'Stand up and speak up,' Bonnie Anderson urges Grace Cathedral congregation

Deputies' president honored at California diocesan convention
October 20, 2008

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson encouraged a Grace Cathedral congregation October 19 to "get into trouble, not stay out of trouble" by exercising moral authority and leadership through keeping baptismal promises.

 

"That is the way of the cross. It is from Jesus, a servant, a troublemaker that we take our moral leadership direction," said Anderson, while preaching at the San Francisco cathedral's Sunday morning service. "And if we follow it, if we keep our baptismal promises, we are willingly vulnerable and we will get into trouble."

She cited as troublemaking moral leaders Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Ogala Lakota activist Black Elk, United Farm Worker organizer and leader Caesar Chavez, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, and African American poet Langston Hughes, among others. She included friends, family, co-workers as "moral leadership role models … Right here, right now, we could tell true, astounding moral authority stories about each other and ourselves."

Anderson also shared private stories and personal reflections during her weekend visit to San Francisco, where she was honored at the Diocese of California's 159th annual convention meeting and also made a guest appearance at The Forum, a live audio webcast talk show hosted by the Very Rev. Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral.

During the Sunday, October 19 webcast, Anderson was both personal and prophetic. Drawing on 35 years experience as an active layperson, she offered reflections about the upcoming July 7-18, 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, California, as well as the need for active moral authority and leadership.

"For me mission is what we're about, about God's reconciling work in the world," Anderson said in response to an audience question. "It's about when we say in our baptismal covenant that we respect the dignity of every human being and strive for justice and peace. The operative word is strive. We're not making passive promises."

She responded to questions from Jones, and both live and webcast audience members.
Referring to the House of Deputies as "the senior house," she offered a short course about the Episcopal Church's bicameral structure. She added that, for the first time ever, the General Convention has set aside time for a conversation about mission, and hopes that both the approximately 300-member House of Bishops and the 800-plus member House of Deputies will do just that.

"We've set aside time for legislation and we've set aside time for worship and for other specific things but never [before] for conversation."

Bridges built during that conversation, she hopes, may help develop relationships and help all Episcopalians begin to articulate their own Episcopal identity. And in listening to other people tell their stories "it becomes the story of us."

In response to a question about the Lambeth Conference, Anderson noted that it has been referred to as "the family gathered, but … the whole family wasn't there. There weren't the voices of the clergy. There weren't the voices of the lay people. The only place in the Anglican Communion that has that is the Anglican Consultative Council. So the Lambeth Conference or factions of the Lambeth Conference can make pronouncements, but they're not agreed-upon pronouncements."

On a personal note, she described herself as a recovering Roman Catholic who many years ago was invited to go to an Episcopal church by a neighbor in Pennsylvania and "I've been an Episcopalian ever since."

A former teacher, she said she holds master's degrees in social work and science from the University of Michigan and is a mother of three and grandmother of three. She said the family just celebrated a 40th birthday party for her son Justin, an artist who was disabled by a closed head injury sustained in a car accident 20 years ago. After two years in a coma initially, "he's come an amazingly long way through the help of incredible people," she said.

Uncovering moral authority exists "through telling our own stories," and recalling the stories of the church, even childhood stories such as David and Goliath, she told Jones. "The little guy doesn't have it all planned out but he knows action has to be taken. And he goes and acts. We get a sense of courage from our tradition that is perilous in these days."

She also encouraged Episcopalians to "listen to the moral prophets among us" and to pay attention to the poets and creators of art around us. When asked to name a moral prophet she answered unhesitatingly: "I love Nelson Mandela … Imagine what it would have been like to live the way he lived -- in prison for 30 years -- and to come out of there with that sense of spirit and self and then live into a society of change and be so instrumental in that and to have so much humility.

"He came to Detroit right after he was released and he appeared at Tiger Stadium. My husband and I went there to see him. It was unbelievable ... he brought in his personhood an extreme example of a prophet in our age."

Regarding General Convention, Anderson said she will be very busy between now and next July, wading through more than 500 applications for deputy appointments to the convention's 26 legislative committees.