Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's visit to the Diocese of Quincy April 4 and 5 brought with it ties to the larger church and meaningful symbolism that gave the diocese a big emotional boost. Not only did Jefferts Schori bring the prayers and support of Episcopalians she represents in nine countries and parts of Europe, but she came as the first female presiding bishop to a diocese that has never ordained women.
The Diocese of Quincy is reorganizing after a majority of its clergy and members voted last November to leave the Episcopal Church and realign with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, over issues such as the Episcopal Church's view of Scripture and human sexuality.
The warm and jubilant reception that the Presiding Bishop received confirmed that those who have stayed in the Diocese of Quincy want to be more diverse in their views and insure that all persons are welcome through radical and open hospitality.
Big boost to a little congregation
One church in the diocese got to practice such hospitality as it welcomed the Presiding Bishop and an overflow congregation on Palm Sunday. All Saints Episcopal Church, Moline, is a start-up congregation made up of persons who were ousted from churches in Rock Island and Moline where the majority of members left the Episcopal Church.
For the past two months Sunday attendance at All Saints has averaged 70 persons. More than two hundred persons jammed the sanctuary at the New Life Center -- a former Methodist church where the new congregation rents worship space -- on Palm Sunday. It's a day that many will not forget for many reasons.
Barb Myers said the day was "history in the making."
"To have the Presiding Bishop come here on this occasion is a new beginning for us. It's really a new beginning for the Episcopal Church in the Quad City area. Today was a spectacular event."
Jerry Primm said the day was the "chance of a lifetime to affirm what we are trying to do -- to make this an open and welcoming church of the people."
Sue Erickson said the fact that the Presiding Bishop came on Palm Sunday was a really big boost. "This is probably one of the most memorable days of my life," said Erickson.
"This has been a landmark day," said the Rev. Judity Delmasso. "The Presiding Bishop is bringing reconciliation to this diocese."
Delmasso, a priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Iowa, said it was "just awesome" that Jefferts Schori would "take time to come and minister to us. There is a new vibrancy here and new joy and I think there is going to be new growth."
Delmasso holds the distinction of being the first woman to celebrate the Eucharist in the Diocese of Quincy which, under the leadership of its previous bishops, refused to ordain women. She celebrated at St. John's Church, Kewannee, in February and at All Saints Church in March.
In her sermon, Jefferts Schori recounted some long traveling hours getting to Illinois two days before and her encounter of an old woman in a wheelchair, who had no choice but to sit and wait patiently even as those around her were restless and animated.
"That awareness of not being in control is what is leading to new life here," Jefferts Schori told the worshippers at All Saints Church.
"You waited, more or less patiently, until you heard Jesus say, get up and move. The perspective you gained from keeping your heads down, and sitting in a chair until the time was right, can be a gospel perspective to carry with you. What did you learn from looking at the world from that position, lower down? It just might give you some solidarity with those who live in that lower position all the time -- not just people who literally ride in wheelchairs, but those who are quite literally at the mercy of others. You have learned something about the gift of going in company, and something about the presence of God in the dark nights of the garden."
"Several of you have told me how much more alive you feel in this place -- only it isn't just the place, it's the community, following Jesus, riding something different than you are used to."
Synod signals 'a new day'
On the day before Palm Sunday, Jefferts Schori presided at the opening of a special synod held at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, in Peoria which formally reorganized the Diocese of Quincy. Deputies unanimously elected new leadership, approved a diocesan budget and elected a provisional bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Clark Buchanan, retired bishop of the Diocese of West Missouri.
ENS coverage of the special synod is here.
The warm welcome given the Presiding Bishop, along with the synod's resolve to be inclusive and welcoming of all, signaled for many the start of something new.
"This is a new day in the Episcopal Church here," said the Rev. Canon John Blossom, priest at Bread of Life Anglican fellowship and a member of the steering committee that arranged for the synod. "It's time to start loving one another again, instead of judging one another. It's time to be about the mission and ministry of loving and learning and accepting."
Tobyn Leigh, newly elected to the Standing Committee, compared the synod meeting with the Israelite's coming to the Promised Land and feeling that "finally perhaps we are home and at home with each other."
"This has been a joyful and healing experience, even as difficult, painful and sorrowful this path has been for some of us. But there is a reason. God has put us here in this place and time for a reason."
Leigh said she has seen through the experience how "love, charity and forbearance for others can be possible" and how there is a "much broader expression of Christianity out there available to those of us who have lived in this region under restriction."
The Presiding Bishop said the synod was both a festive and sober experience. She said there was obvious sadness that some have chosen to depart, but also great excitement about the possibilities of the future.
"I look forward to great and encouraging things in this diocese," she said.