Sunday, September 22, 2013

House of Bishops Day 3 (Fall 2013)

We began with the Eucharist for St Matthew's Day at 9am. The Bishop of Atlanta presided and Fr Simon Bautistia, one of the HOB chaplains, preached. I really do hate it that I find worshiping at meetings of the House of Bishops more alienating than uplifting. As a good Catholic, of course, I realize that it's not about how I feel. Indeed, if it were about how I feel, I would probably just silently absent myself. But it's not, so I go. Part of the alienation, no doubt, is my responsibility, and I need to own that. But I also need to name my irritation: It's just too laborious. Today the celebrant switched from English to Spanish and back several time--just during the Eucharistic Prayer! Prayer Book rubrics and texts are widely ignored or altered. Our musician, Dent Davidson, has talent oozing out of his pores; he is really good at what he does. But the music is a steady diet of the exotic with occasional smatterings of the familiar as a condiment. I would dearly love to see the proportions reversed: liturgies anchored in the center of the tradition, following Prayer Book texts and rubrics, seasoned judiciously with the exotic. I suppose others would then feel malnourished. What to do?

When we took leave of our spouses and reassembled in our meeting room, we heard first from the Bishop of Southern Ohio, Tom Breidenthal. He delivered a substantive address on the topic, Formation for Mission. It was a sheer delight: solid, rich food for the mind and the soul. It was profound, orthodox, christocentric, grounded in our liturgical praxis, and just plain meaty. He received enthusiastic applause, not just for his prepared talk, but for his extemporaneous responses to questions from the floor for about the next 30 minutes. If I could presume to identify his main point, it would be that mission is not so much something we can prepare for as something we are swept up into--almost involuntarily--in response to an authentic encounter with the grace of God in Jesus. And as a people "on a mission," we are always a people in transit, expelled into the desert in baptism, living on daily manna as we trek through the wilderness, always mindful that we have not yet reached the Promised Land. This meeting is not over yet, but Bishop Breidenthal's talk alone was worth the price of coming.

After a break, and on a rather more prosaic note, we heard a presentation from two representatives of the Church Pension Fund. Mostly, their subject was that beast known as the Denominational Health Plan (DHP). I will be the first to admit that my eyes glaze over pretty quickly when they're presented with spreadsheets and fields of numbers. It's not that I'm incapable of understanding them; I've been known to create a spreadsheet or two myself from time to time. But it takes extraordinary effort not to be terminally bored. Let me just say that I am extremely grateful to the CPG/DHP for what they have accomplished in bringing down the premiums for the Diocese of Springfield by significant amounts two consecutive years now (despite my personal best efforts to drive them higher by having open heart surgery).

Next we heard from Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), which is the Episcopal Church's public incarnation under New York corporation law. This is the infamous '815', the "national church." Bishop Sauls spoke of his desire to reorient the staff culture of the DFMS from a hierarchical model of a "home office" receiving financial resources up the stream and delivering program down the stream, to one of facilitation, connection, and coordination in support of ministry and program that take place at a local level. To push this cultural shift along, he has instructed DFMS staff to shed that moniker in favor of simply The Missionary Society.

My two cents: Even insiders, who know about the origin of the DFMS in 1835 and its evolution since then, have an awkward time articulating the precise relationship between the DFMS per se, and the prior and more fundamental (but unincorporated) entity known the Episcopal Church. The vast majority of Episcopalians are gratefully unaware that there is such a thing as the DFMS, and most clergy can't think of a compelling reason to make that the topic of the next Rector's Forum. I don't see how this branding change makes anything clearer. It may indeed have the opposite effect by adding another layer of nomenclature complication.

When we adjourned at 12:30, that was it for the day. We entered "Sabbath" time until tomorrow evening. After a lively lunch with my old friend, the Bishop of Northern Indiana, Ed Little, I returned to my room to process emails, grab a good nap, and take several vigorous laps around the perimeter of the hotel property en route to the 8500 step mark on my pedometer.

The evening was set aside for Class dinners. (I am a member of the Class of 2011, which includes all bishops who were elected in 2010.) Our class is currently the largest, with 12 bishops and 10 spouses. We're missing one bishop and spouse at this meeting, but there were still 20 of us to fill a long table at a nearby restaurant. If the metric is how much we all enjoy one another's company, and how supportive we are of one another, then the Class of 2011 is arguably the best class!


PCanonD said...

For how many bishops in the House is English NOT their first language?

John Richmond said...

Re: the liturgy, I am reminded of Fr. Weil's comments about "liturgy by committee." Bad liturgy is bad liturgy, whether Low, Broad, High, Diverse, and/or Inclusive. Or when leaping from language to language.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

As for how many bishops are not conversant in English, I would guess the number is about a half dozen.

Gerry Smith said...

I have also felt some "discomfort" with the Eucharist at General Convention. This is likely an unfair assessment on my part, since I cannot know the heart and/or motivation of other worshippers, but all the "exotic" flair infused into the liturgy often gives me the "feel" of a celebration of ourselves more than the celebration of the One who created us.