Morning Prayer: Pretty straight BCP Rite 2, but with Pascha nostrum as the single canticle set to a chant tune with some fairly funky harmonies ... only there was no accompaniment, and the pure melody imparted a distinctly uncelebratory tone to a quite festive text.
The morning session was entitled "Moving Diagonally," to which I must hereby offer a weak protest, since that's the name of my diary blog. I see now I should probably get the term trademarked. There was a panel, coordinated by Jeff Lee of Chicago and including Dan Edwards (Nevada), Diane Bruce (Suffragan, Los Angeles) and Todd Ousley (Eastern Michigan). Bishops Edwards and Bruce presented first, followed by table discussions; then Bishops Ousley and Lee, followed by more table discussions. (There was a break thrown somewhere in there as well.) I won't attempt to summarize what each one said, but the (assigned) theme concerned making lemonade--transforming loss into new opportunities. Each presenter told us a story of an experience of loss in his or her diocesan ministry, and then about an experience of unexpected blessing in the midst of that loss, growing out of that loss.
I find these presentations challenging on more than one level, not the least of which is their actual content. I'm constantly laying our nascent missionary efforts in the Diocese of Springfield alongside the stories my colleagues tell, looking for connection, validation, new insights, and hope. But I'm also continually aware of my outlier status whenever I engage the larger church. I hear talk of mission, but I realize that while, for me, mission cannot mean very much other than evangelization, it means something very different to many if not most of my colleagues in the House. I hear talk of interfaith cooperation, and then I'm aware that many around me might be aghast at a notion that I--along with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, I might mention--take seriously: the universality of the gospel, that all people, everywhere and at all times, ought to come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in the company of the Catholic Church, and be baptized; put baldly, that it is God's will that everyone become a Christian. I hear talk of righteousness and justice, but then realize that, for me, that includes the sanctity of unborn human life and marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, while many around me find those values abhorrent. I should hasten to add that the overwhelming majority of other bishops treat me with utmost kindness and courtesy, and, at times, genuine affection; I have no complaints in that department. And I recognize in them authentic Christian faith and discipleship, despite our profound differences. I honor those who sometimes accuse me and others of "sleeping with the enemy," for not simply writing off most of the HOB as hopeless heretics. But that's not where I am. I couldn't begin to do that. And this is precisely why experiences like the past week are full of what my college psychology professors taught me to name as "cognitive dissonance."
After lunch, we got down to business. Literally. First there was what we call a Town Hall, where various bishops with various pet projects or causes have a chance to address the House and make their pitch. Among these today was a group calling themselves Bishops Against Gun Violence, trying to drum up enthusiasm for a conference in Oklahoma City next year. Then, for the first time since arriving here last week, we formally convened the House of Bishops for a business session, with the Presiding Bishop in the chair and Roberts' Rules in effect. The most substantive item to be considered in this session was a proposal from the Office for Pastoral Development (Bishop Clay Matthews) that the House call for the drafting of a canonical change to be presented to the 2015 General Convention that would bar diocesan staff members from being elected to the Standing Committees of the various dioceses (and some would extend that ban to General Convention deputations and Diocesan Councils). I spoke against the proposal. While it might be laudable in principle, it can easily invoke the Law of Unintended Consequences in smaller dioceses where the "gene pool" is already pretty shallow. It seems to be in response to a particularly nasty situation that we were not told the details of. Is it not usually bad practice to let exceptions drive policy? And can't the dioceses be trusted to handle this sort of thing at a local level? Nonetheless, the motion carried by voice vote, though not by any means unanimously. We'll discuss it again, no doubt, in Salt Lake City in 2015.
I've been watching in horror as the number of emails demanding some action on my part has risen to about fifty. So I once again skipped the Eucharist so I could begin to make a dent, and I managed to get the total down to forty. We then got together as Class of 2011 bishops and spouses in the room of the Bishop of Wyoming and his wife for a little pre-happy hour happy hour. Again, I am remarkably grateful for the companionship and camaraderie we share as a class. It is something quite precious. That led to the actual happy hour (well, maybe not quite so happy, with $6 domestic beers and $9 glasses of wine), followed by the closing banquet (bison New York steak, no less), at which the members of our class were honored for having completed the three-year College for Bishops training and mentorship program. Yes, the strains of Pomp & Circumstance could be heard humming in the background.