One of the fascinating things about General Convention is the
number of side meetings, receptions and gatherings that take place. Some
are spontaneous, and some are pre-arranged. I attended a gathering that
was organized by Tom Ferguson, Dean of Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary, Susan
Brown Snook, a priest from Arizona, and Scott Gunn of Forward Movement. Prior
to the start of the meeting, I asked Susan what the meeting was about, she said
she didn’t know, but a study of Acts 8 and discussion would be involved.
Dean Ferguson stressed, “There is no agenda; we are the
agenda. It is for those who love this church.” He opened the session with a
collect that addressed God as Father, followed by a series of “he-he who he-he,”
references to God. He then talked about Anglican Christianity and had a verbal
hitch when mentioning Episcopalians. This felt like an afterthought. I wondered
what was transpiring.
Ferguson has served the national church as ecumenical
officer. He cited motivators for the discussion such as the end of Christendom
and globalization. He is a church historian and readily offered that culture
has adapted and molded the church while still preserving the essential core of
|Susan Brown Snook|
Susan Brown Snook mentioned that the House of Deputies President
Bonnie Anderson has called upon us to pray and meditate on behalf of the
church. Snook is concerned that the same tired complaints arise that the church
is shrinking, has no money, and is aging out of existence. She said that we
would read part of Acts 8 that picks up after something bad has just happened.
Interestingly, she did not initially mention that it was the persecution and stoning
of St. Stephen, first deacon and martyr of the church.
She also said that the Episcopal Church is not being
persecuted. Did she mean it has nothing to do with persecution? The church is
involved in addressing persecution through the Millennial Goals, as an example.
Individual members of the church are
persecuted every day. I’m assuming her social location is that of a
well-educated white woman, and I was trying to give her the benefit of the
doubt. I found her statements to be curious but was willing to go with the
experiment, at least for a while.
The passage was about how all the followers scattered,
except the apostles, and went out to the people to evangelize in Samaria, of
all places, and to heal and to exorcize. And, there was great joy. We broke
into small groups to discuss. People mentioned several things about the text
that spoke to them:
- There was an interesting juxtaposition between
persecution and yet the description of great joy being present;
- Persecution is not automatic evidence of
- It seems preposterous that the scattering of the
church resulted in good things happening;
- It took great courage to go out despite the
persecutions that were led by the powerful Saul of Tarsus;
- Just because you are afraid does not mean you
should not proclaim the gospel;
- The apostles did not do anything in this passage,
the “laity” did;
- Jerusalem was not the place to be.
We were asked to discuss when we personally have felt
scattered, and when we have felt joy. For me, that was an easy answer. I’ve
felt scattered by the church, closed out, and unloved, because I am a lesbian.
I had to the leave the toxicity of a homophobic church to quiet the suicidal
thoughts. I feel joy at this convention because TEC is taking historic steps
for formal inclusion of LGBT people. The people in my group grew very quiet.
Several were from historically conservative areas of the country. There were
two supportive smiles, and the rest did not make any eye contact. I immediately
started to think this was a grassroots effort of traditional Christians who are
really uncomfortable about where TEC is headed, but perhaps feel it is not
politically correct to say so overtly.
To be fair, I have never met the organizers. But when a
meeting is called under the auspices of no agenda, I think it is natural to
listen for subtleties that would provide some kind of compass. I’m not sure it
is possible for a group of human beings to be together without any sense of a
purpose of direction. We are not wired that way. Perhaps that is a reason to do
However, I was very intrigued about the spontaneity of the
moment. Tom, Susan, and Scott conceived of the idea that as Christians we can
assemble and listen to the leadings of the Holy Spirit outside of the rubrics
of liturgy. This is a marvelous notion, and I would say that the Spirit was
present per St. Chrysostom’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered, God is
in the midst.” What Spirit was saying was less than clear.
People were asked to state, in one sentence, their dreams
for the church. Here are a few:
- One can’t tell where the world ends and the
- The church is not afraid to follow the Holy
- The church honors its past without sacrificing
- It is ecumenical;
- It raises the dead;
- Where people can sing their song;
- The church is a home for all;
- It is a church that takes a risk;
- It says yes much more often than no;
- Doesn’t say, “We’ve always done it that way;”
- The average age is not 62;
- It recognizes idols;
- It lays its life down for the world rather than
focuses on self-preservation;
- Does mission instead of studying it;
- There is no “I’m just a lay person” attitude;
- There are no barriers to disability.
After this sharing, people broke into groups to begin
“organizing.” Someone mentioned after that, the mood changed markedly. The
emotional tenor scaled back to business as usual. I think it was a fascinating
encounter in seeking the Holy Spirits as strangers together who are part of the
body of Christ. It seems to me that the better next step would be to take the
experience back to the home parish. Part of the frustration is about how
over-orchestrated our business model feels at times. It has the ability to
squelch our spirituality if we let it. Yes, it is orderly, but sometimes it
just bogs down and the message gets lost or truncated.
Instead, like the creatures of habit that we are, we went
right back into our default mode of groupings, meetings, and strategizing.
There’s a saying, “People want change, but they don’t want to change.” There
was some of that going on last night. There were good ideas, but there was also
wandering and tacit expressions of feeling lost. Perhaps it is a wilderness
time. Change is scary, even when it is the right thing to do.
Perhaps this was an Acts 2 meeting where we were in fact
speaking a common language despite a polyglot of language. There was
understated confusion, fear, concern, and lack of direction. Perhaps this
assembly will have the greatest impact by just talking about those feelings and
sharing the experience of when we all get home.
by Marcia Ledford