The Way Forward – Rena Turnham


Shortly following the 79th General Convention, I had lunch with a priest who had recently come back to Minnesota to retire. She’s been serving at St. Mark’s Cathedral on occasion, where I also serve. She was very interested in my experience at the convention.
As far as I could tell, it is there, every three years, that we do the business of being church: we shape, order, and resource our lives as people of faith.

We worship together and we wrestle with issues that affect our faith communities, our dioceses, and perhaps more importantly, our communities, our country and the world. And somehow, we’re able to make sense of all of it to help propel ourselves forward for the next three years, and beyond.

While I assumed she merely wanted me to report on what had factually taken place at General Convention, such as the decisions that were made, or the events that were held, or what I’d personally participated in, she surprised me with a very provocative question:

What had I noticed in my time there?

That’s not a head question, it’s a heart question.

This is what I shared with her…

There’s a sweeping change that we’re in the midst of, that hasn’t yet reached its full crest…the House of Bishops is overwhelmingly white and male, and elderly. And 43% of the House of Deputies were first time deputies, and many of these deputies were younger and included many people of color and different sexual orientations.

I watched a young Latina come to the microphone to speak, testifying that she was queer and a person of color and that our prayer book ought to reflect the wider theology and language we’re living into around gender, not just for her, but for those who hunger for full inclusion.

There also stood an older white gentleman from the south in seersucker and a bow tie who had slowly made his way to the microphone and testified to the legacy and heritage of what he believed we are about. He passionately articulated his desire, like those of many others, to preserve this.

The tension was palpable, not in any single moment, but in many moments throughout the convention. It’s not just the “wideness of our tent” that was visible, it’s the awareness in our bodies that the Spirit is moving us to respond to the world in new ways, ways we can’t yet imagine fully.

It feels risky, it feels electric.

To me, it feels full of possibility, and faithful.

What I noticed, was not the narrative of scarcity around our becoming, not a pining for the days of old and the multitudes that filled our pews in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but the desire to be brave, to know that we HAVE enough, and that we ARE enough, within this very tension, to be the people God calls us to be as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.

THIS is what will propel us forward and out into the world.

And here in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, I am proud to say that we are naming this “holy tension” and are boldly moving forward, into it, asking the questions and listening for the voices that are being guided by the Spirit to lead our way forward.

This experience, what I had noticed, has renewed me with courage and hope in the work we have before us as congregations, and most certainly in my own ministry as a deacon at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

Thanks be to God!

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