Though affirming a gay bishop for the church and discussing rites to bless same-sex relationships gained international attention, the 74th General Convention dug deeper to lay groundwork of a rejuvenated church proclaiming Jesus as Lord in the 21st-century world.
“We are fostering a missional perspective,” said Sarah Lawton, chair of the 20/20 Strategy Group and vice chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism. “It’s something you cannot legislate, but [can] lay out the framework. We’re fostering that culture in every level – national church, diocese, and congregations – and it's being received joyfully.”
Lawton, a deputy from the Diocese of California, has spent long hours on the convention floor considering legislation. Although she agrees strongly that a legal process doesn’t make a church, she is well aware that in many ways in the Episcopal Church, it is legislation adopted at General Convention that drives the action.
“We want to be disciples who make disciples. We preach not the Episcopal Church, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus' sake,” said the Rev. John A. M. Guernsey, chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism, addressing the House of Deputies on the second day of convention.
“The emergence of the 20/20 vision opened our eyes,” added the Rev. James Lemler, speaking of the 20/20 report to the deputies at the same time. “The church needs to get ready for the mission we are talking about.”
And getting ready it is.
Resolutions spread into nine areas (leadership, spirituality, prayer and worship, research, new congregational development, vital congregations, the Next generation, communications, funding and reporting) and emerged with challenges to the church to be “a church we haven’t seen yet,” according to the Rev.Winnie Varghese, chaplain at Columbia University.
“Many of these have a sense of urgency” to get on with the mission of the church, she said. Resolutions to help the growth of vital congregations through evangelism, education, communication and spirituality, prayer and worship have been adopted, she noted.
Episcopalians should see efforts to plant churches speed up with partnership money for dioceses and congregations earmarked from the national church – especially those reaching out to underserved areas, diverse populations and urban areas; publications in multiple languages, especially Spanish, to reach the quickly growing Hispanic presence in the United States will emerge; and most importantly, identifying youth and young adults as the number one priority of the church.
Liturgy took center stage too, contained in several resolutions, including the House of Bishops' reauthorization of Enriching Our Worship to expand liturgies and music to reflect the diversity of cultures and peoples to which the Episcopal Church is reaching out.
“We breathe in through liturgy and breathe out in action,” said Lawton. Embracing ceremonies reflected in many languages and cultures and incorporating them into Episcopal liturgies will enrich the church.
Bishops and deputies voted to recommend that all dioceses "strongly encourage" contemporary language competency for those seeking ordination. That raises the bar on awareness and reality of the flood of immigrant population coming to this country and those of the Episcopal Church from Latin America in Province IX of the church.
“Regardless, it elevated the discussion for the first time about bringing multiculture leadership everywhere to the center,” Lawton said. “We never send missionaries out into the world without training and a level of competency. We must think of domestic mission in the same sense as foreign – for they are here, among us. We are urging dioceses to get people thinking about that.”
One of the most important steps was approval of leadership programs for 18- to 25-year-olds, internships for young people and money to fund it, Lawton noted. Convention is considering a budget that includes $5.3 million for youth and young adult ministries of a $146.4 million total.
“That is huge. These are our leaders for the next generation. Youth and young adults were taken seriously and identified as the number one priority identified by Program, Budget and Finance,” said Lawton.
“It is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian,” said the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas in a General Convention newscast interview as convention began its concluding days. Domestic and international mission are entwined, and this convention has named both a great urgency and greater understanding for the church to act.
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said in his opening address the first day of convention, “My prayer is that this convention will be a part of the continuing process of discovery and growth.”
As convention comes to a close, Lawton said, “We need to adjust to being a church in a very changing time. People seem ready to embrace this. Now go home and do it.”