Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 9 at General Convention

To lighten the mood as we debated and voted on the budget for the triennium, the younger deputies decided that today was 'Dress like Greg Straub' day. Secretary Straub has worn a different colorful jacket and tie combination each day of the General Convention - providing us with something to look forward to each morning. Sam Gould and Christopher Ashley are seen below in their sartorial splendor.

From General Convention pictures

The budget has a leanness that will force us to be creative in our mission. Brian McClaren was today's preacher at Eucharist. He talked about the 'E word' and reclaiming its true meaning from those who have hijacked its meaning in our society.
Episcopalians and Evangelism - a communion no one should rend asunder. Usually, I find myself suppressing an urge to cringe at the word 'Evangelism'. But this time, I didn't feel any cringe at all. Perhaps it is the increased amount of time to talk about the mission of the wider church with people here that has made me able to say the 'E-word' comfortably. I will try to keep this when I am back home. Evangelism is just telling our story, not trying to co-opt someone's mind, and being there to ask the right kind of questions and to listen: What are you seeking? McClaren calls evangelists 'God's peace ambassadors' and 'reconciling co-workers of God' who are agents of change.

McClaren identified three institutional distractions from a focus on evangelism and mission for The Episcopal Church at this point in our history:Bulleted List
  • Institutional Conflict - as long as we use the challenge of conflict to reaffirm a deep incarnational identity, and as long as we stay in conversation, we should receive thanks for wading into turbulent waters ahead of the curve.
  • Institutional Identity - what is the best way to save a beloved institution like the Episcopal Church? Self-preservation is not the answer. Instead, we can focus on leveraging the institution that is our Church for the saving of the world - something we are already beginning to do through our support of the MDGs and the true and deep evangelism that is seen in our outward missional focus.
  • Institutional Rigidity - McClaren pointed to the complex way in which candidates for ministry are trained as an example of a barrier to evangelism. In balance to that statement, he also said the structure of Episcopal Church has powerful capacities for renewal.

I found that I listened to this third point with the lens of my own experience in Anaheim. Being at General Convention and attending numerous Legislative Committee hearings and meetings, and in reading all the reports from the Standing Commissions, I have a new take on how our denomination functions between General Conventions. As the Legislative Committee on Structures noted, the structures of our denomination are perfectly suited for the early 1900s, but they are cumbersome in the present day.

A sermon on evangelism, working on Public Narratives to share our mission story with others - there is a theme here...