Tuesday, September 26, 2017

2017 Fall House of Bishops, Day 5

Every day during this week-long event, aware that I'm going to be blogging in the evening, I'm scouting about looking for a "cover photo" for my post, something that will best encapsulate the significance of the day.

So this is what I've got. It was hanging on the wall of Soapy Smith's, a downtown Fairbanks eatery where Brenda and I had dinner with three other couples from the Class of 2011--a calendar from 1910 promoting a restaurant in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Don't look for any hidden or subtle symbolism in the image, because there isn't any. It's pretty much a cipher, kind of like what went on in the official activities of the House of Bishops today--with one exception, which I will get to in due course.

In both our morning and afternoon sessions, we were asked to spend most of our time in table groups "unpacking" the experiences of the last couple of days--the drop-in visits to native villages on Saturday, and yesterday's potlatch in Nenana. We were supposed to focus on themes of racism and environmental justice. To be blunt, it was too little to do and do much time in which to do it. The afternoon session was noticeably depleted attendance-wise; I myself slipped away to process a mountain of email when I literally found myself alone at my table.

I don't mean to sound cynical (well, maybe a little). I was deeply moved by our experiences, particularly the visit to Ft Yukon on Saturday. It was worth a bit of peer group reflection. Maybe an hour's worth. But not the bulk of an entire day.

At 5:00, following the Eucharist, spouses and other observers were dismissed from the meeting room while the bishops had our customary "fireside chat" with the Presiding Bishop. This is an opportunity to be candid, speak in an "executive session" environment, and deal with sensitive issues. As it turned out, there was nothing brought up that needed sensitive treatment, It could all have easily been done in open session.

In the remarks that follow, I have the permission of those whom I mention or quote.
At one point, a bishop asked the Presiding Bishop if he had any comment on the latest statistics that track the continuing precipitous numerical decline in the Episcopal Church. This question evoked an extended and rather passionate response from Bishop Curry. I wish I had a transcript or a recording, because I would like to be more precise in how I characterize his remarks. But they were along the lines of, "If we concentrate on what we're supposed to be doing, making and forming disciples of Jesus Christ, people who know the Lord and follow him and live the way Jesus call his people to live, we won't have time to even worry about Average Sunday Attendance. That will all take care of itself. If we continue to navel-gaze, then we won't survive, and probably shouldn't survive." It was a clarion call to keep first things first, and focus on the work of gospel proclaiming and evangelization.

On the heels of this, the Bishop of Albany rose and wondered aloud whether there might be a way, at the next General Convention, to consider no resolutions save for those pertaining to the DFMS budget and necessary elections, devoting the rest of our time in Austin to workshops and seminars on how to fulfill the vision that had just been articulated so compellingly by the Presiding Bishop. Of course, there is no constitutional or canonical way to do that, and I suspect Bishop Love knew as much. But I know I'm not the only one who found it an arrestingly attractive notion. What a concept.

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