[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following sermon was preached July 3, prior to the beginning of the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis Ind., July 5 through July 12.
Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies
Sermon for Commissioning of Officers, Dispatch Liaisons and Legislative Aides
In the Name of the Creator, Sanctifier and Redeemer. Amen.
If ever there was a time when to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your engines” this is it. Here we are in the land of the Indy 500. Even though our General Convention really is not located on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway those of us in this room, plus many others who will be along shortly, could metaphorically be referred to as the drivers, the pit crew, the sponsors, the bearers of the checkered flags, and the infield population of some really fast, sometimes deafening, exciting, unpredictable and possibly dangerous event.
Thank God that to Indianapolis and to this holy endeavor we call General Convention, we bring the gifts that God has so generously given us, and we are equipped with the hopes and dreams, the resources and the prayers and faithfulness of those who have entrusted this General Convention to us. We can wear these gifts as a crash helmet or we can strew them about like rose petals in the closing parade.
Either way, we all have a few things in common, not the least of which is that we all said “yes” to this enterprise. So first and most importantly, thank you for saying “yes” with enthusiasm, perhaps even with a bit of trepidation. Thank you for the labor of love that you have agreed to, not only the labor of love we will exhibit here, but for your faithful commitment to God’s church, and to the Christian community gathered here. So, here we are gearing up to serve God’s Church. The holy people of God, gearing up, supported by a theological conviction that was first articulated by William White in 1782:
You know that mantra, don’t you? The conviction is this: God speaks through all levels of the Church and we cannot be confident of God’s direction until all levels are heard from.
As the chaplain to the 76th General Convention House of Deputies, Frank Wade said, “The Episcopal Church gives its ultimate authority not to a ruling prince or an ecclesiastical nobility, not to its scholars or to political victors but to a gathering of laity, deacons, priests and bishops who-to the consternation and confusion of most of the rest of the Anglican Communion – must agree before our decisions are final.”
That’s us. The cognate legislative committees represented here are a microcosm of what Frank was talking about. By the time legislation comes to your committees it will have gone through a process of review first by a proposer, who with two other persons if it is a B or D resolution, or by an entire diocesan convention or a whole province if it is a C resolution, by a committee, commission, agency or board composed of clergy and laity and bishops, if it is an A resolution. Then it comes to a cognate committee composed of bishops, clergy and laity. Then there is an open hearing on the resolution so more people can have their say, and then it goes to the floor of the House of Deputies or the House of Bishops, where it is vetted even further. By the time a resolution is voted upon, it has been through a process that even the most diligent critics of large group decision making process would call deliberative consensus. In Anaheim we considered nearly 419 resolutions in that manner, giving clarity and complexity and calling upon all of us to move toward the future together.
By the way, there is some invisible writing inside the first page of your Blue Book. If you haven’t brought lemon juice to splash on it for readability, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE GIFTED AND GOD IS HIRING.
Here’s the deal:
Forget that this labor of love called General Convention is all scrunched together in 8 days and that these tasks of reorganizing the Church, considering the covenant, hearing the results of what the 76th General Convention charged the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to bring us, confirming consecrations, and way more – forget that all this is not possible in the time required. As Paul Hawken says, “Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are finished.”
We are in the realm of the Holy Spirit. Do we know exactly what will happen here? I don’t think so. We will probably disagree on some things and agree on others. Our minds and hearts might even be changed. We will pray and we will worship, we will laugh, some of us may even cry. We will be plunked down into that wacky Christian community full of people that Henri Nouwen says we would never in all our life, choose for ourselves.
Do we have a window into the bigger future? Of course we do. We know that whether we live or die, we will be okay. We know that we have made promises to God in the company of each other that we will keep forever, because we are the baptized. We know that God gives us everything we need in order to do God’s work. We know that the power of God is alive within ordinary people just like us and that the obstacles before us are no match for God’s power that lives in us.
The Church beckons us to be on God’s side. God beckons us to be on the Church’s side. That means letting go of one-sided thinking, letting go of contest or conflict thinking. No more rumors about House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, they don’t like each other, that we don’t really need each other. Because the truth is, we really do need each other, desperately. Perhaps we just need to remember who we already are. The children of God, together.
I close with a story told by John Morehouse.
Upon the arrival of her baby brother, a little girl insisted that she spend some time alone with her brother. Her parents agreed but listened in on the baby monitor as the girl closed the door and walked over to her new brother’s crib. After a minute of silence she asked quite firmly: “Tell me about God, I have almost forgotten.”
“It’s simple,” they say, says Mary Oliver in her [poem] When I Am Among the Trees:
It’s simple, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
We are blessed to be on this journey together.