[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presented the following opening remarks at the Episcopal Church Executive Council meeting currently gathered at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, MD (Diocese of Maryland).
5-7 February 2014
Maritime Center, Linthicum Heights, MD
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
It is good to see you all again and particularly to see you in the flesh. I keep some track of the work that you are engaged in between full meetings of the Council, and it is a joy to see your faces in my mind’s eye as I read the extranet postings. Thank you for your faithfulness in helping us all to dream a more effective church into being.
I want to celebrate a couple of remarkable achievements this morning, relate some news and cause for prayer, and offer a brief reflection on the growth that I see happening across The Episcopal Church.
Four years ago this month, Executive Council passed a resolution expressing its deep concern for our Haitian sisters and brothers following the devastating earthquake on January 12. That resolution challenged “The Episcopal Church to raise an extrabudgetary sum of at least $10,000,000 for the long term rebuilding of the Diocese of Haiti.” I am absolutely overjoyed to tell you that we have received a written pledge of $5 million to assist the Diocese of Haiti in its recovery and rebuilding efforts. We are grateful beyond measure for this expression of generosity and faith in the Church’s work in Haiti. This pledge will be received by The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and disbursed as the work is completed. We’ll be able to make further details public in about a month, but I wanted this Council to learn of it first. This is the fruit of the quiet and dedicated work of our Development Office, under the faithful and creative leadership of Elizabeth Lowell.
Over the last several years, we have been working to increase our advocacy and partnership at the United Nations. Many of you know of the stunning witness of the Anglican Communion delegation at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Hospitality and leadership have been provided by Episcopalians and at times by staff of The Episcopal Church. Our presence has grown in recent years, particularly in the forum concerning indigenous issues. We have been interested and involved in the evolving post-MDG (Millennium Development Goals) development agenda. Two years ago we began the process to seek recognition as a member of the Economic and Social Council of the UN, believing that it would provide a remarkable opportunity to build networks and relationships in pursuit of God’s mission. Our initial application last year was deferred, largely because of questions by one member state. This has been a major effort, and the work has already borne abundant fruit in new and deepened relationships among missions and consulates and other bodies that are concerned with the welfare of humanity. I am delighted to tell you that our application was approved last week, and will be formally adopted later this spring. This is the fruit of Lynnaia Main’s persistent leadership and the active participation of many. She will share more details with the World Mission committee.
Other news is not so immediately joyful, yet the long-suffering witness and leadership of many people continue to be vitally important. The situation in South Sudan has been deeply fraught in recent weeks, and Gradye Parsons and I have called the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches to prayer and witness with our Sudanese brothers and sisters, as a reminder that ultimately we’re all in this together, whether it seems like heaven or hell.
Recent legislative efforts in Nigeria and Uganda to impose criminal penalties on members of the LGBT community have motivated responses from human rights advocates as well as our own church’s response from the perspective of the baptismal covenant. We have promised to be witnesses to the love of God in Christ, and to respect the innate dignity of every human being, each one made in the image of God. We may disagree about particulars of how to live our lives, but we cannot disagree about the fundamental and holy dignity of every human being.
All these challenges connect us with our neighbors both near at hand and far away. We are all part of one whole, and as Paul pointed out, none of us can say we have no need of another. Our health and salvation depend on how we treat our neighbors, for that is how we demonstrate the love of God.
The Episcopal Church as a whole is growing into a new way of seeing our place in the wider world. We continue to move from a utilitarian or objectified understanding of mission to a more organic one. Those may seem like harsh and overly critical words for past behavior that was often done in entirely good faith, yet there is always an element of human self-centered sinfulness in the ways we engage others, especially those who are seen as the other. Missionaries who engage others as objects of pity or as beneficiaries or subjects for transformation are treating those others as things, rather than incarnate reflections of the creative spirit of God. It is an eternal exercise of turning around (i.e. repentance) to allow ourselves to be sent into the world to discover what God is up to, and to expect that we will be the ones transformed. It’s a way of engaging God’s creation as part of the community rather than its ruler, as a member rather than the head, as a friend or sibling rather than an all-knowing parent. Sometimes we’ve used the shorthand of moving from colonial missionary work to post-colonial mission efforts. We will never do it perfectly, but we continue to seek ways to be eager and expectant recipients of God’s abundant grace rather than its providers – and to understand that as the only way we and the whole of creation will ever find wholeness, salvation, healing, and shalom.
I think this is a piece of what it means to be part of a missionary society, rather than a society that sends missionaries to domestic places and foreign places to do something. We take the journey together with all creation, together with all humanity, expecting to find God at work, and luring us into greater wholeness.
That’s what the sustainability initiatives in Province IX, Navajoland, and Haiti are about, as well as care for the earth and the sustainability of creation. That’s what ministries of presence like Bushwick Abbey and Holy Cross monastery are about. That’s what TREC is about – and our common journey into God’s creation with Jesus who calls us friend. May we take the road together and find the joy of discovering a society of God’s making.