Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Four options for an "astounding tomorrow"

A while back I had a conversation with an in-law who is an atheist. He’s also a loving, generous, decent man in his 30’s. As a Generation X-er, he is less than enchanted by the “institutional church” as he has experienced it. He acknowledges his attraction to the faith he sees in me, which enabled us to have the conversation we did about God and the church. He had two questions for me: 1) ‘Why do you love God?’ and 2) ‘Why church – why not just love God on your own?’

These are pretty basic questions and they offered me the opportunity to evangelize – to tell the Good News as I know and experience it. So, in response to the first question, I shared those moments in my life when my heart was “strangely warmed” as John Wesley called it, and those moments of surprising excitement, much like the disciples on road to Emmaus described. I spoke about times when the love of God filled me to overflowing with joy, like Mary Magdalene must have known when she heard the resurrected Jesus call her name; and those times hope had broken into my darkness like a light, bringing with it inexplicable confidence and comfort.

In response to the second question, I talked about the nature of Jesus’ ministry on earth which not only tended to the exiled, the unclean, the sinful, and the broken, but bonded them in love, made them whole, and connected them to a larger whole. This, I said, is why being part of a church matters: so we can continue this reconciling work of Jesus. To those looking from the outside in, it may seem impossible that such an imperfect institution, filled with imperfect people, could accomplish this goal, but we know that we are called to be faithful, not perfect. We also believe that “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37)

The church is where we who are many become one body, where our personal goals are relinquished to the will of God for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. As Dennis Campbell, author and expert in church congregations, wrote, “Shared vision emerges from the individual hearts and souls of people who have lived life and suffered and yet dare to risk struggling with the Holy Spirit to imagine the astounding tomorrow to which God is calling the congregation.” (Congregations as Learning Communities, Tools for Shaping your Future)

As we (the family of faith at Redeemer) journey together through our process of discernment, I ask you to consider how you might have answered those two questions. Can/will you talk about why you love God and why are you a member of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer? I would also add a third question: Are you willing to imagine the astounding tomorrow to which God is calling our congregation? If so, what will you do to help us get there? (OK, that’s two questions).

At our Parish Meeting last Sunday, we discussed four options as part of our common discernment for our future path. Everyone is invited to participate by offering their time, gifts, and wisdom to one of the four committees formed to investigate these options and report back at next month’s parish meeting. If you missed the meeting last Sunday, the options can be read HERE (thx to our Sr. Warden, Jane Shooter for this flyer. It's at the bottom left on our homepage). To join one of the option committees, please contact the church office:, or 704.487.5404.

God is calling us to an “astounding tomorrow” sharing the Good News we know and participating in the reconciling work our Savior began and called us to continue… for nothing will be impossible with God.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The point of privilege

My article for the Parish Notes for 07/23/07 (posted late - sorry! :)

In her book, Meditations from A Simple Path, Mother Theresa offers this prayer: “Dear Lord, the Great Healer, I kneel before You,
since every perfect gift must come from You. I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind, kindness and meekness to my heart. Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift up part of the burden of my suffering fellow man, and a true realization of the privilege that is mine. Take from my heart all guile and worldliness, that with the simple faith of a child, I may rely on you.”

This prayer is a call for an inward change: meekness of heart and a true realization of our privilege… that has an outward effect: strength to lift up the part of the burden suffered by others that we can.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary: privilege is “a right or immunity granted, and it is specifically attached to a position or office.” We who are richly blessed with wealth, power, position, the socially acceptable race, gender, or sexual orientation, are called to open our eyes to a ‘true realization of the privilege that is ours’ then imitate God by acting to restore right relationships.

Old Testament theologian Bruce Birch reminds us that prophets like Amos caution us about the cost of privilege: “those who enjoy the fruits of wealth and luxury without regard to the plight of the poor and needy are as guilty as those who actively exploit them.” (“Let Justice Roll Down, The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life,” 263) Jesus restates this idea in a familiar phrase in Mark’s gospel: “many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” (Mk 10:31)

Most of us are already actively working to make things better in our world. Here at Redeemer we serve the hungry every Wednesday by offering a hot meal and food pantry. From the start of this ministry, however, we have been committed to serving friendship as well as food, to offering our time, attention, and a compassionate ear to hear the burdens of those we serve, then do what we can to relieve those burdens.

Most of the time that means finding a couple of dollars for medications they can’t afford, i.e., blood pressure, heart meds, antibiotics. Other times it means connecting them with local service agencies or going with them to report below standard living conditions at their rental homes. You might be surprised (we still are) how our presence with them , or our making the connection for them, changes the way they’re treated and motivates action on their behalf.

That’s how our privilege can be used to lift the burden of those who don’t have it.

We aren’t called to give up our privilege but to own it and use it to build bridges and relieve the burdens of those who suffer. We can use our white privilege to foster racial reconciliation responding to the very loud cries for that (for those with ears to hear) right now. Men can use their privilege to acknowledge and close the gender gap in wages and employment opportunities for women. Heterosexuals can speak out and act in solidarity with homosexuals who put their jobs at risk if they claim their legal right to marry.

The point of having privilege is to use it to eliminate injustice. May God give us the courage to acknowledge our privilege, the strength and will to use it to relieve the burden of our suffering neighbors and establish justice, and the wisdom to look beyond the immediate reactions the world might have, focusing instead on the eternal rewards Jesus has promised us. Amen.

By The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherre, Rector

Pentecost 9, 2015: Living lives of faith

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11-1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Our gospel from John offers us two stories, rich with symbolism, about living lives of faith: the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water. These stories connect to two foundational stories in the Old Testament.

The first is the story of Moses who led the people in their exile in the wilderness where they ate the food of angels: manna – enough to satisfy them every day – but not a morsel extra. In this story, God commanded the people not save any manna for tomorrow. They were to eat until they were satisfied and leave the rest. This story is about learning to trust that their needs would be met by the abundance of God’s love and provision.

The second is the story of Elisha who fed 100 people with 10 barley loaves and some grain. Elisha’s men doubted how such a small amount of food could feed so many people, but Elisha told them that Yahweh had promised there would be enough and even some left over – and there was.

In the gospel story, there were even more people to feed and less food to give them. Jesus tested his disciples, who would have known the stories of Moses and Elisha. Rather than trusting God, the disciples tried to figure out how they could feed the crowds, only to realize that they couldn’t.

Jesus wasn’t mad at them for failing in their faith. This test was his gift to them to free them from the limits of their faith.

Taking the offering of insufficient food, Jesus blessed it, and gave it to his disciples to give to the people. Do you hear the Eucharistic language in this?

John tells us that everyone who ate was satisfied. Clearly they weren’t using those little wafers we use for Holy Eucharist.

When the people had eaten and were satisfied, the disciples gathered up what was left-over and it filled 12 baskets. As you know, the number 12 is a symbolic number in the Bible which refers to the 12 tribes of Israel – the people of God. They gathered up 12 baskets. In the gospel story, the image is of containers holding new people of God - people whom God brought to be fed.

I imagine some of Jesus’ long-time followers were unhappy about including everyone gathered on the grass. Some of them probably weren’t worthy of the resources they were using up, yet Jesus fed them all.

At Redeemer, we are being given the gift of confronting these same fears today. How blessed we are that God is choosing to test us, just as the disciples were tested, to free us from the limits of our faith. Like the disciples, we have tried to figure out how to serve from an insufficiency of resources. Like the disciples, we realize that we can’t, but God can in ways that go beyond our imagination; and we know this because we’ve been through this before. When we started the Shepherd’s Table in 2010, our Food Pantry, which already existed, had already been serving about 10-14 families a week. Those numbers immediately doubled and kept growing. It was getting hard to keep up with the demand for food.

One member serving in the ministry wanted to limit the number of people we served and reserve some food in the pantry for the following week. The majority of volunteers (myself included) were convinced that we should give all we had each week and trust God to renew our supply.

We worried about having enough – we still do – but God has shown that our need will be supplied when we make room in our hearts for that to happen. Ask a Shepherd’s Table volunteer to tell you how often we have experienced this kind of divine intervention in this ministry. It’s inspiring.

Back to the gospel… After feeding the crowds, Jesus withdrew by himself to the mountain. “Mountain” is Bible-talk for the prayerful place where God’s will is revealed. Think: Moses and Mt. Horeb where God made the first covenant with the people.

Jesus must have stayed in prayer for a very long time because the disciples finally decided to leave for home without him. They got about halfway across the lake and the wind picked up, making their journey difficult and dangerous.

Do you hear the symbols in this part of the story? The disciples are together on a vessel in the Sea of Galilee. Water represents Baptism, birth into new life in Christ.

John says it was dark, and he’s speaking of spiritual darkness not just the absence of day light. The disciples, who have witnessed and participated in Jesus’ many miracles, most recently the feeding of the 5,000 (really 15-20,000 if you count the women and children present too), are now journeying intentionally into the waters of new life where they find themselves in darkness and troubled.

John describes this trouble as a wild wind, which is also symbolic for the Holy Spirit of God, blowing where it wills, stirring up the water, making it rough. Like the creation story in Genesis, where God calmed the chaos waters of the earth, in John’s gospel story, Jesus, the Incarnate God, calms the chaos waters in hearts of his followers; and he does it by speaking a powerful phrase: “It is I” he says, (in Greek, ego eimi – which means I AM). I AM is here – don’t be afraid.

I AM is how God self-identifies in Scripture: first to Abraham saying, “I AM the Lord (Gen 15:7), I am God Almighty” (Gen 17:1); to Jacob saying, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father;” (Gen 28:13); and to Moses saying, “I AM who I AM” (Ex 3:14). Tell them I AM sent you.

Many of us here have experienced great spiritual awakenings, deeply moving prayer experiences, mystical encounters with God. As your rector, I’ve had the privilege of sharing those stories and processing those experiences with you. It’s inspiring and transforming every time.

Yet, it’s true that when we draw near to the presence of God we realize how great and almighty God truly is and how small and powerless we truly are. Whenever our hubris gives way to true humility the experience is, at first, terrifying. Terrifying because the illusion that we have control of and power over our lives crumbles. Terrifying because we realize that we have been standing in the place of God in our lives and ministries and how very foolish and dangerous that is. Terrifying because what we were so sure we knew about God, ourselves, our church, our future, are washed away in the power of the presence of the living God.

That’s when Jesus comes to us and calms the fearful storms in our hearts saying “It is I” (ego eimi), don’t be afraid.”

Like the disciples, the minute we invite Jesus into our vessel, we find that we’ve arrived at the place we were trying to go. We’re standing on dry land, in the presence of our Savior, who grounds us and roots us in love.

It’s comforting (isn’t it?) that the apostles, who actually saw Jesus perform his many miracles, were still prone to moments of spiritual darkness. My guess is, that happens when our deepest fears rise up: like the fear of not having enough, which may actually be the fear of not feeling beloved enough for God to provide what we need.

Our vessel, our church, is currently in the middle of rough waters. The wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing and our journey feels difficult and dangerous. Some of us may even be terrified.

We can take heart, though because we are grounded and rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. Like the disciples, we’re a faithful group, beloved of God, but we aren’t immune from moments of spiritual darkness and trouble – and thanks be to God for that – because those moments are a gift. They invite us to believe and invite Christ back into our vessel. Once we do that, God can take our insufficiencies and work miracles with them.

I close with a portion of the prayer of St. Brendan, adapted from the 1st person (I) to the 3rd person (we). Let us pray.
“Lord, we will trust You.

Help us to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.

Give us the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, we trust You
to be stronger than each storm within us.

We will trust in the darkness and know
that our times, even now, are in Your hand.

We will believe You for our future,
chapter by chapter, until all the story is written.

Strengthen us with your blessing
and appoint to us the task.

Teach us to live with eternity in view.
Tune our spirit to the music of heaven.

Feed us,and somehow,
make our obedience count for You.”


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Holy Conversations - The beginning of our search for a bishop

As most of you know, our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor has announced that he will retire next year. A Bishop Search Committeehas been formed and they are scheduling visits around the diocese to have “Holy Conversations.” It’s one of the things I really love about the Episcopal Church; when we have a decision to make all voices are invited into the process.

Redeemer has been selected as a host site for one of these Holy Conversations. We will hold two gatherings in our Parish Hall on September 1st - one from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, and the other from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Churches from around our deanery will be joining us as we enter together into this period of communal discernment.

These Holy Conversations will help the BSC begin the work of preparing our diocesan profile. The profile will be reviewed and discerned by many across the country as candidates for election are recommended to us.

Granted, the Diocese of Western North Carolina is a real gem. We are stunningly beautiful, have three conference centers, two which belong to us (Lake Logan and Valle Crucis) and one which belongs to The Episcopal Church (Kanuga). Our weather is gentle but offers seasonal variety. We are an attractive call. Many will be interested in us just because of those things.

But a bishop search, like a rector search, is about discerning. As a diocese we must get really honest about our values, our passions, and our personality. We must also claim, own, and present our challenges. Candidates aren’t going to be looking for a perfect diocese and this isn’t dating, so we don’t need to put our “best foot forward.” Candidates will be looking for a faithful diocese, a community that is willing to hear and answer God’s call to the Church in this moment in our history in WNC. They’ll be looking for a people who will honor their new bishop’s gifts of episcopal leadership while honoring their own gifts as members of the diocese, so that we can participate as one body, one spirit, in the work we are called to do in the name of Christ.

The Holy Conversations that will be conducted around the diocese are an invitation for everyone to do just that: to listen prayerfully together about how God is calling us as a diocese to move forward, and the gifts our next bishop will need to lead us faithfully into this new season of our common life. These conversations are about who we are now, who God is calling us to become, and who is the person called to lead us there. Sound familiar?

Discernment is a spiritual discipline and takes practice and intentional effort. We know what we think, and what we think we want, but are we willing also to hear what God would like us to hear?

Not all bishops fit all dioceses, and all dioceses are in continual rhythms of growth and decline – spiritually and actually. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the person God is calling to serve as our next bishop will discern that individually, while we as a diocese discern it as a community. The meeting of these faithful efforts will happen at the election next year. For now, however, our only task is to enter into Holy Conversations and empower our BSC to begin the hard work of building our diocesan profile.

Please mark your calendar and plan to share your thoughts at the conversation we’ll be hosting on Sep. 1. The election of a bishop is a wondrously spiritual process. I hope we’ll all commit to being part of it: humbly, bravely, honestly, and faithfully.

Friday, July 10, 2015

By the forgiveness of our sins

As Episcopalians we live deeply into the mystery of God who is Trinity in Unity. Our faith allows us to rest in the truth of it, even though we can’t think our way into understanding it.

This is also one of the two dogmas of our denomination: that God is Trinity in Unity. The other dogma is that Jesus, who is the Christ, is the second person of that Trinity in Unity, is the savior of the world. Everything else, as we often say, is up for discussion.

We believe that Jesus Christ, reconciled us back to God by the forgiveness of our sins. We acknowledge “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” each Sunday when we pray the Nicene Creed together (BCP, 358). After praying a corporate confession the priest prays a blessing of absolution over us “for the forgiveness of our sins.” (BCP, 361) We hear, say, and pray about forgiveness of sins so often - but what do we make of this statement?

So many people hear this as referring to our behavior. We did/do a bad thing and God forgives it. The truth is, it’s so much more than that.

Think about the creation story in Genesis. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (1:31) All that God creates, including us, is good. That’s where we begin. The Garden of Eden is an illustration of what perfect harmony and communion with God looks like. Enter humans, with our gifts of intellect, visioning, and community as embodied in Adam (Hebrew for “human”) and Eve (Hebrew for “first”), and also our weaknesses of hubris, short-sightedness, and self-centeredness.

The story of the fall of Adam and Eve from grace into sin illustrates why our salvation is about forgiveness of our sins. Sin disrupts the perfect harmony and communion created from the beginning – the “dream of God” as Presiding bishop-elect Michael Curry calls it. By the way, +Michael is using a term coined by Verna Dozier who wrote a book by that title.

In his book, The Shaking of the Foundations, theologian Paul Tillich describes sin as a three-fold separation: from God, from each other, and from ourselves. This separation, which is caused by the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, distorts all of our relationships. It is only by God’s grace and our willingness to repent that our relationships are restored and we are returned to righteousness, that is, right relationship with God, one another, and creation.

When we choose to repent, we may find ourselves “struck by grace,” as Tillich says, the way St. Paul was on the road to Damascus, knowing deeply the truth that God loves us with an incomprehensible love, even though we are thoroughly unworthy of that love. Suddenly, “a light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted…accepted by that which is greater than you…’ After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe better than before, but everything is transformed.” Repentance, therefore, opens the way for all of our relationships to be changed, reconciled. Repentance empowers us through the grace of God’s acceptance.

Jesus speaks plainly to us about this when he says, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish” (Lk 13:3) and he goes on to explain what he means in the parable of the fig tree. In this parable, the lord of the vineyard sees a fig tree that isn’t producing fruit, judges it as useless, and cuts it down. In Jesus’ re-telling of this popular near-Eastern story, however, the owner of the garden shows mercy, giving the tree one more chance. In order to live the tree and the tree’s community (the gardener) must change how they’re doing things… which is the point in this parable: repent, change how you and your community are living together, or you will die… not because God will punish you, but because the way you are living is not life-giving… it leads to death.

Trusting in the steadfast love of God who is always faithful, we can always choose to repent, to change the way we’re doing things. We can choose to live.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Pentecost 6, 2015: Inconceivable? NOT!!!

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Scripture. Tradition. Reason. Who knows what these are?

They are the “legs” of the tree-legged stool, which is a theological construct given to us by Richard Hooker, a priest and theologian from the Reformation era, as a way to understand and balance the continuing revelations of God in Scripture, with the experiences of the early church, and the experiences of the church in the current moment in history, so that we may faithfully discern the will of God in our time.

Scripture: the story of God’s self-revelation to us. It’s a love story. Think of the story line as it proceeds from Genesis (where humans thought they knew better than God) to Easter (where God removed every barrier, including death) to Pentecost (where God’s Spirit entered our temporal bodies and formed us into the eternal body of Christ, the church) to Acts (where we began participating in the reconciling work of Christ and where we continue to participate until the whole world is reconciled and restored to unity with God and one another).

Tradition: everything from the history of God’s people we find in our Scripture, to the prayers, liturgies, worship, theology, and hymns handed down to us from our Jewish forebears, the disciples, and those among the communion of saints who came before us.

But tradition also includes what we are establishing now and handing down to the generations that will follow us. In their book, A people called Episcopalians, theologians Westerhoff and Pearson say “…we Episcopalians are a people who at the moment of our Baptism are incorporated into a living, changing tradition, established by a community of faith that continually strives to know and do the will of God.” (Morehouse, 2014, 12)

Reason: the ability to be present in our experiences and reflect on them until we see how God will use them and us to further the plan of reconciliation. For example, I commend to you the work done at General Convention on marriage equality, racism, alcoholism, the environment, ecumenism, gun control, women’s ministries (just to name a few) and the experiences that brought these issues to our collective discernment. That’s “reason.”

As PB-elect Michael Curry said, we are called to go out from the comfort of our churches and respond to the cries of those who suffer in our neighborhoods, to transform the ourselves and the world, until the world looks less like our nightmare and more like the dream of God.

Knowledge informs our faith but cannot replace it, and this is what Jesus is teaching his disciples – and us – in today’s gospel story from Mark. Jesus has returned to his hometown and is in the temple teaching with a wisdom that astounds his listeners.

His hometown folk remember the great deeds of healing Jesus has done and they begin to wonder out loud how this can be. This is where their thoughts step on their faith. They get offended and end up sounding like Vizzini from Princess Bride: “Inconceivable!” Isn’t that Mary and Joseph’s son – the carpenter? We know his brothers and sisters. This is inconceivable! It just can’t be!

And as long as it was inconceivable to them, as long as they limited the power of God’s love according to their own understanding of what was possible, Jesus’ reconciling work among them was impossible. It’s as if they dammed up the living waters until they were only a trickle and Jesus could cure only a few sick people, so he left – “amazed at their unbelief.”

You can almost see Jesus hanging his head, shaking it in disappointment. He had a great gift to offer them, but they refused it because they were unable to move from their heads (that is, their thoughts) to their hearts (their faith).

The gospel tells us the next thing Jesus did was send his followers out two by two. The language used by the evangelist is meant to link our hearing of this story to the story of Noah - where the animals boarded the ark two by two. In the story of Noah, God entered into a new covenant with the people. In the gospel story, Jesus IS the new covenant, so instead of entering the safety of the ark, Jesus is sending them out into the storm.

Mark says Jesus sends them out with authority, but this is new to them, so to help them rely on their faith and not their own understanding, Jesus told them to take nothing – no food, no money, no extra clothes. For us, he’d say, ‘leave your cell phones and tablets behind.’ (Gasp!)

As you know, the disciples were not yet very good at understanding Jesus. They regularly missed the point, failed to understand, and got it wrong. Just recently we heard Jesus ask them how they could have no faith as the storm tossed their boat while Jesus slept. Then, taking the disciples to the “other side” that is, where the unclean folk were, Jesus gives his disciples the opportunity to practice moving from their heads (thoughts) to their hearts (faith), demonstrating how the power of God’s redeeming love can accomplish the impossible: healing the Gerasene demoniac, the bleeding woman, and Jairus’ daughter – Jews and Gentiles alike.

I imagine the disciples thinking, ‘Well, of course HE can do that.’ But now Jesus is sending THEM to do it. How nervous they must have been! What if I can’t heal this person? Is it safe for me to approach that demoniac? What if they go nuts on me? I’m not God!

And that’s exactly St. Paul’s point in the epistle. We are NOT God, therefore, we must acknowledge our own weakness and make room for God to act in us, and through us into the world. We can do nothing relying on ourselves, but nothing is impossible for God, who dwells in us, and touches the world through our hands.

As Mark tells us in the conclusion of today’s gospel story, the disciples did as Jesus asked – and it worked! Having nothing to rely on but the sending words of Jesus and the example of his life and ministry, the disciples went into the world and loved as he loved. As a result, they brought peace to many who were troubled and cured many who were sick.

Now it’s our turn. Can we, like those first disciples, go TO the one who scares us, or frustrates us, or even disgusts us rather than AWAY FROM them confident that God will transform our hearts and show us how to move in love? Can we bear the love of God to them knowing that they and we will be changed by this relationship? Can we allow ourselves to truly desire that they be one with us and share our pews, our communion table, our life?

Our purpose as followers of Christ is not to come to a pretty church, pray pretty prayers in pretty rituals, and go home feeling good about our eternal souls. We have been chosen and particularly gifted to bear the love of God in Christ into the world where God has placed us.

We gather each Sunday to be nourished by Word and Sacrament and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be one body, one spirit in Christ, to be the church body so that we can “Go!” as PB-elect Michael preached at convention…to go out into the worldly storms bearing the presence and the peace of Christ; …go out into our neighborhoods bearing the love of God in Christ establishing relationships with those people whom others shun. As the sanctified body of Christ we are called to love ALL our neighbors, inside and outside our church, with pure affection, the kind that hopes for and works for the very best for them on earth as God desires it in heaven.

Given the state of the church and the world right now, does that seem impossible? Maybe in our thoughts, but not in our hearts where our faith assures us that nothing shall be impossible with God. Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reflection on General Convention 78

It’s been a big week for the Episcopal Church! In addition to electing Michael Curry as our new Presiding Bishop (thanks be to God!), our bishops and deputies at General Convention have prayerfully and thoughtfully discussed hundreds of resolutions. Although we’re a relatively small denomination, our process (which confounds many other denominations) and our decisions continue to make national news. I think that’s because when we manifest our Episcopal identity, the via media – the middle way - it is attractive somehow to
those outside looking in.

As Episcopal priest and theologian Urban T. (Terry) Holmes once said, “I have never known two Episcopalians to totally agree, and the fact that we can admit our disagreements is only indicative or our Anglican freedom to acknowledge the polymorphous nature of all human knowing, something not every Christian body is comfortable admitting… with all its irritating nonsense, I know of no place in which I could have more freedom to be that Catholic Christian which we are called to be.” (“What is Anglicanism?” Morehouse Publishing, vii, ix.) Our bishop, +Porter, said the discussions at convention were intense and respectful.

Living into the freedom Holmes described, here are a few of the most discussed decisions made at our General Convention: we approved changes to the sacramental rite of marriage and the church canons about marriage. This is a big deal as it will change the content of our Book of Common Prayer, the symbol of our unity as a denomination. As most of you know - especially those who have attended our Inquirer’s Class where we discuss this – our Episcopal identity is primarily shaped by our prayers and worship, not by doctrine. Our theology is found in our Prayer Book, so any changes to it come about only after much communal thought, prayer, and consensus.

The TEC’s (The Episcopal Church) budget was framed around mission, something our Presiding Bishop, Katherine, accomplished earlier in her tenure. Praying the budget discussion into session this year, ++Katherine said, “We are gathered here to consider how best to use the resources you have given us for the work of your healed world. Keep us open in heart and mind and spirit that we may discern the leading of your spirit.” I hope all of our churches pray this as we consider our own budgets. TEC budget resolutions were passed restructuring our assets in the service of God’s mission including divesting in fossil fuels and investing in clean energy; money directed a new initiative on racial justice and reconciliation; and new money appropriated for evangelism, including digital evangelism via social media.

The TEC also reaffirmed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation, supported handgun purchaser licensing as a means to address rampant gun violence, opposed conversion therapy perpetrated on our LGBT sisters and brothers, and started a very honest discussion about alcohol use, abuse, and our church’s response to it. A resolution to establish a task force on climate change is still to be decided. (Update: this was accomplished.)

For more information on these and the many other decisions made at General Convention, The Diocese of Western North Carolina website has links to the Bishop’s and deputies’ blogs from convention (; or go to The Episcopal Church website (, or this link for the General Convention website (, or the news outlet, Episcopal News Service (

I close with another quote from Terry Holmes - a favorite theologian of mine - who said: “we see our lives as interconnected… Our spirit, mind, emotions, and body are inseparably united, as are our personal, interpersonal, historic, social and cosmic lives. We cannot postpone the issue of justice to a future date; we cannot ignore the hungry at our doorstep, and we cannot pretend that what we do in our business has no effect upon the state of our soul…. Ultimately, the authenticity of faith and belief is measured at the bar of justice… To love God is to relieve the burden of suffering. The rest is a question of tactics.” (Holmes, 95)