Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's opening remarks

Posted Jul 4, 2012

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following opening statement was presented July 4 by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, through July 12.

Opening Remarks
General Convention
4 July 2012

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church

When this body gathered three years ago we reflected on mission as God’s beating heart in our midst. General Convention is this Church’s regular opportunity to strengthen that incarnate heart for its work in the coming years. We’re here for a tune-up – to breathe deep, clear our vision, focus the muscles, and synchronize our heartbeat with God’s.

I would invite everyone here to take a deep breath. Breathe in Holy Spirit, the source of life. Remember that we depend on that divine gift for all that we are and all that we have. Breathe deep, for the spirit is blowing a fresh wind, and bringing new creation out of the chaos of the deep. Contemplating that chaos frightens some, for we never know what is coming, but there is no creation without it – like the death that must precede resurrected life. We struggle with it because we can’t yet see what is aloft on that breeze. Yet we are the stuff of God’s creation, we are borne on that wind as partners in God’s re-creation, reconciling, and healing of this world. Breathe deep, and be not afraid, for God is at work in our midst.

Consider what happens when hearts and minds and spirits are open to receive that breath. For some, it may feel like the hard push of resuscitation after breathing has stopped – like rescue breathing for a drowning victim. The only solution is to let go and receive that breath, for there is no life without it.

Sometimes that breath feels like a mere whiff, a barely discernible zephyr in the evening garden. Go on out there and search for more – go look for the freshening breeze.

Or that breath may be like the last gasp of a hospice patient. Let it go. Give thanks for the life that has been, and expect resurrection.

And for some, that breath may come like the first one taken by a newborn child – the breath that comes with an old-fashioned whack on the backside. Cry out for joy!

Let that breath get the heart beating and the blood moving, for we will never be God’s mission partners otherwise. Let that circulating blood connect us with the other parts of this body, here and far beyond this place. Go look for connections with your sparring partners – for the left hook and the right jab both come from the same body. Link up with somebody from another part of the theological spectrum – this big tent is the dwelling place of the holy, and we will never be who we were created to be if we only work with the fingers of the right hand or the left. Search out those you have wounded or who have wounded you – seek them out and let the grudges go – there isn’t much life in hanging on to them. It’s like that old tale about swallowing rat poison and expecting somebody else to die. Go find the supposed source of wounds and build a bridge together – notice the blood that’s been shed, and let it form a good scab to draw flesh together. Continue to pick at the wound and it will never heal. Let it go and keep breathing.

If this convention is The Episcopal Church’s family reunion, then go find somebody who represents the outlaw side of the family for you and spend a few minutes learning your relative’s story. You might promise to pray for each other through the coming days. Perhaps you can find time for a cup of coffee or a meal together. That kind of reconciling work will have a greater effect on our readiness for mission than any legislation we may pass here. We’re here to tune up the muscles and nerves and ligaments of this body for reconciling work, for the work of mission writ large. We’re going to need the gifts of every single part of the body in order to respond to that breath/wind/spirit blowing over the face of the deep – so go and build some living bridges.

Episcopalians are increasingly engaged in creative reconciling work with other bodies and partners beyond this Church. We’ve learned a lot in recent years about neighbors across the globe and in more local communities. We have been in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for more than ten years, and we’re growing into a newer full communion relationship with the Moravians. We are sharing and exchanging staff members with the ELCA, and our armed forces chaplains are working and learning together. The Moravians have a great deal to teach us about reconciliation, particularly in their commitment to avoid having anyone leave the table. The first Episcopal church is about to receive a Moravian pastor – in Western North Carolina.

We’re seeing new possibilities in our conversations with the Methodist churches, and the ways in which that conversation is working to heal the sin of racism will ultimately strengthen us all.

Recent years have seen some healing in our relationships around the Anglican Communion, and missional partnerships continue to grow and deepen. We are learning a great deal about how to be more effective partners, particularly when we are able to engage with humility and openness to our own transformation.

We have another significant opportunity for bridge-building, with the SBNRs around us – those who claim to be Spiritual But Not Religious. Those fields are indeed ripe with possibility, but the crop needs rather different methods than we’re used to. We need robust networks and the eager humility that will let us learn from others who are engaging new populations. The people of the Episcopal church in Frankfurt in Germany offer a great example. That congregation is reaching out to American deportees, people with German citizenship but often no ability to speak the language and no knowledge of the culture, who have been expelled by the United States, often for quite minor legal infractions. The congregation Christ the King is building community with people who have deeply spiritual questions but no trust or experience with the church. There is some similar kind of need almost everywhere, but it means going out into the community to listen for it, and finding new ways of sharing what we know of more abundant life in Jesus.

Re-forming and re-imagining ourselves for mission in a changed world is the most essential task we have before us. We’re not going to fix the church or the world at this Convention, but we can do something to make the church a better tool and instrument for God’s mission if we can embrace that new wind, discover God creating new life among us, and listen and look for Jesus.

We need a responsive set of structures, more connected at all levels of the church, and better able to tap the gifts of all parts of the body. There is good and creative work going on in many places, and we need to learn how to spread that information and learning as widely as possible. It needs nodal systems, like the heart muscle in a circulatory system, or the cells in a nervous system that collect and keep passing on the news. That pumping heart or those nerve cells are initiators or stimulators of communication – in other words, leaders. When those parts are equipped and committed to sharing good news, then the network becomes far more effective, and communication ripples out and across the broader community. But when effective and distributed leadership is absent, those networks quickly disintegrate.

The world around us is learning to develop effective and robust networks – and so are we. There are networks of innovators in church planting and congregational development, including ones that offer peer coaching. A couple of days ago a deputy suggested another possibility – what about TED talks for TEC as a more fruitful purpose for this kind of churchwide gathering?

We are just beginning to move toward this kind of a network for theological education resources – of seminaries, diocesan programs, and others – and that movement needs a whole lot more encouragement!

The domestic poverty initiative born at the last Convention is an example that is bearing significant fruit, from the churchwide gatherings focused on best practices to the ongoing work in Asset Based Community Development and other forms of community organizing. Looking at the assets already present in our communities as a necessary part of mission engagement is a way of discovering where God has already been at work, blessing the created nature in a local context. It’s a theological approach that says we will notice where the kingdom is already present, or in the process of emerging.

Many of you know other places where effective connective tissue is emerging and growing – Episcopal Community Services, Episcopal Service Corps, the ethnic ministry and justice networks. Passion keeps networks like those growing and expanding – it’s about blessing the work of the Spirit and letting the wind of God fill the sails and propel us into the world.

Discovering the most effective ways to organize and network ourselves for mission, for governance, and for supporting that mission is going to require us to look outside ourselves. We have to be willing to search out the gifts and assets already present. Something like a blue ribbon commission would be helpful – a leadership group that includes independent voices, that is non-partisan, that will offer the input of outsiders and people on the margins of the church, not just those already deeply invested in the church and in the way the church is now. That may not be easy for this body to engage, but God is already at work beyond this Episcopal Church and we have something to learn from that reality.

A lot of the anxiety in this body right now is rooted in fear of diminishment, loss of power or control, or change in status. The wider church – the grassroots – in not all that interested in the internal politics of this gathering. It is interested in the vitality of local congregations and communities, in ministry with young people, and in opportunities for transformative mission engagement in and beyond the local context. Our job here is to make common cause for the sake of God’s mission. That is in part a political task.

Politics is not a dirty word – it refers to the art of living together in community, and it applies to Christ’s body as much as it does to the various nations in which this Church is present. We don’t yet live in the fullness of the reign of God, even though we do see glimpses of it around us and among us. Our task is to gather the various parts of this body of Christ, together with any partners who share our values, for the work of building societies that look more like the reign of God. That takes compromise, for we will never all agree on the proper route or method for getting there. We live in the awkward yet lively tension between what is and what will eventually come to be, in God’s good time. We aren’t going to find perfection at this Convention, but we can prayerfully work at discerning a way forward that will let us gather our common gifts to work toward that dream of the reign of God.

We’re in this together – as the full range of Episcopalians, together with our Christian siblings – both those most like us and those who seem most distant – and we have other potential partners for the various parts of the mission God sends us to do. Our task is to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, in finding and blessing any creative gift that will serve God’s dream. Can we reframe our view? Will those with eyes to see and ears to hear look for the places where God’s creative presence is already at work? God has given those gifts, and we will miss the mark if we ignore them. We will miss all five marks if we ignore the partners and possibilities around us.

So breathe deep, open your eyes and ears, build bridges with unlikely folks, and let God’s word prosper in that for which God sent it. And may God bless our labors in this place!


Comments (26)

  1. Timothy G. Warren says:

    Our primate’s opening message is spot on. I pray that God’s Holy Spirit will have free reign at Convention, and that all involved will listen with open ears, open hearts, and open minds to what God is saying. One of the deacons in Los Angeles has coined a phrase that sums up the Bishop’s words – God is calling us to create “portals of entry” for people to enter the Kingdom of God. Imagine if all of us worked to create these portals of entry through which all people were welcome to enter through. Blessings as you journey together at Convention!

  2. Joyce Kauffman says:

    I am so impressed by the clarity of our Presiding Bishop’s opening remarks. I have been, and continue to be so proud of her and incredibly grateful that she is our Primate! In today’s world The Episcopal Church has no choice, it has to face current social issues head on and…that appears to be exactly what Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has made a habit of doing. Kudos to her and to TEC for having elected her the head of TEC six years ago. I am very proud and thankful for church leaders like her.

  3. Mary Rosendahl says:

    As Walter Brueggeman said; God has endless possibilities for us….awesome opening address from our PB….thank you

  4. Maxine Schell says:

    Good GOD! Who will deliver us of this troublesome Bishop?

    1. K Soto says:

      With what that she said do you take exception?

      1. Bob Cochrane says:

        With what to take exception? Nothing at all. Because there is nothing at all in in the cliché ridden theo-word salad. There is the call to build bridges: “So breathe deep, open your eyes and ears, build bridges with unlikely folks.” (This sort of reminds me of a Moody Blues song.) The example given is the (now old) ties with the ELCA. A bridge between one dying liberal protestant denomination and another is hardly “unlikely”. Lots of words signifying nothing, no mention of that Jesus guy, all standard stuff from the current and next triennium PB.

        1. Donald Whipple Fox says:

          It seems to me that if Jesus is calling an individual elsewhere, then they need to follow. Why hang around and bemoan the fact that you are unhappy?

          1. The Rev Marcia King says:

            Because this is my church too. Although the center in TEC has definitely shifted not everyone has left. Many remain to preach the Gospel of Christ.

    2. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, or sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”

      We – your Anglican flock out here in the internet – are watching with great interest. Not just what you do, but how you choose to communicate with (at?) each other.

  5. Carol McRee says:

    Timothy, There is a spirit that is having free reign at this General Convention but it is NOT the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit were to have free reign at this convention, we would experience an awful lot of metanoia and repentance among the progressives in attendance. These people would realize what they had done and repent in front of both houses, then be baptized (still enough believing clergy around to do the job) and start behaving in a Christian manner. That would be a start. After that, I suggest the first course of action to be dropping the investigations of the ten clergy. There are many things that could happen that indicate the Holy Spirit is at work but passing a bunch of nonsense resolutions is not one of them.

    1. Jerome Norris says:

      I agree 100%

  6. Peggy Blanchard says:

    At this point in the life of the Church (if ever) I don’t believe it’s useful to simply make slighting remarks about one another or one another’s words (including the PB’s.) Rather than criticizing, we need to share constructive ideas with one another. I’m struck by her pointing out the work of the Episcopal Church in Frankfurt, Germany and how they began (and continue, I would think) by going out into the community to see what needs are there that that congregation might be equipped to address. I plan to encourage both my small congregations to do some intentional work in this area. We are, after all, supposed be about building God’s kingdom before Church buildings, of which we have more than enough.

  7. Jeffrey Knox says:

    For every vestry meeting that ever was, diocesan gathering, and the prayers said that shaped them; “We give thanks for all God’s People of this General Convention who “have been sent to do the work God has given us to do…”

  8. Carol Dent says:

    Was excited to hear about the work at Christ the King in Frankfurt, Germany. More than thirty years ago it was the congregation where my husband and I became Episcopalians. So thankful for that place and church then and now and remembering the Rt. Rev. Bob Denig and his work during his short time on this earth.

  9. Terri Degenhardt says:

    Amen Peggy!

  10. Karen White says:

    Our Presiding Bishop gave great opening remarks for us to build on.

  11. Steve Wylder says:

    In the past, I’ve felt that Bishop Jefferts Schori has come off as aloof, elitist, and out of touch with ordinary Episcopalians. Here she’s trying, and I think, succeeding in overcoming that image. She’s even made an effort to connect with those who disagree with her. Thank You, Bishop!

    1. Susan Norris says:

      I can appreciate your observation that she has made an effort to connect with those who disagree with her. However, the relationship has been damaged and trust has been lost.

  12. Dan Tootle says:

    Please pay particular attention to what Bishop Jefferts Schori said about the “Spiritual But not Religious” Christians. We must find an effective way to provide spiritual fulfillment to all who gather as “Church” if the Episcopal Church is to not simply wither away as a non-relevant experience for Christ’s brothers and sisters. We need to build upon Spiritual and Religious in all that we do in our congregations.

  13. Brad Howard says:

    Well said!

  14. Peter Tucker says:

    I would have been impressed had she repented of the sin of persecuting Traditional Anglicans, fellow Christians yet, and extended the hand of fellowship to ACNA. That along with stopping the unforgivable waste of church resources on legal fees to punish traditional believers would have meant and signaled change for the good. As I see it this address is just more words from the PB. What a shame, what a wasted opportunity!

    1. Karl Watts says:

      Well said

  15. Don Meadows says:

    I’m a United Methodist pastor. The bishop’s “message” is much ado about nothing — it’s written poetically but she is more concerned about her style than about her “stuff.” I finally got so bored that I skipped the last 1/3. Maybe that’s where the meat was hidden. Is this a typical Episcopal “sermon?” I was going to link it, but why put other people to the stress of trying to swim in a swirling sea of verbal froth?

  16. Peter Tucker says:

    Carol – Well said. Frighteningly enough, a spirit is at work, but not the Holy Spirit!

  17. Bruce Babcock says:

    Resolution A-69: “That it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”

    Resolution A-71: “That this General Convention expresses its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality.”

    These were passed in 1976. 36 years later, I’m sure my LGBT friends will be glad to know that some in TEC and the AC still consider these issues to be “nonsense.”

    The authors of Leviticus lived in the Bronze Age. We live in the 21st century. The simple fact is that there is no nexus between sexual orientation and morality, no matter what “tradition” says.

    1. Karl Watts says:

      “The simple fact is that there is no nexus between sexual orientation and morality, no matter what “tradition” says.” That’s just your opinion. You might be wrong. Just like the anti gay people might be wrong. We need to agree to disagree.

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