Passionately Sharing Truth – General Convention Day 3

Greetings from Austin!

As a first time deputy to General Convention, this experience has been a whirlwind so far for me. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I’ve heard about General Convention throughout my life. I am grateful to be able to experience this gathering at this time. I have also been blessed by being an officer on a committee (Assistant Secretary for Congregation and Diocesan Vitality). This experience has been eye-opening in terms of the workings of polity and how things are created. It’s amazing how detail oriented arguments are in every part of the process of creation of legislation. I am a detail oriented person and this goes even beyond my normal detail oriented specifications. Today, the House of Deputies voted to start the process for revision on the Book of Common Prayer. Next, this resolution for revision goes to the House of Bishops in order to be approved or rejected by the bishops of the church. No matter what, the process of revision of the BCP is a long one, spanning many years.

I want to offer you a slightly different kind of reflection about what is going on here at General Convention in this poem I have composed.

Over head the descending star
Light patterns on the ceiling
Breaking up monotony
All these meetings
People speaking
Arguing in logically fallacious ways
Yet passionately sharing truth
A changing church
A dying church
A church in the midst of active resurrection
Not quite sure where the future lies
We thought we were rising stars.
We want to be superstars
yet, we are descending
Changing
Moving in the world
accepting our new position like glass stars
Hanging in suspension
Between the earth and the heavens
Lights which show the way
Breakable yet strong together
Environment changes subconscious
We know we must hang together
So many stalactites
Creating new patterns in the world
Steps on Jacob’s ladder
Where angels move with great intention
Back and forth
For the gateway to heaven has been demolished
In the overwhelming flood of love
What stars hang in our future
What stars meet the road ahead
We must reflect the light before us
We are the light of love today.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge at St. John’s, Franklin, and a first time deputy to General Convention. 

Meet the Deputies: The Rev. Elizabeth Yale


This post is the eighth and final installment of our “Meet the Deputies” series, introducing our eight representatives to the 79th General Convention. To view other “Meet the Deputy” interviews and follow General Convention coverage, click here.

The Gift of Diversity

This article first appeared on the A Positively Poetic Priest blog on May 22, 2018.

I want you to take a look at your hand.
Right or left, it doesn’t matter.
Every day our hands do impressive amounts of work.
They influence our experience of the world.
Look at your fingers.
You probably don’t think about them often.
They are very similar in nature to each other,
yet each is different.
Each is unique from the others.
Even our fingers have diversity!
Each of our fingers have different purposes and gifts.
The fact that our thumbs are at an angle and move slightly
differently than the other fingers… opposable thumbs!
What a gift our thumbs are in our daily lives!
(Especially when you consider animals without opposable thumbs,
we have all seen those internet memes.)
We may look at our hands and think they are all the same.
In fact, we have diversity right in our hands.

The word diversity really means a range of different things.
Not that it has a range of different meanings,
it quite literally means, “a range of different things.”
Having a collection be diverse means that there are different things in the collection.
So speaking about diversity in the context of people
requires two things: community and different gifts.

This is where we go to the passage from acts,
the bedrock of Pentecost.
The passage starts with the community.
“The disciples were all together in one place.”
Here we have a collection of people, already diverse in nature.
Tax collectors, fishermen, carpenters,
all gathered together in a room because of the same glue.
It’s quite obvious that the only reason the disciples ever managed to stay together
was because of Jesus.
Together, this little community of men
has an amazing experience.
A rush of wind and tongues of fire,
a change of heart and feeling of presence,
and a sudden new knowledge filling each of them.

Diversity is one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit ever gives to the church,
simply by giving the disciples the ability to speak different languages.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day of Pentecost,
it didn’t tell the disciples to go only
to the Aramaic speaking good Jews to spread the good news of Jesus.
No, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples new languages,
the gift of speaking to people wholly different from them.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit there were going to be
Egyptian followers of Jesus
and Parthian followers of Jesus
and Mesopotamian followers of Jesus.
People from all over the known world
who didn’t all have the same background or the same ideas.
The Holy Spirit came and made the disciples more diverse, even than they had been before.

I love the fact that someone thinks this rush of speaking in languages from Jews
is because of wine.
As if having some wine could give us the ability to speak a new language.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way
was so new,
so amazing,
so profound,
no good excuses could be made to justify the event away.
Someone in the crowd tried to blame it on wine,
but we all know that was simply out of fear.
You can see the bystanders trying to push the idea away,
out of fear, out of wanting to stay away from the unknown.

Unfortunately, for many the gift of diversity looks like a threat.
The unknown quality of people being different from one another leads to fear.
Thankfully, this fear can be overcome.
Recognizing and accepting diversity does put us outside our comfort zones.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit,
and God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.
In a world increasingly separating into groups of like minded people who do not play well with people or groups who
are differently minded,
the world asks the grace of living into our gifts as diverse people.

However, everyone is different in this world.
Everyone deserves the dignity and respect which we each crave for ourselves.
Everyone is different and has different gifts.
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person
is acknowledging them as uniquely themselves.
It is only by working together,
using all the gifts which we bring to the table,
can we really ever accomplish anything.
The world is worth working with other people who are extremely different than us.
Not everyone can speak Spanish or German or Hindi or Swahili,
but the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts that we need in order to work together.

Many people feel that the church is, and has always been,
a place for people who all think, feel, believe, and look the same.
You have to be and act and speak in a particular way in order to be a part of the church.
Unfortunately, there are many parts of the church in which this is true.
There are rules governing what you can wear, what you can eat or drink,
who you can talk to, and so forth.

By no means am I advocating a standard of lawlessness or anarchy,
there are standards for being a follower of Jesus
however none of them are based on what clothing you wear
or what you can eat or drink.
In fact, Jesus would probably have broken any and all rules
given to him by the religious authorities of his own church
in order to be involved and part of the lives of the people who needed him.

Diversity is a strength, not one of the church’s greatest strengths,
though thankfully one that we are more and more recognizing the need for.
Here in this community, we have a range of diversity
Episcopalians, Lutherans, a few Catholics,
we have people who speak languages other than English,
we have people who are differently abled,
we have people who can program electronic devices,
and people who stay as far away from such devices as they can,
and all these diversities make for a better community.

We come together today to join our diverse hands
to be together as a community with different gifts
experiencing the Holy Spirit in this time and in this place,
so that when we go out into the world
we can meet God at work through the Holy Spirit
in all the diverse places and people we experience.
God sends us out to find ourselves and Him
in all the beautiful diversities of His creation.

Amen.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

Boundaries

This article originally appeared on March 6 at A Positively Poetic Priest, the blog of Mother Elizabeth Yale, Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

“He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
and to whom I was like to give offense.”

This is a portion of Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall.
The poem talks about mending a wall in the spring with the neighbor on the other side.
It goes through how the wall fell apart, and as we heard, we hear him wonder
about why there is a wall in the first place.
The only thing the neighbor says in the poem is
“Good fences make good neighbours.”
But Frost brings up a good question in these lines
why do good fences make good neighbors
why build a wall
is it because you’re walling something in
or walling something out?
It seems that there are good walls,
which keep people safe,
and then there are bad walls,
which keep people apart.

Though Frost wrote this poem more than a hundred years ago,
it still pertains to us today.
The question of walls or boundaries
is quite a serious one.
Recently the question about President Trump’s wall between Texas and Mexico
has gotten many people up in arms, both in favor and against.
Even more recently, the Winter Olympics in Korea
reminded us all of the tension between North and South
split with the DMZ, the demilitarized zone,
a long fence splitting the country in two.
And while we have these recent examples
controversial walls between neighbors is not a new thing.
The Berlin Wall
The Israeli West Bank wall along the Green Line
The wall in Baghdad.

Unfortunately though
it seems these walls
haven’t created good neighbors.
The amount of fighting, rallying, negotiation talks, and protests
which happen around these walls
doesn’t make it look like any of them are helping
develop good boundaries.
Just because we have physical walls
doesn’t mean we have good healthy relationships.

However, boundaries are very important in our human lives.
We need boundaries
to lead happy healthy lives.
Boundaries are involved in pretty much everything we do as human beings.
In order to be clear, the definition of boundary
is what is okay in a situation and what is not okay.
Basically, knowing where the line is between okay and not okay.

We have boundaries in all aspects of our lives.
Physical boundaries
such as our skin
our personal space
our privacy.
We have emotional boundaries
our circles of trust and confidentiality.
We have financial boundaries
our own personal accounts
business accounts
and lots of laws to keep those boundaries in peace.
We have social boundaries
both stated and unstated
which let us know what is okay to do with other people and what is not okay to do with other people.
We have occupational boundaries,
which determine what is our job and what is not our responsibility.
(We all know the phrase, “That’s above my pay grade.”
which is a boundary we all know when something is not our responsibility.)
In every aspect of our lives there are healthy boundaries
necessary to keep us whole, safe, and able to function.

Yet, we also have lots of unhealthy boundaries floating around in our society.
Where it seems acceptable to break other people’s feelings of what is okay and not okay.
We have seen this explode with issues of sexual harassment and abuse in the last year.
Unhealthy boundaries lead to conflict, disrespect, and distrust.
All of which we have in gigantic amounts throughout our society.

In her research on people living wholehearted lives,
Brene Brown, a social researcher working in topics of shame, resilience, and living healthy lives
points out from the data
that one of the most compassionate things we can do as human beings
is have good clear boundaries.
Where we know for ourselves what is okay and what is not okay
and we talk with other people in respectful ways when boundaries are broken.
Respectful, healthy communities are built around people who have healthy boundaries.

And while Brene Brown’s research has only come out in the last couple of years
this idea of good community being born out of having good boundaries among people
is so ancient
its biblical.

We see the first example
in our reading from Exodus for today.
Exodus was written sometime in the 15th century BC,
So about three and a half thousand years ago.
God gives Moses the Ten Commandments
which are to govern the community of Israelites in their life together
and in relationship with God.
The Ten Commandments
are rules, effectively, good boundaries of what is okay, and what is not okay,
for the people to do.
God says, it is not okay for us to have any other gods than God.
Its not okay to murder other people.
Its not okay to covet what other people have or to gossip about them with other people.
God says we definitely should
keep sabbath time, to rest,
we need to respect other people, especially our parents.
The people who had fled from Egypt
were trying to create a new kind of nation
a new kind of community
and having healthy boundaries
good rules for communal living
were very important to the health, safety, and longevity of the community.
Even in the gospel story for today from John
the story of Jesus overturning the market tables in the temple
is a story with boundaries
and the breaking of boundaries
at the heart of it.
Jesus goes to worship in the temple
and finds the place having been turned into a marketplace.
Understandably at that time
there was still animal and crop sacrifice going on in the temple
and people did need to buy cattle or birds
or grains or fruits in order to give to the temple.
However, the understanding is that the money changers and market sellers in the temple at that time
were gouging the people who came to worship.
They were lining their own pockets and being unfair to the people.
They were breaking the good boundaries of living in community
they were preying on the poor people of the land.
Jesus drives them out.
He reinforces the good boundaries of the community
making clear that what was going on is not okay.
Jesus’ mission in the world is to return the people
including us
to right relationship with God.
Which does mean pointing out the ways in which we have strayed from that relationship
and broken its good healthy rules.

What does this mean for us today?
During this season of Lent
we are called to remember the ways in which we have broken the boundaries of good community
we are called to repent for the ways in which we have strayed from right relationship.
We are called to return to good healthy clear boundaries and community.
We are called to repair the relationships which have been broken among us.
Thankfully, Jesus has already promised us
that he will forgive us
he will rebuild the temple
though we chip away at its walls
with our brokenness and unhealthy boundaries.
Thankfully, God loves us more than we can imagine
and continues to try to meet us in right relationship.
Thankfully, we can rely on God’s grace to catch us when we fail
and return us to faith and trust.

Like Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall
we are given the opportunity each year
to mend the relationships
the broken places in our lives
and return to healthy good relationships
with each other
and with God.
Amen.

Courage, Compassion, Connection

Clergy conferences are different everywhere you go. Diocesan culture changes from one region to another. Some groups can’t wait to be together: everyone knows each other and is friendly and helpful. Other places are so big or full of competition or conflict that going into a conference makes everyone wary about what might happen. I have been in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania just over a year now. I have been to three clergy conferences and each one has been different from the last. Last year, the clergy met with the clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh at Antiochian Village. In the spring, we met by ourselves at Olmstead Manor, and last week, we met with the clergy of the Diocese of Western New York at Chautauqua. I have been nervous going into each one, not knowing what to expect or anything about the location, and knowing that I wouldn’t know half the people in attendance. Of the three of them, this last one was the best. Even though I only knew my colleagues in NWPA, there was never the sense of being an outsider or a newbie. There was a friendly attitude throughout the conference. It was interesting because as much as any of us thought we knew what was going to happen, there were surprises for all of us along the way.

Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Bill Franklin brought together the clergy of their dioceses to make a suggestion and gather our input on the idea. The idea is a rather radical one, especially currently given the Episcopal Church’s history of autonomy and continual splitting up into more dioceses. The idea is as the letter from the Executive Committees stated it, that when Bishop Franklin retires (announcing his retirement date of April 3, 2019) the Diocese of Western New York vote Bishop Rowe as the Provisional Bishop for five years and see what the dioceses can do together in the next five years.

Now I have to own my own baggage. I realized at this conference that my entire ordained life (all three and half years of it), I have been canonically resident (priest-speak for which diocese we belong to) in a diocese sharing a bishop. I was ordained the day after Bishop Sean was approved as the Provisional Bishop of Bethlehem and then transferred to the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. During that time I worked in the Diocese of East Tennessee as a seminarian and in the Diocese of Texas as a curate, two very different dioceses. What I have noticed though is that the effort of collaboration and innovation of working together and sharing resources between the Diocese of Bethlehem and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has had good and lasting effects for the people of both dioceses.

We considered the idea to the best of our ability. There is always vulnerability with thinking about something new and innovative and being able to face that and express it is helpful for everyone instead of getting defensive or fighting about aspects of the idea. We considered it with all the wisdom we were able to muster… and probably a little extra thrown in by the Holy Spirit. We took an idea seriously which hasn’t been tried before, because we know what a difference it might make, not only to our dioceses, but also to the national and international church. Things we do and learn and try and experiment with may someday revolutionize the way the church works. We don’t know what the future holds exactly. What we do know is that we want the Episcopal Church to be a part of it. Adaptation and innovation will help us get there.

What I saw was Brene Brown’s gifts of imperfection at work. I saw courage, in facing a new and scary idea. I saw compassion, for each other in the face of what might have to change in order for the idea to work. I saw connection, as we talked through how we might work together for God’s kingdom. I saw excitement for something that brings us together and progresses the kingdom of heaven. I saw acknowledgement that kingdom work ain’t so easy. I saw grief at the impending loss of a good bishop and a relationship which will be changing.

Yet, we also acknowledged that we know our future is going to require working together with other people and groups. We have to model this for those in our future. Seeing us work together, with those like us and those who are not like us will make a huge difference to how well the Episcopal Church weathers the years. The details of how we do this are important and many would argue they are the crux of the matter. I would say that the heart of the matter is the love which God has given us as a gift to share. Working from a place of love and unity, as does our Trinitarian God, we can make all things work together for good with those who love God. (Philippians 4:13)

I don’t always like being stuck in a windowless room for long periods of time listening to someone else talk, more or less simply because I like looking out windows. Yet, what happened in that low beige windowless room was much more remarkable than what it would have seemed. We walked into that room not knowing what was going to happen, simply we knew we had been brought together by God and our bishops to work together… and what we started was looking at a very intentional bonding together of people who can work, share, and play together. It was good to see people who don’t really know each other being vulnerable together and working together and thinking about something new together. It was good to meet new people who could be resources for each other and support for each other in different ways. I don’t know where it will lead, but I’m looking forward to exploring the future together.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Franklin.