It is in conversation as Benedict says "listening with the ear of the heart, that we come to know God and God's will and desire for each one of us," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told participants of the Caribbean Anglican Consultation (CAC) on May 30.
"If we're able to lower the anxiety levels enough to where we would have conversation, there's the possibility that all of us can be converted into something that looks more Godly," she said.
Episcopal clergy and laity from the United States and the Church in the Province of the West Indies attended the consultation, themed "Hol' Strain: Redeeming the Time," May 28-31 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Queens, New York. The newly elected suffragan bishops of Cuba were also invited, but the U.S. State Department denied them entry based on Article 251 which deemed them a danger to the security of this country.
The four-day conference included daily worship and workshops lead by lay and clergy on leadership development for congregational development, and clergy wellness with a concentration on compensation and benefits for licensed clergy.
"This is our eighth and largest attended consultation," said the Rev. Canon Kortright Davis of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and chair of the CAC. "The purpose of the consultation is to re-establish fellowship amongst clergy and laity who are African American, nurture them in terms of ministry on how to reinforce the vocation of mission and ministry and to make a more significant and meaningful contribution to the growth and development of the culture of the Episcopal Church."
Davis said that Jefferts Schori's presence was important because "it opens the lines of communication" for the church in the West Indies "and ensures that they understand what her vision is for the Episcopal Church."
Jefferts Schori held a question and answer period with the plenary of nearly 150 following a private meeting with 18 bishops of the Caribbean. The questions ranged from her reflections on the Primates' Meeting, and the proposed policies on immigration, to what was disclosed during her closed session with the bishops.
"[The Primates' Meeting] was an experience for me of coming to know a number of people I've never met before, and to begin to encounter them as incarnate human beings and not just caricatures on the Internet," she answered. "It was also an opportunity to re-meet old friends. It was a challenging meeting. I don't think anybody went away with what he or she came desiring."
Jefferts Schori mentioned the TEAM meeting that took place March 7-14 in Boksburg, South Africa to "talk about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how we can love our neighbor more effectively."
"I think that was by far the more significant meeting," she said. "It was the Anglican Communion in action building relationships, caring for the least and the lost and the left out. It was the Anglican Communion about the business of the Gospel and it will continue to bear enormous fruit in the coming years."
Calling current immigration policies "a national shame," Jefferts Schori said that governmental levels continually forget "we are a nation of immigrants."
"Immigration makes this country run; immigration is also an incredibly hot political football in this country," she explained. "The Episcopal Church has repeatedly taken stances on past resolutions at General Convention in favor of a just immigration policy. Our office in Washington continues to advocate with our governmental representatives and with the administration for a more fair and just immigration policy."
Although asked, Jefferts Schori said she would not disclose any of the private conversation she had with the bishops. However, she said she was "grateful for the opportunity to share that different context and the desire for culturally appropriate expressions of the Gospel."
"I think that's what we are struggling with in the Episcopal Church; that's what each part of the Anglican Church is struggling with: how to live out the Gospel faithfully in this place we call home," she said.
'Theology is messy'
The Rev. Michael Battle, associate dean for Academic Affairs and vice president and associate professor of Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, led a session on "The Spirituality of Incarnation."
"I think that one of the reasons that we [the church] are in the mess we are in is because our theology is messy," said Battle. "The incarnation is one of the messiest concepts there is. How can God be God and also be fully human in Jesus? I think if we can have better theologies of the incarnation it would help us not to be so judgmental of others and not to be so provincial in our way of thinking or limiting God, because God can do anything if God can become incarnate."
As further illustration, Battle gave five aspects:
1. The incarnation teaches us that we don't really know how to talk about God.
2. The incarnation is inviting us to see that God is not just some single individual. God is community.
3. How can God be human and God. This is mutuality.
4. The environment teaches us that we are interdependent whether we like it or not.
5. The ultimate role of the incarnation is to make us humble.
"Basically, the incarnation is an invitation from God that we would return the favor and become like God," he said. "We're not just going to be money hungry people living only for instant gratification. We are actually going to try and imitate this incarnation. We're going to be human but we're also going to be like God."
Davis summarized incarnation further saying "between Good Friday and Pentecost, you have major transition from death to resurrection." He said the church celebrates the central fact of faith that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
"Between Good Friday and Pentecost, we have this whole mystery of how God is changing death into life, giving us new life and so all the norms and canons of understanding the flesh have now been transformed because the Christ that we killed has now been raised to heavenly status and Christ sits on the right hand of God," he said. "Our fleshliness now has heavenly significance."
'Love is what binds'
The Rev. Canon Angela Ifill, missioner of Black Ministries for the Episcopal Church, whose office sponsored the CAC, spoke on "Bonds of Affection and Mutual Solidarity."
"We are gathered here as children of God and, as such, members of the body of Christ," she said. "Some of us are from the Anglican Communion and others are from the Episcopal Church but all part of the body of Christ. Hopefully we live our lives primarily based on the great commandment."
Citing Rite One of the Eucharistic prayer and the new commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples saying 'just as I have loved you, you also should love one another, by this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another' Ifill said, that "this is the source and foundation of bonds of affection and mutual solidarity."
"Love is what binds us, and from that love, comes a sense of care for one another of mutuality," she said. "As children of God we are gathered here and as the body of Christ we are a part of one another. We depend on one another whether we come from North America, South America, Central and Latin America; whether we come from other Caribbean islands or Africa."
She told the plenary to "take and claim the power of Christ within us."
"With all the good that has been given to us in terms of our gifts and our skills and our talent, together [we must] present those to the church as the gift of whom we are," she said.
Ifill suggested five points as a plan of action:
1. Form prayer groups in your congregations to focus specifically on building bonds of affection and mutual solidarity.
2. Convene a summit to develop a dialog to combat the intercultural racism that plagues people of color.
3. Engage in activities to develop bonds of affection and mutual solidarity.
4. Work to transcend differences and build a power base to address the mission of the church.
5. Combine your efforts, gifts, and resources to alleviate poverty, advocate for improved standards of education for people of color and to develop ministries for young people to keep them out of the penal system.
'God continues to inspire each of us'
The Rev. Canon Nelson W. Pinder, president of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) cited several Caribbean and African American clergy who started churches in New York City that "worked for the glory of God and served people who were committed to their care."
"They knew that they were neither independent nor dependent," he said. "They knew that they were interdependent upon each other so they could spread the word of God and bring people to know that the Episcopal Church was their church for mission and ministry."
Pinder said that people of color bring a "rich diversity and new way of worshipping God."
"The Episcopal Church is a multicultural church and the emerging Caribbean, Hispanic, Latin, Asian congregations challenge the church to allow these people to feel and be a part of the church," he said.
Donald V. Romanik, president of the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), said that although he is an outsider from the Pan African community he felt called to be part of this "wonderful movement of the wider Pan African community and the Anglican Communion on being a force for reconciliation in our broken church."
He reminded those in attendance of the partnership that ECF formed with UBE nearly a year ago at General Convention that enables ECF to assist and empower UBE to develop financial, informational, and leadership resources for its mission and ministry. The partnership is reciprocal in that UBE then assists ECF in connecting with multicultural Episcopal congregations and in developing leadership resource tools.
"As we go through this period of turmoil and controversy we always have to remember that while tradition and scripture are important parts of who we are, God continues to inspire each of us both as individuals and as a community to seek truth and to know and love to serve the Lord," he said. "The Caribbean community is the bridge between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion."
The Rev. Juan Quevedo-Bosch of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island said that most of Latin America culture has become mainstreamed or mixed. Although commending the gathering, he said it needs to expand its horizons and establish new boundaries for identity.
"The current identity is fundamentally challenged by people like me or other people who are sitting here who do not consider themselves to be from an African environment or background but who have the commonality of suffering discrimination and seek alliances with other groups and try to establish points of contact," he explained.
The Rev. Canon Juan Marquez, Latin American and Caribbean Partnership Officer in the Episcopal Church's Office of Anglican and Global Relations, said this was his first time at CAC and that he "looks forward to continuing to work with this gathering as they develop into the next steps."
Davis said he hopes "the faith of each participant will be renewed, their sense of fellowship will be strengthened, and they will be more and more convinced that it is good to be Christian but it is also better to be an Anglican Christian."