Toward General Convention

June 2, 2003

AS THIS ISSUE of Episcopal Life makes plain, preparations are well underway for the 74th General Convention. The Blue Book, official reports to the General Convention, has been carefully compiled, printed and circulated. Hotel and travel reservations have been made. And around the church, bishops, deputies and other interested people are meeting to discuss the various matters that will come before us. All of this attention and preparation will serve us well when we gather in Minneapolis this summer. However, over these last weeks it has become ever more clear to me that our most essential preparation is the grounding of our spirits. 

 

The collect in our prayer book for the fourth Sunday of Easter speaks of Jesus as the good shepherd. We pray that when we hear his voice -- a voice that calls each one of us by name -- we may know him and follow where he leads. The Risen Christ addresses us in many ways, speaking to the very core of our being and calling us into intimate companionship. Our companionship is not an end in itself: As we each are called by name, we are to follow as we are led.

Looked at in this way, then, the General Convention is a gathering of persons who each have been uniquely called by Christ into a relationship of intimacy and fidelity in baptism, a relationship that has been sustained and deepened week by week by Christ's continuing self-gift in the Eucharist. Each one of us has been called by name and with the uniqueness of our own personalities, histories, passions and gifts. This means that when we come together, we do so in full possession of our uniqueness, singularities and diverse points of view. There we will all be: a wonderful and amazing mix, and it is then our work to follow as a community where Christ leads. 

Following as a community is a complicated task. Among us are very different voices asserting with full confidence the direction we are called to go. Sometimes the voices are in accord. Unsurprisingly, sometimes they suggest different paths. In what can be a babble of voices, we must be spiritually prepared to accept as true that each one of us, in virtue of our baptism, is called by name, and thus each person and each point of view must be treated with utmost respect and seriousness.

In this increasingly polarized world and nation, it is so essential that the church, the community of the named, transcend these polarities and speak a word of authentic and integrated truth. We can only do so if we are willing to seek the highest good: that which most respects the compassion and reconciling love of the shepherd, who having been lifted high on the cross, seeks to draw all to himself. 

Fear, suspicion and mistrust, that host of destroying angels, are constantly at work in the life of the church. And Satan, as Paul tells us, delights in masquerading as an angel of light. Knowing this, we are called to conscious examination of our actions and defensive postures born out of fear or suspicion or mistrust. These destroyers make it impossible to receive truth that may be present in another, particularly when we have marked them with some dismissive label. 

As part of our spiritual preparation for seeking the common good, we also must examine our own urgencies and sense of rightness. We must ask if we are genuinely rooted in the deep desire of the good shepherd for the good of all. Our question is not simply, "Am I right?" but also, "Am I able to make room for the validity of other points of view?" 

Discernment is a necessary discipline if we are to follow the lead of the good shepherd. How do we discern his authentic voice and leading? To aid us in the work of discernment, Christ bestows upon us his Spirit. The Spirit, he tells us, will guide us into "all the truth." This happens not all at once, because we are unable to appropriate "all the truth." It happens over time, woven into the fabric of our lives and experience. "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth ?he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

The General Convention has spanned our nation's history and guided the church in times of peace and war. Issues have come and gone. Some of them threatened to divide the church, and yet a larger sense of what it means to be diverse limbs of one body has always prevailed. It is my considered sense, and my deepest prayer, that over these next months we will indeed make proper spiritual preparation, and once again we will find our way.

As we approach the feast of Pentecost and yield ourselves afresh to the wind and fire of the Spirit, may our truths be purified, enlarged and conformed to the mind of Christ, who is our truth and the good shepherd of us all.