[Episcopal Church Office of Public Afffairs press release] The following are the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting through March 21 in Salt Lake City, Utah (Diocese of Utah).
Executive Council opening remarks
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
I want to give thanks as well to the members of this Executive Council. I believe this body has functioned more effectively than any I have seen. Some of that is the result of greater clarity about what needs to be addressed here and of ensuring that there is a regular cycle of review of the various areas for which we are responsible. Some is the result of new bylaws and policies that were adopted in the last triennium, which this body has been able to implement. Some is the result of reorganized standing committees. And a fair bit has to do with the depth of engagement between our periodic face to face meetings. The work that is accomplished via extranet and electronic meetings has grown significantly and has contributed to far more effective conversation when we meet face-to-face. But more than anything else, your attitude toward this work as a ministry, and your understanding that we are here to serve the wider church in its partnership for God’s mission, is responsible for the health that I think we enjoy. Thank you for taking this vocation so earnestly, and for being willing to lighten up and play on occasion.
Brother Robert, thank you for your steady and faithful presence among us, and for framing our work here in the context of worship. We could not have come this far without your ministry to each of us and to the whole body.
This meeting closes much of Executive Council’s work in this triennium, but not all of it. We will elect continuing members to serve on the Executive Committee, and they will almost certainly have some substantive decisions in the months before a new Executive Council gathers in November.
The task of budget development throughout this triennium has been a work of grace and increased clarity, and we can give thanks for the leadership of FFM, and the hard work of Susan Snook and Mark Hollingsworth. Thank you.
As we look toward the next iteration of this body, we have some important questions to ask: Is the committee structure the right one? Is our committee structure fit for purpose? Is the workload reasonably well-distributed? Do we have changes in that structure to recommend to the next Council? Have we made sufficient progress in thinking strategically over the whole of the three years, and building a regular cycle of review of the varied bodies and ministries that connect to the Executive Council? Or are we being reactive, rather than thinking proactive? Have we paid sufficient attention to all of the bodies that meet here? There may be fewer such bodies in the next triennium, but what have you learned and what would you change? Do we need new committees, perhaps a personnel committee or strategic planning committee?
One particular topic seems essential to address as we look toward the TREC conversation at General Convention. One of the suggestions of TREC is for the Council to name the gifts it sees in this body that are necessary, and then invite the Standing Commission on Nominations to seek out a diverse group of people with those gifts. Did the Executive Council have all the gifts it needed? What, if anything, was missing?
As General Convention approaches, we can celebrate the creative work that has been possible in this triennium. The growing edges of The Episcopal Church continue to be found on the margins – in our overseas contexts, in immigrant congregations everywhere, and in the new and experimental initiatives like Mission Enterprise Zones, and the expanding life of the Young Adult Service Corps and Campus Ministry partnerships. Mission work with the “least of these” continues to draw the center of gravity in this church out toward the margins. Any biologist will tell you that the most creativity in an ecosystem is found at the boundaries, where one community interacts with another. All of God’s creation works that way, and we discover the creative spirit of God when we move out of our comfort zones to encounter the new and different. This church is finding the confidence to explore – and you have helped to support that missional adventure.
We have also seen a remarkable movement toward more interdependent relationships within and beyond this Church. The work of sustainability in Province IX is grounded in a belief that each part of the Body has gifts to be shared with the others. Financial gifts are only one kind. The creativity of the margins is a gift that is essential to the health of the whole Body, and we are only going to keep growing up into the full stature of Christ if we honor and share all the gifts God has given.
General Convention is a churchwide opportunity to practice that kind of interdependence and mutual responsibility. The work we do there, the relationships that are built there, and the decisions we make there are not ends in themselves, but a crucible or a tool for transformation of the world toward the Reign of God.
Executive Council and General Convention are part of the work of governance, which is really about practicing holy discourse and discerning the movement of the spirit. Careful listening is essential, as we try to honor the creative work of the spirit and the image of God in one another. Governance is deeply about self-control and self-governance of our appetites, both individual and collective appetites. Good governance is expressed as effective stewardship of all the gifts we’ve been given so that the whole body of God’s creation might live more abundantly. The practice of governance as holy discourse and discernment can also help to equip and nurture all members of the body in their ability to evangelize, advocate for justice, and build the beloved community. That’s pretty much what we promise in our baptismal covenant – to love God and God’s dream for the world, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
So as we close this Council, thanks be to God for the work you have done and will continue to do on behalf of God’s vision of healing for all creation.