Thursday, April 26, 2012

General Convention 2012: On Health

The General Convention is coming again this summer, and this brings me back to one of the first purposes I had for my blog: to share information about General Convention, and especially information related to health, ethics, and/or chaplaincy. The Blue Book, the collected reports of the Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards of the Episcopal Church (CCAB’s) is now available on line. With those reports are included the  resolutions (“A” resolutions) that CCAB’s are bringing to Convention. I encourage you to download it (you can do that here), and check out those that interest you.
It will not surprise anyone that I turned first to the report of the Standing Commission on Health. This year the report is long and detailed. The Commission reported on few topics, but sought to address those in depth. They did do something that I wish more of us in the Church did more often. They went through the Electronic Archives of the Episcopal Church, as they said, “so as not to repeat the work of the past.” Clearly they made a concerted effort over the past Triennium.
I was impressed, though, because the report began, not with an issue or a resolution, but with a reflection. “Despite the archival evidence of vehement commitment to improved health for the Church and the world, there has been little time spent in articulating the Church’s motivation for this work. The Commission finds this to be an unfortunate oversight, and sought to lay a foundation for a future theology of health.” This is an interesting observation, and I see the point. The Commission was deliberate in responding to this lack:
During the summit in 2011, Steven Fowl of Loyola and Leonard Hummel of Gettysburg Seminary facilitated a theological brainstorm, and as a result of such study helped collect these springboard insights:  
  • A belief that we are created by God, that creation is a gift, and that our health is a gift from God. We believe we are called to be thankful for and excellent stewards of this gift. 
  • An acknowledgment that we are not all healthy and do not all have equal opportunities to be healthy, and that these disparities and suffering are marks of the need for reconciliation with God and God’s plan for us in the world. 
  • A belief in the incarnated God, who lived as a person with a mind for the health of his people, who experienced bodily suffering, and who bore the wounds of his suffering in his resurrected body. The implication for health is the assurance that we have a God who suffers with, and cares deeply for, the human creation in body as well as spirit. 
  • A belief that engagement in personal and communal health issues is a sign of our hope in God’s creation and redemption. Our commitment to justice is the living out of our faith in God’s gift of health. Conversely, a lack of commitment shows a lack of faith. 
  • A belief that scripture provides a model for these efforts: including but not limited to Eden, the prophets including Amos, Jesus’ efforts towards healing, Jesus’ resurrected body, and the Christian community of Acts
  • A belief that our tradition is rich in communal attention to a spiritual life that honors the body. We also experience in our tradition a valued engagement with the secular world, critically valuing participation and contribution at personal, local, national and international efforts. 
Again, these are the result of a brainstorming session, and not an analytically reflected theological position statement. That said, they seem quite encompassing. They reference explicitly Christ’s incarnation, and the Scriptural evidence of God’s desire that we be healthy. It also references our responsibility to reflect that desire in the world, and the Scriptural foundation of our ministries of justice and reconciliation. While I haven’t analyzed them in depth either, my sense is that these thoughts align well with the Baptismal Covenant.

I also find myself questioning the statement that, “there has been little time spent in articulating the Church’s motivation for this work.” As in everything else, we Episcopalians articulate our theology first liturgically. We might look to the Prayer Book and to the services for Ministration to the Sick, Ministration at the Time of Death, and perhaps Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child. We might look at the Public Service of Healing in the Book of Occasional Services. These are certainly not theological treatises, but, then, we don’t usually focus on theological treatises. We begin with worship.

I think these reflections are important, certainly because they are comprehensive, but even more because the Commission offers them as a place to start. I think we should appreciate these thoughts, and then take the Commission up in its call for a more reflected theological statement about the Episcopal Church’s understanding of health, of God’s commitment to health and healing, and God’s call to us to participate in that commitment.

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