Monday, July 20, 2009

The Last Word

I am back in my beloved New Hampshire where the clean air and my own bed have banished my fever and restored my health. A nasty bug, enabled by my near exhaustion, ruined the last couple of days of a great Convention, but it does not diminish in any way the good work we did.

This General Convention accomplished, addressed and acknowledged many concerns that face the Church and the world, among them...

* put in place a mandatory lay pension plan for all lay church employees working 20 hours or more, addressing an inequity long overdue for remedy

* established a mandatory denominational health plan for all clergy, combining the buying power of our numbers of clergy in order to provide excellent health coverage (with several plans to choose from) at an estimated 10% reduction in cost

* advocated for humane treatment of undocumented immigrants, including a call for the ending of roadside checkpoints, an ending to raids on community centers, transportation centers, workplaces and houses of worship, an end to the inhumane conditions and questionable processes in detention centers, and a call for a process toward legal citizenship for those already resident in this country

* called on members of this church to work for universal health care coverage, including, in time, a single-payer system

In doing all this, The Episcopal Church faced into the economic realities of this time, passing a drastically reduced budget, which includes the painful elimination of some 30 positions at the Episcopal Church Center and cuts to worthy programs, but which seeks to continue our mission in the world.

In addition, the Church decided to move beyond the informal moratoria on gay bishops and the blessing of same sex unions. By this time, you will have read of those actions, but let me tell you about the most significant moment, for me, related to these actions.

The House of Bishops had already concurred, with some minor amendments, that this church will continue to follow our constitution and canons regarding the election of bishops. This resolution basically said, "We have canons, they have served us well in the past, and they will be sufficient for guiding our selection of bishops in the future." In other words, we will not be constrained by any extra-canonical agreements. That was a positive statement about where we mean to be in the selection of bishops.

Then, the Prayer Book and Litury legislative committee brought to the floor of the House of Bishops (where such legislation originates) a resolution that called for the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender unions, along with a generous flexibility in the use of rites in those civil jurisdictions where marriage equality is already (or may become) a reality. The debate was vigorous and positive. It looked as if we were going to move forward. Then a bishop rose to propose that legislating this issue was counterproductive. It was moved to send this to a small working group to come up with a "better way." This motion passed, and I feared that this move was an attempt to get us to do nothing, or worse, to make our own statement as bishops, completely sidestepping the fact that we were meeting, not as a lone House of Bishops, but as the General Convention, which includes laity and clergy.

In an effort to forestall this move, I signed up to be a part of the small working group (Presiding Bishop Katharine had invited any who wanted to be a part of the group to volunteer). What followed was perhaps the most signficant "moment" of the Convention for me.

We met late into the night on Wednesday night. Some 25 bishops representing the entire spectrum of opinion, from the most conservative to the most liberal. On Wednesday night, using the style of the African Indaba process from the Lambeth Conference, we each simply spoke about where we were on this issue. NEVER in my six years as a bishop have I experienced the holy speaking and holy listening I experienced that night. Each bishop in turn spoke their truth -- the pain and difficulty they've experienced in their dioceses as a result of the controversy, the personal burdens they've shouldered, the pain of gay and lesbian people in their dioceses who are not sure whether they are valued as full members of this church and their pastoral needs as children of God. Each spoke of what they needed to go home with. Each was honest and vulnerable about what they could give up for the good of the whole. It is hard to describe the vulnerability and honesty with which each bishop contributed.

We took all this to our prayers and to bed, and returned at 7:00 the next morning to decide what all this meant for the resolution before us. The vulnerability and honesty continued in this working session. What resulted was a resolution to bring back to the House that represented that group's "best way forward," although there was no attempt to lock anyone into voting for it or to commit to every word.

At our afternoon session, the resolution was presented, along with a brief account of our precious time together. Then we talked about the resolution at our tables of eight, for close to half an hour. Then the debate began. There were a few amendments offered -- some passed, some failed. But the resolution we had crafted remained reasonably intact.

Just as we were nearly ready to vote, a bishop rose and proposed "discharging" the resolution (in effect, NOT voting on it and making it "go away"). This move to not deal with the issue failed by a substantial (3 to 1) margin. It seemed clear that the Bishops knew that we could not duck out of this one. A roll call was requested, so no bishop could hide behind a voice vote. The time had come to declare ourselves. When the resolution came to a vote, it passed by a whopping 3.5 to 1 margin. Interestingly, some of the bishops who had voted to make the whole issue go away, when finally having to vote, voted "yes!" There were some bishops who voted "yes" who had NEVER voted "yes" on any gay-affirmative resolution before. This vote was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone seemed stunned.

As is our practice at the end of each session, the Presiding Bishop asked the chaplains to lead us in prayer, which they did. But what happened next was a total surprise. As the chaplain spoke the final AMEN, no one moved a muscle. Normally, we would have immediately gotten up and exited the hall. But this time, there was no movement at all. The bishops sat perfectly still, and totally silent for some 10 minutes, continuing to pray. My prayers were filled with love and concern for those who had courageously voted "yes" and would face much criticism for having done so. I prayed for those conservatives who had voted "no" and whose dioceses would demand to know why they had not been able to stop this move. And I prayed for those lgbt people who now had a new, bold affirmation that indeed they ARE full and equal members of this Church, good news for the marginalized. It was a stunning moment, and for me, a moment to experience/feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe others felt it too.

This Convention had an unexpected -- and wonderful -- effect on me. The marginalization I have felt from my own House of Bishops since Lambeth seems to have disappeared. Finally, after months of feeling "cut out of the herd" by Lambeth, I once again feel restored to the community of bishops. Perhaps it was my own doing, I don't know. But whatever distance I felt, now seems mostly healed. And for that I am very grateful.

One brother bishop noted in private that my blog was still called "Canterbury Tales from the Fringe," and wondered if that was not out of date now. While I had simply decided to continue the same blog, rather than establish a new one, I now wonder if at some level I had still felt "on the fringe." Because that is no longer the case, if I decide to blog again (I'm sure I will), it will be under a different name. I, along with my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, are moving into full participation in the Body of Christ. There is no sweeter result of General Convention than this one.

Thank you for reading my musings here. Your prayers and support have meant and will continue to mean the world to me. As I am fond of saying, God's love wins! And God's inclusive love certainly won the day at the Convention. Still, isn't it amazing when it happens right in front of your eyes?! Thanks be to God.

No longer on the Fringe,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Reporting in

My apologies to those of you who have been following my blog -- until it recently stopped. On Wednesday evening, after a momentous and wonderful day in the House of Bishops, I came down with a raging fever. At first, I thought it was simply exhaustion. But now, 48 hours later, I am still host to a serious fever which has sapped my strength and kept me from participating in the last two days of Convention.

When I return home (tomorrow) and am feeling better (soon, I hope), I will post one last time on this blog. There is much to rejoice about. Let's just say that my "core message," that "Now is the time for the Episcopal Church to stand up and be the Church God is calling us to be" has happened. Weak as I am, I have never been prouder of being an Episcopalian.

Watch this space for my final recap of Convention.

Thank you for all your prayers -- they have sustained and supported ALL of us here, and I am especially grateful for your prayers for me. I could have not done this important work without them.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And move forward we did!

It was an inspiring day in the House of Bishops -- not just because of the final vote to move beyond B033 from the last Convention (declaring an unofficial moratorium on the election and consecration of bishops who happen to be gay and partnered), but because of the gentle, honest and faithful debate that preceded that vote.

As those of you reading this blog know, I've not had a good feeling about my colleagues in the House of Bishops lately. And while this vote has not entirely eased all my concerns, it was a moment (okay, three hours!) when my beloved colleagues rose to speak from their hearts and from their faith about the matters before us. Some of my brothers and sisters spoke and voted in ways that will get them in trouble with many they pastor. Courage comes in many forms, and yesterday, many who had voted FOR the moratorium listened both to the House of Deputies and, I believe, the Holy Spirit, opening their hearts to where God might be moving in the world and in the Church. No doubt, they will pay a price for opening their hearts, much as gay and lesbian people in this Church have paid a price for their exclusion. I applaud them for their courage and will stand with them in the consequences of their vote.

This is the Church I've been telling my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters to come to, or to come back to. This is the Church that sees the face of Christ in the poor, the despised, the neglected and the marginalized. This is not the "gay Church," but the Church who values those who are gay, women, people of color, those differently abled, as well as the white, male and middle class. It is a Church for ALL of God's children -- all sinners redeemed by a loving God who gave God's self for ALL on the cross. This is a day to rejoice for the Church -- no, let me be more specific, this is a day to rejoice in The Episcopal Church, which once again has stood for the full inclusion of all.

Another difficult and moving experience for me yesterday: One of my brother bishops confronted me about something I had written here on this blog, reminding me that my words weren't just going to the people of my diocese (for whom my blog is primarily written), but to the many people who come to read my reflections. He disagreed with my perceptions of the House of Bishops (even though they were written as MY perceptions), feeling that they fueled the often-heard perception that there was a divide between the Houses of Deputies and Bishops. He felt -- and I seriously listened to and contemplated -- that I had exhibited the kind of arrogance that I had accused my brother bishops of. I have and will continue to contemplate that, searching my soul for the kind of sin I accuse others of. (Jesus had something to say about the mote in someone ELSE'S eye!) But the point I want to make in relating this personal interaction is that he SAID it. What a gift it is when people speak the truth in love to you. There was no question in my mind that he spoke those words in love -- and that is what makes the Church, and yes, the House of Bishops, a holy place. We're all doing the best we can, and being human, we don't always have the full perspective we'd like. And when we err, fellow Christians correct one another in love. As long as THAT commitment persists, we will be all right. No, we will be better than all right. We will be the community of the faithful God would have us be.

Yesterday was exhausting. At the close of the debate, instead of feeling overjoyed at the two-to-one margin of the vote, I felt strangely quiet, pensive and sober. Votes like this (yea or nay?!) always LOOK like there are winners and losers. I wish that weren't so. I was so aware of those who voted no, many of whom are beloved friends, some from my very close group of bishops in my "class" (elected also in 2003), and how they must feel. They will have experienced the Church, which they love every bit as much as I, moving away from what they perceive to be God's will and the course of action to preserve the Anglican Communion. I, on the other hand, found it hard not to take their votes, and their speeches prior to the vote, personally. It sounded as if they were denying my own humanity, and that of my brothers and sisters who have consistently found ourselves on the fringes of the Church. I know they didn't mean it that way, or think that, but still it is hard to sit and listen to such arguments. But that is what this is all about -- speaking the truth as best we can discern it, for the good of God and God's Church.

So, for me, while I find profound joy in the vote for inclusion, I also continue to feel quiet and humble in the face of it, knowing the distress it also causes in other faithful people, in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, we move forward, together. Together -- that's the important thing. As long as we hang in there together, with all our flaws and shortcomings, speaking the truth in love and trusting in God's grace, all will be well. If not today, then tomorrow. Thanks be, not to the House of Deputies nor the House of Bishops, but TO GOD.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Moving Forward

At last! We are moving forward!

Saturday, like every other day at General Convention, was filled with legislative work, worship and much conversation. Anyone who came to Southern California to play and lie beside the pool were again sadly disappointed. The commitment and hard work of all the deputies, and yes, our very own deputation, are a marvel to behold. Meetings that begin as early as 6:30am, and activities that last into the night, make for a demanding time, drive-thru lunches, and not much sleep. But through it all, spirits are high, determined and committed.

Sunday began with a colorful and wonderful festive eucharist, with all the bishops dressed in our red and white rochets and chimeres, liturgical dancers, and rousing music. Every eucharist here is a reminder that we find our unity in the divine liturgy, not in our agreement on certain issues.

I received communication from the official Youth Presence at General Convention. They have invited me to lunch with them on Tuesday -- a special honor, since the other two guests invited to address them have been the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The youth at this Convention -- both the official Youth Presence as well as countless young people who have simply come to be a part of things -- have made a powerful impact on this Convention, speaking articulately and powerfully of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their commitment to The Episcopal Church.

But of course, the issues surface in the legislation. At the beginning of our legislative session, the Bishops were read a communication for Program, Budget and Finance, which sobered the tone of our gathering. As they had begun their work, PB&F faced a $28 million gap between anticipated revenue and anticipated needs. In their letter, they announced that they had cut that gap to $14 million, still a sobering figure. Caution was urged in passing legislation that called for additional funding for anything. In our own diocese, we are of course familiar with this painful dilemma, and it is encouraging to see The Episcopal Church struggling to make the same difficult choices at this level of our common life.

That warning had a real effect on the HOB voting. Measures which called for worthy actions often went down because of their funding implications. Even the funding of missionaries -- we have nearly 80 of them, working at a cost to the church of only $24,000/year! -- was held up, pending further information. Their cost amounts to nearly five-and-a-half million dollars. The good news is that The Episcopal Church is committed to this mission of evangelism; the bad news is that their funding demands the cuts in other important areas. Stay tuned.

The big news, of course, is that the House of Deputies considered D025 -- a beautifully crafted resolution which did not expressly repeal the ban on gay partnered people from being called, elected and consecrated bishops, but simply and elegantly stated that we have canonical processes for the selection and "vetting" of nominees and bishops-elect, and this Church means to follow those processes. They have served us well, the resolution implied, and we intend to follow them WITHOUT extra-canonical promises or restrictions. All attempts to alter the proposed resolution failed. In effect, this resolution ends the informal ban on such bishops-elect. Its power is that it returns us to the canons of the Church, which have always served us well and which allow the Holy Spirit to call those whom the Spirit calls.

I was in the gallery when this vote (which was overwhelming, with a 2/3 majority in EACH of the orders of laity and clergy!) was announced. Rules of the House prevented any display of emotion, support or non-support. But the exuberance of the Deputies could be felt in the air. We had finally moved beyond that dark cloud of last Convention's B033 and into the Church of the future.

Our deputation immediately called my cell phone to share the good news, unaware that I was in the back of the House, waiting to congratulate and thank them personally. It was like a family reunion and celebration when they made their way to the exit, where I awaited them. Hugs, tears and joy filled our faces and hearts as we greeted one another.

Many people, including our own deputies, said: "We've done OUR part. Now you bishops do YOURS!" That is the task we will set our minds and hearts to today (although we are not sure whether this deputies' action will make it to our House today (Monday) or tomorrow. Pray for us, my friends, and pray especially for the Bishops as we determine whether we will remain the church of yesterday, or whether, by God's grace, we will embrace the future of a fully-inclusive church.

As they say, "film at eleven!"


Saturday, July 11, 2009

"All will be well" in the Anglican Communion

Another amazing day yesterday. At noon, I had lunch with three primates, thanks to the Chicago Consultation. Along with Bishop Tom Ely, of Vermont, I broke bread with the Primates of Korea (and his translator), Scotland and Australia. It was a delightful and meaningful exchange between those of us who minister in radically different contexts. After my inquiries about his ministry in Korea, relations with North Korea and the nuclear threat posed there, Bishop Solomon of Korea spoke of a young gay man who came to him, wanting to know if he was going to hell, and his attempts to minister to him. He talked about the fact that 25% of Koreans are Christian -- and among those, the Anglican Church of Korea is a progressive and liberal alternative to the mostly conservative Churches available to Koreans. He expressed his disappointment that I had not come to Korea in my sabbatical journey around the Pacific rim. Perhaps that will happen some day, and I would be honored to do so.

My sense is that the place of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion is not in danger. Strained and tense, sometimes, yes. But actually threatened, no. Are we in the same place regarding the issue of homosexuality -- of course not. But the bonds of affection are strong and deep, and God will see us through this difficult time. This is a strong belief exhibited by all the primates and bishops visiting this Convention from across the Anglican Communion. It confirms my own belief that it is time for us to stand up and be the Church God is calling us to be, and trust that the Anglican Communion will not only survive, but be a blessing to all.

It was a long and tedious legislative day in the House of Bishops, dealing with mission funding, additions to the saints calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (including the need for everything we do to be published also in Spanish and French, the other two languages of The Episcopal Church), the ethical treatment of animals and endangered species, a possible capital campaign for The Episcopal Church, and our methods of organizing and funding for a 21st century church. Our time was lightened by the settling of bets between the provisional Bishop of Pittsburgh and the Bishops of Arizona and Michigan: Pittsburgh won both the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup, and the Bishops of Arizona and Michigan were sentenced to wearing Pittsburgh team hats for the rest of the day.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, one of the most inspiring things about this Convention is the presence of new deputies from the continuing dioceses of Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy. After years of being purposely distanced from the Episcopal Church by their Bishops, they are visibly joyful in being back in the church. They are fully present, testifying at hearings and making themselves heard on the floor of Convention. Everyone is offering a welcoming word to them, and they are so grateful for our prayers.

Last night was the Integrity eucharist, always a highlight of General Convention. It was my honor to be the celebrant at this amazing and lively service. If the energy in that room could be harnassed (who says it isn't?!), the world and the Church would be a different place. Over 1600 people, many standing along the walls, did what Christians always do -- gather to express our love of God and thanksgiving for God's love for all of God's children. This is what liberation and freedom in Christ looks like! As I followed the Gospel procession, asperging (throwing sprinkles of holy water) the crowd, people extending their arms to be bathed in the water of their baptism, the joy on their faces, buoyed my spirits and lightened my heart. Then, as is the tradition at this service, all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy were invited to the altar, to share in the final blessing. What was once a small and brave group is now a joyous throng -- both those who have been doing this work for oh so long, and those who have recently joined the ranks. It was a stunning visual image of the gifts brought to this church by its gay clergy. Tears streamed down the faces of these clergy who are serving God in God's Church despite the slings and arrows of discrimination and hatred -- and tears of joy and appreciation filled the eyes of the congregants who honored them with sustained applause. A joyous moment of celebration that will carry us through these next days.

Today, in the House of Bishops, we will have a private conversation around the sexuality issues that face us, followed by the always-public discussion of legislation. Today, we are scheduled to deal with the legislation proposed by those bishops serving in states where marriage equality is already a reality -- asking for pastoral generosity and flexibility for responding to the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian members of our congregations. That discussion will be an early signal of how all this might go. Pray for us!!

I'm off to a 6:30 AM meeting (who said we're only here to play?!), with joy and resolve in my heart to be the Church God is calling us to be.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Here We Are! Send US!

The T-shirts worn by these two beautiful models were worn by many supporters of full inclusion at yesterday's eucharist, with the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching. They say, "Here I am, Send Me! I am a witness to God's inclusive love." As usual, the worship was spirited and lively -- reminding us all that it is in the worship of the God who made us, the saviour who redeemed us, and the Spirit who leads and guides us, that we find our true unity.

In his sermon, the Archbishop said that God longs for a humanity broken open for intimacy. Indeed! ALL of God's people are to be broken open for intimacy. In my testimony last night on moving past B033 (last convention's moratorium on any more gay bishops and blessing of unions), I suggested that God's longing applies to ALL of God's children, and that God's gay and lesbian children, called to the episcopate, deserve the opportunity for intimacy as well -- noting that I simply could not do the ministry of being Bishop of New Hampshire without the love and support of my partner, Mark. To exclude partnered people from the episcopate is cruel, and not in the Church's interest.

Last night's hearing on moving beyond B033 was inspiring and uplifting. It helped me remember why we do this work. Story after story of how gay and lesbian people have found hope in The Episcopal Church and its proclamation of God's inclusive love, after years of abuse and exclusion by other churches. Most profound of all were the testimonies of numerous young people, who spoke eloquently and movingly about the kind of church THEY want to be a part of, in which there truly are NO outcasts. One young man told of being a counselor at a church camp, who was confronted in the middle of the night, by an 8 year old camper, in tears, saying that he didn't want to BE in a church who would not love his older, gay brother. Another spoke the truth to power: we are not moving forward -- not because it's not right, but because of fear. Our beloved Church will be in good hands with these young stewards of God's message of love. Maybe it's time for us old foggies to just get out of the way!

One alarming thing about last night's hearing was the fact that there were almost NO bishops present. Other than those on the committee (who HAD to be there), there were only five bishops present: Andrus (California), Beckwith (Newark) and myself, arguing for moving forward; Love (Albany) and Lawrence (South Carolina) arguing for continuing B033. Other than these, NO bishop was present to hear the two hours of voices from the Church appealing for progress.

I fear (and I hope I'm not being overly dramatic here) that we are moving toward a train wreck between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. I sense an unwillingness among the bishops to listen to these voices of the laity and clergy. I hope I'm terribly wrong, but it seems that bishops feel they have some special access to God's will and nothing will persuade them otherwise. I shutter to think of a church where the Bishops are so disconnected from the will of the people they serve. Please God, let me be terribly wrong about this perception, and may the scales fall from my pessimistic eyes and reveal an episcopate who has listened to the Spirit's movement in the people of this Church. Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong about this. Only time will tell.

One last note: In the table conversations using the "public narrative" model for communication, and seated at tables with our own deputations, I listened to our own deputies tell their own stories of conversion and how they came to faith and The Episcopal Church. I was moved almost to tears at the faithfulness expressed by our (your!) deputies to General Convention. I know each of them well, and yet through this process, I learned so much more about our colleagues whom you chose to represent them at Convention. All I can tell you is that you should be oh so proud of your deputation, the deep and abiding faith with which they are representing you, and their experience of the Living God which guides them. I could not be more proud of being from New Hampshire and serving with these exemplary Christians.

Please continue to pray for us. For our stamina and energy, for our witness, for our learning from others gathered here, and for our beloved Church. I keep reminding myself that, in the end, all will be well. It seems a long way between here and there, but in God's time, all WILL be well. Thanks be to God!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sublime, ridiculous and glorious!

The hectic pace of Convention continues. But amidst all the busyness, joys abound. Perhaps the most memorable of all experiences of General Convention are the innumberable images of our great diversity.

Yesterday, just in the worship service alone, I saw...spirited drumming from one of our overseas dioceses...a eucharistic minister with her seeing-eye-dog-in-training by her side...three tables of deaf men and women, signing the singing of hymns, looking like a beautiful and syncronized ballet troupe...Native Americans, Asians, Africans and African-Americans, more Hispanics than I ever remember, European-Americans, all worshipping the God who made the time of the Lord's Prayer, the words given to us by Jesus being recited in countless tongues, sounding like the Day of Pentecost, when each heard the Gospel in his/her own language, a glorious cacaphony of sound...and then, at the moment I was taking communion, the opening notes of my favorite hymn, "I want to walk as a child of the Light." Indeed!

Legislation goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. One minute testifying before one hearing asking for pastoral generosity in those dioceses where marriage equality is now or soon will be a reality, to respond to the pastoral needs of our gay and lesbian couples. The next minute slogging through the legislation of my Structure Committee, tending to the tedious, but necessary, issues raised by our canons and the groups doing ministry in the Church -- where and how does it fit into the structures of the church. One exciting, the other mundane -- and all to the glory of God.

We also had a disturbing private (no one in the gallery) conversation in the House of Bishops that led me to feel discouraged about what lies ahead. That conversation is private, so I can't detail it, but there seems to be a kind of belligerent attitude toward the House of Deputies by some of our bishops. Their vision of the episcopate is way too "high and mighty" for my taste, or my theology, and I am not happy about it. The last thing we bishops need is a larger measure of arrogance. Didn't Jesus save his most serious criticism for the religious powers-that-be of his day who lorded their power and position over others?

Mark is now here -- thank God! -- along with my camera. So perhaps tomorrow I will have some pics to go along with these musings.

Off we go into another long day. Hearings on same sex blessings and moving forward from the two moratoria (on blessings and gay bishops) of B033 from the last Convention. And of course, the conversation and worship which remind us of our community in Christ. Pray for us!