Day 5: An agenda for Episcopal Bishops

A key moment at the House of Bishops meeting at General Convention began with a question. Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows asked Presiding Bishop Michael Curry this question:
“What should the agenda of Episcopal Bishops be? Michael thought for a moment and then spoke from the heart. Here is part of what he said:

Presiding Bishop Curry

“I’m very concerned about this country that I love, potentially being on the verge of living out the opposite of unselfish, sacrificial love. How can we help this country to bind up our wounds, to learn to live democracy, and to be truly a country where there is liberty and justice for all. That’s at stake…If we can help our people to find their voice and claim the values and ideals that most people probably believe…we can help to heal this land, and help this country join with others and heal God’s creation…I believe this House, the people in this room, you are so smart, so capable, and faithful. There may be the capacity to find our voice – not a partisan voice, but a follower of Jesus voice- that might help our people and our churches, and then, maybe in turn the sensible center that is in this country, and in this world, to find its voice… I can’t sit back and watch this country self-destruct, and neither can we.”

The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry

His statement came from his soul and speaks to the present moment in our country. One example of following up on this call to heal, was the statement we adopted two days later called, “Climate and Our Vocation in Christ.

The statement says “Climate change and environmental degradation are manifestations of our tuning away from God.” Then it lists the many ways that so much is made worse by climate change. And then calls on us to act:

“If we hope to treat all migrants with dignity, we must address climate change so droughts, floods, and extreme weather don’t force people to flee.
If we hope to build peace, we must address climate change so that competition for scarce resources doesn’t drive further violence
If we hope to ensure that every child of God has enough to eat, we must address climate change so that the bountiful earth can continue to support and sustain food systems that nourish people and the soil.”

House of Bishops: Expressing the Mind of the House on Climate and Our Vocation in Christ

The statement continues with our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus that gives us a message of hope to tell the world.

“Climate and Our Vocation in Christ “ serves as an example of finding our voice and calling for healing in our country and our world. But we have more to say and, more importantly, more to do as Church.

For many reasons, I think The 80th General Convention will be a significant one in The Episcopal Church. Thank you for reading my reflections in these daily blogs. It’s been good to share this experience with you.

God bless you.

Day 4: Resolutions are about God’s dream for us

Yesterday, among the many resolutions passed by both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies was one proposed by me. It is B003 – Regulating Ghost Guns and 3D Printed Guns.

Final status of Resolution B003

Here is part of what it said:

“That the parts and kits used to build ghost guns- unserialized and untraceable firearms that can be built by anyone using unfinished frames- should be banned, and until that is possible, should be subject to full regulation as firearms and subject to all federal regulations that apply to firearms, including all oversight related to provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.”

Tens of thousands of these guns have been sold in the U.S. in the last two years. It is simple and legal. Purchase a ghost gun and receive all the parts to the gun but they are not all put together yet. In some cases it means screwing in one screw and it is a fully functional gun. To buy one, no background check is required and there is no serial number so the gun is untraceable.

The resolution continues with information about about manufacturing guns using 3D printers.

In the last resolve, we ask our Office of Government Relations, members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network and individual Episcopalians be encouraged to advocate for state and federal legislation that would ban these weapons.

There are many other resolutions advocating for desperately needed changes in the way we live. Now some people say these resolutions are meaningless. They don’t accomplish anything. But our Office of Government Relations, led by Rebecca Blachly, says that is not true. Just the opposite. Here is what Rebecca and OGR says:

“When a resolution passes on a public policy issue, OGR communicates the Church’s stance to Congress and the Administration, as we are requested to do. But it doesn’t end there! In the months and years ahead, we engage with and build relationships with specific Congressional offices, often prioritizing members who sit on relevant committees. We work with Congressional offices before legislation is introduced; we help to find co-sponsors for legislation, and then we advocate for hearings and ultimately a vote on legislation that is in line with the General Convention resolution. We have private meetings with career and foreign government officials, including in the White House, on the Church’s public policies, shaping the conversation and adding a valuable perspective for policymakers to consider. We send action alerts on legislation that comes from General Convention resolutions, enabling tens of thousands of messages to be sent to Congress from engaged Episcopalians that amplify the Church’s voice. Resolutions don’t just end when Convention ends – that is when our work in the Office of Government Relations – and your work as members of the Episcopal Public Policy Network – begins!  In the coming weeks, we will explore many ways that the work of General Convention resonates in the political and policy advocacy sphere and demonstrate how much of an impact our Church has.  We hope to show the impact of the Church’s advocacy! We will share some ways that the Office of Government Relations ensures that General Convention resolutions are carried out and that Episcopalians have the opportunity to help implement them. We all have an opportunity to amplify the Church’s public witness on important issues of the day.”

Rebecca Blachly, Office of Government Relations
Photo: BUAGV public witness at #GC80 Credit: Office of Public Affairs, The Episcopal Church

Resolutions like mine are not shouting into the wind. They are about God’s dream for us. Please God may they make a difference. The Jesus Movement Rolls On.

Day 3: Profound and productive dialogue

Here’s the big fear I had going into General Convention this year. Because our time together was dramatically shortened to lessen the risk of Covid infections, I feared we might rush through the 425 resolutions. There would be no time for serious conversation. There would be no time to deal with complexity. There would be no time to distinguish between what is important and what is foundational. There would be no time to hear all the diversity of voices in the room.  Prayer time would be greatly reduced. There would be little time to listen for the Spirit, no room for the Spirit to breathe.

This fear has not come true. On Saturday the House of Bishops had some of the most profound and productive dialogue in my experience. This is just my limited perspective but I believe people felt heard. There were disagreements that we worked through. Some bishops admitted changing their minds because of the testimony of others! The newly ordained bishops of the last three years (many of whom are female, many of whom are people of color) participated with holy energy that is so very welcome and needed in this community. Several times when there was no consensus, the decision was to wait and come back to the issue instead of having a vote where a resolution would be accepted or rejected by a tiny majority. That was not “kicking the can down the road” but leaving the question open for a while to give subcommittees time to work out a compromise and time for all of us to pray and let the Spirit breathe in us. Last night around 9:30, after deep dialogue about what we are called to do in a highly fractured country, several bishops asked our Presiding Bishop what he thought. As always, he offered holy wisdom and then paused and said, “let me sleep on it.”

Photo Credit: The Episcopal Church

We still got a lot done. There are many places where you can find full reports, but here are some highlights:

  • With the House of Deputies we made a serious commitment to Racial Equity within our Church and within our society. A plan is in place and substantial financial resources are allocated for it.
  • The House of Bishops developed a process that should allow for continuing expansion and inclusivity of our prayers and giving us a structure as to what goes into The Book of Common Prayer (acknowledging that The Book of Common Prayer includes, but is more than, the physical book itself).

There is a growing concern in our country and in Canada about abuse in ”Indian Boarding Schools” run by the Church. The Anglican Church in Canada has, and is, facing this traumatic reality. As is the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Today, The Episcopal Church took a major step in committing ourselves to uncovering the truth of what went on in those schools, the continuing trauma in families and doing everything we can to work towards healing.
Here is where the work stands at the beginning of Day 3 of #GC80

Those are just a few decisions made today. I could keep going but I need to exercise and pray before another full day. I’m blessed to be in this Church.

Day 2: We believe in God working in us

As expected, the first day of business for General Convention was very full with prayer and voting on resolutions. So much voting. And serious dialog about key issues in our Church. As we will do everyday, our WMA delegation met at lunch time to discuss what was going on in the House of Bishops and in the House of Deputies. We shared insights, wisdom, prayer and humor.

Our WMA deputies on lunch break PHOTO: T.R. Wallace

What touched my soul the most on this day were two prayerful witnesses against the plague of gun violence. (Bishops United Against Gun Violence used to call it “the public health crisis of gun violence.” Now in our country, with 400 million guns and averaging  more than 110 deaths by gun everyday, “public health crisis” is an inadequate description.)

In the early afternoon, the bishop and deputies of Alabama solemnly gathered at the podium. On June 16th, three members of their St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills had been shot and killed by a man with a gun who came to their monthly potluck supper for Baby Boomers. Several people at the supper extended hospitality and kindness to a stranger who sat alone. And then he opened fire and was stopped by a hero who threw him to the ground until police arrived.

Deputation from Alabama addressing the General Convention (Photo: Scott Gunn for Episcopal News Service)

A resolution was proposed and accepted which read in part:

“The Episcopal Church recognizes and honors the faith and sacrifice of Walter Rainey, Sharon Yeager and Jane Pounds, whose witness demonstrated the call of God’s reconciling purposes by welcoming and eating with a stranger at a church potluck supper…we pause in lament for those who died and for the 18 in attendance who survived and mourn…That we would renew our hope in God’s call to us to embrace the stranger, show kindness to the disheartened,  and forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Resolution A226
Honoring St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and the Victims of June 16, 2022

The second event of the day concerning the plague of gun violence in our country came at the end of the afternoon legislative session. Yesterday (July 7), just two blocks from the Convention Center, in the very busy and usually peaceful Baltimore Inner Harbor, a man came out of his car with a baseball bat. He was angry at the squeegee workers who come up to the cars. As he approached them, one of the squeegee workers pulled out a gun and fatally shot him.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence led a procession of many bishops and deputies to pray at the sight. Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland mourned the person who lost his life and a society in which the poor need to turn to cleaning car windows on the street to survive. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (who served in Baltimore as a parish priest) gave a powerful call to live as Jesus lived – a man of peace and compassion. And we prayed:

BUAGV pray at the site of most recent gun death in the City of Baltimore (Photo: D.J. Fisher)

“We gather together to call to mind those who have lost their lives, their lives and their loved ones through the scourge of gun violence. We gather from different backgrounds, understandings and cultures to stand together, to dream together, to pray together, to act together. We are angry. Angry at the seeming powerlessness of our leaders and communities to prevent violence. We are tired. Tired of inaction, easy answers and superficial acts of compassion. We are sad. Sad for those who suffer in needless pain the loss of all they cherish.However, we are hopeful. Hopeful that by our prayers, our presence and our persistence, that change will one day come. We gather in vigil and prayer with so many across the nation and across the world to stand as bearers of the light of hope and the flame of peace.”

BUAGV Baltimore public witness July 8, 2022

Addressing gun violence has been a big part of my ministry and yours in WMA. Two weeks after I was ordained bishop, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut happened. Mass killings everywhere in our country  have increased dramatically since then, as have daily murders by gun  in our cities, as well as suicides by gun. It is truly a plague.

And we follow and believe in the Prince of Peace. We follow and believe in the one who died a violent death and returned not with vengeance but offering peace and forgiveness. And as we say at evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do INFINITELY more than we can ask or imagine.”

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 101

Reducing gun violence in a country addicted to guns, with politicians addicted to getting votes, sometimes seems impossible. But we gather and witness  like we did twice today. We pray as we did today. And when we leave this place, we will advocate over and over and over again. And we believe in God “working in US, who can do INFINITELY more than we can ask or imagine.”

Day One: Just as important as the work are the relationships

Bishops Doug Fisher and Alan Gates sharing the joy of a baseball game at Camden Yards (Photo: Bishop Fisher)

The 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church begins this morning in Baltimore, MD. Each morning, Bishop Fisher will blog about the important deliberations of both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. He will also be reflecting on the experience, the worship and the often palpable presence of Holy Spirit. He bids your prayers for our Deputation and for the holy work ahead.

Greetings from Baltimore where 412 resolutions will be considered in 4 days!

Because of the continued presence of Covid among us, the Triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church has been shortened from 8 days to 4. That work begins today. The work is so important and I’ll address some of those 412 resolutions in these daily blogs. But just as important as the work are the relationships in this community as we gather.

Camden Yards (still one of the best parks in Major League Baseball ) is right next to my hotel. Last night numerous bishops and deputies went to the game. I sat with my brother Massachusetts bishop Alan Gates. Since neither the Yankees nor Red Sox were playing, Alan and I decided to be on the same baseball side for a night and root for the Orioles together. That did not prevent me from pointing to the out-of-town scoreboard that showed the Yankees beating the Red Sox at Fenway. Always gracious, Alan did not pour his beer over my head.

Yesterday was filled with meeting so many old friends in the hallways of the hotel and the Convention Center. People who go back to my New York days. Bishops and Deputies that I have served with these ten years – on committees and in liturgy and on marches for social justice. We have prayed together and shared family stories. So many want to know how our grandchildren are doing. And I look forward to seeing Larry Provenzano today, our good friend who will be presiding at our daughter Grace’s wedding in a few weeks. And Jeff Fisher from Texas who was elected bishop the same day I was in June 2012. “Four Elections, Two Fishers, “ ran the headline in The Living Church. We have had many laughs over the times our meeting credentials get mixed up.

I look forward to working with our deputation from WMA led by the always faithful Tanya Wallace. We will gather everyday to discuss the issues and share stories.

And I miss those who have entered into Eternal Life. Including the Rev. Dr. Diane Vie. Like me, Diane is a priest married to a priest. Diane and I were co-chairs of a committee that helped to educate the Church on the opportunities  and challenges of having over 500 clergy couples. Diane died far too young a week ago. May she rest In peace and rise in glory.

To limit our numbers during Covid, the spouses of bishops are not included. I certainly miss Betsy and we both miss all the spouse friends we have made in this decade of supporting one another. But those relationships run deep and transcend this moment.

And I will miss music. Another Covid restriction is the elimination of singing. The music at General Convention has always been awesome and inspiring. My favorite non-Springsteen song is one we always sing in the House of Bishops. It is “The Canticle of the Turning.” It is one we really need for our country and our world right now. So I will keep the lyrics in my soul this week. Here is the powerful first verse:

My soul cries out with a joyful shout

That the God of my heart is great

And my spirit sings of the wondrous things

That you bring to the ones who wait

You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight

And my weakness you did not spurn

So from east to west shall your name be blest

Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring

Let the fires of your justice burn

Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near

And the world is about to turn!

Text: Rory Cooney

It’s early morning and in two hours we will begin with liturgy and a sermon from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. As always, he will be inspiring. And he will undoubtedly remind us who we are. “We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for us.”

I’m blessed to be in this Movement. So blessed.

And when someone says to me today, “How are your grandchildren?” I will happily say, “There is a third one on the way.” And then I promise you I will resist being that guy who says, “You want to see pictures?”

The Jesus Movement rolls on.