Chaplain to the House of Deputies Lester Mackenzie often closes his prayers by saying “because You love it when we pray!”
And we do pray, often. At the beginning of each legislative session, our Chaplain leads us in lively, joy-filled, exuberant music and prayer, and sometimes, after adjournment, he can be found quietly laying hands on individual deputies as he prays with them for matters of urgent personal concern.
And every morning before the Legislative session begins, we celebrate the Eucharist. From where I stand below the altar as a floor deacon at the Convention Eucharist, the hearing-impaired are seated directly in my line of sight. Watching them sign (not sing) the Sanctus has become my favorite moment of the morning. They make me think of Elijah finding the voice of God in sheer silence as their gestures weave heaven and earth together while the rest of us sing “heaven and earth are full of your glory.” If God indeed “loves it when we pray,” God must delight in these silent, ethereal prayers.
Hard and heavy work gets done in Legislative Committee meetings, many of which begin at 7:30 a.m. and one of which ran past 11 p.m. last night, as well as on the floor of the two Houses; our afternoon session today in the House of Deputies ran till nearly 7 p.m. (actually cut short because Spanish translations weren’t yet available for the resolutions before the House; we were supposed to finish at 7:30). By beginning this work with prayer, we are living into what the President of Episcopal Relief and Development said this morning; “Worship undergirds mission.”
I can’t imagine surviving the grueling schedule of General Convention without the faithful attention paid to prayer.
This is my first time serving as a Deputy, having been to four previous Conventions simply to do book signings and selling. I was allowed to attend Legislative sessions as a visitor in those years, but mostly I was expected to hang out in the exhibit hall. This year, I missed my scheduled half hour to sign Star of Wonder and Season of Angels on Saturday because we Deputies staged a revolt and refused to adjourn for lunch until after we were able to confirm the election of Michael Curry as our next Presiding Bishop – so instead I’ve stopped by the Forward Movement booth during a few rushed minutes here and there to sign the books, which is all vastly different from the leisurely five days I spent in the exhibit hall back in 2000 when my Confirmation program book, I will with God’s help, first came out – and which, to my surprise, is still available for sale 15 years later at another booth in the exhibit hall. A priest I’ve never met from Alabama stopped me in the hall last Friday to say he’s still using the program.
Our afternoon session today was long, sometimes frustrating, and incomplete, but our returning Deputies assure us this is normal, and all shall be well. It would be easy to get so caught up in the business of our sessions that we forget why we’re doing it, but Presiding-bishop Elect Michael Curry reminds us of the “why.” He unabashedly preaches his love for Jesus, continually insisting that following Jesus into the neighborhood is our deepest call. “How” we accomplish this “why” is the work of Convention. Bishop Curry quoted Billy Sunday: “If the Episcopal Church ever wakes up – look out!” The work and prayer of this Convention has shown that any Episcopal naptime is over: even if sessions run long and resolutions get delayed, we are awake! (If you doubt this, note Curry’s landslide election, then check out the resolutions that have been passed on such matters as marriage equality, racism, and gun violence [my favorite quotation of the whole Convention still remains Gay Jennings’ injunction to “turn guns into swing sets”]).
Much lies ahead in the final four days of Convention, but grounded in prayer and following Jesus, we may not yet know the outcome, but we for sure know the Way.