By Kay Collier McLaughlin
By any account it was a full and busy day. At the close of business, with Utah Night still ahead, two bishops and two deputies were in the Media Room, reporting on what had taken place in their houses, and answering questions, while the Media team was fielding questions from CNN, NPR, the New York Times and others off- site. The bishops were the Rt. Rev. Cate Waynick of Indianapolis and the Rt. Rev. Martin Field of West Missouri. The Deputies were Katie Sherrod of Fort Worth and Tom Baker of Vermont.
While the issue the secular media was waiting to report out concerned marriage equality, and whether or not the House of Deputies would concur with the House of Bishops, all of those reporting were clear that other important work had gone on as well. The Bishops reported on a morning spent developing the “church’s response to the culture of alcohol, possible culpability, recovery ministries.” They were also focused on the joint session with the House of Deputies for the presentation of the budget around the 5 marks of mission, which included an “exciting” $2 million dollar grants to deal with racism, and a move to decrease the percentage of apportionment from the dioceses from 19% to 15 % over the next three years.
The deputies opening statements focused on the important work the church has done over the last 40 years to reach this Decison regarding marriage equality, and the systemic changes which have and are taking place.
QUESTIONS PITCHED IN ANGER
The first question up from the diverse group of reporters came in an angry and defensive voice, challenging the use of the term “systemic change” as using current buzz words, when in practical terms, was it really possible for unjust systems to be transformed. Despite excellent examples of transformational realities, the next question from a second voice questioned whether or not the House of Bishops was going back to the ” bad old days”, citing an exchange in the House in which he felt the ” wonderful moments” and attitudes that have marked this convention were being undercut. That exchange was followed by another angry voice – so strident that the communications intern in the room asked with a bit of alarm why the questioner was always so angry. This question was on how the reporters could speak so positively when the Episcopal focus on ‘ culture wars rather than the Gospel’ was leading to systemic decline.
HOW DO SYSTEMS BECOME TRANSFORMED ?
Bishop Waynick speaks with quiet authority. A House of Bishops veteran who was present during the 1991 convention referred to by the questioner, when a discussion on racism became embroiled with emotions around issues of human sexuality, she spoke about what happens when an organization reaches the place where it becomes ” impossible for change not to happen” as former assumptions are challenged by experience, and systemic change can take place. She also focused on the connection between attention to issues and the Gospel, and living out the Baptismal covenant to strive for justice and peace.
Bishop Field emphasized that the original system has never stopped adapting; that as we listen to the experience of others, the culture and systems begin to change. ” The ability to hold onto separateness is challenged by listening,” he said. He also stated forcefully that ” we are light years from the battle days. The House is very collegial, warm, loving, responsive, doing hard work together which can sometimes lead to disagreements and frustrations- but we have created a collaborative and respectful process where it is safe to disagree.”
Deputy Sherrod, a longtime newspaper woman by vocation simply challenged the questioners as being unaware of the real facts in her own Diocese of Fort Worth, where parishes are growing and “we are not afraid of small.” Both she and Deputy Baker pointed to specific examples of “Gospel work”,as Baker, stating that he comes from the ” most unchurched state” I n the country quoted ” In an imperfect church, we seek out the perfect love of God.”
THE REAL STORY OF SALT LAKE CITY AND THE FORTY YESR JOURNEY
The newsroom scene in itself is part of the real story of the 78 th convention and the journey that has been forty years on pilgrimage, and is not finished. The Diocese of Lexington has been a part of this story in significant ways, since the first Task Force on Human Sexuality was appointed in the 70’s with long time deputy Dr. Cam Cantrill serving as a member. Their charge was to bring the discussion back to local dioceses. In the mid 1980’s the Presiding Bishop and General Convention mandated dialogues on Human Sexuality in all dioceses, and provided two curricula and training for diocesan trainers. the Very Rev. Dr. Robert Insko and I served as diocesan trainers, and the first conversations on this subject were held in our diocese. But human sexuality has been only one of the topics where change was needed and noted. Along the way, new processes have been put in place across the church as well as our diocese. We have come clean for the most part about the fact that we have been a church of white privilege, and we have had our share of power struggles and agendas that have kept us distracted from mission and ministry and battling each other. We in the Diocese of Lexington have taken the lead in learning that in “Holy Conversation” we can be honest about our stories, and can hear the stories of others, regardless of the topic or level of difficulty. We, and others, are learning that we do not have to repeat the patterns of the past if we recognize the behaviors that have been destructive and are intentional about behaviors that move us forward. We have watched Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori tend both to the demands of her own tenure, and build consistently on the work that came before her. We have heard our Presiding Bishop- elect say he will build on the work that has taken us to this place, as we again move forward.
It is encouraging to note that even larger, secular organizations are beginning to recognize that the strident voices may not always be telling the story accurately. As contact for off- site media, I answered questions from both CNN and NPR yesterday afternoon, checking on the story as presented to them by the angry questioners.
To have been present here is to have been a part of prayerful hard work, characterized by the soft chanted prayer of the House of Deputies before their vote: ” Come, Lord Jesus Christ…Come, Lord Jesus Christ…Come, Lord Jesus Christ.”
While Salt Lake City Convention 78 may be remembered by most as about the marriage vote, let the record show that it is about a time of systemic change where as w e are stretched in new ways, and there are efforts to return to the shape of older times, with its familiar patterns and discomforts, it’s power vested in old clusters who fear the change the most, there are voices from many different parts of the church- like the bishops and deputies of yesterday, who faithfully and firmly say ” let me tell you the real story” as we move forward in the light of the Gospel.
( For more of the real story of General Convention, consult one or more of your deputies.)