After the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week in Charleston, SC, I attempted to write in this blog, and hit a brick wall. I was filled with such despair. The horror of nine people being massacred in the midst of a Bible study compounded the anger I have shared with millions of others in this country as black men and boys continue to be killed and incarcerated in vastly disproportionate numbers across this country. Have we really made no progress since the Civil Rights movement? I was angry and frustrated — wanting to do something — but feeling helpless to know exactly what to do, except pray.
And then came this past week. Events unfolding so quickly they are almost impossible to process:
* The Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act
* The Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage
* President Obama gives a stirring eulogy at the memorial service for Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton , and Myra Thompson — singing Amazing Grace and reminding us all, in no uncertain terms, of the boundless possibilities of God’s grace. Reminding us again that we are the United States of America.
And then came the events at our General Convention — the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church now being held in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have the privilege of serving our diocese (Southeast Florida) as the first clergy alternate.
Ever since the first General Convention I attended in Philadelphia in 1997 — and actually for numerous GC’s before that — our church had been wrestling with issues of human sexuality. There were bitter and divisive arguments, so divisive that many people left our church. But at our last General Convention in 2012 the issue was finally settled in favor of the full inclusion of LGBT people in all aspects of the church’s life as well as authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions.
What a relief to come to a convention not only not tearing itself apart with acrimonious debate, but actually united in a sense of outrage at the rampant racism still festering in our country. And not just outraged, but committed to doing something about it. On Sunday our bishops marched against gun violence. And so far there have been several resolutions — with actual funding behind them — committing ourselves as a church to engage in the fight against racism and to involve ourselves deeply in work of reconciliation and restorative justice. It’s as if once we stopped focusing on sex we re-discovered the Gospel imperative: to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
And then came Saturday…
Every nine years we elect a new Presiding Bishop to be the “first among equals” who will discern with us where God is calling us to go and who God is calling us to be and then lead us forward into that shared vision. There were four qualified candidates: The Rt. Rev’d Thomas Breidenthal of Ohio, The Rt. Rev’d Michael Curry of North Carolina, The Rt. Rev’d Ian Douglas of Connecticut, and The Rt. Rev’d Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida. The House of Bishops elects the PB and the House of Deputies confirms the election.
On Saturday, history was made. For the first time in anyone’s memory a Presiding Bishop was elected on the first ballot. By an overwhelming majority in the House of Bishops and then rapidly endorsed by the House of Deputies. The Rt. Rev’d Michael Bruce Curry will become the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church when he is installed at the National Cathedral on November 1, All Saints Day. The Rt. Rev’d Michael Bruce Curry will also be the first African-American Presiding Bishop. He was elected and ratified by an overwhelming majority in both Houses. An African-American elected during a week when the Confederate battle flag is starting to come down, is starting to be seen for what it really is: an evil symbol of hatred and oppression. As Dr. Martin Luther King said “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In the end, love wins — and that is why I am a follower of Jesus Christ.
I feel this is a kairos moment — a “God’s time” moment — for our church. Hear what Bishop Curry said to the House of Deputies as he was introduced to us: “We’ve got a society where there are challenges before us. We know that. And there are crises all around us. And the church has challenges before us. We are part of the Jesus movement, and nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”
You can almost still hear the resounding AMEN! we all cheered in response!
During the weeks leading up to the beginning of this sabbatical I struggled with whether I should come to General Convention at all. After all, I am an alternate deputy, there are three other clergy alternates who could take my place. By going to Salt Lake I would be delaying the beginning of the Balkan part of my Balkan Odyssey and would cut short the “down time” I will need at the end of my sabbath time to decompress and process everything I have experienced.
But now that I am here I am so grateful for the privilege of witnessing these historic events (add to which the House of Bishops’ approval, yesterday, of allowing the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage language to be altered to accomodate same-sex marriages, for which I’m grateful since that’s what I’ve been doing since January 6th!). Knowing that my Church is committing itself to the work of reconciliation with a renewed sense of urgency, having experienced powerful worship services along with legislative resolutions and the clear mandate we have given our new PB, I feel I am on the right track with the theme of this sabbatical. I am energized to learn what I can from the groups with whom I will be visiting and hope to come back ready to participate in the work ahead of us as a church.
Yes, sometimes history does accelerate into warp speed…