Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invites the people of Southwestern Virginia to participate in Revival. The Episcopal Revival service will be 10:00 AM, January 27, 2019 at the Berglund Performing Arts Theatre in Roanoke, VA.
More information can be found here.
By Cara Modisett, St. John's, Roanoke
Yesterday’s Liturgy of Listening centered around story and silence, a reflective and penitent note the night before formal General Convention began as the House of Bishops invited all to a Eucharist acknowledging the Episcopal Church’s role in the #MeToo movement, opening with prayer.
“Tonight, we acknowledge the church has failed her people,” prayed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. “Some have committed offenses against another – some have denied or covered up those offenses – some have silently observed and done nothing.” He invited those present into “a time of lament and confession, a commitment to move forward as the body of Christ in covenant with one another.”
Over the course of the service, which Curry described as “a sacred container,” twelve bishops came to the table and read the stories of women and men who had been victim/survivors, as one voice phrased it, of sexual discrimination or abuse. The narratives were anonymous, and each bishop was witnessed by two more bishops, each standing on either side of him or her, silently.
“There is pain in these stories. There is courage in the people who have offered them. Let us honor that courage, let us honor that vulnerability, let us honor that pain.”
The readings began with Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde, a story which criticized the Office of the Presiding Bishop for seeking legal solutions that silence the victims and protect the bishops and the institution. Other stories touched on the destructive dynamics of power, on broken relationships and the abuse of pastoral care, on the lack of compensation for women in ministry. Some of the voices:
A parish administrator: “I was told to wear dresses and skirts more because ‘they looked better’ on me.”
A female priest who was sexually assaulted by a parishioner: “I felt very powerless… I am still at a loss, 30 years later.”
A male priest who provided pastoral care to women who had been pressured into sex by a priest providing spiritual guidance, who retired with no repercussions: “These women felt shamed and humiliated. I find myself wondering how many other women suffered at the hands of the same abuser.”
A former member of a boys’ choir whose singers suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse for years: “I have stopped counting the suicides, the substance abuse, the broken marriages, the poverty, the failed careers, the prison sentences and the distorted religious lens created by the choir in its alumni.”
Several of the stories called the bishops to action:
“My prayer is for a day when the church and the office of the Presiding Bishop will act with integrity and baptismal faith.”
“I ask that the House of Bishops seek and find the other women pioneers who have offered faithful, if not adequately compensated, ministries, and to help to build the foundation for other women to have other opportunities not offered to us.
“I long for the House of Bishops to develop some meaningful and tangible reparations to those of us who have suffered these injustices at the hands of the church. I hold you all, and our General Convention, close in my prayers.”
“For all that each of you are, my right reverend fathers and mothers in God, you are also my brothers and sisters through our shared baptism in Christ. Please, love the vulnerable people in your dioceses like cherished siblings, not merely as employees or spiritual children. Please, take us seriously, and take seriously the plague of sexual misconduct that affects our branch of the Jesus Movement.”
Each reading was followed by silence and prayer as the bishops remained at the table, and then a singing of the Kyrie. Following the readings, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led the Lord’s Prayer, again with pauses for silence, followed by a litany that interwove elements of the baptismal vows. The service ended with a Eucharist.
“Our call is to work that has already begun…
“We commit to listening for understanding. We commit to speaking the truth in love. We will respect the dignity of all. We will strive for justice and peace.”
The Episcopal News Service gives some background into the service in a June 27 story, reporting that a call for stories went out in May, and that the reading bishops do not know the identities behind the stories they are reading. Forty stories were shared, and the liturgy was designed by the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response to #MeToo Planning Team, chaired by DeDe Duncan-Probe, Bishop of the Diocese of Central New York:
The liturgy, says Duncan-Probe in Episcopal News Service, was to be “anchored in the idea that Episcopalians believe in the transformational power of liturgy. ‘We come in our pain and our sorrow, and we hold it before God’s dream for the church and God’s mercy and grace,’ she said. ‘As we do that, Jesus is in our midst and we have a moment where a new future is possible.’”
Additional note: The service’s music had a local connection to our diocese – Sam Hensley, formerly of St. John’s where his wife, the Reverend Erin Hensley, was associate rector, was the guitarist on stage. Erin is now rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, and Sam is director of music and mission for The Hill, the second campus of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, both in Austin, Texas, host of General Convention 79.
This post was written by the Reverend Susan Bentley, Rector of St. James, Roanoke, and Clergy Deputy to General Convention.
As I rode down the escalator to the baggage claim area at the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport, a bright sign flashed up on the picture kiosk that said, “The Episcopal Church has come to Austin” with the signature symbol of the General Convention shield, and the dates July 5-13, when we will be in and among the people of Austin. With thousands of Episcopalians flowing into the city’s downtown, hotels, local food spots, and streets surrounding the Convention Center, we are now a presence in the neighborhood, especially when wearing the distinctive name badge issued to each volunteer, visitor, deputy, alternate, or Bishop, attending this 2018 General Convention.
At the pre-Convention opening comments of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, he reminded us of the purpose of our gathering: to do God’s work in the Councils of the Church so that we might be God’s presence of Love in the world, in a more intentional and Spirit-filled way. He reminded us of the places that need us to share an extra measure of God’s Love and Grace: on the border in Texas where immigrant and migrant families are torn apart, in the pain of gun violence, and in respecting each other as we discuss the proposed resolutions (322 as of this writing) that pertain to our corporate and public lives as Christians, being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.
I think we are all well aware of the wide range of thoughts and opinions on most topics that will be discussed, and that is why open hearings for the Legislative committees invite and encourage a range of voices to be shared. It is in the speaking and the listening that we do our most discerning work, and that is what equips us to take the Gospel of God’s Good News to the ordinary places of our lives, and the foreign territories that we have not dared venture into….Presiding Bishop Curry challenged us to go there.
Here is a sample of the places that our discussions will take us to: Economic justice by socially responsible investing, caring for the environment and all of God’s creation, revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, Christian Formation, Safe Guarding the People of God, relationships between laypeople, bishops, deacons and priests and how we lead together, adding same-sex marriage rites to the BCP, support for foreign missions, and courageously considering our role in shifting the dynamics in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
For me, I think some of our most profound time together will be in the listening session hosted by the House of Bishops to hear the stories of those who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse, as well as the joint sessions of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. There are three joint sessions scheduled to engage the conversations around racial reconciliation, evangelism, and care of creation. These sessions are designed in three parts: education through speakers and videos, reflection through deputation discussions, and taking the vision out beyond the Convention Center into the hallways, streets, restaurants, civic groups and gatherings, neighborhoods, parking lot conversations and office water cooler confabs. That’s the ministry of Christians-growing spiritually ourselves, in order to share with others out in the culture.
Some years ago when I was a Director of Christian Education, I was sharing with my Rector what a daunting responsibility it was to be nurturing the spiritual formation of young children to senior adults. This wise and understanding priest said, “Remember, God has already brought in the Kingdom; you do not need to do that. Your part is to labor faithfully sharing God’s love and telling the story of God’s Good News.”
And so it for us here in Austin at the 79th General Convention; we are gathered to strengthen our bonds as God people, to listen to each other with dignity, respect and compassion, to make decisions for the greater good, to worship and pray together so that we might, in our every day lives, be faithful witnesses of the transforming and healing power of our loving God.
The Rev. Susan E. Bentley
Rector, St. James Episcopal Church
Historic Cedar Hill Baptist Church south of Lexington is a church that began with faithful black Christians worshipping under an oak tree. The church was built in 1874 and is on the historic register. Reunions of descendants are now held annually there.
The Rev. Anne Grizzle, Chaplain at Boys Home, who lives at the Bellfry nearby the church, was inspired by the call to build beloved community and began meeting with Preston Evans of Cedar Hill Church. They have met and considered if the church could be reinvigorated for more occasional worship.
A first gathering took place that included four descendants of the original worshippers, plus the pastor and members of First Baptist Lexington, neighbors, and friends. They all gathered for a rogation service of thanksgiving and prayer, followed by potluck fellowship and story sharing at the Bellfry. They are hoping friendships and services may continue.
This post was written by the Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith.
Something mysterious and also affirming happens when folks gather in the name of Christ to support one another in ministry. Such an opportunity was offered to and accepted by three of our diocesan leaders. It was a church-wide gathering with the staff of the new Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, GA the evening of February 28 and the day of March 1. The three leaders all are on the core leadership team in the diocese for dismantling racism. They are: The Rev. Anne Grizzle, Chaplain for Boys’ Home; The Rev. Preston Mitchell, Deacon in the Abingdon Convocation; and The Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith, Archdeacon.
A trip to Atlanta for an evening and day of meetings seems like a long way to go from Roanoke, but there were Episcopalians there from much farther away: Oregon; Colorado; Maine and even Latin America and the Caribbean (Province IX) to name a few. This took a tremendous amount of effort and resources for all of us to gather. In the end, there were more participants than expected – 80 people. This included laity and clergy, with at least one or two bishops in attendance.
We broke bread together, we worshipped together and we shared our thoughts and initiatives with one another. The participants, who were there to learn, also were an inspiration to the staff of the Absalom Jones Center and to one another, as we came together to address institutional racism. In the end, any resources spent on this effort more than paid off in the energy that was generated for what can be the overwhelming work ahead.
The first evening we gathered as a group at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta for a meal and brief program of introduction for the next day’s events. The hosts were not sure what to expect and when people kept arriving, we all were asked to “hold back” on how much food we took from the buffet. Not surprisingly, there was more than enough for us all – a real Christian theme of abundance. We heard from our host, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the new center, the Presiding Bishop’s staff, local leaders, and even a man who had grown up as a white supremacist reading the Bible daily with his family, but later had been led to see a different Christian path.
The following day, we gathered at All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta to share with one another throughout the day. We were assigned randomly to discussion groups and in the morning following Holy Eucharist, we were asked to share the strengths and weaknesses of what we currently are doing to dismantle racism. Following lunch, we shared the opportunities and challenges we face as we approach future initiatives for dismantling racism. Ideas that were shared stimulated more ideas. We literally shared and discussed until we were spent.
Now that we are back home in DIOSWVA, the leadership for Becoming Beloved Community is expanding and has representatives all across our diocese. A large group of us are gathering for an overnight leadership retreat later in March to deepen our understanding of this ministry and to plan for efforts throughout 2018 and early 2019. Here are opportunities to look for in the coming weeks and months:
- Allyship training in Lynchburg (March 17) and Staunton (March 18) with follow-up formation of “Allyship in Action” groups. Additional allyship training and group development will take place in other parts of the diocese in the coming months. Contact Melissa Hays-Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.
- Story sharing events, scheduled at parishes or in communities across the diocese. Contact Anne Grizzle (email@example.com) for further information and to request a story-sharing event.
- Sacred pilgrimages, involving travel to and acknowledgment of sites within DIOSWVA where racially devastating events have taken place. Worship experiences will be offered to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Contact Preston Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information or to share ideas.
- “Claiming our Stories”, dismantling racism education offered at various sites in the diocese. Contact Nina Salmon (email@example.com) for further information.
These initiatives will be listed in “Church-wide Initiatives” on the website for the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing (www.centerforracialhealing.org), as we remain connected in this ministry across the whole Episcopal Church.
This post was written by the Rev. Dr. Paul Nancarrow, who was recently named Canon Theologian for the Diocese.
The heart of mission is to discern what God is doing in the world, and then to organize ourselves to join God in doing it. It is our faith that God is always already at work in the world, everywhere in the world; from the first moment God said "Let there be light" to this moment now, God's creating love is at work in the world. God's creating love is on a mission to build up in the world more and more interconnected and beautiful networks of right-relationships for shared well-being: in ecosystems, in human communities, in neighborhoods, in families, in our own hearts.
We join in God's mission when we see right-relationships in formation around us, and when we join our own energies and efforts to help those relationships grow into deeper and deeper shared well-being. In church and out of church, in spiritual places and in secular places, whether God is named explicitly or not, we are joining with God in God's mission every single time we engage in right-relationship for shared well-being.
This core commitment has been the center of my theological journey. When I studied academic theology for my doctoral degree, I focused on what is often called "process-relational theology," and I studied in particular how our way of doing sacraments connects us to God's creative way in nature. As a parish priest, I've tried to help people see that the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist is a kind of training ground for right-relationships for shared well-being: when we come into communion with God and Christ and each other in a symbolic meal of bread and wine, that forms in us a pattern of receiving and offering for our shared well-being; and when we go forth from the church into the world, we carry that pattern with us to build up well-being and communion in all our relationships. As a participant in the church's outreach and service, I've been awed at how we don't just "go out to help people," but we form relationships with people, and together we reveal the creating love of God as we heal and feed and build side by side. The connecting insight has always been that God is at work here, right here, and what we do we do by joining God.
That's why I think theology is absolutely central to the missional church, because to join God in mission we have to discern what God is doing, and discerning what God is doing isn't always easy or obvious.
As the scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne puts it, you can't just pick up a rock and find "Made by God" stamped on it; you can't just look at a situation and see God's will written on it in big neon letters. God works through many people, and in the deepest places of our own minds and hearts. God works in ways that sometimes seem paradoxical, and that sometimes we only see clearly in retrospect. God gives us guidance and ideals in scripture; but scripture must always be interpreted, and that interpretation must be applied to the here and now. God is infinite, and we are not. So we must always be humble and thoughtful in trying to discern what God is up to. That kind of thoughtfulness is the main work of theology.
Oh yes, to do that work theology develops doctrines and systematics and creeds and metaphysics; but all of those are really just tools to help us get to the heart of the matter, which is to wonder what God is creating right now, and how we might get in there and co-create with God.
The work of a Canon Theologian in a missional church is to help foster that wondering. Using scripture, using the traditions of our doctrines and liturgies, using our knowledge of what's going on around us, how can we reflect on the moment and see God at work in it? And then how can we, individually and in community, join with God in creating what the next moment can bring?
What I hope to be able to do in this role for our household of congregations is to write occasional pieces, to offer workshops and classes from time to time, and to be available for questions and consultations, that will help us all wonder what God is doing and how we can join in doing it.
Want to know more? Just ask!
This article was written by the Rev. Canon Connor Gwin.
In the early afternoon, after a day of office work, three Diocesan staff members piled into a car and set out on Interstate 81, heading south. We were bound for Grace House on the Mountain, a mountain mission center 175 miles from the Diocesan Office, that embodies the missional heart and history of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.
Founded in the early 1900’s by the Episcopal Deaconesses, Grace House is older than the official start of the Diocese. The work of Grace House began when several Deaconesses walked into the coalfields of Southwestern Virginia for the sake of impoverished and needy in the name of Christ. The Grace House website says that the Deaconesses “served as midwives, taught hygiene and nutrition classes, sponsored women's auxiliaries and quilting groups, settled disputes in the community, led worship services at the local church, and taught music classes.”
The work of Grace House continued after the Order of Deaconesses was ended in the Episcopal Church. For decades, Grace House has served the needs of the people of Appalachia.
The primary expression of this work is vital home improvement projects completed by workgroups. These workgroups span all ages, multiple denominations, and a wide stretch of geography with some groups annually traveling from New York, Pennsylvania, and beyond to serve the people of the area.
With this rich history in mind, Canon Mark Furlow (Canon to the Ordinary and Chief Operating Officer), Wendy Moses (Diocesan Controller), and I journeyed south. The three-hour trip was filled with beautiful mountain views and a stunning sunset.
When we arrived on top of Sandy Ridge, outside of St. Paul, we were greeted with a feast prepared by Anita Boyd, Executive Director of Grace House. Anita and her husband, Jerry, are the heart and soul of Grace House. Anita originally worked as an assistant to the former director after she was personally impacted by the work of Grace House. When the former director retired, Anita stepped in as Executive Director. She has been a consistent presence in our Diocese for over a decade.
In our conversation over dinner, we discussed the great work being done by Grace House and the powerful witness of the ministry to the rest of the Episcopal Church. At our most recent Annual Convention, Canon Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Reconciliation, Evangelism, and Creation Care recalled a trip she took to Grace House while she was a professor at General Seminary in New York City. She remembered the conversations with Anita and the work groups who were staying at Grace House. Stephanie Spellers lit up when she talked about the Gospel being lived out in such a tangible way with the work of Grace House and the people it impacts.
Grace House is a beacon of what the missional church can be.
After dinner and full of the wonderful meal (especially Anita's famous Honey Bun Cake), we retreated to our overnight accommodations. Wendy Moses stayed in Smith Cottage, a wonderful cabin available for personal retreats and getaways. Canon Furlow and I walked the few steps from the dining room to the newly built bunkhouse.
The fire in the stove was warm. The bunk mattresses were fluffy and new. As we turned out the lights, I thought back to the number of people who have spent the night at Grace House and the innumerable lives that have been impacted by the work of that place.
The next morning we got to work.
Wendy worked with Anita to do some financial tasks and bookkeeping. Canon Mark scanned historical pictures from the Grace House archives and measured the dining room to create a new, state-of-the-art video conferencing space for meetings. I worked to update the Grace House website and online presence to attract new work groups and connect with longtime friends of Grace House.
After working through the morning, I sat down to interview Anita for an upcoming episode of the Diocesan podcast, Y(our)Story. The podcast format is the same for each interview as I sit down with Diocesan leaders, both lay and clergy, to hear the stories of God’s movement in Southwestern Virginia. I asked Anita to tell me a story of God’s call on her life, the story she finds most challenging in scripture, and a story that is giving her life from her work at Grace House.
She broke into tears several times as she told me story after story of the people she has helped through her work at Grace House. Canon Mark and Wendy, who were listening in, were brought to tears too by the passion in Anita’s voice as she talked about the mission of Grace House as her own life’s calling.
At the end of the interview, we packed up our belongings and prepared to head home to Roanoke, but not before asking Anita for a copy of the recipe for her Honey Bun Cake.
It is clear from our time there and the stories we heard that the work of Grace House is transformative for those who are the recipients of the help and for those who render it. The summer is already filling up, but there are still weeks and weekends available for workgroups in the spring and fall.
Every parish in our Diocese should experience the life-changing mission of Grace House.
Andrea Bain is a Florida native and grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, so by her own admission, she is no stranger to evangelism. Yet, in her work with the Living Local, Joining God team at St. Paul’s, Lynchburg, she’s finding a new kind of evangelism that is leading her congregation to some deep and unusual places.
When the group formed in early 2017, they began by reading Scripture together in a practice many in the diocese have come to know as Dwelling in the Word. As a group, they would take turns reading the Scripture passage aloud several times, with the instruction to listen for a word or phrase that stood out to them. Bain admits that as a Southern Baptist who’d studied the Bible and heard the passages so many times growing up, she expected to find “nothing new,” but to her surprise, “I heard things I’d never heard before.” She said she also enjoyed watching other team members get so excited about Scripture.
The focus of this first phase was learning how to listen.
“It’s about developing a lifestyle,” Bain says, “The listening part is hard to grasp because we are ‘doers’. We had to learn how to listen to Scripture and each other without giving our opinions or trying to fix anything.”
Listening to Learn
Phase two of St. Paul’s LLJG journey was to take what the team had learned in listening to Scripture and each other into the wider community. They began interviewing members of their congregation and going out in small groups to learn more about their surrounding community.
Bain found the congregational interviews exciting. “It gave us insight into the church, and what makes people feel spiritually alive.”
The journey into the neighborhood also led to some surprising insights. One of the first areas the team explored was in downtown Lynchburg along the Riverwalk and near the Lynchburg Market. Some team members who had lived in Lynchburg for years were curious about the people they encountered.
“There were so many we didn’t know! Who are these people? Where do they live?” the team wondered.
The other benefit of these excursions was that the team discovered they had formed deep bonds with one another. “We all understood what we were doing and where this was headed,” says Bain.
Learning to Experiment
The exploration of the Lynchburg Market area led the group to their first small experiment. One of the unique services at St. Paul’s is their Celtic evensong, so the group decided to take a few of their Celtic musicians down to play at the market on a Saturday morning. They set up a table with information about their contemplative evensong service and struck up conversations with market shoppers. Going forward, the team will reflect and analyze whether this experiment worked and how it might be tweaked or expanded on.
This third phase will also include educating the congregation on this continual process of listening, discerning and taking action. Some congregants have been wary of the process, as they feel uncomfortable with the traditional idea of “evangelism.” Bain points out that this is a different way of spreading the Gospel.
“This is not a Bible-thumping Christian hard sell. Instead, it really follows the Episcopal tradition that’s more gentle and hospitable. It’s about learning how to listen and speak to people in a way that draws people to God.”
Bain also points out the goal isn’t to attract people to the Church itself, but instead to embrace a way of life that points to God.
“And what better way to point people towards God than to listen, discern, and take action?”
This article was researched and written by Emily Sproul.
“The Lord be with you.”
“And also with you.”
This is a common way to get the attention of a crowd in the Episcopal Church. You will often hear this shouted over a chatty group gathered for a parish dinner or a rambunctious herd of young people gathered for formation.
While not technically a crowd-control tactic, this salutation is used because it is familiar. It is familiar because it is the way we begin our prayers in the Anglican tradition.
I was taught that if you are to use this salutation to gather attention you should, at the very least, say a pray for the gathered community.
Why do we start things with prayer?
Meals, meetings, liturgies - when we come together we feel the urge to call upon God and to thank God for bringing us safely into fellowship with one another. I will sometimes hear opening prayers that ask God to be present with the gathering as though God is not already present in every situation. In fact, God is more present than we are in most situations.
I had a professor in seminary who insisted that opening prayers wait until the purpose of the meeting or gathering has been outlined. “Otherwise, you don’t know what you are praying for.”, he would grumble.
The humor masks a deep truth. When we pray at the beginning of a journey or event, we are not saying a generic prayer because we are supposed to. We are asking God to open our eyes to the Divine interruptions and interjections along our journey. We are asking God to help us see the world in a new way. We are asking to have the Spirit of Christ in what we are doing.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1)
As we move further along on the journey towards being the missional church, it is important to reflect on the place of prayer in mission. The role of prayer in the life of Christians and the Church is essential and yet often is assumed and not discussed.
Prayer is essential for mission because we are joining a work already in progress, not beginning a new enterprise. We are joining God’s mission to redeem the world through Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. We are not building a new kingdom of our own. Prayer is the prerequisite to mission.
Prayer is the time we set aside to seek God’s will and to give thanks for what God has already done in our lives. Prayer is deeply personal and, at the same time, it is the lifeblood of a worshipping community.
We are the Church because we pray together.
Nobody needs another thing to do. Our culture is so focused on productivity and to-do lists that “busy” is the default answer for the passing, “How are you doing?”
The Church is not immune from this cultural shift. We are constantly looking for new programs or series or plans. Every church in our Diocese has a full calendar of wonderful and fulfilling activities.
I am not adding another thing to your to-do list.
Instead, I am suggesting that we begin with prayer. Not as another item on the list but as the means to accomplish the list itself. Prayer is not the mission of God, but it is the only way to engage and join with God’s ongoing mission in the world.
If we are to be clothed in the Spirit of Christ to serve the world in His name, we must do what Christ did: we must always start with prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on
the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within
the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those
who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for
the honor of your Name. Amen.
This post was written by the Rev. Canon Connor B. Gwin. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.