Monday, March 21, 2011

Reflections on the Atlanta SCLM Consultation

[I hope that you all have been able to see the TEC webcasts of all the plenary sessions. They are supposedly there, but my browser hasn’t let me access them. I hope you’ve been able to see them.]

In the 1st plenary session, we were greeted by Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies. She remarked that the session was historic in two ways.

First, she said this was the first time that the House of Deputies had met outside of General Convention in the history of TEC. She contrasted that with the House of Bishops, who now meet at least twice a year. She acknowledged that this was not a meeting of the full House of Deputies. But I heard an echo of what I’m hearing on the HoBD listserv. The fact that the Bishops meet multiple times annually … but the House of Deputies only convenes each triennium … creates an imbalance. In that system, the Bishops are able to create a kind of collegiality that the Deputies cannot.

Second, she acknowledged that the topic itself was historic. While there have been many conferences and confabs about same-sex blessings, this was the first time that a representative group of the House of Deputies has been convened to consider it officially.

Reflections on the Atlanta SCLM Consultation

There is very much I want to share with you all about the SCLM consultation. But, alas, weariness has thwarted me. I had an automotive calamity on the drive home from Atlanta on Saturday, so that I only arrived home at 5 a.m. on Sunday, and I’ve been physically and emotionally wiped out since then. [At church Sunday, my priest gave me a “godly admonition” to go home and sleep as long as I could … but I could not.] I took today as a vacation day, but didn’t get much rest, and tomorrow I head to western Missouri for two days to lead a workshop. I have promised to share my observations and reflections, and I will do that as best I can … but it may be in dribs and drabs, and it may not be as well organized as I would wish.

I hope that you all have been able to see the TEC webcasts of all the plenary sessions. They are supposedly there, but my browser hasn’t let me access them. I hope you’ve been able to see them.


The first thing that strikes me is the way we worshipped together. The whole meeting was framed by common prayer. We began it together on Friday when we convened, and continued with Friday Evensong and compline, then Saturday morning and noontime prayer.

This was classical Anglican worship. No newfangled liturgies.

I was blown away by the quality of the singing. After Friday’s service, I asked my colleague from Missouri, “Is this how you all worship at GC”???? Yes, she said. WOW! What beautiful singing! What fervent responses. What fervent shared prayer.

I know that our “worthy opponents” like to claim that I and my ilk are heretics, apostates. But, my friends, this was heartfelt, open-to-God worship as I have seldom experienced it. The people gathered in Atlanta are as orthodox as can be. I was carried by the joy and intensity of the worship throughout the meeting.

Atlanta SCLM Consultation

There and Back Again

I don’t generally share – either here or on Facebook – advance notice of times when I am going to be out of town. But some of you know that I’ve been out of town for the past few days. I left on Thursday morning, and just returned home at 4 a.m. on Sunday. I traveled to Atlanta to attend a meeting of the Episcopal Church. Specifically, I was one of our diocese’s two General Convention Deputies to attend the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s “Church-Wide Consultation on 2009 General Convention Resolution C056.”

I have been too busy and/or exhausted to get online since my departure Thursday morning, so I don’t know what others may already have written about the meeting. I’m going to give you my reflections.

By way of background, you should probably be familiar with resolution C056, adopted at the 2009 General Convention. The text reads:
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further
Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort.
Many of us Episcopalians celebrated the passage of this resolution back in 2009. I, for one, had not been aware of the heavy load of work it would put upon the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music [SCLM].

But they have been hard at work, doing the work General Convention directed them to do. They have been collecting resources, doing the hard work of theology and discernment. They are working hard to use “an open process” for their work, as called for in the GC resolution.

Eventually, they secured a grant from a non-profit foundation to assemble a group of GC Deputies to review and respond to their work to date. They issued a call earlier this year, asking each diocese of The Episcopal Church to send one lay and one clergy delegate to a meeting in Atlanta on March 18-19. I was chosen as the lay delegate for the Diocese of Missouri. ENS has a good story here.

I will confess up front that I misunderstood the nature and purpose of that meeting before I got there. I thought we were going to take action, adopt resolutions, do something legislatively. I was wrong. The goal of the SCLM was to get feedback on the work they have accomplished in the months since the GC in the summer of 2009. They wanted conversation, not legislation …. counsel, not amendments … reflection, not debates.

The meeting was a good one, for me … in many ways. I hope to reflect on that in a few further blogposts.

The other Deputy from Missouri at the Atlanta consultation was the Rev. Tamsen Whistler, chair of our deputation. We heard a clear message in Atlanta that our job is to take our learnings and reflections back to our GC Deputies and to all the parishes in our diocese. That is going to be a very tall order. The Atlanta consultation constituted about 12 hours of intensive face-to-face time in plenary sessions and small-group discussions, during which genuine reflections were shared and relationships blossomed. How can we make something similar happen in our diocese and congregations? I do not know.

While I compose my thoughts, I hope you will take advantage of the webcasts that were streamed from the meeting. As I blogged here, the webcasts are supposed to be available here. Unfortunately, for me … from my home … at this time, they’re not loading. Maybe it’s just me. I hope ENS will get them available to all soon.

More anon.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Presiding Bishop Went up to Albany

Deep thanks to John White for giving us this first-person account of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's visit to the Diocese of Albany.

As you will recall, Albany is one of those dioceses that has distanced itself from the Episcopal Church, taking a conservative stance on the "issues of the day." The conservative majority in Albany endorsed the so-called Anglican Covenant even before the final draft of the document was presented, and long before TEC will act on it in 2012. The bishop and majority of Albany have expressed their support with those who have left the Episcopal Church, and they have taken every opportunity to damn our church.

And yet, Albany's Bishop Love let our Presiding Bishop make a visitation to his diocese. I choose to see that as a hopeful sign.

I don't know about you, but I was appalled by the way that Albany's Bishop Love introduced Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori. He said: “I’m sure some of you are thrilled that Bishop Katharine is here with us, and some of you are less than thrilled.” While that may be true, it certainly is not charitable ... nor do I think it adheres to the way that the Gospel writers urged us to welcome our Christian brothers and sisters. It falls far short of a "holy kiss."

His ungracious welcome makes me wonder about his motivations. Did he hope to humiliate her on his home turf? I cannot know.

Ah well. That is Albany's Bishop Love.

It seems to me that the dominant powers in Albany -- like those who led the dissidents in places like Fort Worth and Pittsburgh, among others -- cling to a pre-modern, fundamentalist understanding of Scripture. It seems that our Presiding Bishop tried to move them into a deeper level of conversation, tried to open them to a deeper understanding of Scripture, tried to build bridges with those who have excoriated our church. I doubt she could accomplish all that in the mere 90 minutes that Bishop Love allowed her to meet with the Albany clergy. But I hope some minds and hearts may have been opened ... or at least softened.

Go here and read John White's fine account of the PB's visit with Albany's clergy and their spouses. I'm not even going to excerpt any of it here; you need to read his full account.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prayer after Disaster

When I awoke Friday to the news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan … and its widening scope along the Pacific shore lines … I was astonished by the destruction and felt the need to pray. My prayers were plebian. I give thanks to the Revs. Jennifer Phillips and Ernest W. Cockrell for crafting this one, which I copy here with permission.

Merciful God, in your hands are the caverns of the earth, the heights of the hills, the depth of the seas, and our troubled times. Hear our prayers for those suffering in the aftermath of earthquakes and explosions, tsunami and floods in Japan and the destruction along our western coasts. Soothe those in distress; watch over those trapped and hoping for rescue; calm the anxious; comfort the bereaved; strengthen those who labor to help others; lift up those who cannot help themselves; inspire those who offer assistance from afar; and in every danger be their present help by the power of your Holy Spirit who knows no bounds.
We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday 2011

It happened again. Of course, it always does, for Ash Wednesday comes ‘round every year.

I needed it this year perhaps more than some years. This liturgy suited me today. I needed the reminder of my creatureliness, my smallness in this world and in the cosmos. And my smallness even in my community.

This year, it was hard to hear – but in a healthy way – “Remember thou art dust, and to dust you shall return.” I was sitting fairly far back in the nave. By the time I stood to move to the altar for the imposition of ashes, I had heard my priest say it dozens of times to people kneeling at the altar. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” My friends, it hammered me. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Kneeling in my place, waiting to move to the rail. Hearing my priest say it again and again, to person after person. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I was strangely happy to kneel and recite Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penance. Tears flowed. No big surprise there. They always do on this day in which we come starkly face to face with our faults, our failings … our sin.

What a blessing it was, then, to go through the Ash Wednesday liturgy, with all its lamentations … and then to Eucharistic Prayer A, where the priest says, “Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself ….” And to remember the opening words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy: "Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made ...."

What a contrast between our confessions of sinfulness and the reminders of God's infinite love for us. I need to be mindful of my sins. But I am also assured of God's love for me and for all God has created.

I’m still reeling with that.

I am grateful that we have 40 days of Lent. Perhaps I can ponder that conflict. We sin in all manner of ways, large and small. And yet we are beloved children of God. I can’t wrap my mind around that love on this Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Atlanta Consultation on SSBs

I have much more personal to say about my own journey and thoughts. But at the moment, I need to pause to share this news from TEC.

I'm one of the two Deputies from our diocese who will be attending the consultation in Atlanta March 18-19. I'm glad they're going to make a webcast available and happy to share this news with all of you.

Here's the announcement from TEC:

Office of Communication to live webcast churchwide consultationof Episcopal Church Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

March 18, 19 in Atlanta, Georgia

[March 8, 2011] The Episcopal Church Office of Communication will live webcast all the plenary sessions of the March 18 and 19 churchwide consultation by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM).

The two-day consultation will center on the 2009 General Convention Resolution C056 to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for same-gender blessings. The plenary sessions will provide information about the work the SCLM and its task groups have accomplished to date in developing these resources.

The live webcast will be available

Participating will be nearly 200 clergy and lay deputies from almost 100 dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

Webcast schedule

Plenary sessions are scheduled:
Friday, March 18: 2 pm to 3 pm Eastern and 4:45 pm to 6 pm Eastern (1 pm to 2 pm Central and 3:45 pm to 5 pm Central; noon to 1 pm Mountain and 2:45 pm to 4 pm Mountain; 11 am to noon Pacific and 1:45 pm to 3 pm Pacific)
Saturday, March 19: 8:30 am to 9:30 am Eastern and 11 am to noon Eastern (7:30 am to 8:30 am Central and 10 am to 11 am Central; 6:30 am to 7:30 am Mountain and 9 am to 10 am Mountain; 5:30 am to 6:30 am Pacific and 8 am to 9 am Pacific)

In addition, the media conference slated for 2 pm to 2:30 pm Eastern will be live webcast. (1 pm to 1:30 pm Central; noon to 12:30 pm Mountain; 11 am to 11:30 am Pacific)

Episcopal Church Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music:

General Convention Resolution C056:

Monday, March 07, 2011

More Martha than Mary?

Some of you know that I went on a trip to Lui (our companion diocese in South Sudan) in early 2006.

When I landed in Lui after 26 hours in transit, I got a bit freaked out. I was half a world away. I was with people in our diocese whom I had met only once. I was in an alien part of the world. The rest of our team went out the first day to visit our friends in Lui. But I could not. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I came to realize later that I needed to “make my nest.”

The quarters were meager. In one hut, Sandy and I had two twin beds and a tiny table between them. That was all.

While the rest of the team went visiting, I busied myself in our tukel. I had bungee cords and caribiners and some Ziplok bags. I also had a water bottle and a candle. When Sandy got back to Lui that night, she was gobsmacked at how I had made our little hut a home. She joked good-naturedly with me that I was the Martha Stewart of our little team. I was a little embarrassed; I didn’t think I had a homemaking bone in my body.

But things happened in Sudan. Things that changed me. On the airplane leaving Lui in March 2006, this is what I wrote:

Before we made this trip, I asked Archdeacon Robert about what would be my role. Others had obvious roles: Bishop’s representative (Robert), priest & youth leader (Father Bob), carpenter and builder (Rick), educator and Companion Diocese Committee rep (Sandy). In our pre-trip meeting, I inquired about my role – feeling very strongly that I had no obvious one. At that early stage, Robert glibly quipped, “At the end of the trip, you’ll know why you’ve come.”

I thought about his words many times all through the trip. I never did feel I had a clear use – never did feel that I brought an obvious or meaningful asset to the mission.But as Sandy & I were talking on this plane ride [home], one fact about my "purpose" hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s not just that I and the whole team saw the snare of materialism, consumerism, and spiritual poverty of our culture. It was more personal for me: I saw the selfishness that has pervaded my life. It’s all been about me, my, and mine. Early on in the time in Lui, Sandy started kidding me about being “Martha” because of my organization and homey touches in the tukel. But after a couple of days, I became aware I was unconsciously adopting the Biblical “Martha” role. Checking that people took their medications. Patiently "hanging-back" when I was so hungry that I wanted to run to the head of the line to eat our meals in the compound. Consciously trying to talk less and listen more. Telling team members things I value about them. And mostly this role was not hard. It was deeply, profoundly satisfying.

At this moment – suspended between the struggling, suffering life of Lui behind me and the return to the U.S. looming ahead of me – I feel more humble than I can recall ever feeling in my life – because for once, it’s not about me. It’s been about my team and the Moru people.

I feel a sense of gratitude – genuine and profound – that I cannot remember ever feeling before. Grateful for tiny things – like Robert buying us Diet Pepsi’s in Loki. Grateful for the cool air blowing in the plane. Immensely grateful for these people’s friendship.

And I feel now even more strongly – though I have felt it often during the trip – that I know I am being held up in prayer by my friends, my parish, my family. Only the Holy Spirit could have done this. This is not me!

Please God, please, strengthen me to sustain this attitude, this perspective when I get home. The Moru have taught me: It’s all about servanthood. Jesus taught that too. But it seems I only “got it” by going halfway around the world and meeting desperately poor people who would wash my hands with water when they are dying of thirst, would give me food when they’re dying of hunger, who would attend to our needs as if we were Christ himself.

I'm reminded of the Bible passage – in Paul’s letter to the Romans, I think – about the fact that Jesus, though being in the form of God, did not presume to be the equal of God, but put on the form of a servant. That is the model we need to emulate.

I wrote that in 2006. Five years later, I am reflecting again on those words.

The reason I remember them? Partly because of what’s been happening in my parish in the last couple of months. But also because I have been asked to serve on a committee that is important (and quite visible) in the life of our parish. After much thought and prayer, I declined the invitation. This is part of the note I sent to them:

After a couple of weeks of reflection, I must decline this invitation. For me, it's a "Mary and Martha" thing. Mary was the one who was close to Christ, often present in his public ministry. Martha's the one who did the dishes and took out the trash ... but still as a sign of her commitment to Christ. Just now, I feel more called to "Martha-esque" ministries – those that are more behind the scenes. So I've curtailed my work at the altar, taken on the kitchen recycling, and just recently agreed to work on the parish library. Those ministries well suit "where my spirit is now."
At this point, I feel called to be more Martha than Mary. Serving “behind the scenes” suits me best. I want to get back to that sense I had when I was coming home from Sudan in 2006.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Blogger's Remorse

Here's a blog that I drafted (but did not post) last month. It still makes sense to me.

I don't know about the rest of you bloggers, but I know I have a tendency to rant. Sometimes in my blogging, I forget that I am talking about real people ... even if they are people very far away from me, like the Archbishop of Canterbury or the schismatics of the Southern Cone. The local event made me realize that I am obliged to treat all of them as my brothers and sisters. That is a heavy burden.

If Jesus could feed Judas in that upper room, then I am obliged to extend kindness to the people I may perceive as my "enemies" or even as "enemies of the faith."

Hubris and Silence

The fact that I have been unable to blog here for more than two months alerts me (and probably many of you) to the fact that Something is Wrong. Indeed, something has been very wrong. I’ve had a voice problem. Not the sort that musicians have. But the sort that an individual has … an individual who has been writing in one voice and begins to question herself.

An event occurred in my parish in mid-December. I was completely at fault. I used my voice (on Facebook) to bash a fellow parishioner, whom I did not name; but the FB friends in my parish knew of whom I was speaking.

It was cruel of me. And it came out of a place of arrogance. As if I were some special arbiter of Truth, Justice, and the Anglican Way. As if I could decide who was “worthy” in my parish.

Lord, have mercy.

A classically educated student of literature, I know all about hubris. Problem is: I didn’t see it growing in myself.

Until it exploded in my face.

I had been a relatively successful blogger here and over at The Episcopal Majority. Folks I respected deeply were listening to me, and I was honored to engage in dialogue with them – honored to count them as colleagues … as brothers and sisters. I was delighted to be working alongside them.

But something happened late last fall. Was it because I had been in “the fight” so long – particularly since GC06? Was it because my diocese did me the deep honor of electing me a Deputy to General Convention? Was it my blog site stats?

I don’t know. But I fell prey to hubris, and maligned a brother in the parish.

I recognized the next day that I had gone “over the top.” I have talked with my rector about the spiritual dimensions of this matter … and the communal dimensions, as well.

The result?

I lost my voice. I developed Blogger’s Laryngitis. As you have seen here in my silence since mid-December.

I have become so afraid of hubris and arrogance that I have been unable to offer anything – not opinions, not analysis, not anything.

Today – on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, where we heard of Moses’ meeting with God and Jesus’ transfiguration – I am offering this all up to God. I want to be transformed. I think I have had some useful things to say in the past, and you have encouraged the best part of me in that.

I thought about just killing this blog, but I hope I still have some things to say. I just need the discernment to find which warrant saying.

I want to offer thanks especially to Maria who has tried, in many ways and for many weeks, to encourage me to find my authentic voice and get back to blogging. It’s my fault that it has taken me so long. And you can’t blame her if I screw up again! :-)

Many preachers preface their sermons with this prayer:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Perhaps I should use that in my blogging work.

Dear friends, please pray that I can be the kind of blogger that I am supposed to me ... that I intended to be. Mind you, I don’t think of blogging as self-absorption. I set out with the goal that this blog would be a kind of ministry. Join me in praying that I may use the prophet’s voice (when that’s what is needed) and the Comforter’s voice (when that’s what’s needed) and the analyst’s voice (when that’s needed), and that I will always remember my baptismal covenant when I write here.

I may not always be wise or insightful … though I wish I could be. I may not often be witty … though that is my frequent wish. But I pray I will never be cruel. Perhaps most of all, I pray that God will help me find the right “voice” here and give me the courage and humility to use it.

As we move toward Ash Wednesday, many people are thinking about what they will “give up” for Lent. I find myself moving in the opposite direction. I find myself thinking about what I might “offer up” for Lent. And since words have been my gift for most of my life, perhaps I will offer up those words to God for my Lenten discipline.

We shall see.

Please pray for me, my brothers and sisters.