Saturday, July 07, 2018

General Convention: Thoughts from the Floor

So, we are gathered again at General Convention. There are many matters, each of them weighty at least to someone. If you’re ever blessed to be at General Convention (and, remember, I believe every Episcopalian should spend at least some time at General Convention as a Visitor, if not otherwise), take time to watch a legislative committee. If you can be there in the first week, watch testimony. There must be an opportunity for public testimony on each and every resolution, and it is often in those committee hearings that the most moving rhetoric is heard, the most moving stories are heard.

And this morning - indeed, even now - we are considering action that could start the process of revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. We spent an hour on that yesterday, and will spend another half hour today. That may not sound like a lot of time for something this important, but that’s only the discussion in the House of Deputies. There has been extensive discussion, and opportunity for testimony in the legislative committee, and there will be discussion on this in the House of Bishops. And that, of course, assumes that not changes happen in the process. This starts in Deputies; and if what Deputies send is amended in Bishops, it will come back to Deputies; and if amended again, back to Bishops; and…. Well, really, that’s enough. As Convention adjourns at a fixed time, if it hasn’t been settled before that time, the measure - this or any measure -  fails for lack of completion. That’s not a shock to those of us who’ve been around a while. Each Convention many resolutions - more than 100, certainly - fall this way.

And this morning, we are considering Prayer Book revision. Yesterday many voices were heard. We couldn’t hear everyone who wanted to be heard. We had to extend time just to consider amendments, and we won’t get to all those, either. However, I don’t know that this is necessary, at least to inform the body. I listened yesterday and heard a great deal of emotion, and a number of moving stories. That said, I heard only a few themes.

  • We need to study the Prayer Book so that we can better worship with new and renewed language.
  • We need to study the Prayer Book so that we can better worship with the language we have now.
  • We need to have better translations so that new communities we are encountering can worship in their own languages.
  • We need to have better translations to serve communities already among us not yet worshiping in their own languages.
  • We need to embrace new forms in worship that will be meaningful to our children and our young people.
  • We need to hold to our current forms for our children and our young people.

If it begins to sound to others that the same points are being used to argue both for and against undertaking a process of revision - really, not even a process of revision, but a process to study revision - well, that makes sense, because that’s what it has sounded like to me. To study and understand our liturgy; to have our liturgies in our various languages “to be understanded of the people” among us and who might be among us; to speak to our children and young people: these are matters to be addressed in our liturgy, whether we revise or not.

There was, however, one further theme, and it also cut both ways.

  • I’m afraid if we revise we will lose who we are and who we have been.
  • I’m afraid if we don’t revise we will lose who we are and who we are becoming.

Personally, I think we need to pursue revision. Blessed Marion of Sewanee, when he was teaching me and my seminary about the 1976 first text that would become Book of Common Prayer 1979, he was explicit that the then existing Standing Liturgical Commission thought this a Prayer Book to be revised in 30 years. They thought indeed, as I recall, that no Prayer Book ought to last longer than 30 years, as the language was certain to change.

However, there is a different issue that concerns me, and that is fear. Whether we pursue revision or don’t pursue revision, please God do not let us be driven by fear but called to mission. To understand our liturgy as it is and as it might be; to reach the communities among us and the communities we encounter; to reach out in faith with our children and young people - all of these are wise and necessary, with or without revision. Let us pursue them, then, because God calls us to them, in whatever language.  And if we revise (and, really, sooner or later we will revise), let us, like the wise householder, take both from our old treasure and from our new. I have faith we can be who we’re becoming without losing who we are and who we’ve been. I have faith that if we go forward in faith, doing what is needed to pursue God’s mission, we will have what we need. What we will lose is what no longer services God’s mission. What we gain will be only what serves God’s mission. Who we will be will be who we need to be to pursue God’s mission - which is, really, who we are. Where we fall short is not in who God has empowered us to be, but how clearly we embrace who God has empowered us to be. Our language will change, as it changes constantly; and as a result our liturgy will change. God will not change, and will not change God’s ability to use us for God’s mission.

Friday, June 29, 2018

General Convention: Responding to the Opioid Crisis

I’m getting close to General Convention, and there are a couple more resolutions that relate to health and healthcare. One is C037 Call to Respond to Opioid Epidemic. The text is below:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention call all dioceses and parishes in The Episcopal Church to respond to the opioid epidemic with training, pastoral care, advocacy, and liturgy; and be it further
Resolved, That dioceses and parishes be encouraged to: partner with First Responders and others in the medical community to host trainings on how to administer Narcan in the event of an overdose; partner with other faith communities and recovery programs in their local contexts to offer pastoral care to those affected by this epidemic; partner with other faith leaders to advocate with local and state government regarding policies and laws to promote healing and wholeness for those affected by this epidemic; and to lift up the needs of those affected by the epidemic in the Prayers of the People; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations of The Episcopal Church to advocate for the federal government of the United States to address this as public health crisis, affirming that opioid addiction is a disease, which needs adequate resources for treatment options; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop additional liturgical resources to address the needs and concerns of those whose lives have been profoundly affected by this epidemic.
THis is certainly not the first resolution relating to addition, including to opioids. At the same time, it is certainly timely. In addition, the call to the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music suggests responses that are within our tradition of addressing important needs with both social and liturgical responses.

The call to make Narcan more widely available could save lives. In the hands of more professionals, and especially of those who are in the field, could be helpful indeed.  Whether that can extend beyond professionals could be debated.

However, this is a worthwhile effort. I do expect it will pass, if perhaps adapted. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

General Convention: Disaster Resilience

I've continued to look at resolutions to General Convention that have some relation to healthcare topics. One recently added that I want to hold up is D007: Disaster Resilience Policy. As the text is somewhat lengthy, I won't copy in the whole thing, but I do encourage you to read it.

The larger points of the policy are to commend Episcopal Relief and Development in their past work of disaster relief, and to encourage dioceses and congregations, working with ERD, to develop not only short term but also longer term resources and plans to respond to disaster. That longer term response is the point of "resilience:" that to rebuild and restore after a disaster takes a long time, and a longer commitment of resources and effort.

I was, though, struck by one further sentence: "That the General Convention urge the U.S. federal government to fund and support not only immediate, but also long-term community and economic recovery from human-caused and natural disasters in the 50 States and U.S. Territories in equal treatment,...." [emphasis mine] That seems particularly apt, especially in light of the recently reported Harvard study estimating that in Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria resulted in thousands more deaths than have been reported by official agencies. The study uses the criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the justly-famous CDC), and reflects both those who died directly (flying debris, floods, etc.) and those who died because the healthcare and social systems around them were destroyed and not quickly rebuilt.

While there can be arguments whether responses of governments at all levels have been adequate in our recent disasters, including Maria (in 2017 territories and states of the United States were also struck by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma), there's a strong case to be made that federal resources to the states affected were significantly and proportionally greater than those provided to Puerto Rico. I can't speak to whether the response to the U.S. Virgin Islands was more similar to the states or to Puerto Rico; but the differences between that territory and the states has been widely reported and evaluated. In that light the call for equal treatment for territories as for states seems especially poignant.

By the way, please remember that the Resolutions in the Virtual Binder for General Convention are available to anyone. Link to the Virtual Binder, or link through from the General Convention web site, and you can see what's proposed. Remember that what's proposed may not be what's actually debated and voted on; but's it's where we'll start. So, take some time to look and see what might interest you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

General Convention 2018: Environmental Racism

So, it is another General Convention year. We'll be meeting again (yeah, I'm in it one more time) in Austin, Texas, July 4 through 13 - and some of us will arrive earlier or stay later. As I say every three years, "General Convention is coming. Pray hard!"

So far, only one resolution has been entered in the topic of Health. That is resolution A011,  "Oppose Environmental Racism."

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention affirm that fossil fuel-based power plants are the single largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the United States and major contributors to climate change; these emissions not only threaten the environmental stability of our planet, but also the health of young children and their families, disproportionately affecting the poorest among us; and be it further

Resolved, That the Church recommit to and direct the Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network to oppose Environmental Racism expressed in such ways as the locating of extraction, production, and disposal industries where they disproportionately harm neighborhoods inhabited by people of color and low income communities. And to oppose coal, gas, oil, and uranium extraction and its subsequent transportation which threaten the health and sanctity of communities and the livelihood of future generations; especially as such industries are located disproportionately nearby low income communities and neighborhoods inhabited by people of color.

The resolution has been put forth by the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation. They have described the concern about Environmental Racism in the body of there solution. While their report does not go into further detail, it does highlight three Eco-justice sites, all of which would seem to qualify.

I would expect to see other resolutions that would speak to health. In the meantime, we can consider how addressing Environmental Racism could serve the health needs of our neighbors.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Instructed Eucharist, Part 2

I was asked by a colleague to prepare an instructed Eucharist for his congregation. Here (in two parts) is my instruction.

At the Peace: We reform the community

Since the days when we were preparing for our current Prayer Book, we have made a deliberate break at this point in the service. While I acknowledge that it can feel like a disruption, we do it for two reasons. We do it because it is what our Christian forebears did, as far back as we can clearly document; but perhaps that may not in itself seem reason enough. So, we do it for the same reason they did it. We do it to move out focus from the whole Christian community to our local community, to this congregation.

We are making the transition in our work together from the general to the specific, from the tradition writ large to it’s very local expression. We are preparing to gather at table; and, like most other such gatherings, we take time together to greet our fellow guests. Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you disciples. I call you friends.” Paul said, “We are adopted siblings in God’s household, inheriting siblings with Christ.” So, as friends and family gather it is only natural that we greet one another. And there is one detail we have retained from our Christian forebears. We have taken for ourselves their greeting: “I wish you health; I wish you wholeness; I wish you peace.”

Liturgy of the Table: We participate in the heart of the story

If we are a people of story, it should come as no surprise that we gather around the table. After all, whether we gather as families or as friends, the table is a place where stories are told, stories that help those families, those communities, connect and understand themselves. 

And for us, this is an essential part of our story. Indeed, more than anything we have done so far, this is a part of the story in which we are fully participants. We hold this as essential because Jesus himself said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And beginning from that night, his followers have been doing it ever since.

Note carefully that word, “remembrance.” I am sure you have heard before, but I will tell you again, that word does not mean “remember” in the sense we do. Rather, it means to relive the event, to experience it again. We are not simply recalling the past event. We are participating in the ongoing event that is, as Jesus described in Matthew, “the banquet prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For that reason a Christian story teller I once heard said it is not the Last Supper; it is the Next to the Last Party.

As we are a people of words, if you read In the Prayer Book, and I hope you will, you will find there are many ways we tell this part of the story: two in Rite One, four in Rite Two, plus guidelines for shaping our own. And there are more, for General Convention has approved another four “for trial use.” Why so many? Because no one of them tells the story completely, much less perfectly. No one of them reflects the breadth of our tradition.

There are, though, points that all have in common. All speak to the full history of God’s work with his people. All speak of Jesus’ ministry in the world. And all include the words of Jesus: “This is my body. Take and eat. This is my blood. Take and drink. Do this to relive this with me.” The Lord himself is our host; and like the first disciples we receive as from his hand.

Dismissal: Carrying the story into the world.

However wonderful the meal, however wonderful the company, the time comes for the meal to end and for the company to leave. And so we also rise from the table.

Our first words as we rise are to thank our host. He has served us, shared himself with us. He has given his body to us that we might be his body in our life and times.

And then our words ask that we be sent. We have said that we gather in Eucharist to be formed as Episcopal Christians and to be conformed to Christ. So, we ask that we might be sent into the world to inform, to allow the wider world to see just what formation and conformation can mean. We know that can be challenging. We want to inform at our best, always a challenging proposition. So we ask for strength and guidance. Remarkably, this once we don’t ask for words. Rather, we ask for help that our witness may attract and our ministry may inform. 

Formed that we may conform that we may then inform: that is our intent when we gather in Eucharist. We come in from the world to encounter Christ in story and at table. We return to the world polished a bit, reshaped a bit, better to live, better to serve, better to share the story.