Today was about evangelism. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been clear from the beginning of his tenure that evangelism and racial reconciliation were going to be the touchstones of his ministry, and he has remained true to his word.
We began the day with a celebration of the Eucharist at which Bishop Curry was the preacher. He emphasized the need for the work of evangelism to be rooted in Christian formation, and also got into the fray around the use of the word "Lord," about which many in the church are sensitive because of perceived patriarchal overtones. He acknowledged the difficulty, but basically said, "Get used to it. The earliest Christian creed was 'Jesus is Lord.' It's part of our vocabulary." He suggested reclaiming the work away from connotations of oppression or exploitation, remembering the important corollary: If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not Lord--whoever or whatever "Caesar" may be to it. It was an encouraging homily.
The balance of our morning consisted of table group conversation, using starter questions that many at my table, at least, found a bit awkward. Their purpose, though flawed in execution, was to elicit personal stories--stories of encounters with divine love in the midst of life and work. The ability to narrate one's experience of God in a personal way is certainly a key element in the process of evangelism.
The bulk of the afternoon was devoted to presentations and discussion about the aspect of the Renewal Works process known as "Reveal"--a spiritual growth assessment inventory that parishioners complete online, and which yields a "Spiritual Vitality Score." There was a robust discussion about the results from the 157 Episcopal parishes that have gone through the process. The data are less than uplifting. I can only observe ... the truth is never your enemy, even when it is uncomfortable. My attention was piqued in the plenary discussion when I heard definitions of evangelism that speak of "going out and discerning where God is acting and trying to be in that place, listening to the stories of those who are there," or that "spiritual vitality is a fruit of working for justice, and not an end in itself." This is a weak understanding of evangelism, on multiple levels. If we as a church are going to get comfortable with evangelism simply by redefining it, we're continuing a pattern of avoidance that will ultimately be institutionally fatal, and sooner than we think. I will say that I appreciated one response that named justice as a higher priority than spiritual renewal. There's a lot to be said for honesty.
Toward the end of the afternoon, we move into a formal business session--with motions and seconds and that sort of parliamentary procedure. Much of this is routine housekeeping stuff. We did approve a revision of the "Core Values" of the House, and some amendments to our Rules of Order--pretty technical stuff. The most spirited discussion was around a proposed Mind of the House resolution that addresses the National Rifle Association, sharply criticizing its rhetoric. It first appeared destined for quick approval, but bishops cannot resist the impulse to wordsmith most anything in plenary session, so, to my surprise, it ended up getting tabled to an extension of our business session tomorrow that had been going to devoted to only one issue (a statement on sexual harassment). Some interested parties met this evening and, I am told, drastically reworked it to minimize potential offense toward Episcopalian NRA members. (For the record, I spoke against the resolution, not because I am chummy with the NRA, or because I like guns, but because the positions of the NRA can plausibly be held by a Christian of goodwill and an informed conscience.) We'll see what happens tomorrow.
We concluded with Evening Prayer, a "hospitality" hour, and dinner.