by the Very Rev. Ben Shambaugh
Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Portland
General Convention Begins
Here we are. After two days of travel, orientation, committee meetings and training, our people, our iPads, and even some of resolutions are ready. Today – Thursday – General convention officially begins.
General Convention is the legislative and chief governing body for the Episcopal Church. With more than 1,000 people from all corners of the world — including a wonderful group from Maine — it is well up to the task of prayerfully considering and debating the legislation put before it. General Convention, however, is much more than that. General Convention is a time of reunion, revival, reconciliation, and renewal. It is the church in action and a model of how our churches, our congregations, could be.
Within a day of being here, I have run into cathedral deans, reconnected with seminary classmates, seen people from every place I have lived and almost every conference I have attended. At an Integrity reception, I was thanked for St. Luke’s work on marriage equality. At the Verger’s exhibit table, I was asked to bring greetings back to the “Davids.” When I ran into a musician from the Diocese of Chicago, he started gushing about the music he had experienced at the cathedral in Portland. The dean of the Seminary of the Southwest did the same about worship she had attended in Portland just a few weeks ago. Every time I walk down the hall, I see familiar faces – and strangers that by the end of the convention will be friends.
It is a reunion. It is also a revival. Yesterday, we spent the afternoon listening to the four candidates for Presiding Bishop (more on that here). Each was realistic about the struggles the church and our world are facing. Each, however, was profoundly excited about our future and the future of the Episcopal Church. Each was passionate about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ that the world desperately needs to hear. Though we had been told not to clap, their words brought tears and cheers. Like the many times of worship and prayer that will happen this week, their presentations brought us back to God, helped us experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, and told us that Jesus Christ — and his church — is very much alive.
While some are enthusiastic about progress being made and feel that change has been too slow and too long in coming, others feel that things are going too fast and that their church and their society has left them behind. Some want the church to be prophetic and lead. Others want the church to be a place of safety and peace. I co-chair my subcommittee with a bishop who disagrees with me on almost every issue. Chatting with him during a break, I discovered that he is very familiar with the small town in Illinois where many of my relatives came from and that we share some things in common. Later that day, when our group got into a bit of a muddle, he smiled and turned the leadership over to me. By bringing people together, General Convention creates opportunities for reconciliation — opportunities to live out the Episcopal Church’s mission to “restore all people to unity with God and each other through Jesus Christ.”
And if it is about reconciliation, General Convention is about renewal. It is clear that in many ways and many places, the old ways of being and doing church are no longer working. As part of General Convention, we will be discussing new paradigms for structure and governance, finances and investment, the role of bishops and the training of lay people and clergy. We will be considering new resources for worship and music, striving to truly open all sacraments to all people, and tackling a variety of concerns.
All this is part of re-imagining the Episcopal Church, discerning God’s vision and plan for our future, and designing a structure that will best help us get there. As one bishop said: “this Jesus thing is real.” With this in mind, another bishop asked “What do you love so much that it is getting in the way of sharing the Good News?” Where is God leading us? Profound questions. I pray that in this time of reunion, revival, reconciliation and renewal we call General Convention the answers will become clear. I pray that in the times of reunion, revival, reconciliation and renewal in we experience in our own congregations they will as well.