Walking on the wild side

August 12, 2010

If we look carefully, it is not difficult to find brave, courageous, faithful, and often, outrageous, disciples of Christ in God's Episcopal Church. They are the ones who go the extra mile, provide examples for us to follow, know their gifts for ministry and use them with abandon and joy.

For the most part, these outrageous disciples of Christ are not afraid to speak up. They do their homework, maintain a generosity of spirit, have a sense of humor, take risks for Christ, and generally walk on the wild side. They aren't lone rangers. They understand and value Christian community. In the House of Deputies, the General Convention legislative body composed of 800-plus laity and clergy from the Episcopal Church, such disciples are not a rarity.

In fact, the Episcopal Church has a history of being a bit outrageous from the get-go and was certainly not immune to revolutionary ideas of the English Reformation, including representative governance in church affairs. As early as 1785, lay and clerical deputies from several states assembled to hold the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Representatives to church councils were deputized to act fully and freely on behalf of what they thought to be the best interests of the church while they deliberated in the confines of council. The creative genius behind all this, of course was William White, then rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, who articulated every basic tenet of our current church polity in his 1782 treatise, "The Case for the Episcopal Church in the United States Considered."

As is fitting for revolutionary disciples of Christ, the recent death of Deputy Charles Metcalf Crump cannot slip by unnoticed. A deputy to 17 General Conventions, longtime chancellor in the Diocese of West Tennessee, member of Executive Council, vice president of the House of Deputies, Deputy Crump was savvy in parliamentary procedure and willing to explain complicated procedures to the house and the president at the drop of a hat. Deputy Crump was noted for, among other things, his advocacy for the three historically black Episcopal colleges -- St. Augustine's in Raleigh, North Carolina; St. Paul's in Lawrenceville, Virginia; and Voorhees in Denmark, South Carolina -- as well as his notably wild Hawaiian sport coat.

As a deputy myself, I once watched as then-president of the House of Deputies Pamela Chinnis, after being respectfully questioned by Deputy Crump on a parliamentary ruling, stoically projected a picture of him on the screens in the House of Deputies. In the picture Deputy Crump at the age of approximately 70, was happily waving his arm, clad in his Hawaiian sport coat, while riding a mechanical bull.

On the final legislative day of the 76th General Convention in Anaheim in 2009, in his closing meditation, House of Deputies Chaplain Frank Wade said, "All churches are hybrid engines, trying to connect the vitality of the Spirit with the potential God has given to humankind. That old revolutionary William White held the notion that God's energy passes through laity, priests and deacons – aka the House of Deputies – as well as bishops."

Deputy Crump's ministry reminds us of the best of the House of Deputies and all that it can be. We all gain courage when we witness the courage of others. We gain knowledge when we hear informed people speak. We learn to understand decorum when we see it carefully practiced by others. We are always challenged to be followers of Christ--who was no passive bystander, as he courageously walked on the wild side toward the resurrection and enabled us to do the same.

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