Friday, June 16, 2006

The Prayer of the Whole (Episcopal) Church

Ever Episcopalian should spend some time at the General Convention. The fact that it only happens once every three years makes it more complicated, but it also gives plenty of time to make plans.

I have been known to say that attending General Convention can make or break one's faith. There is an awful lot of what we would decry as bare (and sometimes bare-knuckles) political activity. So, there's an awful lot of boredom interspersed with moments of rhetorical fervor and sometimes rhetorical fireworks. It sometimes seems there are backroom deals (I'm not saying there aren't any, but I haven't been invited to any myself), and there are certainly enough conspiracy theorists to express that concern. There is plenty of procedural machinations, and sometimes some procedural artistry so great that you have to appreciate it, even if you don't appreciate the result.

At the same time, if you spend time at a General Convention, you will discover it is not primarily a political event, either in form or substance. Yes, legislative sessions happen. After all, this is the central event for governing what we have come to see is a global church, with churches from Germany to Guam. However, the context is and remains prayer and worship. The central event of the day, to which everyone is invited, is the Eucharist. The prayers change, and the music changes, and even the languages change (and, yes, all us English speakers happily cope); but it is always Eucharist. And even the legislative sessions stop for offices at Noonday. In addition, this year they've added, at least in the House of Deputies, speakers to address their own lives and histories of faith. Imagine: in an Episcopal event the most important testifying isn't before legislative committees, but before the House gathered.

Even the Exhibit Hall waits. Participants don't get to browse through the publishers or check out the vestments until Eucharist is over, and the legislative day is begun: all things in proper order. And the best thing about the Exhibit Hall isn't the books (and this from someone who could accumulate them entirely too happily). It is the many ministries of the church - chaplaincies, religious orders and communities, services to the poor at home and abroad - that are the highlights of the Exhibits. At home and abroad we are seeking to give care or to support care both inside and outside the church. There is a breadth of ministry in this Church that one can only really get a glimpse of when they're all collected at General Convention. It is eye-opening and exciting. And this, too, will not start each day until after Eucharist and prayer.

For all the attention that the world will give to our struggles to express where we see God leading us in the Holy Spirit, and to somehow invite everyone to walk with us, even if not in the same rhythm - for all that, this is the Body of Christ, or at least our member of it, gathered to pray and worship and ask God's guidance; and then only in that context, that environment, to make decisions.

I've been told that watching laws made is like watching sausage made: most people would really rather not really know what went into it. In General Convention, however, I'd like to show it off. Here all the members of this part of the Body - lay folk, bishops, priests, and deacons, the Youth Experience and the Senior Deputies, the ministries of prayer and the ministries of publishing - here they ask first for the blessing and the guidance of God; and then they move forward, as best they can.

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