When I told friends that I’m going to the 80th General Convention (GC80) of the Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD, I could see one of two reactions: 1) their eyes would glaze over with boredom or 2) their faces would be filled with confusion. If you are not a “GC geek,” that’s understandable. Some of the key terms used when discussing GC80 include resolutions, amendments, agendas, committees and meetings. Between all of those things, though, a special kind of magic happens. Call it Episcopal Magic. Call it the movement of the Holy Spirit. Call it love. It’s the thing that brings me back to this work again and again.
I’ve been part of the Episcopal Church since I was in first grade, and this church and its faith has always spoken to me. Every time, though, that I sit through a set of convention meetings (this is my third time attending), I am proud to be part of this church–and amazed at the work we do.
Here’s what I saw and heard behind and within the past two days of discussion, debate and voting:
- Manners matter. In the same way that our liturgy on Sunday mornings is a dance, with call and response and pre-agreed upon behavior and norms, the General Convention has a graceful rhythm that moves us through the work. It has rules of order and polite language that reminds everyone that the work we are doing has dignity and importance. People take turns being recognized to speak. They give thanks for that opportunity. They speak within an agreed upon timeframe. It is incredibly civilized–and a wonderful reminder of the spirit and approach we need to be adding to the public discourse that is swirling around us, full of poison and anger.
- Words matter. As a writer and editor, I dread editing by committee as a general rule. However, the word-smithing we do on legislation brings us to an awareness of how the words we use shape our reality and potential to lift up or push down other voices. I love words…and I love the respect our church has for the power of them. This respect extends deep into our church. In fact, the House of Deputies passed a resolution asking the church “undertake the review of all of our worship materials with an eye to addressing colonialist, racist and white supremacist, imperialist and nationalistic language and content.” That’s important!
- Diversity matters. Over the past decade, the face of the General Convention has changed. Increasingly, in the Deputy seated the deputations, in the booth speaking to legislation, and on the ballots for leadership, we have more people who have traditionally stayed on the margin. People of color, young people, LBGTQ+ voices, and others are finding that we are making space for diversity and are stepping into that invitation. It’s going to make the church look more like God’s dream than it ever has before.
- The Episcopal Church is not just the United States. When people ask me about the Episcopal Church, I’ll admit that i’ve said “It’s the Anglican Church in the United States.” That was me being lazy….and I’ve committed to stop. Our church is so much bigger than that–and we shouldn’t forget it. The Episcopal Church includes Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, the Virgin Islands, Taiwan, and Micronesia, as well as the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. At this convention, we added language to various resolutions to ensure that these corners of the Episcopal Church also have representation. In addition, more people in these countries stood for election at this GC80. Everybody is welcome…we say it and we mean it.
- Faith is inherently political. Much of the conversation at convention is about business but there’s a huge serving of social justice as well. We have a lobbying organization in the Episcopal Church that uses the resolutions that come out of the General Convention to understand what secular legislation to support and push for. More and more, we are asking ourselves how the things we have done, from how the church invests its wealth to how it gathers as community, might leave someone out–and how we might do a better job of including them. People with physical disabilities, mental health issues, and primary languages other than English, for example, have needs that must to be considered. Nursing mothers and working parents need support as well. These are just a few examples, but radical welcome begins with doing the work of being accessible to everyone who shows up.
- It’s OK to disagree in love. Conflict is scary, and our current culture associates disagreement with enmity. The church tries to present a different model of staying in relationship and in conversation even as we disagree. We don’t always do it perfectly, but at GC80 it seems that we’ve hit a moment of true respect. There’s been no yelling, no name calling, no walking away and no picketing. Listening to other opinions, for me, doesn’t often change my own carefully considered opinions (although it can). However, I am reminded that the people “on the other side” are really on the same side, of loving our church and wanting the best for it. We agree almost always on what needs to be done, but we disagree about how to do it. That feels better to me than the vitriol that is so common in our world right now.
- The church is evolving. We consider ourselves a church of traditionalists–and that’s true. At the same time, we are looking at new ways of being church. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, we have realized that sometimes doing things differently is necessary, and it gives us a chance to learn something new. During GC80, we heard inspiring speakers talk about the ways that our church may be able to evolve so that we continue to be a church that worships, works, and grows in new ways together.
I’m proud to be part of this church. Are you? Share this post with #proudtobeepiscopal and #gc80 if you think our faith community is amazing.