My General Convention Wrap-Up

This article originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on July 16, 2018. 

I have just returned from The Episcopal Church’s 79th General Convention in Austin, TX. While much happened in the almost two weeks I was there, I wanted to share a few highlights. (For a fairly comprehensive set of articles and news reports about what happened day by day at convention, go to Episcopal News Service or the House of Deputies news. Total church nerds interested in seeing what happened to particular resolutions, the budget, or other legislative items can look at the General Convention virtual binder.)

1. The Way of Love.  In his sermon at our opening Eucharist, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry introduced the Way of Love.  This seven-step path offers a rule of life that helps us walk in love as disciples of Jesus Christ. The seven step: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest are all designed to develop our capacity to walk along our own way of love.

 


2. #churchtoo. Two important activities happened during convention to make the church a safer place for everyone, especially for women and others who frequently experience abuse, harassment, and discrimination.  First, the bishops held a listening session embedded in a liturgy.  They solicited stories of abuse, harassment, and discrimination from a wide variety of people. A number of those powerful stories were read aloud.  Second, the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitationbrought together more than 50 women who addressed issues of theology and language, structural equity, clergy discipline and training, truth and reconciliation, and social justice for women through a series of concrete resolutions designed to make the church a safer, more equal, and more just place for all people.  Many of these resolutions were enacted by convention. (Church nerd alert! If you want to see the final disposition of the committee’s resolutions, I’ve noted it at the bottom of this post.)

3. Texas Revival. On Saturday night we were treated to a Texas style revival. The Presiding Bishop preached, a couple thousand people showed up, and at the end of the service people were invited to go to numerous prayers stations surrounding the auditorium.  The sense of the Holy Spirit showing up was palpable.  One person in our deputation told us afterwards that there was a row of people behind her who had come to hear the “Royal Wedding” preacher.  When the invitation to prayer came, she heard them talking about wanting to go for prayer, but not knowing how and not feeling like they were really allowed.  So she turned around and offered to pray with them right there, an invitation they gratefully accepted.  They prayed, among other things, to accept Jesus into their lives that night. 

4. Prayer Service at Hutto Detention Center.  Austin isn’t particularly close to the border, but a half-hour ride from Austin is the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which holds women who are trying to immigrate into the United States.  The Center’s residents includes women separated from their children and families, and it has a history of incidents of abuse by guards. The Reverend Megan Castellan and others organized a noonday prayer service at a ball field adjacent to the detention center.  Readings and prayers were offered in English and Spanish, and Bishop Curry preached. Afterwards a letter was received from women inside the Center saying that they watched until the last buses departed, grateful to know that they were not alone. (To support the ongoing work with women at the Hutto center, go to grassrootsleadership.org.)     

5. Budget. We passed a budget. Among other noteworthy items is $3 million to continue the work of church planting and evangelism begun three years ago.  This work has proven effective, and we expect even more fruit as we increase our investment in this area.

6. Prayer Book and Liturgy. Much discussion going into Convention centered around proposals for beginning work on a new prayer book. In the end, in substitute resolution A068, Convention decided not to begin that work immediately, but to create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR – pronounced “tafel-puber”?).  This task force will look at and propose structural ways for the church to be more adaptive in its future worship life to a wide variety of needs. At the same time, diocese are encouraged to create liturgical commissions that will experiment and create liturgical texts appropriate to their circumstances as resources for the church going forward. Convention also said that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will continue to be used going forward and that any liturgical revisions will adhere to our Anglican tradition and the Baptismal and Eucharistic theology of our current prayer book. Importantly, we also allocated funds for new, dynamic-equivalence translations of the Prayer Book and other resources into Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole.  In a separate resolution, inclusive and expansive alternatives for Prayers A, B, and D in Rite II were adopted.  (For more on this Convention decision, see Derek Olsen’s post.)

7. Same-sex blessing and marriage rites.  Rites for same-sex marriage have now been authorized for use throughout the church, with provisions even in dioceses where bishops have previously forbidden their use. 

8. The Pigeon. OK, @gc79pigeon was not a particularly important outcome of Convention, but it did provide some needed comic relief along the way.  Thanks to the Reverends David Sibley and David Simmons for their sense of humor and good work

Given all the hard work by so many people on so many issues, I am sure I have missed more than one important Convention item.  Thanks to everyone behind the scenes who made Convention happen this year, and kept the work of the church moving ahead for another triennium!



Final status of Special Task Force resolutions (for details on the resolutions, go to the virtual binder, click the resolutions button, and type in the resolution number):
   Adopted: A178; B011 as amended; C041 as amended; D016 substitute; D017; D021 as amended; D031 as amended; D032 as amended; D087; D037 substitute; D046 as amended; D045 as amended; A284; D076 substitute; D067 as amended; D034; D023 as amended; D025 substitute.

   Take no further action: D020 (merged with D016); D026 (replaced with A284); D075 (partly included in D076); D080 (unofficially headed to interim body); D099 (duplicates D040); D022

   Referred to interim body: D033, D073; unofficially D080; D100

   Rejected: D035

The Rev. Dr. Adam Trambley is rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

Exploring Fasting, Part II

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:16-18

In Part 1 of this series, I looked at why fasting is important.  In this post, I want to focus on the practical aspects of fasting.  The Bible commends fasting, but does not present a clear set of instructions on the best ways to incorporate fasting into a regular spiritual discipline.  On top of that, certain churches may commend or require a particular fasting discipline for certain days or seasons without providing more general instructions.

Fasting is voluntarily giving up some kinds of food and/or drink for a certain period of time for a particular purpose.  Depending on the fast, someone might give up everything but water, or someone might give up all solid food but drink whatever they want, or someone might give up anything with calories in it, but still drink coffee, tea and water.

Partial fasts are also possible.  Instead of not eating at all, people may eat much smaller meals for a particular period of time.  A partial fast may also involve not eating certain foods, like in the first chapter of Daniel, when Daniel and his companions refused the king’s rations and ate only vegetables and water.  Some Christian traditions refer to times of not eating meat as days of abstinence.

The duration of a fast can also vary.  An initial fast might be giving up a meal for a particular intention.  A day-long fast is a common duration, and can last from midnight to midnight.  John Wesley, and others, recommended fasts beginning at sundown, which was the beginning of the Hebrew day, and going until the next day at 3:00pm.  Generally fasting from after dinner one day until dinner the next day makes for an effective 24-hour fast that is a bit less taxing than going all day without food and then going to bed hungry.  Once people are accustomed to a day-long fast, the Holy Spirit could lead them to a longer fast.

Of course, any kind of fast should only be undertaken if a person’s health can handle it.  Diabetics, people taking medications that must accompany food, or people with certain medical issues should probably not do a total fast.  Everyone can, however, do some kind of partial fast.  For people without a discipline of fasting, the important first step is to start with a small or partial fast and let the Holy Spirit lead them more deeply as time goes on.

One particular instruction that Jesus does give is to wash our faces and not be dismal while fasting.  These directives are important guards against hypocrisy and pride.  At the same time, Jesus knows that a particular danger of going without food is that people tend to get grumpy.  The point of fasting, however, is not to make everyone around us miserable, or to let them know just how much we are sacrificing.  A good rule of thumb is that we are not undertaking any spiritual discipline properly if others want to avoid us while we are doing it.  Instead, we should do our best to look good and act with extra love, care and generosity while fasting.  Then our heavenly Father, who see in secret, will reward us, and our intentions can move forward.

I hope that you will take an opportunity during Lent this year to explore the spiritual discipline of fasting more deeply, and that you will find ways to continue it throughout the year.  In addition to your other intentions, please include our diocese and congregations in your intentions as you fast.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

Exploring Fasting, Part I

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:16-18

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumes that regular fasting will be a part of his disciples’ rhythm of spiritual life.  Certainly, he commends fasting with the right intentions and in the right ways, but he also assures us that fasting is rewarded by our heavenly Father.

In this post, I want to talk about how fasting is particularly important to us as a spiritual discipline.  Then the next post will look at some practical aspects of fasting.

First, fasting acts as a particularly powerful form of prayer.  When we fast, we pray with our whole bodies.  We know how to pray with our minds and with our voices, but we are incarnate people and fasting allows our entire bodies to pray.  When we fast, we tell God that as long as we are not eating (or as long as we are not eating certain foods) we are going to be in prayer.  Our rumbling tummy and sagging energy are reminders to us that we are using our entire beings for prayer.  When our focus may be on work, or errands, or even cooking dinner for our family, our bodies are continuing to pray.  We are praying constantly while we fast, because as long as we are not eating, we have signaled to God that we are praying – and God honors that intention.  No matter what kind of prayer we are engaging, when we fast, we supercharge those prayers.  We remember the woman who ceaselessly nags the unjust judge in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18.  Finally, the judge wears down and grants her petition.  When we fast, we become like that woman, offering a constant cry before the throne of heaven for our prayer intentions.

The other important benefit of fasting is that it helps us reign in our appetites.  As 21st-century Americans, we live in a consumerist utopia of immediate gratification.  We can eat dessert at every meal, in addition to between meals.  We can eat more meat than almost anyone in history.  We can have people prepare foods from the other side of the world for us for a couple of bucks, and get irritated if they take too long.  In this kind of world, we need opportunities to tell ourselves “no”.  We need to be able to train our appetites to take direction in ways that are good for us.  If we can deny ourselves food for a day, maybe we can also deepen our self-control in other aspects of our life. Maybe we can control our tongues when a piece of juicy gossip or a harsh word is on its tip.  Maybe we can turn off the TV or the Facebook feed when we should really be saying our prayers before bed.  Maybe we can find the energy to go help someone with something when we might rather stay home and do nothing.  Maybe we can curb our own ego a bit to be more loving and generous with those around us.  Fasting offers us the opportunity to train ourselves to do the right thing.  If we can walk by the Snickers bar when we haven’t eaten lunch, we are in a much better position to resist more harmful temptations in other aspects of our lives.

Both of these benefits are especially helpful in relation to repentance.  Fasting often accompanies repentance because when we are repenting we need serious prayer and the ability to increase our self-discipline.  God doesn’t need us to fast in order to forgive us, but we may need to fast in order to do the work to turn our lives around.  Our prayers of repentance will be strengthened by fasting as we pray for healing and wholeness for those we have harmed and to implore God to lead us not into temptation so that we do not fall again.  At the same time, saying “no” to ourselves in fasting should strengthen us in saying “no” to future sin.  Additionally, just the discomfort of fasting can provide an additional barrier to relapsing.  If the last time we robbed a bank, we felt a need to fast for two days, the next time bank robbery presents itself, even if we don’t decline based on a renewed moral compass, we might pass so we don’t have to give up food for two more days.

Fasting will almost always accompany serious repentance, but repentance is not the only reason to fast.  Any prayer will be boosted by fasting.  Significant prayer efforts, like those for an increase in evangelism, church planting, and church revitalization, will almost certainly require a fasting component.  I hope you will consider exploring fasting more deeply during this Lenten season.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

View part II of this series here

Prayers for Church Growth and Development

A number of years ago, St. John’s in Sharon offered the following four prayers for the development of our church’s mission and ministry. The prayers are based on suggestions by Dick Eastman in his book The Hour That Changes the World.

Eastman suggests that as part of our world-changing intercession, we should ask God “to give more laborers into the harvest, to open doors for these workers, to bless them with fruit as a result of their efforts, and with the finances to expand their work” (page 79). These four prayer foci are also important prayers for the growth and development of our diocese and for our congregations. At St. John’s, we took each area and wrote a short scriptural prayer that we could use to pray for that intention.

Prayer for Laborers in the Harvest
Thank you, Lord, that the harvest is plentiful. We pray that you would send out laborers into your harvest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Luke 10:2)

Prayer for Open Doors
Thank you, Lord, that you promised what we ask for we will receive, what we seek we will find, and when we knock the door will be opened. We pray that you would open doors for our ministries and provide us opportunities for success in your work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Matthew 7:7-8)

Prayer for Fruit
Thank you, Lord, that we did not choose you, but you choose us, and you appointed us to go and bear fruit. We pray that we may abide in you and bear much fruit, and thereby glorify our heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From John 15:5,8,16)

Prayer for Financial Resources
Thank you, Lord, that every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. We pray that you would gift us with everything we need in order to do the work you have given us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From James 1:17)

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

This is the sixth installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.

Being Clear About What We Are Doing

Reposted from The Black Giraffe by Rev. Adam Trambley on September 2, 2016.

In recent years, more and more churches have been overcoming their fears and re-discovering evangelism. This reengagement with the Great Commission has led to a deeper understanding of all the ways that evangelism happens. Rather than knocking on doors or passing out tracts on the street corner, Christians are inviting neighbors to church, sharing the good news at critical times in friends’ lives, and praying for people to come to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

do the work of an evangelistAt the same time, everything good (or even everything Christian) is not evangelism. A popular quote going around that St. Francis may or may not have had something to do with, says, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Certainly our actions do speak louder than our words, and preachers who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk are a stock literary figure. Yet being a faithful Christian is not the same as being an evangelist, with or without words.

I would propose that we think about four different areas of Christian response to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission that are necessary for individual Christians and for church communities.

1. Love God through relationship: includes public worship, private prayer, and other activities that deepen the intimate relationship between a believer and God.

2. Love God through discipleship: includes all the works of (sacrificial) obedience we undertake in our daily life, such as tithing, following the ten commandments, offering our spiritual gifts for building up the body of Christ, and working with other believers on deepening their discipleship.

3. Love neighbor through charity: includes all the ways that we reach out in love toward others, such as almsgiving, caring for the sick, offering support to those who are struggling, and working for good causes.

evangelism monopoly board4. Love neighbor through evangelism: includes all the things we do as part of an intentional process to bring people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, such as praying for unbelievers, building relationships with unbelievers, meeting the physical, emotional and financial needs of unbelievers, and telling unbelievers about Jesus.

Certainly there are many actions that could fall into more than one category, depending on the circumstances and the intentions. Clarity around those circumstances and intentions matters, however. Without clarity around what we are trying to do, we have a hard time setting goals, planning, and evaluating.

To give an example, we might decide that we want to have an evangelism event to build relationships with the unchurched in our community. For the event, almost the whole church shows up, has a great time of fellowship, takes up a collection for a parishioner who just lost a job, puts together a group to repaint the church hall, and closes with a short worship service of lively singing and powerful praying. All in all, one of the best parish events of the year, and probably one that was needed. The evening was a great success in loving God through relationship, loving God through discipleship, and loving neighbor through charity. It was a total failure of evangelism, however, since not a single relationships was deepened with a non-believer and no one new heard the good news of Jesus. When that church reflects on that evening, they can be thankful for what did happen while also recognizing that their evangelism programming needs to go back to the drawing board.

We need inspiring worship. We need dynamic discipleship. We need compassionate charity. But we also need effective evangelism. Unless we are clear about what we are doing when we are doing it, we will have a hard time improving any aspect of our life in Christ.

Rev. Adam Trambley – St. John’s Church, Sharon, PA 

The Black Giraffe    

Promoting Diocesan Collaboration

By our own Fr. Adam Trambley and reprinted from the ‘House of Deputies News.’

Image via EpiscopalChurch.org

Image via EpiscopalChurch.org

I believe that the most important “sleeper issue” coming before General Convention this year is diocesan collaboration. A number of resolutions could open important doors to allowing our struggling dioceses to gain more traction in their crucial work.

The various creative initiatives dioceses have attempted in recent years demonstrate the difficulties some dioceses face in developing a mission strategy and raising the money to pursue it. The election of Sean Rowe as Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem, even as he continues the bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania is but one example of the ways different dioceses are trying to adapt.  These ecclesiastical experiments to date can be considered the beginning of a coming wave of collaborations for three reasons: the financial situations of small dioceses are likely to get worse before they get better; nothing tried so far has proven to an unqualified success; and a number of canonical barriers remain to fuller collaboration.  Hopefully by the end of convention, we will have at least removed some of the canonical barriers.

I was part of a group that wrote two resolutions to facilitate diocesan collaboration: D007, which I proposed, and D003.  These resolutions would enable greater flexibility in diocesan collaboration without requiring anyone to do anything they do not want to do.  Another resolution, C031, would provide financial incentives for diocesan mergers.

D007 would accomplish two objectives.  First, this resolution would allow dioceses to share a commission on ministry.  Current canons provide that each diocese will have its own commission.  Allowing for collaboration in this area seems especially beneficial at a time when more and more dioceses are developing clergy formation programs that differ from a traditional three-year Master of Divinity, and are developing training and licensure for a variety of lay leadership offices.  Second, this resolution would allow bishops to serve in more than one diocese.  Current canons require a bishop to reside in his or her diocese. D007 would allow a Standing Committee to consent to a bishop residing in another diocese where that bishop is also serving.  This solution seems the most straightforward way to eliminate the only current barrier to bishops serving more than one diocese at a time.  This resolution would still require each diocese to have its own standing committees and finance committees, which seems necessary as long as the dioceses remain independent corporations.

D003 would amend the constitution to allow for diocesan mergers when a diocese does not have a bishop.  Article V of the church’s constitution currently requires that dioceses without a bishop wait until they elect one before moving ahead with a merger.  This requirement would seem counter-intuitive, however.  The time when a diocese is without a bishop may be the best moment to consider a merger with a neighboring diocese.  Consent of General Convention and approval by the Executive Council would still be required, however, so this change does not create an unduly hasty process.  Note that resolution A101 accomplishes as similar goal, but only when a Bishop Provisional is in place in a diocese.  D003 provides for the Ecclesiastical Authority, which may be a bishop or the Standing Committee, to allow a merger to move forward.

C031 is a resolution proposed by Province III that would reduce the General Convention Assessment by 50% for one year for dioceses that agree to merge.  This resolution will require some wordsmithing by the legislative Committee on Governance and Structure, but it provides an interesting carrot that might prompt some discussions about inter-diocesan mergers and collaborations.

I would also mention a number of resolutions that discuss the selection process of bishops.  Ensuring we get the best leaders at the diocesan level is extremely important.  The Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church saw a need for the church to look seriously at the role of bishop and proposed A002.  A number of other resolutions deal with various aspects of the episcopacy, and how to ensure that recent selection problems aren’t repeated.  I believe D004, which was written by a group I was a part of, is perhaps the most comprehensive of these resolutions, but whatever comes out of committee should probably be approved.

Adam Trambley, a member of the legislative Committee on Structure, is a clergy deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.