March 15, 2015
Here are a few reflections from the House of Bishops’ gathering at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina.
- This is my fifth House of Bishops’ meeting. Although I always look forward to getting the work of the Church done, the best part of these gatherings are the friendships.
There are many deep conversations but most start with catching up on family news. Since Betsy leads a thriving parish, Caragh just got a great new job, Geoff is getting married, and Grace is graduating college, I have a LOT to talk about. And many bishops talk to me about my pilgrimage, the walk through the Diocese. This is a “good news” story and I enjoy talking about it. But more importantly I get to “walk the talk” again this spring. That is not possible for many of our bishops. Imagine walking Nevada!
Often times the topic turns to the weather. Not in a superficial way but in a “how are you getting through this winter?” way. Having Worcester in our diocese I get to claim the city with the most snow of any city in the USA. This gives me the opportunity to bring attention to climate change. And that leads to an invitation to read a remarkable article written called “The Financial Advantages of Divestment,” by Gregory H. Kats. See, we do get to the “work of the Church” eventually.
- Speaking of Climate Change, Kanuga now gets all their energy through solar power.
- Another blessing of the HOB is coming together in smaller communities. I meet with my classmates, our Province One bishops, Bishops Against Gun Violence and that remarkable group of bishops who all come from WMA.
- The agenda for this House of Bishops has been the most intense of any in my time. We are looking at the big issues of our time and what will be coming before General Convention this June. I’ll offer a brief reflection on just one of those issues for now.
- On Friday, my classmate Rob Wright, the Bishop of Atlanta, gave an extraordinary meditation on race. Rob’s talk will be available online in a few days. Watch for it on our social media feeds. Here are two points about the work of a bishop that will always stay with me.
One, Rob told us the insight of Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician and physicist. Archimedes discovered the power of the “lever” and said that a lever could “move the earth” if a person were given “a place to stand.” Rob said bishops have power. We have been given a lever. And we have been given a place to stand: the gospel. Do we have the courage – and “real courage is never abstract” in Rob’s words – to move the world toward justice?
Two, again looking at the power that bishops have: “People take cues from us as bishops. They pay attention to things we pay attention to. And they notice what we refuse to be curious about.”
Rob seems to be giving bishops a lot of influence in society. Maybe he is overstating the case. But if he is right, I feel the challenge. Even while engaging the issues of our time (because courage is never abstract), I always question myself if I am using my “lever” well and “standing in the right place” on casinos, climate change, gun violence and immigration. I am blessed to have a prayerful, wise and truth-telling staff, and our dedicated Social Justice Commission, so that I might make those decisions in community.
Not everyone has agreed with me on these issues. As it will always be, because these are complex issues. “We are not the Body of Christ because we agree with each other. We are the Body of Christ because we care about each other.” But I hope, to Rob’s second point, that we all have paid attention to these issues, that we have all been curious about them.
I have not paid enough attention to race relations in our country, but I hope to now, inspired by Rob’s meditation and by a sermon given here by The Rev. Stephanie Spellers. Stephanie preached about the complicity of the Episcopal Church in slavery. She told the story of a priest in 1844, just a few miles from where we are gathered in North Carolina, who preached sermon about the biblical argument for slavery. A week later his bishop sent him a letter praising him for his sermon and urging him to have it published as a “tract.” That priest later became the first missionary bishop to the Diocese of Texas.
It was not just the Church in the South that benefited from slavery. We viewed a documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. It is the story of the DeWolf family, a prominent Episcopal family from Rhode Island, coming to terms with the discovery in recent years of the fact that the foundation of their wealth came from the slave trade. Their ancestors built and sailed the ships that went from Rhode Island to Africa and then on to Cuba and back home. They contributed significant financial resources to the church throughout New England.
One of the many things I appreciate about our Church is that we almost always point out the ways we have failed to live up to the Gospel in the issues we address. May that truth lead to awareness and to action about an issue that plagues America now as it has since our inception: race.
Racial injustice, or the “dignity violations” as Rob calls it, has my attention. May it have yours. And may we find out how to use the lever that moves the world toward mercy, compassion and hope.
- My last reflection for this blog: The worship here has been outstanding. We have a church jazz group that is leading us in praise of the Living God. That and the fervent prayers of my brother and sister bishops have moved my soul. The “aliveness” of God is much with us.