Werner: Church has great opportunity

August 8, 2003

In his closing remarks to the House of Deputies, President George Werner Friday urged clergy and congregations to make the most of the evangelistic potential of the first Sunday after General Convention concludes.

“Looking at the vast collection of coverage this church has been getting,” he said. “This Sunday may be one of the greatest if not the best missionary Sundays in the history of the church.”

Given the extensive news reporting on the sexuality issues addressed at convention, he indicated, parishes may experience an influx of newcomers curious about the Episcopal Church.

While Werner said he realized that parish priests will feel a pull “to get up and make our comments on the news from convention,” he stressed that “this Sunday is a Sunday to be Philip opening the scriptures. This is a Sunday when people can meet Jesus Christ. This is a Sunday where people can find out why the power of Christ is something that can feed a hungry world.”

Offering an example of what he called the “remarkable” treatment of the church in the press, Werner quoted an editorial by the Dallas Morning News.

“Still we have been struck by the calm and deliberative process the Episcopalians followed in reaching their conclusion,” he read. “The discussions among the clergy and laity were marked not by cheap name-calling but by honest soul-searching. And yes, there is division. But the common bond of faith took precedence.”

The editorial concludes: “Perhaps their thoughtfulness and mutual respect for one another on this issue will have a positive impact on how all of us Americans carry on our larger societal debate. At least we hope so.”

Such sentiments, Werner said, have been “echoed not just in the United States but across the world.” In approaching convention, “we hoped that we could break open this church and become the church that God wanted us to be,” he said. “This is the greatest potential Sunday for evangelism. And I hope we don’t miss that opportunity.”

In his remarks, Werner emphasized his commitment to the Episcopal Church as it continues to evolve. The church has changed over the 41 years since his graduation from seminary, he noted. It is “not better, not worse, simply different.”

Such development should be expected, he said. “With God, there is always more. With Scripture, there is always more. That’s why we need each other so much.”

Werner shared that before the 1976 vote on ordination for women, he prayed, “Lord, I think I am doing your will, but if I am not, please forgive me.” Last Sunday, when the House of Deputies voted to confirm the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor-elect of New Hampshire, Werner said, “I offered the same prayer.”

The bishop of Southern Ohio once referred to the “different ships in the fleet of Christ,” Werner said. “I signed on to ours, vowing to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of this one. Forty-one years ago, I knew that I was a sinner who needed to be saved by grace and that the rest of the crew was the same.”

He concluded, “I am remaining on this vessel in the fleet of Christ where the sinners who need to be saved by grace are ones I know and have come to love. I am praying that we can steer this vessel even further on the way to doing God’s mission together. … And I will continue to pray for other sisters and brothers, on other vessels in God’s fleet, because together we may all become greater than the sum of our parts.”