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Episcopal Church General Convention 2012: Maybe We're Just Nuts

Episcopal Church General Convention 2012: Maybe We're Just Nuts

By Ladson F. Mills III
Special to Virtueonline
July 19, 2012

Dr. Samuel Johnson the famous British writer observed that people do not need to be taught as much as they need to be reminded. Perhaps this is the reason that whatever comes out of The General Convention of The Episcopal Church (even the good things) seems irritating. It is reminiscent of humor writer Dave Barry's observation of the way some preachers decry hell from pulpits on Sundays. It leaves one with the impression their parishioners spent Saturday at the local travel agency booking a trip. When not reaffirming the obvious we are celebrating the inane.

What are the results from the fifteen million dollars plus spent on this year's convention? Same sex trial liturgies approved, to the surprise of no one, and barriers are now removed for employing and ordaining the transgendered. No wonder the reaction from the world is a laugh when it is not a yawn. After thirty years as a parish priest I cannot claim to have seen it all but transgender issue in the parish is one I escaped. Perhaps it is easier to proclaim this a victory rather than deal with the deterioration of our denomination.

The deeper question is in light of this latest fiasco, does the average Episcopalian need the General Convention guiding us in our Christian duty? If the fifteen million plus cost of this convention is added to the twenty one plus million dollar price tag of suing congregations attempting to depart our church we are approaching forty million dollars. This money would be better spent on youth ministry and congregational development. The presiding bishop may claim she will not get into a numbers game, but the sobering question remains. Where does the money come from?

What do we make of the increasingly confused messages from the church hierarchy? Scott Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, recently challenged his congregations not to fall into the trap of "learned helplessness" as an excuse for not doing creative ministry. One of the examples he cites is the excuse that we do not have enough financial resources. This may be an admirable challenge, but it does create confusion when the Diocese of Georgia is not giving money to the national church because it is broke. Bishop Nathan Baxter of Northwestern Pennsylvania proclaims that the Episcopal Church must "not be afraid to be a minority". His diocese could certainly provide a model given their continuing decline with seemingly few prospects for reversal. We are long beyond worrying over becoming a minority when the more appropriate concern is how to escape becoming a nonentity.

Tolerance and inclusion may be the altar on which our national leaders worship, but one cannot conveniently overlook the nine bishops recently charged under the new Canon IV. Should bishop's John Buchanan and Wallis Ohl be considered the House of Bishop's poster children for tolerance and inclusion given their role in bringing these charges? All the hullabaloo created on behalf of two retired bishops providing Episcopal oversight in continuing dioceses which are smaller than most modest size parishes. Rather than being greeted with applause by their peers they should have been treated like petulant children and sent to bed without dinner.

Of course there is the ever present Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona. If every criticism he levels against Jay Akasie's scathing anti Episcopal Church article in the "Wall Street Journal" is accurate does this really leave us anything to celebrate? A small increase in ASA (average Sunday attendance) due to an extra Sunday in the calendar year might be seen as a reach but at this stage it is the Episcopal Church's equivalent to an Olympic Gold Medal. Bishop Smith may speak glowingly of the wonderful atmosphere and collegiality of the convention, but when have we not heard that tired old line. I am sure rectors and parish leaders will now be able sleep well knowing the deputies of the convention left feeling happy and affirmed. Perhaps the words of another Arizonian, radio personality Don Imus might be appropriate for our situation. Whenever confronting insanity posing as normality he has been known to exclaim, "What, are you NUTS.."

And here's a thought. What happens if a white supremacist transgender person should apply for Holy Orders or employment in a parish? Which would take precedent? Are we to reject them for their racist views or embrace their willingness to come to grips with their sexuality in the face of victimization?

Last Sunday while our General Convention gathered to render decisions effecting the future of our church I found myself supplying at St. Jude's Parish in Walterboro, South Carolina. I served as regular supply for over six months last year during their search process and am always impressed by what I observe.

Between Sunday services breakfast is offered that is open to parishioners as well as walk ins. It is obvious that many of these visitors have fallen on hard times. There is often evidence of mental and addiction issues. I find the interaction between parishioners and guest fascinating.

If someone is new and sitting alone they are either joined or additional chairs are added to existing tables. No one is not invited to be part of the group. It is a wonderful combination of Christian charity with an amazing lack of condescending paternalism. There are examples like this from all over our denomination. It is true inclusion and tolerance based on Christian love and not the manufactured type so often touted by our convention. One would find it a stretch to find anything emerging from our national leadership that can teach typical parishes anything about their Christian duty. The attempts at lecturing and scolding only get in the way of the real ministry in the church.

My suggestion for the future is to cancel the next general convention and send teams down to Walterboro, South Carolina. You will find a superb leadership under rector Bob Horowitz as well as great music by organist and choir director David Martin. Stay for breakfast and spend some time with the locals. It will cost a lot less than fifteen million dollars and you might just pick up some pointers.

Because if we truly need the General Convention of the Episcopal Church for guidance in life and ministry then its time to heed the words of Don Imus. "What, are you NUTS."

Ladson F. Mills III is a priest with over thirty years experience in pastoral ministry. He lives with his wife in South Carolina. He currently serves as Scholar in Residence at Church of our Saviour, Johns Island and is a regular contributor to Virtueonline

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