St. John's parishioner Billy Kingery was one of our diocesan deputies for The Episcopal Church's 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas this year. He reflected on his nine days there for the August Record:
This is my sixth General Convention and each has been different – different challenges, different opportunities. This year our deputation had old and new faces, but still a sense of collegiality, respect and, most of all, the desire to listen to each other and hear what each valued and articulated on so many broad subjects.
A typical day for us:
• Committee hearings begin at 7:30 a.m.
• Legislative meetings
• More committee hearings
• Eucharist late in the afternoon
• More committee meetings and hearings, at 7:30 p.m.
As our deputation met, I often wondered what the world would be like if we all treated others with inherent dignity and respect, seeing the same DNA in ourselves and everyone else too, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, appearance or social class. This was the way we tried to look at our challenges.
Over the week, it felt as if The Episcopal Church has been given a gift that we haven't unwrapped yet. As we did our work it was obvious that the Jesus Movement, a sense of the Way of Love, was such an integral part of our everyday business. It was a choice to be engaged in these acts of love. We could choose fear, apathy or selfishness, but I saw love. This was our mission. We became what we experienced.
There is no question this was a historic General Convention, but not simply with respect to the issues: Israel/Palestine, climate control, resolving the impasse on marriage, Prayer Book revision, admitting Cuba back into TEC Province II, support of families seeking asylum on our southern borders, evangelism, racial justice (and here), gun violence and socially responsible investing.
Let me speak to two of these subjects.
Marriage. Currently, eight diocesan bishops do not allow their priests to officiate at the marriage of same-sex couples in other dioceses. It was passed that provisions be made for same-sex couples to marry in local churches under the direction of the clergy member in charge of the congregation.
Israel/Palestine. The Episcopal Church has long held the position of promoting dialogue and supporting a two-state solution – one Palestine state, one Jewish state, living side by side in cooperation and peace. If we wish to make an impact in this complex and painful issue, we have to stay engaged, both economically and ecumenically, with all people in the Holy Lands. Israel and Palestine are intrinsically linked together. (also see this link)
Where did I see God at General Convention?
On Sunday morning when a mother spoke about her daughter being killed by gun violence. When Cuba was admitted back to TEC. At the altar in worship. In the Austin community. In the mission of committees. In shared, grace-filled opinions and debate. In the hands of the inmates, 500 migrant women detained, in the windows at Hutto. People grappling with resolutions. In the face of every deputy. In the evangelism of the "Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement." At Eucharist under the great leadership of (former St. John's associate rector) the Reverend Sandy Webb.
I saw people each day who walked in the way of love. They paused each day to pray with friends and strangers for an end to gun violence, they offered kind comments, they loved and prayed with homeless street people instead of walking past, and they prayed for those who had different views in debate.
The people spoke hard truths, counter-cultural in our ideologically polarized world. I have learned that without listening we may miss our angel, the messenger of Good News in our midst who has much to teach us still.
Note: St. John's director of communications Cara Modisett also played a role in this year's General Convention. This acknowledgement appeared on the Worship page:
Thanks be to God for Cara Ellen Modisett, Communications Director, Saint John’s Episcopal, Roanoke, Virginia who worked with Torrence Thomas [head verger, Washington National Cathedral] in leading our proofreading team. The proofreading team included Dr. Katherine Grimes, Professor of English at Ferrum College, Ferrum, Virginia, The Reverend Jon White, Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Camillus, New York, and Managing Editor of the Episcopal Cafe, and The Reverend Rosalind Hughes, Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, and a Contributing Editor at the Episcopal Cafe. I want to also thank Scott Chard who is Praise Chorus Leader at Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Melissa Walker, Senior Graphic Designer for The Episcopal Church and Maria Pacheco, Language Services Manager for The Episcopal Church. I am grateful for everyone's hard work in making this update possible.
– Michael Hunn [former Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church, now Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande]
Top photo courtesy the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia
Photo below: The Rev. Devon Anderson and Julia Ayala Harris before the prayer service at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. Photo: House of Deputies News.