks to present the treasures of Christianity one video at a time and is crazy enough to put is face and his message of “what is awesome about the Episcopal church” out there on the internet for the world to see and hear the good news of God in Jesus Christ. And Larry Bourgeois is crazy enough to be working with the Church to develop Fresh Expressions of ministry and “third-place communities” for people to gather to explore their faith and their doubts and build relationships with God and with each other.  He is crazy enough to say, “hey, maybe we can form communities right where people already are, like coffee shops and bookstores. Instead of demanding that they come to us, to Church, let’s go to them.”

May we follow the crazy example of those saints who have gone before us like Harriet Beecher Stowe. May we be crazy Christians who don’t try and bring God to people but help them recognize that God is already in their midst. May we be crazy Christians who come out as who they truly are.  May we be crazy Christians who welcome all to the table.  May we be crazy Christians who not only say they believe the crazy things that Jesus said, but do the crazy things that Jesus did. Like love their neighbor.  And their enemy.  And their self.  And God. May we be crazy Christians who Incarnation the crazy love of God in all we do and say and are, every single day.

– The Rev. Canon Sara L. Shisler

Own it!

This is my first General Convention and I am blessed to be attending as part of the Young Adult Festival.  For the last three conventions the Young Adult festival has allowed people between the ages of 18-30 to engage fully in the workings of GC while also creating a space to make connections with other young adults and process the events of the convention within that community.  The Church has affirmed the presence of youth and young adults in its midst and committed to grow these valuable ministries.  It is wonderful to have our Church body recognize the integral role that the younger generations play in the life and work of the church NOW and not only in the distant future.  Finally, our ideas, our sense of mission and our leadership is being recognized as significant and determinative of what kind of body we, as a church, are and will be in the twenty-first century.
That being said it is an equally exciting and necessary part my own formation as a young adult leader in the church, and the future of our church as a whole, to learn from and listen to  those members and leaders with more experience, wisdom and history. I have learned so much in just the first two days and I am so grateful to our delegates and senior delegates for their patience with me as I learn the deeper nuances of our church’s polity, politics, power struggles and prayerful presence.  This is an exciting and somewhat scary time for our Church where much is changing and needs to change as we respond to the realities we find ourselves in. So far I have been impressed with the civility of the process and how kind and respectful everyone is being to one other, even as they disagree.  Sure there are those struggling with fear; perhaps we each are in our own way.  Yet my experience is that in a broad sense we are intending to stand in a place of hope and not fear. The church has big and important business to do over these ten days.  The love and passion that people have for the Church and the work of God in the world, even amidst disagreements over how it should be done, is heartwarming and encouraging. I am finding myself proud of our Church and hopeful for our future. We are facing the uncertain future together, honestly and with focused, prayerful discernment on where God is calling us to go and who God is calling us to be in this new day.  We are striving to claim who we are- the people of God- and owning who we are, what we know and what we don’t know, our strengths and our failings.  The first night of the Young Adult Festival our organizers shared that in planning our time together the theme emerged of “own it!” Own who we are as a young leaders and seekers in the Church.  Own who we are as Episcopalians, who we are as Christians and who we are as followers of Jesus seeking to live out God’s call together to bring the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

The Rev. Canon Sara L. Shisler

The Welcome Table

Those sitting on the Committee on Evangelism knew they could not dispense with resolution C040 — Open Table — in a few minutes. The proposal, sponsored by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, went to the heart of what it means to gather as God’s people.  Latecomers to Friday’s hearings could not find a seat during the morning session, or the afternoon session. People crowded the doorways, leaned against the walls, or sat on the floor.

At issue was whether or not the Episcopal Church should formally change its practice and “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” Proponents spoke about the need for unconditional and radical hospitality. Opponents wondered whether this proposal diminished baptism in the name of a fuzzy inclusivity.

Scripture was no help. Both sides quoted Jesus. Tradition? That only raised questions about what the Early Church did and why.  The only point agreed upon was this: There is power in the Eucharist, sacred, holy power that brings tears to our eyes as it works upon our wounded, yearning souls. This power is beyond our understanding. We know it exists. How it works is a divine mystery.

People told stories about how they were transformed by receiving Holy Communion before they had been baptized. They wondered aloud whether they would have become faithful and faith-filled Christians had they been denied the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Priests talked about giving the Sacrament to unbaptized babies and others who came to the altar rail. Some described judgment calls made on pastoral visits. Put simply, the cancer ward is really not the place to decide who should and who should not receive Holy Communion.

Resolution C040′s ultimate fate remains unknown. But those who spoke, or heard the testimony, or read the resolution had to examine their own views about this Sacrament that lies at the core of our Christian identity.

You, too, can make your own inquiry.  Visit www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions.

The Rev. M. Dion Thompson

 

 

News from the Triennial

Our meeting began with the traditional presentation of pewter crosses with the ECW symbol.  The cross represents Christ, the circle stands for hope of wholeness in our lives and others, and the outflowing lines depict the many works of ECW in the world the intertwined lines are our lives centered in Christ.  Once the crosses were blessed, the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gave each member a cross.

The Bishop of Indianapolis, the Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick, welcomed us all to her city.  The highlight was the keynote speech, the Rev. Lindsay Harden Freeman, who gave a humerous talk on women in the Bible, women in the church, and women in our lives and the gift and support we  have all received from them.

It was announced then, 285 voting members were in attendance and Province III had all 13 dioceses represented.

We are off to a good start!

Dottie, Barbara, and Sara

Where your treasure is…

… there your heart will be also.

There is a committee at General Convention that is so important to the functioning of the church that is both courted and cursed by everyone. Truly, a Love-Hate relationship exists with the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee – affectionately knows as PB&F. We all know that funding is necessary for the work of the church and everyone is vying for a their share of the available funds.

At the very start of convention a hearing was held with PB&F where people could speak about the importance of their ministry, their mission, their heartfelt vocation to do God’s will in the world. People stood before PB&F and said, “Here is where my heart is…” and the response that everyone desires is – The Episcopal Church’s will put its treasure where my heart is.

Many wonderful resolutions come before the convention, even get voted in the affirmative, but unless PB&F decides to allocate funding in that line item, the resolution can lie dormant, unable to be acted on. Our hearts may be there, but our treasure is not. Here is where hearts break and we struggle not to curse PB&F. No one envies their job, and everyone wants to be tucked under the wing of the budget.

Two heartfelt missions were repeated over and over during the hearing with PB&F
1. Ministry with and for Indigenous Peoples
2. Ministry with Youth and Young Adults
The testimony was impassioned, heartfelt, and all of our hearts went out for more youth ministry, funding for the Episcopal Youth Event, money for campus ministries, money for Episcopal ministry on reservations, Asset Based Community Development to empower the “Native” Americans who have had so much taken from them since this land was taken over and colonized.

It remains to be seen where our treasure will be allocated. But every day people are sharing more and more of their hearts with each other in the hopes that the church’s treasure will find its way into our heartfelt ministries.

Stay tuned…

Breathe

Breathe. Take a moment to feel your own breath. Take a moment to feel your spirit connecting with God. Take a moment before the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church shifts into overdrive and the hectic rush of committee hearings and legislative sessions make you forget that God is at work here in Indianapolis.  Breathe. That’s what Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori advised us.

“Breathe deep for the spirit is blowing a fresh wind,” she said. “Breathe deep and be not afraid.”

Our time here gives us a chance to confront some of those fears that pulse through the Episcopal Church, those whispered voices that speak of a diminished life when we all know God is having none of that. Behold, I am doing a new thing! The Holy Trinity has thrown down an old-fashioned challenge, forcing us to rethink who we are in the 21st century. Nothing new there. Our forefathers and mothers did the same thing, century after century. And here we are again.

This time around we’re talking about possibly changing our Church’s structure. There’s an upcoming discussion on the idea of having an “open table,” allowing anyone, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism, to receive Holy Communion. That kind of talk can take your breath away. You might start hyperventilating. You might forget to breathe.

In her opening address, Canon Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, suggested we see our time together as a nine-day Bible study. We’ve another chance to consider how the institutional church can become “the people of God church.”

This is no time to sink ourselves in false dichotomies and either-or questions: Are we for mission, or governance. We need both. We need the prayers and taize chants, along with a dose of decorum and order.

And so we breathe and do our part to make sure our Church continues to be God’s beating heart in the world.

– The Rev. M. Dion Thompson

 

July 4 Reflection from Bishop Sutton

One of the joys in my daily routine is to read some words of spiritual wisdom from several sources.  One such resource is the “Daily Faith” brief reflection sent from Well for the Journey, a non-profit center offering spiritual nourishment for daily living. (Visit their website at www.wellforjourney.org)

Today’s quote is especially well-suited for our national Independence Day holiday when we reflect on the meaning of freedom for our nation and our own lives.  The quote is:

“Resolve to live in the kingdom where God lives within you and you live within God.  That is the kingdom of freedom.  That is God’s kingdom, the world of grace.”

These wise words from M. R. Bawa Muhalyaddeen, a Sufi master, remind me that true freedom can only be fully realized in God, when I give myself totally to God’s reign in my life and in my relationships with others.  That kingdom is ruled by grace – not by my insatiable drives to satisfy my own desires, my own aspirations, my own will to seek power, control, security and success.

As The Episcopal Church gathers in its triennial national meeting in Indianapolis, I wonder what it would mean for our Church to seek this kind of freedom?  How would it increase our witness in the midst of this national day of reflection to model a way of “independence” that knows that our freedom is based on our being dependent on God and on one another?

+Eugene