Presiding officers’ opening remarks at Executive Council

Posted Oct 15, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings presented opening remarks at the Episcopal Church Executive Council, meeting in Chicago through October 17.

The following are the opening remarks.

Executive Council opening remarks
15 October 2013
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

This meeting of Executive Council has important work to do in beginning to shape a missional framework for the next triennium’s churchwide mission and ministry.  The budget subcommittee has elicited some coherent responses for this work that hold up the Five Marks of Mission as the desired framework, as well as a focus on evangelism, development of new and existing faith communities in the Episcopal tradition, and an understanding that the churchwide structure should focus on networking and resource-sharing.  That churchwide support work includes communications and leadership development for all orders of ministry.  I think there are four orders, not three. The vision that respondents hope for is a diverse, engaged, and growing church that has greater confidence in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the Episcopal tradition.  There is also reasonable agreement that our diversity and inclusiveness is a core strength that points toward the heavenly banquet, and that advocacy for social justice and anti-racism are essential components of encouraging and expanding that identity.

I want to tie this work to a couple of things going on around us.  The budget stalemate in Washington, DC gives evidence of intransigence and exceedingly narrow understandings of the function of governing.  We can see abundant evidence of the poorest and weakest residents of the United States bearing the brunt of this failure to govern.  The immigration summit that took place in that city last week was another example of where the poorest and most marginalized among us suffer because of the failure to govern.  This church has continued to advocate for a speedy and just resolution of both impasses.

We have a similar reality within this Church, having to do with the United Thank Offering.  The political theater has not been dissimilar to what is going on in Washington, DC, though I do believe there is more will here to find an effective resolution.  The same sort of political conversation and negotiation will be needed within and outside the Church to resolve both situations.  The reality is that the negotiation needs to happen face to face, in incarnate conversation rather than in the blogosphere.  Politics of all sorts, civil and ecclesiastical, must take place in ongoing conversations that seek and expect a resolution that was not initially evident.  Both will take some conversion.  The role of others is to pray and encourage, rather than lob judgments or condemnations.

Call your representatives and senators, and express your opinions vigorously but expect that they will have to work it out with their colleagues, face to face, and not through posturing in the public press which actually seems to impede progress.  Pray for their efforts, and encourage creative and expansive thinking.  Likewise, pray for the churchwide and global ministries of The Episcopal Church, in all parts of this body, and encourage creative and missional responses to the challenges before us.  I have confidence that God will continue to show us a way to be thankful for what has been going on in this church for centuries, for the ministry of women and men and children over those centuries, and for the remarkable gifts the United Thank Offering has given to the world.  May we in gratitude seek new ways into the future that honor the past and respond to the call of Jesus in the 21st century.

Opening Remarks
Executive Council
October 15, 2013

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President of the House of Deputies

Seeing everyone here in person reminds me of how much I have grown to appreciate social media. Fifteen months into my term of office, I actually have a hard time imagining being a responsive and in-touch president of the House of Deputies without Facebook and Twitter and the blogs that help me keep up with what all of you are doing and thinking about in between Executive Council meetings and what deputies across the church are doing in between General Conventions. It doesn’t seem like four months since we’ve seen each other because some of us, anyway, can keep up with each other’s ministries and lives (and dogs and cats) online. I also know what a lot of you eat for dinner.

You may know that I’m better with Facebook than I am with Twitter, but I am definitely working on it. The hashtag for this meeting, by the way, is #excoun. And I’m @gaycjen.

Recently I’ve been paying attention to online conversations about the identity and structure of the Episcopal Church. To quote the title of the recent book of essays edited by Winnie Varghese and published by Church Publishing Inc., we’re talking about What We Shall Become. These days, one point of debate is what the Episcopal Church’s role should be in federal policy debates on the kind of issues that Executive Council and its Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking take up, like immigration reform, sensible gun control and federal budget priorities that affect programs for people in need.

Figuring out our identity as advocates for the Gospel requires us to set aside, yet again, our old establishment identity as the church of power and privilege. Whether it’s Congress or big business, those who inhabit the corridors of worldly power aren’t obligated to listen to us anymore—if they ever were. But that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking. As today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 5: 13-16) reminds us, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We must speak up not because we are powerful in the culture, but because we are Christians called by God to raise our voices for those who have no voice.

Last week, the Presiding Bishop and I joined about twenty other Episcopalians at the Church World Service Global Immigration Summit in Washington, DC. Alex Baumgarten and Katie Conway of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations (OGR)—part of Justice and Advocacy Ministries which now includes the Domestic Poverty Office as well as OGR—did a first-rate job of organizing the Episcopal presence at the event and setting up meetings for us with members of Congress and their staffs in the middle of this damaging, dysfunctional, anti-democratic shutdown. Lynette Wilson of Episcopal News Service wrote several excellent stories about the Immigration Summit and the rally on the Washington Mall, and you can use the Twitter hashtag #immigrationsummit to learn more.  Thank you Alex, Katie and Lynette – you do terrific work on behalf of all of us.

While we were in DC, Bishop Katharine and I attended a meeting with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and six other House members active in working for comprehensive immigration reform. Besides being struck by the fact that Nancy Pelosi looks just like my mother—I am not kidding—the thing that stuck with me after that meeting is how the politicians implored the church leaders to stay active in the immigration debate and other matters of policy that require the moral leadership of people of faith. As Leader Pelosi said, “Don’t agonize, organize,” and she was clear that faith-based organizing and advocacy is a critical factor in passing legislation that respects the dignity and worth of every citizen in a country that proclaims itself to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. And make no mistake, speaking with the collective voice of The Episcopal Church out of legislation adopted by the General Convention, is powerful and makes a significant difference.

It is precisely because we are a post-establishment church that we must speak and advocate for the values of the kingdom of God—here at Executive Council, at General Convention, in Washington DC and everywhere else that the lives of the people of God hang in the balance. We don’t do it because we are powerful people or because once upon a time, lots of presidents and legislators and CEOs were Episcopalians. We do it because Jesus commands us to light up the whole house, not to hide ourselves under a bushel. We speak not because of who we used to be, but who God calls us to be, now and forever.

Thank you, as always, for your service to the Episcopal Church and the work we share.