Follow along most evenings for a video reflection from Bishop Steve with news from the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in Indianapolis July 5 through 12. Many thanks to Gretchen Lane for offering her videography services again.
Some months ago the Bishops of Province I (New England) were invited to the Cathedral of St. Paul’s, Boston, MA, for a reception for the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as he prepares to step down as the Bishop of New Hampshire. As a long time friend and colleague of Gene’s, I was happy to accept the invitation.
A few weeks ago, I learned that the context for the reception was Gay Pride Week in Boston and that the attending bishops would march in the Pride Parade before the reception. With a certain amount of trepidation, I decided a quick trip for the reception would not work, and so went down the night before to get familiar with the lay of the land and make connections with Bishop Tom Shaw.
As fate would have it, only four bishops were able to make the parade and reception, ordinations and graduations requiring the rest of the Province I bishops to be elsewhere. That being the case, I was very glad I was able to join Tom Shaw, Bishop of Massachusetts, and Barbara Harris, retired Suffragan Bishop, in walking with and thanking Gene.
It was a quite wonderful day. Despite severe thunderstorms, including strong winds and hail, the night before, Saturday dawned bright and sunny. In fact it turned out to be a very warm day. The Boston Pride Parade route covered 2.6 miles, and the marchers themselves covered well over a mile. There were all kinds of groups, including Macy’s, local radio stations, the governor and the mayor. Something like 200 Episcopalians marched from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, led in procession by a crucifer, a thurifer, and streamer bearers from The Crossing, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Barbara rode in a red Mustang convertible, honored as the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion, while Tom, Gene and I trudged along on foot.
What struck me most on the long, hot and sometimes very noisy march, was the sense of surprise and, sometimes, joy which greeted our appearance. People would look quizzically upon seeing the cross and the incense pot, then suddenly recognize who was coming. People frequently called out Bishop Robinson’s name or would say loudly to a neighbor, “That’s MY church!” There were frequent expressions of thanks, and sometimes loud applause. Occasionally there were tears.
We weren’t the only church group, of course. There were many. And I would make no special claim for the Episcopalians. But we certainly do know how to transform a parade into a procession! And our message of welcome for all people is still vitally important. Despite the secularism of our age, despite the suspicion of many about large institutions, including the church, there is still a deep hunger for connection, for welcome, for community, for God. And people who may feel afraid to darken our doors were simply delighted that we came out to be with them.
The day ended with a cook-out at the Cathedral and a brief service of thanksgiving for Gene. I got to say a few words of thanks to Gene for his work, not only as a bishop, but long before as Canon in New Hampshire and as a founder of both Fresh Start and the Safe Church movement. He’s made an immense contribution to the health of our church.
But what I remember most are the expressions of surprise, delight, and joy on the faces in the crowd.
The budget process for The Episcopal Church is an interesting one – and extraordinarily complex. The Executive Council, whose job it is to implement the decisions of the most recent General Convention, is also requested to present a proposed, draft budget for the next General Convention. It has that responsibility because it oversees expenditures from the budget and makes adjustments during the triennium: it has contemporary experience of both the income and expense sides and is in touch with the ministries and programs of the Church. But notice the language: “proposed, draft budget.” The Executive Council does not function during the Convention. That responsibility belongs to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F).
PB&F receives the proposed draft, presents it to the Church at Provincial Synods and by other means, receives input from the church, holds hearings at the General Convention, and presents a “proposed” budget to the General Convention. PB&F received the proposed, draft budget from Executive Council this past Monday and is now preparing to present it to the Church.
There is some overlap in the responsibilities of Executive Council and PB&F. The Canons of the General Convention indicate that PB&F should work with the budget between General Conventions. It is a Standing Committee. However, in practice, Executive Council has taken the lead. During this past triennium the Chair (Diane Pollard) and Vice-Chair (that’s me) have attended meetings of Executive Council to stay in touch with the budget.
The proposed, draft budget that will soon be before the Church is an interesting document. It was formed in response to D027 (2009) which mandated that the budget for the 2013-15 triennium be crafted according to the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. In addition, Executive Council developed some budget principles and strategies which emphasized such things as care for the poor and direct action on indebtedness. The proposed, draft budget should be available to the Church in about ten days once the Treasurer’s Office is certain it is complete and accurate. Executive Council is also preparing a narrative describing the Council’s work.
I am currently working on the presentation that will be made to the Provincial Synods. Members of PB&F will present the budget using the same PowerPoint at each meeting. Depending on the time available, there may be opportunities for discussion at the Synods. In addition, PB&F will be hosting and moderating an interactive blog to receive input from the Church prior to General Convention.
This is my first experience with PB&F, and I must say it’s a bit daunting. Our work will need to be accomplished in five or six days at the General Convention. We will hold three hearings on July 4, 6 and 7, and the budget will be presented to the General Convention no later than July 10. It will be a time of concentrated effort. The situation is made more complex by the proposals for reform of The Episcopal Church being brought forward from many quarters. To craft budget to support a church in the midst of dramatic and rapid change is both really exciting and very challenging.
Stay tuned for more, and please keep us in your prayers.
The Spring House of Bishops Meeting drew to a close with further conversation about young adults, this time focused on theological education. For the first time in anyone’s memory, the deans of all eleven Episcopal Seminaries joined the bishops for a conversation about seminary education. The good news is that nearly all of the seminaries have taken strong and positive steps to address issues of enrollment and finances. All are discovering new ways to deliver theological education and most are financially stable. That said, the seminaries still face many challenges, most particularly the challenge of forming clergy and lay leaders for a church that is very different from the church of just a few years ago.
The last session of our meeting was a brief business meeting during which we heard commentary from the visiting Primates, elected members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, and approved a letter in support of the Bishop of Jerusalem.
Since returning home, I’ve reflected a bit on the bishops’ time together. It seems to me that part of what it made it feel so jam-packed was that what we were discussing – ministry with young adults and conversations with Islam – is so very challenging. Our assumptions about the value of the church are not shared today by many in Western culture. Indeed, many young adults have no experience of or interest in the church at all. And in our increasingly pluralistic communities, Christianity no longer corners the market on meaning or morals. Other religions/philosophies have passionate adherents. Like the early church, we are in the position of having to show the world our good news, to take what we believe on the road, and to risk the encounters of the marketplace. And, frankly, we don’t know how. We have some ideas. There are successful programs in a number of places. But a lot of our congregations are stuck in a manner of life that no longer serves.
What does it really mean to meet young people where they are?
How do we show others that we are more interested in them than we are in ourselves?
Is our commitment to Christ greater than our concern for institutional survival?
What kind of ordained leadership is needed both to evangelize the unchurched and to train the churched to participate in God’s mission?
Whether it’s face-to-face or long distance, what kind of seminary education actually prepares church leaders for the realities we face?
Can we be faithful to our commitment to God in Christ and live in peace with committed adherents of other faith traditions?
These are the questions behind our struggles with finances, with liturgy, with governance. These are the challenges that will continue no matter what we decide about an Anglican Covenant. They are, I suspect, messages from God about the new thing God is doing. But only God knows where it’s all going.
We bishops learned a much that was helpful at our Spring Meeting. For all of us the task now is to bring it home for your consideration and to work with you to make a new church.
I’ve been at the Kanuga Retreat and Conference Center for a week now, and I must say that I’m eager to return home. The time has been well spent, but I’ve received so much information that I’m looking forward to some time to process it all. In addition, it’s been cold and wet here, much as it has been in Maine. So any thoughts of enjoying an earlier spring have not be realized.
The first two days here were spent learning about the new Title IV canons – the clergy disciplinary canons – which will take effect on July 1. Canon Vicki Wiederkehr joined me for the conference. The new approach is based on our faith values of truth, healing, restitution and reconciliation, and the new procedures require efforts to mediate disputes and reconcile the parties. Only if this is not possible do we move toward an ecclesiastical trial. As with any new process, there are lots of questions that will only be answered as we use Title IV. And while it’s clear that there are some procedures that will be amended at upcoming General Conventions, we are now focused on recruiting and training people for the several responsibilities required by Title IV. Vicki and I learned a great deal that will help the Diocese of Maine as July 1 approaches.
After the Title IV conference, I spent one day taking part in a short course for coaches of new bishops. I am currently serving as a coach for a new bishop, and it was good to share experiences and learn new skills with other coaches.
The Spring House of Bishops meeting is styled, in part, as a Lenten retreat, and we have had some quiet time over the last five days. However, the rest of our time has been so packed that many of us are feeling overfed.
The theme of this meeting is Proclaiming the Gospel in the 21st Century, and we have looked in particular at ministry with young adults and at interfaith dialogue with adherents of Islam. On both these subject we have been addressed by several different presenters, some with national and international reputations.
On the matter of ministry of young adults, it’s clear to me that we in Maine are on the right track. But we have a long way to go in turning our conversation into real ministry. One of the major issues is getting us out of our churches into the places where we may encounter young adults who either know little about Christian faith and the church or who are suspicious about what the church believes and does. As long as we wait for folks to come us, we’re likely to wait by ourselves.
The conversation with Islam is clearly a critical conversation for our larger world. More than 60% of the world’s population is either Christian or Muslim. The conversation may seem pretty distant from Maine, but, in fact, we have a number of Islamic political refugees with whom it might be possible for us to begin conversations. I’ll be returning with a number of ideas for those conversations.
Today we began discussion about the Anglican Covenant. We benefited from a presentation by Bishop Neil Alexander (Atlanta) on the interface between ecclesiology and polity. Ecclesiology is the theology of what we believe about the church. Polity are canons, and practical policies and procedures which grow out of our ecclesiology. Ecclesiology and polity exist together and influence one another. If we change either, the other also changes. The Anglican Covenant will clearly impact both, and while that may be good or bad, we should not think there will be no change.
Bishop Alexander’s presentation was followed by short statements by the Primates of Canada, the Congo and Korea. Each explained the state of the discussion about the Anglican Covenant in their Province and their concerns and critiques. I think it is fair to say that each of these churches has significant concerns about the Covenant. All are committed to staying in the conversation.
As always, worship has been a significant part of the House of Bishops. The music has been quite wonderful – I have some great new music to bring home – and we greatly enjoyed the presence of a new chaplain, the Rev. Stephanie Spellers of The Crossing in Boston.
I’ll write some further reflections when I return home.
Living Stones is a membership organization of Episcopal dioceses committed to Total Common Ministry or, as some call it, Team Ministry. There are currently 16 dioceses in Living Stones. The Diocese of Maine has been a participant for several years.
Two weeks ago, Canon Vicki Wiederkehr and I attended the Annual Meeting of Living Stones along with the Rev. Linton Studdiford and Gail Swanton of St. Philip’s, Wiscasset. Linton and Gail were with us to present the proposed collaboration between Grace Church, Bath, and St. Philip’s. The plan is to create a team ministry between the two congregations consisting of the rector of Bath and a recent seminary graduate who will reside in the rectory of St. Philip’s.
The team will serve both congregations equally. The rector at Bath will become priest-in-charge at St. Philip’s. The seminary graduate will be the assistant in both congregations. Both priests will be present in both congregations on a regular basis. Both congregations will provide funds for the ministry, and the diocese will provide support from a fund for Clergy Internships. There are already deacons in place in both communities, and they will continue their work. We hope the team will strengthen the ministries of the congregations and create an ongoing placement for seminary graduates. Right now we have no assistantships in the diocese. If this project is successful, we will have an ongoing opportunity for new priests.
The conference was well worth the effort it took to get to Des Moines in the winter. Each diocese presents a “case study” in small group settings. Our small group consisted of teams from the Diocese of Northern Michigan, Seabury-Western seminary, and the Diocese of Olympia. We received helpful commentary on our project and were able to be part of important conversations on new approaches to ministry. We are pleased to be part of Living Stones.
On Monday the House of Bishops continued its engagement with evangelism through a series of provocative presentations. Bob Honeychurch, Episcopal Church Evangelism officer, Donald Romanik of the Episcopal Church Foundation, Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook of Claremont School of Theology, Jim Lemler, Rector of Christ Church, Greenwich, and Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Theological Seminary each offered challenging perspectives on the issues of leadership and evangelism.
On Tuesday, we spent the morning considering our sense of what God is doing in our contexts and what the challenges are for our work as bishops. We were aided in our conversation by presentations by Bishops Dabney Smith (Southeast Florida), Prince Singh (Rochester), Tom Ely (Vermont) and Mary Gray Reeves (El Camino Real). Each offered reflections on their own contexts and the work their dioceses were doing to advance the mission of God. I think the bishops found these reflections thought-provoking and encouraging.
Tuesday afternoon the various concerns of the week came together in the resolutions offered in our business meeting. A draft pastoral letter on immigration and an accompanying resource for teaching had been received and reviewed earlier in the week. It was presented again with much sharper, tighter language and was adopted unanimously. The bishops believe that the immigration crisis is one of the most profound social issues of our time, and a place where the church must confront the powers and principalities with the love of God. [read the pastoral letter on immigration]
A pastoral letter on the environment was presented by the House of Bishops Theology Committee. Its call for spiritual renewal in relation to the environmental crisis was well-received. However, it was returned to the Committee for presentation at the Spring 2011 meeting with the request that the direct and concise language of the immigration pastoral be used as a model.
We then turned our attention to the complex pastoral crisis created by the return of Bishop Charles Bennison to the Diocese of Pennsylvania. A call for some sort of response had been raised by several bishops. The Presiding Bishop created a small ad-hoc task group of senior bishops to address this concern, and the group presented a mind of the House resolution calling for Bishop Bennison to resign. The House gave the letter intense and prayerful consideration. There were several minor amendments. Although the bishops recognized that the situation in Pennsylvania goes beyond the matters addressed in Bishop Bennison’s trial, we felt compelled to assert the primacy of the church’s care for the vulnerable and to confess our participation in a disciplinary system that still needs work. [read the Bennison resolution here]
Our meeting concluded with the adoption of a resolution incorporating the College for Bishop in order to secure and stabilize funding for the College and a resolution recommitting us to the Millennium Development Goals.
Our time together ended with the Eucharist and a powerful sermon by Arizona bishop Kirk Smith on confronting the powers and principalities unleashed by the immigration crisis with non-violent action. At our closing dinner, retiring bishops and spouses were honored.
The fall meeting has traditionally been one at which spouses and partners join the bishops. This was no exception. About 80 spouse/partners attended their own program, including a trip to the Sedona Desert and work in a local food pantry. The spouses also shared some of the worship with the bishops, although there were problems coordinating schedules. The bishops renewed their commitment to meeting with the spouse/partners.
There were a number of new bishops present, and I increasingly appreciate the way that new bishops are welcomed into the House and encouraged to find their voices. The culture of the House encourages bishops to speak openly and to think out loud without concern about censure. Conversation was remarkably unguarded throughout, and bishops on all sides of the various matters spoke about their convictions and their concerns for the life of the church. I think this openness and mutual respect has been nurtured by the work of College for Bishops and strengthened by the presence of so many new and often younger bishops. I think it’s a hopeful sign for the church.
After a long day of travel, Gretchen and I arrived back in Maine on Wednesday night. It’s good to be home.
The fall meeting of the House of Bishops began with an intense period of engagement around several issues. The first, and perhaps most significant, is the crisis in US immigration policy and its impact on both undocumented workers and the people of Arizona. More than 30 bishops came early to this meeting to spend two and a half days on the border witnessing the work of the church in both the US and Mexico. That direct experience was followed by two days of education and discussion about immigration policy and the evangelism of Spanish speaking immigrants. We were also invited to share in a fiesta with the new Coalition of Episcopal Latinos as part of that group’s founding conference here in Phoenix. It was good to see own own Hispanic Missioner, the Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon, at the fiesta.
As part of the conversation on evangelism we received data regarding who is talking about the Episcopal Church on-line (primarily young mothers, Latinas, and young adults) and what the Episcopal Church is planning in terms of creating a seekers’ website. We also heard from Mark Hansen, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, reminding us that the primary tool of evangelism, before and beyond all techniques, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On Saturday, the third day of our meeting, we turned our attention to the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in response to General Convention resolution C056. The Commission laid out the theological and liturgical principles for their work in gathering and evaluating resources for same gender blessings and spoke about the need to provide pastoral and educational resources to the whole church. The bishops then addressed five questions at table groups in order to provide guidance and suggestions to the Commission as it continues its work.
Saturday afternoon was given over to hearing numerous reports, including a report from the General Board of Examining Chaplains about the General Ordination Examination, a report about the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church in Haiti, and a report from the Theology Committee about publishing the previously released report on Same Gender Marriage. We also heard reports about the recent meeting of the Commission on Theological Education with the seminary deans, and a new Church Investments Group. The day ended with a moving talk by James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, one of our guest bishops, on his experience here at the House of Bishops interwoven with a reflection on the foot-washing story in John. We Anglicans are called to be a “one another-ship,” persons called to serve one another, both to give and receive, as members of Christ’s body.
Sunday the bishops and spouse/partners attended church in Phoenix and across the Diocese of Arizona. A number of sermons preached by bishops are now posted on ENS. The remainder of the day has been given over to a little R & R.
It is very hot in Phoenix, at least for us New Englanders. Yesterday set a record at 109 degrees. Gretchen and I try to get out a little every day for some exercise. Early morning seems best, but evening is also okay. The temp then is only 85 or 90. It’s been a hot summer in Arizona but, apparently, these temps are a bit unusual for September – or so we’ve been told. Our worship at Trinity Cathedral this morning included a reception in the courtyard which left us melting.
As usual for these gatherings, the worship has been strong, and we’ve been exposed to some new music. That’s always a joy for me. Tomorrow we continue our conversations on evangelism in the third millennium. The final day, which will include our business meeting, is Tuesday.
I’m spending the week at the spring meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen near Navasota, Texas. The spring meeting is the longer of our two yearly meetings and usually includes some elements of a retreat. Our focus for this retreat has been on the Identity of the Episcopal Church, and we’ve been looking at that issue in a couple of different ways.
We arrived here Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, and began our work Friday afternoon with the Walkabout for the Bishop for Federal Chaplaincies. Bp. George Packard is retiring soon, and the House of Bishops is charged with electing his successor.
There are eight candidates, and as a group, it’s a strong field. We heard short statements for all eight and, then, over the afternoon and evening, we interviewed them in groups of four. The eight then offered concluding statements. Although several candidates stood out for me, it will probably take several ballots to elect the bishop.
On Saturday morning, we spent a couple hours discussing and asking questions about the report of the House of Bishops Theology Committee on Same Gender Relationships. The report focuses on the third section of the Nicene Creed on the Holy Spirit and on the sacrament of marriage. The report consists of a pair of papers and criticism by two affinity groups of theologians who identified themselves traditionalist and expansionist. The work is interesting and commendable for its clarity. Discussion is continuing.
On Saturday afternoon, we engaged two aspects of Around One Table, and spent a couple of hours discussing “Incarnation” and “Source of Salvation.” Around One Table is part of the Episcopal Identify Project undertaken by the College for Bishops and CREDO. It’s purpose is to learn more about how Episcopalians understand themselves and their church. The themes we discussed were two which ordained persons see as considerably more important to our identity than lay people do.
Saturday evening and Sunday was sabbath time. Many bishops took full advantage of the quiet with walks and reading or various kinds of activities – golf, horseback riding, canoeing, etc. The only scheduled activity was worship. The service was quite wonderful, with lovely music by the choir and preaching by one of our new chaplains. The House of Bishops has two new chaplains, a Lutheran pastor and a priest from the Dominican Republic. Our chaplains lead daily prayer and worship and are available for private consultation. The new chaplains remind us of the expanding context of our ministry as The Episcopal Church.
Sunday evening we had a fireside chat with the Presiding Bishop. This is an opportunity for brief input from Katharine and then wide-ranging questions from the bishops. Bishop Duracin of Haiti was present, and he spoke movingly of the aftermath of the earthquake and his gratitude for The Episcopal Church’s support for his diocese and his family. Mme. Duracin is recovering in Florida from her severe leg injury. Haiti, of course, continues to struggle with the basics of food, clothing and shelter. A plan for rebuilding is in the early stages of development. Actual rebuilding is still a ways off.
The bishops’ questions were very wide ranging and addressed such subjects as the Daughters of the King, the timing of the consent process for the election of a bishop, the impact of the election of Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan for Los Angeles, continuing to find room in our church for faithful persons with differing beliefs related to human sexuality, continuing to focus on theological discourse as part of our meetings as bishops, investigating new models for episcopal ministry in small dioceses, and the working relationship between bishops and our lay and ordained partners in CCABs.
On Monday we began two days of work on Emergence Christianity. In the morning we heard a lecture by Phylis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence, and in the afternoon, a lecture by Diana Butler Bass, historian and author. The lectures were followed by three workshops focusing on different aspects of emergence. I attended a workshop by Tom Brackett, Congregational Developer from the Church Center, and Stephanie Spellers of The Crossing Community in Boston, on ways to encourage and support the development of emergent congregations in our dioceses. We in Maine have already begun such work at the Cathedral, but it’s clear that our work will need continuing exploration and development if it is to be successful.
We continue our conversations on Emergence Christianity tomorrow. Our business meeting is Wednesday. On Thursday, I’ll travel home to Maine.
One of the great blessings of meetings of the House of Bishops is the worship. We worship three times a day – morning prayer, eucharist at midday, and evening prayer. The worship is designed and led by our chaplains which allows the bishops to participate without having to lead. Both our chaplains are excellent preachers, and we have wonderful music led by Dent Davidson, musician to the House of Bishops.
There is a bishops’ choir, and I sing in it. We rehearse briefly twice a day and then lead singing at all the services. It really feeds my soul to be part of the choir (and it also provides me with lots of ideas for music to use in the diocese).
We bishops normally preside at worship, often daily, in a variety of contexts. It’s always necessary to pay attention to the particular customs and habits of the community one is in. Consequently it’s hard to truly worship. Not so at the House of Bishops. You can see the bishops really settling in to worship and prayer. I realized today that worship is probably the thing I like best about the House of Bishops.
I’m also getting to know and enjoy my fellow bishops. There are always new bishops coming into the House and so the House is wonderfully welcoming. New bishops are drawn into their table groups and quickly invited to take part in worship or sing in the choir or join into the nightly card game, or what have you. And the College for Bishops provides opportunities to learn some of the new skills needed for the life of a bishop and to share experiences with other new bishops.
The spring meeting is always a longer meeting of the House of Bishops because at this meeting we have time for continuing education for all the bishops. The past two days we’ve been reflecting on our roles as bishops in this time of recession when we are very divided politically about what do to. Friday we heard from OT scholar Walter Bruggeman and from author Bill Bishop about The Great Sort, the self-imposed segregation of communities into like-minded cultural ghettos that are coming to dominate our political landscape. Saturday we heard from Harvard Business School professor Warren McFarland about the state of the economy, and North Carolina Congressman David Price about the political process of addressing the recession and President Obama’s proposals for our future. Very good stuff and very hard work.
We’ll continue to discuss these matters and turn our attention to some of our regular business, including the election of a new bishop for Ecuador Central in the coming days.