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