Tuesday, March 15, 2016

2016 Spring House of Bishops, Day 5

The morning was devoted to what we used to call Town Hall, but is now called Community Gathering. The concept is the same: Bishops ask in advance to be recognized to briefly espouse some program or priority that's important to them. There included (but may not be limited to):

  • Theology Committee (Breidenthal, Ohio)
  • Ecclesiology Committee (Franklin, Western New York for Whalon, Europe)
  • Ecumenical relations with United Methodists (Brookhart, Montana)
  • Environmental curriculum (Ely, Vermont with Rice, San Joaquin)
  • Bishops' Pilgrimage to Ghana (Konieczny, Oklahoma with Wright, Atlanta)
  • Recovery Ministries (Bailey, Navajoland)
  • Issues around election of new Federal Ministries bishop (Fr Razz Waff, Chair of Nominating Committee)
  • News/warning about an imposter priest (Waldo, Upper South Carolina)
  • News/warning about an imposter bishop (Field, West Missouri)
  • Beautiful Authority (program for advancing ordained women into more responsible and high-profile positions) (Gray-Reeves, El Camino Real)
  • General Board of Examining Chaplains, (Benfield, Arkansas)
  • Spiritual Writing Workshop (Hollingsworth, Ohio)
  • Communion Partners (Smith, North Dakota)
  • Migration & Human Trafficking (Rice, San Joaquin)
  • Poverty, Racism, & Gun Violence conference (Lee, Chicago with Fisher, Western Massachusetts)
  • Union of Black Episcopalians (Baxter, Retired of Central Pennsylvania)
  • Departure logistics (Canon Michael Hunn)
  • Holy Land pilgrimage (Rickel, Olympia with Beissner, Northern California)
  • 2018 General Convention (J. Fisher, Texas)
  • Flint, MI drinking water (Ousley, Eastern Michigan)
  • Recognition of consecration anniversaries 
  • Recognition of imminent retirees (Lambert, Suff. Dallas; Rivera, Eastern Oregon; Little, Northern Indiana)

We reconvened at 2pm for a formal business session (hence, the photo).

  • Three bishops were elected to the College for Bishops board.
  • Consent was given for admission to the HOB of Mark Van Koevering, resigned Bishop of Nyassa in Mozambique, to serve as Assistant Bishop of West Virginia.
  • Election of one bishop to fill an unexpired term on the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.
  • Report on plans for future HOB meetings this triennium, based on the work we did yesterday.
  • Consideration of a proposed resolution announcing that bishops "reserve the right" to withhold consent for the consecration of bishops elected in processes that did not include a requisite number of women and persons of color. This matter was deferred until the next meeting of the House.
  • Discussion of procedural details for the election of a new Bishop for Federal Ministries (military chaplaincies, federal prisons, VA chaplaincies).
  • Debate over a resolution offered by the Class of 2013. It was amended on the floor, and the adopted version is as follows:
A Word to the ChurchHoly Week 2016 
On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the week and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day, Jesus was raised to life, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.
In a country still under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season's political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others, There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
In this moment we resemble God's children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else. 
We call for prayer for our country, that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

The resolution as amended passed unanimously, which is a rare occurrence.

As per custom, the evening meal was festive--white table cloths, dimmed lights, wine on the tables. But I believe everyone is looking forward to heading home. I know the Bishop of Springfield is.

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Spring House of Bishops, Day 4

There was a 9am Eucharist and 5pm "Evening Devotions," but, for reasons already discussed, I did not attend, so there isn't anything I can say about them. I did offer straight-Prayer Book MP and EP from the comfort of my room.

There were plenary working sessions from 10:30 until noon, and from 2:00 until 4:30. The planners, chief of whom I suspect was the Presiding Bishop himself, were endeavoring to elicit a range of thoughts and feelings from the body, and do so with uncommon efficiency, that would allow them to identify themes and priorities that will drive planning for all HOB gathering for the remainder of the triennium (that is, until the General Convention in 2018). The process was led by Bishops Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan and Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real. It was quite structured and disciplined, which served the end of efficiency. We were asked to ponder the Summary of the Law and connect with what in means for us in TEC in general and the HOB in particular. We were asked to list adjectives that would describe our ideal House of Bishops meeting. We did these and other exercises first as individuals, then in our table groups, then in groups of two joined tables, with result delivered to the podium, soon thereafter appearing on screens arranged by one of these applications that quickly illustrate what words occur most frequently by making them appear larger in proportion to their frequency. 

I won't attempt to give an exhaustive summary (poke around the internet and you can probably find one), but my own subjective read is that there is notable energy and hope around themes of spiritual revival and prayer and generally serious Christian discipleship at all levels. This is encouraging, all the more so because it is out of character for recent gatherings of the House. I cannot but like the trajectory. The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating. But it's a good start. Whatever else one might say, the great majority of the bishops (virtually without exception, I might even say) are well-intentioned and charitably-disposed Christian leaders. That may not be everything, but it's not nothing. I am grateful.

Various special interest groups met in designated locations for lunch, which meant that I was with the Communion Partners. Between active and retired bishops, there were nearly 20 in the room, more than we've ever had at an equivalent gathering, including a good representation from the Province IX Spanish-speaking dioceses. There are many ways in which we are uniquely-positioned to be of service to this church, in addition to "having the backs" of those in our own dioceses and others who want to be faithful to the Episcopal Church while also remaining faithful to the theological and moral teaching that the formularies of that church still stand for.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

2016 Spring House of Bishops, Day 3

Mercifully, in view of losing an hour of the night to a time change, the first scheduled activity, other than breakfast, was the 10am celebration of the Eucharist for the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The Bishop of Northern Michigan presided and the Bishop of Northwest Texas preached. (The memorable takeaway line from his homily: "Do you have what it takes to lose?") The liturgy was BCPish, to some extent (Eucharistic Prayer C, with predictable addenda--Why, when we find this prayer is too patriarchal, do we think we're improving it by adding Rachel and Leah, but render the other two women who bore children to Jacob invisible by keeping them anonymous?). The real eyebrow-raiser was this putative metrical version of the Nicene Creed (sung to Hyfyrdol in a cut-time meter):
We believe in God almighty, Author of all things that be,Maker of the earth and heavens, Keeper of the sky and sea.We believe in God’s Son, Jesus, now for us both Lord and Christ,of the Spirit and of Mary born to bring abundant life. 
We believe that Jesus suffered, scourged and scorned and crucified;taken from the cross, was buried—true Life there had truly died.We believe that on the third day Christ was raised up from the grave,
then ascended to God’s right hand. He will come to judge and save.

We believe in God’s own Spirit, bonding all the saints within
one church, catholic and holy, where forgiveness frees from sin;
in the body’s resurrection, for the breaking of death’s chain
gives the life that’s everlasting. This the faith that I have claimed.
then ascended to God’s right hand. He will come to judge and save. 
We believe in God’s own Spirit, bonding all the saints withinone church, catholic and holy, where forgiveness frees from sin;in the body’s resurrection, for the breaking of death’s chaingives the life that’s everlasting. This the faith that we have claimed.
There is probably not anything objectionable in what this text includes. The problems lie in what it does not include. With the Nicene Creed, linguistic precision is of the essence of the text; that is its inherent nature. Every word is important. This may be a perfectly fine hymn. It just isn't the Nicene Creed. It really isn't even a paraphrase of the Nicene Creed.

The rest of the day, honoring the Sabbath principle, was lightly-scheduled. The afternoon was free. I
signed up, along with eight other bishops and two members of the Presiding Bishop's staff, for a horseback ride. I've done this two or three times before at Camp Allen and always enjoyed it. It lasted about 45 minutes. It was a beautiful day and I'm really glad I did it.

After dinner, we adjourned to our meeting room underneath the chapel for a regular HOB event called a Fireside Chat. (To evoke atmosphere, images of a fireplace were fed by LCD projectors onto two screens.) The Fireside Chat is effectively an executive session, so there's not much I can say. There was some news shared with us of both a pastoral and administrative nature, and both will be made public in due course--fairly soon, I would suspect. We talked a bit about the recent Primates' Meeting and the upcoming ACC meeting. A couple of other items were raised by bishops from the floor--again, stuff that is likely to become public fairly quickly.

It's the Presiding Bishop's birthday, so we feted him properly back up in the dining area.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

2016 Spring House of Bishops, Day 2

I hesitate to write what will now immediately follow. It will subject me to criticism and will disappoint people. And it's quite personal, not something I think I am morally obligated to share, to think about "out loud," as it were. But I am usually choosing to absent myself from corporate worship at HOB meetings (and, for that matter, General Convention). It is for the sake of my own soul, my own spiritual self-care, that I do this. But there is also an undeniable element of "breaking community" in my behavior, and I completely understand anyone who would want to call me to account on those grounds.

It's complex. I can certainly suck it up and deal with liturgy that's simply not the way I would choose to do it; I do that all the time. This is different, for three reasons. The first two are relatively trivial, and, on their own, would demand that I look past them. The third is more substantive.

The liturgy booklets contain parallel texts in English and Spanish, with the scripture readings also in French. But it's not like there's one whole service in Spanish and the rest in English--or one in English and the rest in Spanish. Celebrants and officiants who can do so credibly tend to jump from one language to the other in mid-paragraph. My Spanish, while not good, is decent. I could hang with it if it were all in Spanish. The jumping back and forth, however, is distracting beyond annoying. It puts me in a foul humor, which is not where I need to be when in worship. (For the record, out of 100+ bishops present, around a half-dozen do not function comfortably in English.)

The substantive part is that there is nary a service--whether Eucharist or Office--that simply follows the official liturgy of the Episcopal Church, i.e. the Book of Common Prayer (1979). And while a portion of the music for these liturgies is from the center of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, much more of it is from the margins--unfamiliar to most, and sometimes difficult even for a trained musician. Now, I understand that there are authorized alternatives to Prayer Book services, and while I may not sympathize with the reasons for their existence, I believe I understand those reasons. But what we have is generally a mishmash: neither straight and clearly-identified BCP nor straight and clearly-identified EOW. Certain words in the liturgy or the Psalms are just emended unobtrusively to reflect current orthodoxy with respect to gender specificity. I wish those who plan the liturgies could just be more transparent about what we're doing. But what it feels like to me (I'm not imputing this as a motive or intention to anyone) is that I'm being film-flammed in a verbal shell game, with the huckster hoping I won't notice. I do notice.

All this is by way of saying: There was a Eucharist at 9:00 and Evening Prayer at 5:00, and I attended neither. Mixed feelings about that. No one needs to judge me because I already judge myself. (And I will be present at the Eucharist on the Lord's Day tomorrow.)

After the Eucharist, we were on "retreat" time, of which I availed myself to catch up on some emails and take a long, meditative walk.

Lunch was by provinces, so I joined my colleagues from Province V. We were asked to discuss what we would miss if the provincial structure didn't exist. For most of us, it was the opportunity to meet regularly with other bishops from the province!

The afternoon program was devoted to considering the work of racial reconciliation. The Presiding Bishop offered a homily (not technically, but every time he opens his mouth, a homily isn't far behind!) on last Sunday's epistle reading from II Corinthians about the ministry of reconciliation. (I resonated with what he said, because I rang that bell pretty loudly in my own sermon last Sunday.) He introduced four bishops who have been serving on a racial reconciliation task force, and each of them spoke to us briefly. This was followed up by table discussions. It's complex and daunting work because it requires an immense amount of truth to be told, but that telling, to mean anything, must be securely in a context of patient and vulnerable love.

Dinner was with "classes," and off campus. The Class of 2011--the twelve bishops who were elected in 2010--carpooled up to College Station to eat a Chuy's, a Tex-Mex chain. A good time was had by all. I am very blessed to be part of this special group of colleagues and friends. One among us had just had his Canon elected Bishop of Pennsylvania today, so there was both celebrating and commiserating. And, for what it's worth, we heartily toasted our absent spouses.

Friday, March 11, 2016

2016 Spring House of Bishops, Day 1

Here's a shot from Camp Allen (courtesy of Bishop Matt Gunter), near Navasota, Texas, about an hour northwest of Houston, 30 minutes southeast of College Station. The recent pattern has been for the House of Bishops to meet here in March of even-numbered years. It's a large and reasonably commodious facility, and, apart from its somewhat remote locale, works pretty well for us.

The day began with breakfast at 8am, followed by Morning Prayer (one reading, one canticle, mostly BCP-compliant, except for the canticle, which came from a source I'm not familiar with--it was scriptural, though!). We then adjourned to our meeting room below the chapel, where we sit at familiar round tables. The first meeting after each General Convention, there are new table assignments for the following triennium. It looks like I will be spending a lot of time with the Bishops of Southeast Florida, Rochester, San Joaquin, the Suffragan of Virginia, and, just for this meeting, since he's retiring, the Bishop in South Carolina. We spent the rest of the morning doing "check in," wherein we go around the table sharing what's been going on with us personally and professionally,

After lunch, I had a nice phone conversation with my old friend, the Bishop of Calgary, mostly over some Nashotah House-related business.

At 2pm, we were back in our meeting room for a retreat-style meditation from the Presiding Bishop--except, if you know Bishop Curry, there's not very much "meditative" about his delivery! He challenged us to reflect on how--the various ways--Jesus has been in our lives. About 45 minutes later, he sent us out into silence, asking us to return at 4:00. Then we divided into pairs, and shared our "Jesus story"--the fruit of our retreat reflection. What a concept: A bunch of bishops talking about Jesus.

We headed back upstairs for a celebration of the Eucharist, at which one Vice-President of the House presided and the other one preached. Nothing scheduled then after dinner ... which leaves time for things like blogging!