Friday the 13th. It’s long been a lucky day for me, if there is such a thing.
Bishop Sally Dyck began the day with a rousing, provocative sermon on the word of the day: Mercy. Her question was what we consider incompatible with Christian teaching, and how it is that only one thing bears that word in our church’s discipline. She argued that other things should be named incompatible as well, including racism. Some responded to her sermon with outrage, while others felt valued and defended.
The high point of the laity address that followed was the testimony of Hannah Foust of Indiana, who learned of the plight of women and girls in in Burkina Faso—where 1 in 3 children won’t survive past age 5—walking miles to draw water that could kill them, water that looked like chocolate milk. She was inspired to raise money for clean wells—babysitting, raising money from others. Thirteen wells now exist as a result of her actions, bringing fresh, clean water and life to whole communities. She was moved by the story in scripture of Jesus feeding thousands of people with a little boy’s lunch. “That’s truly a miracle,” she said, “because I don’t know many boys who would give up their lunch.”
One relative bright spot in the day occurred when a delegate moved yet again to stop using the iPads to get in line to speak—that wasn’t the bright spot—but we resisted the urge to go back to waving colored cards. As one older delegate pointed out, even he had gotten dragged into the 21st century, and it was time to learn new things. Plus, the lights were so bright in the bishops’ eyes, and lighting is still not good in the whole room, so for people to think they can be seen and called on is not sensible. I can’t believe I’m still reporting on this, but we were still talking about it.
Legislative committees continued their work. My subcommittee spent a lot of time on sacramental authority for deacons, trying to refine language that would make the purpose clear, which is to share the means of grace with the world, in missional settings. We also discussed the proposed early ordination, followed by full membership after residency. That major piece of the Study of Ministry report narrowly failed our subcommittee, 8-9, but will now proceed to the full committee.
In the full committee, we also examined the question of same-gender weddings. The sub-committee brought a recommendation to accept the petition that would delete entirely the prohibition of these ceremonies, with no alternate language inserted. The full committee voted that recommendation down, 38-39. We then had to examine the five petitions, also dealing with the same passage, that the subcommittee had rejected in favor of the one they accepted. The conversation was long and followed familiar paths. African delegates noted that the Book of Discipline serves as their church’s constitution, and for them to function as legal entities in their countries, the document cannot permit things that are illegal in their countries. Delegates from the US offered heartfelt stories about the people they hoped to serve in ministry if this rule were changed. One noted that he had traveled to Africa and heard from gay and lesbian people, asking for help finding a safe space. Another noted that gay and lesbian people in Africa live under threat of imprisonment or even death, and he asked why the church isn’t speaking up for them as vulnerable people, even if we don’t agree about this issue.
Each of the five alternate petitions was rejected. By the end of our conversation, once again (just as in GCs past) I feel we had heard each other deeply. There were also various African delegates who mentioned the possibility of a separate book, rules for this kind of issue that would be culturally specific. This too is a theme we hear a lot. So we may decide as a full body to continue as we are, as there are certainly those who favor that course. Or we may finally find a way to move beyond the same conversations we have every time we meet. I am grateful, at least, for the continued opportunity to hear each other. I do see new relationships forming, even if visible change resulting from those relationships might be long in coming.
At the end of the day, I was blessed to attend a gathering where Don Saliers, my systematic theology professor, and his daughter Emily, one half of the Indigo Girls, led us in beautiful music. Both Indigo Girls later gave a fabulous concert, and via their songs I relived with joy my days in Georgia.
I’m getting these updates done and posted later and later, but it’s a good form of processing for me. I’m also aware that I may not be getting everything exactly correct or may give impressions I do not intend by what I say or don’t say. I’m trusting in your generosity, lovely readers.