Friday, July 31, 2009

Tax Revision Intended to Enrich the Wealthy

Libby Sholes, of California Church Impact, sent the following message out yesterday. It's a disturbing account of how the Governor of California, and other like minded leaders, intend to dismantle the structures of social support in our society in order to benefit the wealthy. The language of "fairness" is used but it is anything but fair, just, or righteous to require that those least able to bear financial burden are required to carry the same burden as those who have little financial vulnerability. It is not accidental or thoughtless. It is a careful strategy to protect the wealthy while keeping the poor poor.

If two guys go out to move a pile of firewood, and one is very strong, lifts weights, works in a physically demanding field, while the other is not as strong or fit, is it "fair" to require that both men carry the same amount of wood? Should the strong guy sit down when he's done with "his" share and watch the other guy finish the work. It certainly wouldn't be a very good way to get a common task accomplished.

In the Episcopal Church our baptismal covenant includes the promise to "Respect the dignity of every human being." I think that means we have a responsibility to one another. If any American is living in poverty, we are all impoverished. And for that matter, if any human being is sick, hungry, or oppressed, then we all are. The least we can do is not attack those who are already struggling.

In January 2006, I attended the annual Sacramento Press Club lunch with the Governor. Abnormally subdued, Governor Schwarzenegger turned in a low-key presentation since he’d just lost all of his most cherished ballot propositions the previous November. These would have given him unprecedented power over the budget and other items. Voters sent him a resounding “NO” on all issues, much to his chagrin.

At only one point at the Press Club luncheon did the Governor become animated. That is when a reporter asked whether it was true that “the rich carry too much of the tax burden.” The Governor got very excited and agreed that not only was it true, it was entirely unfair that they should shoulder the lion’s share of taxes! He said he would work “to make the tax system more fair so that the middle and lower income classes would pay more of their fair share.”

No one in the room reacted. No one. (Except for me, but I remained well behaved. I’m sorry about that now.) Not one media outlet reported that outrageous statement – and well they should have. The Governor is about to keep that promise.

To understand the context of his tax plan, I highly recommend that you read Jacob Hacker’s The Great Risk Shift and David Cay Johnston’s Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government’s Expense (and Stick you with the Bill.) These books are widely available, highly readable – and infuriating. Over the past three decades support for all basic services of our nation and states have already been shifted onto our backs. Those with the greatest means bear the lightest burden.

Then read the Governor’s plan for tax system revision. In conjunction with the Commission on the 21st Century Economy that seeks the same “fairness” for the wealthy that the Governor supports, the Governor wants to call a special session this Fall to assure that we accomplish his vision. You can read the summary at:

To see the current impact of our tax system on middle and lower class people in California, go to the California Budget Project PDF report, “Uncharted Waters” especially pages 11 and 33. It can be found on the first page of their web site,

We are well under way to totally destroying real fairness in our tax system. The state raised “taxes” in California this week, but they did it by gouging those least able to pay. What are cuts in services and increased fees and demands on individuals if they are not invisible taxes? If we eliminate tax breaks or remove services for corporations and the well-to-do, conservatives holler we raised taxes on the rich. Well, that is precisely what our state has done to those already living on the edge.

One Commission on the 21st Century Economy proposal is supposedly “democratic”. That is a flat tax in which everyone would pay the same rate. However, the real outcomes are disastrous. The median family income in California is about $55,000. A 10 percent tax rate would leave $49,500 from which to pay basics, with almost no discretionary income or savings. Someone with $550,000 would be left with $495,000 from which they would cover basics, buy that boat, take trips, clothing, luxuries and save up for college for their kids.

That’s fair? Whatever happened to our notions of a graduated tax? That is based on the very real understanding that the wealthy and corporations get tax breaks the rest of us do not. That they can generate income and riches the rest of us cannot. What happened to “From those to whom much is given, much is required”? (Luke 12:48)

This is just one of a great number of proposals the Commission and the Governor support, all of them designed to push responsibility ever downward on the majority of Californians of modest means. Again, take a look at the summary of the plans:

From now until the Governor and the Commission on the 21st Century Economy get their hooks into us, it is imperative that you speak out against this new “risk shift”. It’s already made the lives of the very poor impossible and dangerous. It will soon impact us all.

Write, call, visit, email your legislators and the Governor! Go to our site for phone, FAX, and emails:

It is especially important to contact conservatives in both parties. Do NOT let the anti-tax people speak for you – it is not in your interest that they press their agenda. This is NOT democratic revision of our outmoded tax system, it is a wholesale rout to free the most wealthy from responsibility to our common good. This is our state, too, and this is our collective well being that is on the line. We must be silent no longer!

Thank you!

Elizabeth Sholes

Director of Public Policy

California Church Impact

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Plans for new Mosque in Tracy

Plans for a new Mosque in Tracy have been approved. The drawing of the planned facility is beautiful. It will no doubt enrich the community and provide opportunities to expand the already significant contributions of the Muslims in Tracy.

From the Stockton Record:
By Jennie Rodriguez
Record Staff Writer
July 25, 2009 12:01 AM

TRACY - Overflowing worshippers gather in a patio outside a small residential building with boarded-up windows that now serves as the Tracy Islamic Center.

The tiny former living room is too small to accommodate the worshippers at many of the five-times-a-day prayer sessions.

But the future holds stained glass windows, dome rooftops and ample space at Corral Hollow and Larch roads.

County planners recently approved the site that will become a 13,800-square-foot mosque with a library, multipurpose hall and community rooms.

"We are looking for something beautiful, safe and respectfully located, so we can invite our neighbors," said Mohammad Arain, president of the center.

Some of those neighbors opposed the project when it was initially proposed. Mostly they were concerned about traffic. Arain said mosque leaders met with those residents to clear up a misunderstanding that a new group was moving in.

"I'm really appreciative to our neighbors and our planning commissioners," Arain said.

Neighbor Steve Schweiger said he is still concerned about heavier traffic, which he says has been increasing in recent years on Larch Road, which is home to about a half-dozen churches. He believes that a larger center will draw even more people.

"I don't want it here," Schweiger, 52, said. "But it is what it is."

Tracy Islamic Center, currently at 11299 W. Larch Road, has outgrown its existing 1,000 square feet just east of where the new center will be. The planned building "is a real community need," Arain said, since membership has grown from a few dozen to 150 in the past 10 years.

It's the third major new Islamic Center or mosque planned in San Joaquin County. An Islamic Center is planned in Lodi and a mosque in Morada.

Now that the converted house in Tracy can no longer accommodate all those who come to prayer, the overflowing worshippers gather on a patio outside of the center. When they run out of room there, they congregate in a shaded area beyond.

"This place is very small," said Tariq Khan, a 39-year-old Tracy resident. "People pray outside in the parching sun."

Sabeen Fatima, who is married to Khan, said a larger mosque will benefit future generations, such as the couple's three children, ages 1 to 7.

"It also helps to beautify the area," Arain said.

Currently, the congregation rents classrooms at local schools on Sunday for children's religious studies.

They also rent halls for special events, such as Ramadan, the Islamic observance of the day the Quran, the Muslim religious text, was said to have been revealed to Islam's founder, the Prophet Muhammad, according to tradition.

"Building a mosque will help accommodate everything," said Muhammad Nazir, secretary of the center.

The future mosque, Tracy's first multifunctional Islamic center to be constructed for its purpose, will be paid for by donations from the worshippers. They will build slowly, as the donations come in.

So far, they've spent $80,000 to $90,000 on fees and traffic studies, Arain said.

Mosque leaders estimate the building will be complete in 10 years, as donations are collected. Construction on the multipurpose hall could begin by next summer if building permits and enough funding is obtained, Arain said.

In the future, mosque leaders plan to add community rooms, a library and a second floor of classrooms.

The mosque will face Saudi Arabia's Mecca, as is Islamic custom.

Some of the new neighbors said they didn't mind the new mosque.

"I'm happy there will be a parking lot, because the streets get so crowded when people from all the churches park in front of houses," said Zahida Niazmand, 64.

"God is everyone's God," she said.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dr. Gates tells his story

As an avid PBS watcher, I'm big fan of Henry Louis Gates. The reports of his arrest after struggling to open the door of his own home distressed me. Who hasn't had to break through a back door or open window when you'd locked yourself out? I imagine that most people, like me, have in that awkward moment of crawling through the window or whatever thought, "I hope the police don't drive by. This will be hard to explain!" I certainly never expected it could actually lead to an arrest. Which is why I think it is impossible to understand this incident without considering racism.

Racism is a system of oppression. It's not simply prejudice or bias. Whatever our biases, we are all complicit in the system of racism that is endemic in our society. It is rooted in the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans. None of us today directly participated in those atrocities. But we are all inheritors of the effects of those systems of oppression. Our prejudices are shaped by generations of racial oppression. Our institutions are shaped by generations of racial oppression. We have made great progress, and the insidiousness of racism requires that we continue to fight against it. It is not enough for each of us as individuals to intend to treat each individual the same regardless of race. We must start there, and then we must seek to dismantle the institution of racism which leads to disproportionally higher rates of black men than white men in prison. We must dismantle the institution of racism which leads to dramatically inferior health care for African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. We must dismantle the institution of racism which leads to higher rates of poverty among people of color.

In The Root, Dr. Gates explains what happened to him the day he was arrested. It is a disturbing account of how the institution of racism led to the arrest of an innocent black man on the porch of his own home. The officers involved are not evil. They are complicit in a racist system, including the African-American officer shown on TV clips. We don't know what his role was. We don't know whether he was in any position to speak against what was happening. We do know that he lives and works in the same society we do, in which most African-Americans depicted on TV, videos, and magazines are caricatures of criminals, drug dealers, domestic abusers, and murderers. We know that all of the officers involved were trained in a system which incarcerates more black men than white men. That does not make them "bad people." It does make them, and all of us who pay for these systems with our tax dollars, participants in racism.

It can only change if we are willing to acknowledge both our individual prejudices and the racism which invades every aspect of our society in dangerously subtle and not so subtle ways.

Maybe Lawrence Bobo can explain it better than I can, in his moving article "What do you call a black man with a Ph.D?"
Even before the charge (was) dropped Tuesday, I knew in my bones that this officer was wrong. I knew in my bones that this situation was about the level of deference from a black male that a white cop expects. I say this even though I did not see the events themselves unfold. What I do know with certainty is that the officer, even by his own written report, understood that he was dealing with a lawful resident of the house when he made the arrest. That same report makes it clear that at the time of the arrest, the officer was no longer concerned about the report of a “burglary in progress” involving “two black males.” No, by this point we’re talking about something else entirely...

If Skip Gates can be arrested on his front porch and end up in handcuffs in a police cruiser then, sadly, there, but for the grace of God, goes every other black man in America.

Thanks to the Rev. Heather Patton-Graham for posting the link to The Root articles. They're worth reading, so check them out!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

First Episcopal woman deacon dies at 92

Episcopal Life celebrates the Rev. Phyllis Edwards, a priest and the first woman deacon in the Episcopal Church, who died earlier in the month.
Edwards was a civil rights activist who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and fought for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. She was ordained to the diaconate in 1965 by California Bishop James Pike. (General Convention didn't officially recognize women deacons until 1970.)
Edwards was one of those all-important trailblazers who opened a way for others of us to follow. Thanks be to God for her life and ministry!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cutting Budgets

Along with all the great things that happened at General Convention last week, there were also some unfortunate ones, include a huge cut to TEC's budget.

The Rev. Terry Martin writes painfully about the impact of these cuts on him and evangelism in particular. He and many of the commenters on his blog question the wisdom of the church to choose to make these cuts. (Everyone recognizes that in this economy there have to be cuts somewhere.)

The Rev. Lois Keen commented,
So far as I can garner from the stuff I've read this week, the "cuts" were made in areas which it is thought the dioceses could each pick up. I agree with the pragmatism of that assumption; I quarrel with the basis, however. There is a message sent when at the international level of TEC whole areas are no longer part of the "banner" - it sends a message that women, evangelism and worship and spirituality are not important.

I know that's not what is intended. I'll have to work on not expecting the various "desk" titles giving us our identity.

I think this is a critical observation. TEC hasn't decided that evangelism is unimportant, or women's ministries, or spirituality. But perhaps recognizes that it is work that does not have to be done "top down." The alternative is to cut programs that only the international body could do, such as General Convention, Episcopal Relief & Development (a separate entity now, I know, but receiving huge support from TEC) or others that mostly go unnoticed because we take them for granted.

I haven't been intimately involved in the budget decisions and I don't know why these decisions were made. Asking "why?" is important. I'm not ready to jump to the conclusion, though, that those who made these decisions have abandoned the true purpose of the church. Maybe they have, but I don't have evidence of that, yet.

I feel for and pray for Terry and others who have lost their jobs. And I pray that this will be an opportunity for us to move away from a top heavy institution and into the grass roots movement of God's Mission in the world. If we are distressed by the budget cuts, let's respond with renewed energy for the work that we think is so vitally important.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I have become addicted to Twitter. And I have made several new friends this week as other "tweeters" followed General Convention along with me. I'm not new to electronic community. I am a member of a Christian Community in the Episcopal Church (Rivendell) that was born and nurtured through its first years through e-mail. 12 years ago when we began there was no "twitter" or "facebook," only e-mail and Instant Message. Through honest and frequent communication on-line we first members of Rivendell became more closely connected.

I did not imagine Twitter could accomplish the same thing before this week, because I didn't "get" how it could work, and couldn't imagine 140 characters being enough for real conversation. I was wrong. It is. And in fact, I think it may foster conversation because one person can't go on and on uninterrupted.

There are some downsides. This week it has required periods of constant attention, and I have found myself checking Tweets in meetings and at other time that I should have been doing other things. This is true of other communication, too, though, both telephonic and electronic.

There has been a group of obsessed Tweeters that have gathered over the past several days in cyberspace to follow the debating and voting of both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. Some members of the Twitter cadre were in Anaheim, in the galleries of the houses sending updates for those of us spread across the country. Some of us were able to watch the live stream of the debate online - and are exceedingly grateful for that service. Others could not. So everyone shared what they were seeing and hearing or wondering about. There has been lively debate from differing viewpoints. A few ugly intruders who would or could not maintain a civil atmosphere.

On Tuesday (I think) as we were watching the exciting vote in the House of Bishops on allowing all people access to the ordination process, someone Tweeted that it was great for us all to be together for that event! He was absolutely right. Community had formed and though we could not all be in Anaheim, we were together as members of the same church watching, praying, and celebrating the work of our governing bodies.

What a gift! Much of this was made possible because Sarah Bennett (@sarahgbennett) set up a "twubs" group for us. Thank you Sarah! And to all the other tweeters who I now consider friends!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

D025 passes the House of Deputies and is official

The Episcopal Church has said that all people, regardless or sexual orientation, may be called to all orders - deacon, priest, or bishop - in the Episcopal Church.

It is important to note that this resolution does not bind any diocese to ordain anyone. Ordination is a vocation, not a right. It does however, remove any real or perceived judicial obstacles to ordination.

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

Loosening Burdens

I wasn't going to do it. I wasn't going to write about sex again. I wasn't going to feed the beast of non-stop debate around the actions of General Convention. And I wasn't going to write anything until the resolution in question became official. (Actually, the resolution amended and passed by the House of Bishops yesterday is being voted on right now in the House of Deputies.)

But two bishops have gotten to me.

Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham (Church of England) wrote a long article in tomorrow's TimesOnline. (Time zones are cool!) He pronounces that the Episcopal Church has left the Anglican Communion. And among other things says,
Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy.

This is a new one for me. I haven't heard anyone make this argument before. I'm stunned by the bishop's ability to read the divine mind, much less those of Jesus audience. He's probably right, actually, about most of Jesus' audience, because there weren't any same-sex, monogamous, faithful, loving, mutual relationships in his day, that we have record of. It is IMPOSSIBLE to know what Jesus would have said to the crowds if there had been such relationships in the society he knew. It's even impossible for Bp. Wright to know.

The other bishop that got to me today is Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington (KY) whom I mentioned before. In the House of Bishops debate this morning about allowing blessing of same-sex unions in states where it is lawful, he likened it to divorce and remarriage, and the way in which the majority of churches in the Anglican Communion (including Bishop Wright's Church of England) have permitted remarriage after divorce. And then he quoted Matthew 23:4 saying,
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

It seems to me that we have loosened the heavy burden that the church has placed upon gay and lesbian people for generations. I think Jesus would agree. Bishop Sauls thinks he would agree. We can't know for sure, any more than Bishop Wright can know for sure. We can trust that we are ultimately being guided by the Holy Spirit and that if we are wrong, God will correct us. What I have sensed and seen is God calling us into greater and greater degrees of inclusion and love, despite our hesitancy, fear, and uncertainty.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

General Convention is taxing work!
(From - If someone knows who this is, I'll identify!)

What Matters to Episcopalians

Yesterday was a big day at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in Anaheim. The chatter in the blogosphere is all about the House of Deputies action passing a resolution that both affirms the valued ministries of gay and lesbian people in the church and recognizes that we don't all agree on these issues. Dave Walker writes a good summary of the impact of this vote. We have to wait and see what the House of Bishops does to know if the resolution will have any standing in the church.

At today's morning press conference, David Virtue, a notorious attack journalist who often seems to create headlines out of thin air, asked the panel a question about the vote, saying most Anglicans oppose homosexuality. Bishop Stacy Sauls offered a brilliant reply. He was calm and polite, and very clear. He said that he doesn't believe we know what most Anglicans believe because there hasn't been a poll done of most Anglicans. He believes that most Anglicans don't know anything about this vote because they have concerns in their lives that more important. He highlighted the General Convention theme of the day, which is domestic poverty, and talked about the poverty in his diocese in Eastern Kentucky (Diocese of Lexington.) Yea Bishop Sauls!!

I think our debate about human sexuality is important, and I think moving toward greater equality for all people is important. It is not the only important concern facing the Episcopal Church, however, and for many people who struggle every day just to feed and shelter themselves and their families, our debate about sexuality couldn't be less important.

The other really big thing that happened yesterday is that the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops on making the Millennium Development Goals a priority in the mission efforts of the Episcopal Church, and approved a 1% contribution to the MDG's. 1% is more than the original resolution called for and it meets the ONE Campaign's suggested contribution.

One of the things that I find most exciting about the Episcopal Church's participation in the MDGs and the ONE Campaign is the fact that these are programs outside of the Church. They are aimed are building an international, broad based coalition to end extreme poverty in the world. These efforts are based on partnership and mutuality. It is a move away from a single body deciding what's best for a group of people over there somewhere, and then responding without any connection to others who might already be doing work, who might understand the problems better, or who might have resources that could be helpful to others. The MDGs and the ONE Campaign are about all of us working together. I'm proud that my church is a part of the coalition!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I found it on Twitter

I'm twittering now - sort of. I've done it in fits are starts for a year or so (or less, I'm not sure.) It doesn't have the appeal of facebook for me, with lots of pictures and more than 160 characters of info, plus amusing games to play on the side. BUT, there is something very cool about it. Evidence: I just found out about the incredible blog from Young Adults at General Convention. Someone 'tweeted' about it and included the link, which I followed.

The blog includes some of the very best and most articulate explanations of what young people want from the church and what they have to offer. Namely, that they want to be taken seriously, to be recognized as thoughtful, prayerful, contributing members of the body of Christ. They want to be listened to and they want to work and worship alongside everyone else. Check out the blog and read their words, not mine.

Thanks Twitter!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bonnie Anderson on Community & Unity

I wrote too soon this morning about Bonnie Anderson. I didn't realize she was preaching at today's Eucharist at General Convention. She preached an outstanding sermon! It's available from Episcopal Life, and at the General Convention Media Hub.

There's been some controversy about a sermon that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached earlier in the week in which she said that none of us are saved alone. That I am only save when you are saved. The Presiding Bishop is smart enough to know that this statement would distress our evangelical brothers and sisters both in the Episcopal Church and in other denominations. She must believe it's a pretty important point to be willing to risk disturbing some with her words. She must think it's very important that we understand that faith is not an individualistic reality - just me and Jesus - but a community journey - us together in Jesus Christ.

In her sermon today Bonnie talks about the importance of unity, which isn't uniformity of belief or practice, but loving community in Jesus Christ. She understands how Jesus calls and binds us together, and that he intends us to cling together - in the midst of disagreement, pain, joy, accord, and even death.

Bonnie tells the story of worshiping with a congregation in Ft. Worth, TX that meets in a community theater. On the Sunday she was with them they set up their makeshift sanctuary on the stage in front of a Hansel & Gretel set. The altar sat in front of the stew pot where Hansel ends up in the play.

Living in a diocese, that like Ft. Worth, has seen it's former bishop lead it away from the community of the Episcopal Church and eventually leave the church himself, I think the setting for that Eucharist is an apt metaphor. I have heard countless stories of people in San Joaquin who were essentially stewed by the bishop. As in Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh, clergy and laity who dared to oppose the bishop were threatened and punished. Many were viciously attacked and harmed.

Today, though, these diocese are communities of new life. Altars are being set up in odd places and in reclaimed spaces. The Eucharist is being celebrated at the very heart of where people were once being chased and stewed! Death has become life! Those who were humiliated and broken have risen together to be the Church.

Thanks be to God!

Pacific Alumna Bonnie Anderson Addresses General Convention

Bonnie Anderson, a graduate of University of the Pacific, is the President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. The House of Deputies is one of two houses of General Convention, the governing body of the international Episcopal Church. The House of Bishops is the second (and younger) house. With the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Anderson is a presiding officer of the Episcopal Church.

In her opening address to General Convention on July 7th, she stressed the importance of mission, in her life and the life of the Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Katharine, Secretary Straub, Deputies, Bishops, Members of the Triennial Meeting of the Episcopal Church Women, visitors and guests. It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church and our exploration together of Ubuntu.

The General Convention, meeting once every three years is the world’s largest bicameral legislature. The General Convention holds all authority in The Episcopal Church, other than the authority to change the Core Doctrine of the Church. Of course, the ultimate authority for all we are and all we have and all we do resides in our beloved Jesus Christ.

The General Convention can be fairly described in a variety of terms including constitution and canons, rules of order, legislation, politics, group dynamics, worship, this list goes on. The Convention can also be understood theologically. It is rooted in the promise of Jesus to be with us when we are gathered as a community and St. Paul’s famous imagery of the Body of Christ. These foundations allow us to believe that God is present and can be known in conventions as well as congregations. The House of Deputies has a particularly important role in this theological construct. It requires the whole body – bishops, priests, deacons and laity – to be the full image of Christ for the church and for the world. The Episcopal Church has intentionally structured its General Convention to reflect this theology rather than one that relies on a special part of the Church to fulfill that role. We believe that God speaks to and through all of the orders and members of our Church.

God’s Episcopal Church is my Church. It became my Church about 35 years ago for a reason that may seem simple. The Episcopal Church welcomed me. I don’t mean the kind of welcome that gave me coffee and shook my hand,, although that is important too. The Episcopal Church welcomed me in a way that told me the truth about who I am. The Episcopal Church told me that I am a child of God. The Episcopal Church told me that the gifts that God has given me will be put to good use. The Episcopal Church welcomed me in a way that brings me closer to wholeness. Here is a short illustration of what I mean:

I grew up not too far from here, in a largely Hispanic, Roman Catholic neighborhood in a town called Santa Ana. I was the white kid with the divorced parents who lived with her mother and sometimes her grandmother.

I was an anomaly. But strangely enough, that neighborhood, that community not only welcomed me, they embraced me: There was always room at someone’s table when I was hungry, when I was lonely there was someone yelling outside my back door that it was time to walk to church. I was welcomed and included, no questions asked. I was and am thankful for that community beyond words. They literally saved my life. All the neighbors knew about each other – what was important, who needed special attention. But the neighborhood church, where I walked to Mass every single morning for 15 years, there was not one single adult associated with the leadership of the parish, who knew my name. I was told about Jesus Christ at Church, but I experienced Jesus Christ in my neighborhood.

So years later, when I walked into a simple Episcopal church in rural Pennsylvania with my husband and our three kids of our own in tow, I was welcomed in a way that touched the place in my heart that I had kept in reserve for the generous and loving people of my childhood, not too far from here.

These kind caring Episcopalians fed the rural poor of our community where we lived and paid hired hands to do work they could have done themselves just so someone else would have the dignity of a job in hard times. The community was their mission field.

On the third Sunday we came to Church, Ellie sat next me. She had introduced herself to me the first Sunday we were there. She sat beside me each Sunday thereafter. She had a huge brown crocodile purse – the kind that has a small crocodile head a little tiny feet on it near the clasp – our kids were mesmerized by it. After church on a particular Sunday, she nudged me and dug down in her purse. She handed me a crumpled paper with a list of names and phone numbers written by a shaky hand. In a display of what I call uncanny “gift perception”, Ellie had decided that if the church had a babysitting co-op it would enable more people to be available to work in the community. She thought I would be the perfect co-op organizer. I did it. And for the second time in my life, God put me in the midst of a loving community of people who showed me what it is to love my neighbor as myself. The “penny dropped”. I got it. We find our place in creation where the story of Jesus Christ intersects our own stories.

So here we are today, ready to build upon the work done by 75 other General Conventions and all the thousands of bishops, deputies, ECW, guests, visitors, who have gone before us.

But, we say, these are tough times. Time to hunker down.

I bet if we went back through history and interviewed Episcopalians from those 75 General Conventions gone before us, EVERYONE would say they lived through tough times. Their lives would reflect tough times in the form of such things as the dustbowl, famine, war, natural disasters, starvation, civil rights, racism, depression. Our time right now, is tough but it is marked by another TYPE of tough times marked by terrorism, and a declining economy. Ours is a tough time, but our forbearers would probably say that they had tough times too, and they did.

In our tough time, there is one major but very subtle difference. The difference is this: –

because of technology, available travel, communication, we have the capability to SEE, and, to some extent, to UNDERSTAND not only our own tough times, but we know about the tough times of people all around the globe. In June it was announced that the first half of 2009 pushed another 105 million people into hunger, raising the total number of hungry people in the world now to more than one billion.

In our own Diocese of South Dakota, while I was visiting on the Lower Bruille reservation, which is in the #1 poorest county in the U.S., where there are several Episcopal congregations, at a free lunch program a young boy stuffed mashed potatoes from his lunch into his pocket so his grandmother would have something for dinner. One of the toughest things about these tough times is that we can’t hide from them. Our technology enables us to see and to know not only how we are effected, but how the global economic crisis is disproportionately affecting the poorest people in the world.

It is within our reach to do something about it and THAT is the toughest thing about our times. As economist Jeffrey Sachs said as he stood on the chancel steps of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis, ”For the first time in the history of the world, we have the resources, the technology, and the capacity to wipe extreme poverty off the face of the earth. The only thing we lack is the will.”

Some of us have the will. Over 50% of our approximately 7,000 congregations have embraced the Millennium Development Goals as a mission focus. 82 of the 110 dioceses have sacrificially pledged 0.7% of their diocesan budgets toward global poverty eradication and the MDGs. In 42 countries, Episcopal Relief & Development has touched the lives of 2.5 million people.

The vision of building the “Beloved Community” in the Diocese of Louisiana, for example, has been embraced by over 100,000 volunteers and a $10 million dollar investment from contributions made to Episcopal Relief & Development for this purpose
which has conservatively produced 20 times that amount in benefit to the community. Many of us are responding to God’s call to mission, but what if ALL of us did it? What if all of us did it as if our lives depended on it? Think of it!!

As my friend Deputy Rushing says, “The church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a Church”. Mission is the reason we exist at all- to be out in the world serving as the face, hands, heart and feet of Jesus Christ, bringing healing and reconciliation and renewal to our broken world. We are called by God to be this kind of people. And we so badly want to do it. Since 1991, General Convention has concurred 58 resolutions about mission. Calling us out into the world to join God in the ministry of peace and justice.

We are so clearly called to do this.

We say we want to do it. And some of us are doing it. But despite all this there still exists a huge gap between the needs of the world and the response of our church to those needs.

Together, there is so much more we can do.

And there’s they key word- together. We are only effective in responding to God’s call to the extent that we fully grasp the reality that we cannot do this ministry alone, as individuals. In the Episcopal Church we have hundreds of thousands of ministers – over 2 million. We must learn how to identify, equip and build leadership for mission in our congregations if we are to be faithful to God’s call to mission. We must learn how to call others into action with us and band together around places of common interest to do the work God has given us to do. We must no longer be afraid to ask other people to join us in action.

At this General Convention we will have mission conversations, we will explore the leadership art of Public Narrative as one vehicle through which we can call others effectively to act with us. Public Narrative is not an agenda, another congregational development gadget, or a spiritual autobiography. Public Narrative is a method, an art form even, that links the truth of who we are with individuals called to mission, to the truth of our community here also called to mission, to the specific and urgent needs of the world. Public Narrative is linked stories about ourselves, our church community and the need of the world, that, when mastered, has tremendous amount of power and capacity to call people to action.

So right here, right now, let us begin. Let us invest our love in the Holy Spirit, and set our hearts on mission with everything we have. Where we have already begun, let us intensify our efforts. Where there is need unmet, let us begin new ministry. Let us listen deeply to one another at General Convention. Let us learn a new leadership art that we can develop here, then take home with us and use if it works for us. For, we are the Episcopal Church and we have the community, the liturgy, the history, the intellect, the resources and the passion to make an historic and effective impact on the world’s suffering. This is our moment. Let us claim this moment and let us celebrate this moment.

Then let us go back out into the world together – and do it.
Thank you.

from Episcopal Life Online

Thursday, July 9, 2009

National Workshop on Christian Unity

This report is WAY overdue! I’ve had trouble wrapping my mind around all that happened at the National Workshop on Christian Unity. I’ve been involved in ecumenism since my days as an undergrad, participating in several campus ministry groups. I became ‘officially’ involved as an intern at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland in 1996. I’ve served on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (now Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations) and the Episcopal-Moravian Dialogue. So, the National Workshop was, among other things, a chance to see long time friends and make new ones. That was definitely the highlight for me, and I think the crux of ecumenical relations.

This year’s workshop was in Phoenix during the last week of April. Much of the conference involves denominational meetings of ecumenical officers. Thanks to Province VIII, who provided funds for the diocese to send someone, San Joaquin was represented for the first time in years. As you can imagine, I was greeted very warmly by the other Episcopal representatives!

Opening Worship

The opening worship service was a grand celebration of our diverse denominational and cultural traditions. The Rev. Dr. Cliff Kirkpatrick, former stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and current President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, was the preacher. Bishop Kirk Smith, of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, joined the Rev. Dr. Ken Moe (Presbyterian), Bishop Thomas Olmsted (Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix), Metropolitan Gerasimos (Greek Orthodox), Bishop Minerva CarcaƱo (United Methodist), the Rev. Dr. Dennis Williams (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Dr. Jan DeVries, (Presbyterian Synod of the Southwest), Bishop Gerald Kicanas (Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson)and the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer (United Church of Christ) in leading the service of music, readings, and prayer. A local Gospel choir and the Sudanese Lost Boys choir added their rhythm and spirit to the service.


The Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (EDEIOs) had a full agenda, including discussion of our bilateral dialogue with the United Methodist Church and the proposal for full communion with the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church. The Rev. Dr. Otto Dreydoppel, of the Moravian Church, was present, as well as many current Episcopal members of the bilateral dialogue. We had a fruitful conversation about the similarities between us and the Moravians, as well as some of the differences that promise to be enriching as we go forward. Those of us who have been a part of the bilateral dialogue have been blessed by the genuine humility and pastoral sensitivity of the Moravians, not to mention their rich musical tradition. On the final evening of the conference we participated in a Moravian love feast at the Trinity Cathedral. This is a lovely meditative service of music, prayers, and fellowship, in which the congregation shares coffee and sweet buns. It is a sort of coffee hour ritualized, which seems right up our alley as Episcopalians!

Plenaries, Workshop, and Bible Studies, oh my!

While much of the conference was spent in denominational meetings, there was a full program of plenary presentations, Bible study, and workshops for all participants. The opening keynote address was given by Metropolitan Gerasimos, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In his compelling address he both praised the ecumenical work that has been accomplished and challenged participants to seek greater reconciliation in Christ.

Dr. Margaret Mitchell, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School, led Bible study throughout the conference on 1 Corinthians and Paul’s call for Christian unity.

Fortunately, many of the workshops and plenaries were recorded and are available at the NWCU download center so that you can join the conversations of our brothers and sisters who offer wisdom and insight for our shared journey in Christ.

Reprinted in the Sept. Episcopal Life San Joaquin