By The Rev. Rick Swenson
As the final gavel fell on the proceedings of General Convention 2018 Friday in Austin, Texas, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of both amazement and exhaustion. In the past, I have followed General Convention from afar as an outside observer. This was my first time experiencing the intensity of this gathering first hand, and I must admit I was not fully prepared for the fullness and depth of the experience.
There were moments of both exhilarating accomplishment and deep disappointment. But the one overriding feeling I took away was a sense that the ethos of our Episcopal Church branch of the “Jesus Movement” is changing; and is changing, I believe, for the better.
As I write this, I am struck that in our collect for this, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, we petition God to, “grant that [we] may know and understand what things [we] ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.” We are called, as this collect reminds us, not only to worship and prayer but also to action.
The Christian church is called to respond to Biblical mandates like truth-telling, confronting injustice, and pursuing peace. I sense that our Episcopal Church is living more fully into that calling by increasingly exercising our prophetic voice, not only in words but in action in both the Church and the world.
There were two events during this General Convention that epitomized for me this newly robust prophetic voice in action.
The first was the stance taken by hundreds of Episcopalians in prayer and solidarity with the women detained in the Hutto Residential Center south of Austin some of whom had children forcibly separated from them. The injustice and inhumanity of the action of forcibly separating immigrant families at our boarders by our government cries out for a prophetic response by the followers of Jesus Christ. This prayer vigil led by members of our Church was profoundly moving, as was the reaction of the women inside the detention center. Episcopal News Service reported, “A woman called from Hutto after today’s prayer and told us they were glued to the windows until the last bus left the detention center. Women inside were crying, saying they knew they weren’t alone after seeing so many people there. Thank you.”
The second example of our newly strengthened prophetic voice was the unanimous action taken by both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, in the face of canonical obstacles raised which counseled delay, in action to admit the Diocese of Cuba back into union with the Episcopal Church until certain changes could be made to our canons and Constitution. The Episcopal Diocese of Cuba was “expelled” by the House of Bishops in 1966. The reasons for the “expulsion” of the Diocese of Cuba from the Episcopal Church are somewhat clouded by time, but it is clear that they suffered much during these fifty years of separation. Their church buildings were confiscated, and clergy were jailed and even executed. But many remained faithful, worshiping in homes or wherever they could.
It became clear during the hearings of the committee dealing with the request of the Diocese of Cuba for admission back into union with the Episcopal Church that The Episcopal Church could not and should not deny our brothers and sisters their petition for reunion, a petition which echoes that of Jesus “that we all may be one.” The process of the committee dealing with this issue was at times heart wrenching. In the end it was obvious to me that the breath of the Spirit was moving through General Convention as Cuba was unanimously welcomed home by both houses, and their Bishop, Maria Griselda Delgado del Carpio and the Cuban deputation were immediately seated in full union with the Episcopal Church.
As someone I overheard commented, “sometimes the Church should and can do what our secular authorities cannot or will not.”
There were literally hundreds of other significant actions taken by General Convention, many that also echoed the resounding call of these two actions for justice, peace and reconciliation. But these two stood out for me as profound symbols of our call to follow the Way of Christ through our actions in both the Church and the world and witnessed profoundly to the grace of God which enables us to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.