Monday, July 20, 2009

Ecclesiastical Anxieties

I preached on the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Mark 6:31-44 yesterday. I was taking services for Jennifer Barrows at Ascension, West Park and Holy Trinity, Highland, NY, the Episcopal churches closest to the Monastery. Jennifer is a goodhearted, hardworking priest, whose career before ordination included organizing social services and practical necessities for homeless people in midtown Manhattan. She deserves her break.

These two churches are yoked, and share the common problems of smaller, underfunded churches everywhere. They have beautiful buildings which need attention. The congregations are small. There is no substantial endowment. The bulletin listed a need for $7,000 to replace the "air handlers" at Holy Trinity. We had a little fun playing with those words. What it comes down to is that the blower system for the heat needs help.

This is a story that can be observed in thousands of churches. It is one of the stories that underlines the narratives of the recent General Convention: not enough people, not enough money, old structures needing maintenance.

I enjoyed preaching to these two congregations. I gave them a bit of historical cultural background for interpretation, and suggested that we always are interpreting on three levels simultaneously: what the text meant to its earliest hearers/readers in the context from which it originally came; how the text has been normatively proclaimed in the practice of the Church over time; and what it might mean to us in our particular and present situation.

I found the Gospel story especially interesting on the third, present, level. Here you have thousands of people running after the disciples and after Jesus, tracking them down in the wilderness, demanding teaching. This event is not a carefully planned attempt to get a large crowd to come to your special event. Quite the opposite. Its success brings the problem to the fore.

The people have left everything to seize this opportunity to hear the good Word. And their trust has left them unprepared for the practicalities: there is no organized food event. Visions of potluck planning meetings that take longer than the potluck rise before me, as a sort of counter-image.

Note that the concern is not coming from the people. It comes from the leaders. Here the background gives us a clue. The key passage is Mark 6:34: Jesus is concerned about the people following him because they are like sheep without a shepherd. My Jerusalem Bible study edition, usually so diligent in its marginal notes, fails to point to the OT referent for this passage. But the wonderful commentary by Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, does. In Numbers 27:17, Moses, having learned that he is not to enter the Promised Land, asks the Lord to appoint Joshua to be Israel's new leader, so that they may not be like sheep without a shepherd. This passage introduces the two key image clusters that lie behind Mark's story: the Exodus and the figure of the Shepherd, which help to explain the seemingly extraneous bits about the people being divided into hundreds and fifties, and the green grass on which they are invited to recline. Mark is not one to waste details.

So: Exodus (Moses morphing into Joshua, people out in the wilderness seeking their new life) and Shepherd (the inescapable comparison with David, and the inevitable reference to the 23rd Psalm) form the background to this story. The feeding miracle is thus linked to the manna in the desert as well as the shepherd leading the sheep to pasture. God will provide.

And so on to the General Convention moment: Anxiety. So many anxieties. Budget cutting. Structures that are too large -- talk of combining small dioceses at GC. Cutting the size of the national Church staff. Trimming GC itself from 10 to 8 days. God created the world in 6, so maybe we could improve our own processes a little. No in person meetings for the many groups that do the planning work of the Church next year, but relying on electronic communication. Not printing so much next time. And so on. Good, sensible, practical responses from good, practical people to real, practical problems.

Jesus does not enter into their anxiety. He simply looks at them (I had fun imagining his facial expressions, the pause as perhaps he recollected that a first, uncensored, response might not have been helpful. One has had such moments.) And then he says, "Give them something to eat yourselves." What?!! The leaders provide what the followers need?? It's supposed to be the other way around. It's like the national Church giving money to the dioceses, not the other way around. Clearly impossible. But a VERY instructive challenge to the leadership!

But where will we get bread to feed all these people? 200 denarii wouldn't be enough. If you calculate the value of the 2 denarii that the Good Samaritan gives to the inkeeper for 2 nights lodging and care at a minimum of $100 a night, 200 works out to $20,000. How can we possibly get so much for this great need?

So then Jesus sensibly asks, Well, what food is there here now? What actual resources do we have? And, famously, they turn out to be more than enough.

So many lessons here. But two principally come to me this time around (one does preach this from time to time, and it is always different!).

First, whatever we really need is already present. The Lord's example is first to challenge the leadership's assumptions about what is needed and where it is to come from, and then to look for what is already present and share it creatively, trusting that if we do so, God will provide. He will. He really will.

Second, this time the miracle seemed to me not to be the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, but the spontaneous assembling of this huge crowd -- 5000 men, implying women and children, probably 15,000 to 20,000 people. The Word they are seeking and which Jesus is preaching is so powerful that they rush out into the countryside to hear it, leaving the cozy security of regular meals behind, at least temporarily.

Maybe the Church should look to what it already has and use it creatively, expecting that what is truly needful will be provided when the time comes. Maybe the Church should concentrate its energies on the quality of the proclamation, listening to the people's deepest yearnings (enslaved Israelites hoping for freedom, sheep needing pasture and good trustworthy shepherds) and finding the answer in the liberating Word Himself. Preach that and people will come looking for you. When is the last time a crowd showed up at your church wanting to hear the Word so much that it forgot to think about lunch? May it be.

For the moment, there were 6 at Ascension and 13 at Holy Trinity. Good, solid, friendly, faithful people. It doesn't seem many. But it is what the Spirit drew that morning. They are God's gift to each other, to the Church, and to me. They are enough, for this moment. And for next Sunday the 26th and for August 9, this disciple will work on a Word of salvation that will justify their journey to hear it.

Faithfulness in little. Planting seeds that will grow. Slaves who become the nation of God's own choosing. Flocks of sheep needing shepherding. I love the ministry in small places that don't seem to have very much. You never know how many baskets will be gathered at the end of the meal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

General Convention - Back home

The trip back home on Sunday was uneventful. Gassed up the rental car, turned it in at the airport, waited for the flight, no problem SNA to ORD. In Chicago a previous flight to LGA had been canceled and many unhappy people were trying to get on the flight I was booked on. The waiting list was more than 100! Needless to say, the flight was full. I was seated next to a delightful young woman who joyfully shared that she was six months pregnant. That was really nice. I took the shuttle bus to Grand Central and the 8:45 train to Poughkeepsie, where our Superior met me. Thank you, Robert! I was really tired, and "peopled out", so I cocooned most of the day on Monday.

I have been processing what I saw and what has been happening at General Convention. In a lot of ways it is easier to do it at home than on the site, at least in part because the unfiltered experience lacks perspective and is too filled with incidental detail. So what follows is a meditation on what is known as D025, the resolution passed by both the Bishops and the Deputies, and now the official policy of the Episcopal Church.

D025 says that the Episcopal Church will no longer, at the national level, exclude homosexual people from the processes leading to ordination as Bishop simply because of the nature of their sexual orientation. If you have read my blogs at all faithfully, you know that I am concerned for the unity of the Anglican Communion. There are many issues confronting Anglicans, but this is the one that is most controversial and divisive.

In his sermon on Saturday, Ray Suarez, of the PBS Nightly News, listed all the ways that the Episcopal Church seems to be out of step:

"So let’s stop clinging to that outmoded prayer book that happens to be one of the crown jewels of the English language, we’ve got the get rid of that hymnal, with all those tricky tunes and old-fashioned words… stop those long sermons delivered by people who always seem to want me to feel bad about something… the organs, the outfits, it’s so archaic in a world where religion bestsellers are trying to convince me that Jesus wants me to be rich. I thought Jesus wants me to be holy, and it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. But hey, while we’re jettisoning all these things that are leading us to what is called marketplace failure… let’s also stop the radical welcome… Let’s stop the willingness to live, sometimes uncomfortably, with the ambiguities of modern life."

I guess that Suarez is from the more traditional end of the Church, for which I give thanks. His point is, If Jesus wants us to be rich and successful, we're barking up the wrong trees. We should stop being what we are and became conservative megachurches.

But actually, Jesus does not want us to aim at becoming rich and successful. Jesus wants us to be holy.

And there's the rub. How can we as a church be holy when we are departing from the traditional standards of holiness?

Perhaps a church convention is not the place to go searching for holiness. For sure, that great besetting sin of churchmen down the ages is on full display: Ambition. It would be easy to lampoon this, but it would also be unjust and cruel. The Holy Spirit has always used ambition to get the work of the Church done. Are ambitious or proud people excluded from ordination? No. Are vainglorious people excluded? Check the Wippell's booth. They are not. Are people who want more than a moderate salary excluded? Surely you jest.

There are so many stony paths lined with temptations to sin that lead to ordination. So why single out one category of human behavior (sexual identity vs. desire for prosperity or worldly respect) over all the others and insist that God cannot work in and through it to accomplish His work?

I think the most brilliant line in D025 is the one that catalogues ways in which homosexual relationships can be channels of grace. It quotes a resolution from 9 years ago in doing so: "the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039)"

It reminds me of St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (KJV). Fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, holy love: against these there can be no law.

What the Church needs is more holy people, and right now, more holy gay and lesbian people, people who show forth Christ in their lives, who are self-sacrificing, whose words and deeds are activated by the Holy Spirit, people through whom the love of Christ flows and to whom seekers after the goodness of God are drawn.

My beloved Episcopal Church has taken another step in the prophetic direction. This time it may be a step too far, if unquestioning unity on other peoples' terms is the criterion. If so, then we will need to throw ourselves into the arms of the Gracious Lord of us all. In this moment, I think we need more than anything, more than daring words and acts, more than brave (and perhaps over-brave) stances, more than self-congratulatory back-patting on one side and ungracious muttering in the other, what we need more than anything is the irrefutable evidence of holiness. Gay and lesbian holiness of such goodness that no Christian can deny the Spirit's anointing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

General Convention - 6

Saturday is my last day at GC. I learned many years ago that the first four days or so at GC are the most productive for someone who is essentially doing public relations. In the past the first days were mobbed by visitors and it is good to be around then. But about the halfway point this aspect of GC begins to taper off. I understand that the exhibitors are required to sign a contract for the entire convention and man their booths. Some inevitably drift away. At any rate, that is why I decided to come home at the mid-point.

We get to the Conv. Center a little after 10. The opening hours for the exhibit hall are different most days, so today we don't have to wait. The same drill as days before -- check in at the booth, see who's around, talk. A very helpful consultation with Michael MacDonald at the Pension Fund booth.

The eucharist today features Ray Suarez, of the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS. He speaks on the day's theme, Hospitality. Lots of interesting insights. He speaks a little fast for the enormous room, but effectively. His basic message seems to be, Don't give up being who we are while trying to reach out. Behind me in the line for communion (given by Paul Colbert, former OHC) is Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina. I greet him and he tells me that we met years ago when I spoke to a Province VIII meeting on evangelism. Nice to reconnect. I am at a table with David Bryan, who points out the Primate of Canada, Fred Hiltz. OHC has had a priory in Toronto since the early 1970's. I go over and introduce myself to him. He is gracious.

I have linked up with Tony Jewiss, intending to do lunch (as the local idiom would have it). Tony is on deck to help out, with his vast experience of this event. He is homeless, in that he was not given a room in exchange for coming at his own expense and working on his own time, so he is camping out in rooms paid for but not used. After all those years of saving money for the Church at this vast event, I guess karma has caught up with him. At any rate, Bob Williams, former Communications Director at 815 and now doing the same for LA, and an old friend, is his angel. Thank you, Bob!

Tony is with Robbin Clark (St. Mark's, Berkeley), Fred and Barbara Borsch, and Rick Swanson, from W. Michigan. We decide to do lunch together, and I suggest Nory's, a favorite from many years, in a strip mall a mile or two away. Peruvian-Japanese seafood. We exchange directions and cell phone numbers and are on our way. Nory's hasn't changed a bit. They still have my favorite dish, pescado a lo macho, a fish fillet breaded and fried with a clear red spicy sauce, lots of shrimp, calamari and baby squid, and rice. Yummmmm. The portions are ample, and everyone is happy. I am especially happy, sitting for an hour or so with old and dear friends.

Back at the Conv. Center, more schmoozing. Toward the end of the afternoon Tom Schultz and I wander up to the House of Bishops, on the third floor, and listen to a bit of whatever it is they are doing. Then to the Prayer Chapel (now reassembled) for Evening Prayer. A bit more of the Bishops. Their process is formal, but not as formal as the Deputies.

CDSP is having a reception from 6 to 8 in lieu of a seminary dinner, so David Bryan, Tom and I head over to the Hilton for that. Tom received an honorary DD a couple of years ago, after many years of spiritual direction to countless students, alumni and staff. He was Prior of Incarnation Priory in Berkeley from 1992 until we closed it last year. His spiritual influence there has been incalculable. I got my M.Div. in 1979, and David was Superior for 9 years and knows it well. So much joyful schmoozing again. I sit down between John Conrad (All Saints, Riverside) and an old friend of my days in Santa Barbara, Mort Ward, now mentoring people in interim work. We talk of Santa Barbara, of course. Mark Hollingsworth (Bishop of Ohio) finds me. We were at CDSP together. A nice long chat. Also, Barry Beisner (Bp. of No. Calif.) and Tom Breidenthal (Bp. of So. Ohio), for shorter chats. Donn Morgan, Dean and President, gives a gracious speech. He's retiring in a year. Then Eliza Linley, head of the search committee for the new Dean. Eliza was an acolyte at All Souls, Berkeley, when I was a seminarian there 1977-79. So I find her. All Souls chat. She tells me that Helen Laverty McPeak is here as well. Also an All Souls acolyte from those times. Helen is now a priest as well, and in Henderson, NV. So we have the Nevada chat too (my father founded All Saints, Las Vegas, and I was ordained by Bishop Wes Frensdorff, of blessed memory).

At some point in all this I am beginning to realize that I have been at the Episcopal thing for a long time. (My whole life, actually!) All these younger people! I will celebrate 30 years as a priest this coming December 29. I should feel old, but I really don't. Except for my feet.

David, Tom and I have been invited to dinner at the home of former parishioners from St. Michael's, Al and Pat Battey, so we excuse ourselves and drive over. Not far. Pat is a loyal Daughter of the King, and both have been involved in renewal and charismatic ministries for years. Al and Pat say some unexpected and gracious words about the long-term impact of my Bible studies (twice a week for 9 years) at St. Michael's. I am deeply moved and grateful. It is a delightful reunion and a lovely meal with dear friends.

And so to bed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

General Convention - 5

We arrived at the Conv. Center around 9 am only to discover that the exhibition hall, where we are based, is not open until 11. Somebody said that "they" want to channel people into the meetings and so forth. So we allowed ourselves to be channeled.

I was channeled into the House of Deputies where I heard a fair amount of the open microphone session on what to do about B033. This is the resolution passed at the last General Convention in which the church agreed not to ordain any bishops whose "manner of life" is not appropriate, or words to that effect. It was really about homosexual people. The catch word is "move on", which seems to mean to abrogate that commitment. The speakers repeat the same arguments over and over: the justice and inclusion argument for those who want to "move on", the sensitivity to other Anglicans argument from those who want the policy to continue. Lots of use of the airplane analogy -- two wings are needed. There is a little edge to a couple of the comments, but not a lot. I am more interested in the tone of the remarks than in their content. The Deputies will almost certainly "move on". The action on this issue will be with the Bishops. My concern, as I expressed it yesterday, is the way in which decisions are expressed. I want us all to fly this plane together.

The morning eucharist features the Bishop of Milwaukee and a Moravian bishop. We are now in communion with the Moravians. Bonnie Anderson (President of the House of Deputies) opened her sermon with the story of Louis Armstrong being asked about how do jazz players manage to stay together when there is no written music: “Pops, what is jazz?” His answer first came in that gentle smile and then this penetrating response, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.” She applied this to unity. The intuitive, feeling approach to unity, I guess.

The day winds on in the now-usual pattern. Lots more conversations. Vern Jones, an OHC Associate of 59 years standing, retired from St. Peter's, Redwood City, CA, now in ministry to older people. Jim Schumard, from Savannah, a graduate of St. Andrew's School who asks after Bonnie Spencer and Lee Stevens, and has an idea about funding for a possible new school at Grahamstown: Get St. Andrew's alumni involved. Jim turns out to be related in some important way to Vern. Another former OHC man is here, Vincent Shamo. I have a lovely chat with Janet Wylie, briefly my secretary at St. Michael's, Anaheim, before she became the Bishop's secretary.

About the middle of the afternoon I hit a wall. I am really tired. The Integrity eucharist is in the evening, and that is a priority for me. Tom and Lister feel the same depletion of energy, so after any number of wonderful conversations on the way out, including a good one with Frank Griswold, we return to the motel and crash.

The Integrity eucharist is at the Hilton. A reception is in progress, crushed with people, friends at every turn. The room is beautifully set up, with the furnishings from the Prayer Chapel. There must be at least a thousand seats, probably more. By the time the service starts it is full to overflowing. Vincent Jang, former OHC novice, now a deacon, is seated behind me. I'm next to my old friend Stuart Hoke, formerly with Trinity Wall Street, now retired to North Carolina and pastoring a small Anglo-Catholic Black parish in Durham. Great music and pageantry, with a Gospel procession that must have lasted 20 minutes, banners and holy water being sprinkled on one and all by Gene Robinson, the celebrant. A huge Thank You applause for Susan Russell's six great years of leadership, well deserved. Barbara Harris preached a sort of marching orders sermon, with edgy reflections on the sacraments: If a person, by reason of his/her sexuality, can't be ordained a bishop, then why ordain at all? In fact, why baptize? She was powerful on the logic of inclusion, devastating on the audacity to draw lines where God erases them: "What right does anyone have to draw lines beyond to whom God's grace, care and favor extend?" I was very moved by the whole service, and responded to the call for clergy to come forward. Many did so, a great crush. Here's the Episcopal Life story on the service.

The most poignant moments for me though were hearing Louie Crew read the call to worship at the beginning, and the vast applause and affection for Ed Browning. His famous statement in 1985 here at Anaheim (he was elected in St Michael's Church!) that "There will be no outcasts in the Episcopal Church" was the energizing moment for so many gay and lesbian Christians in our church. Louie basically invented Integrity's ministry and has been a rock in all the storms, a gracious rock too, if I may mangle a metaphor. He is a model of how to be true to principle and remain in fellowship with people who disagree. It is impossible not to like Louie. Ed Browning is showing his age. I am so very happy that he is spending his energy to be at this Convention and to be honored as he should be. He was and is and deserves the name and respect of a prophet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

General Convention - 4

Thursday is the Big Eucharist -- the Archbishop of Canterbury is preaching. We get to the Conv. Center about 10, and it is to start at 11:30. I hitch up with Jamie Callaway from Trinity Church, New York, and we try to make our way in early for a decent seat. Either he or I are accosted at every point by friends. I must really work on patience and disengagement, because I find my usual anxieties about fulfilling my prior agenda rather than responding to the moment coming to the fore. We find a table with some folks from Minnesota and North Dakota. But then Jamie goes off to find someone else he has hoped to sit with.

Jon Bruno, the Bishop of Los Angeles, is presiding. I had forgotten how big a presence he is -- large physically (even with his foot problems, which make him hobble), his booming voice, his habit of injecting comments into the liturgy. He always has a young person beside him at the altar. It is very clear that although he wants the eucharist to be inclusive, he remains the center of it.

Rowan Williams' meditation is magnificent. He begins by saying he wants to speak frankly, and he does. He thanks the Episcopal Church for hanging in there with the Anglican Communion, in a way that makes it clear that he is responsible for the whole Communion and not just our corner of it. And he says clearly that he hopes the EC does not decide to do certain things, which he does not specify, but which I suppose means repealing B033, same sex unions, the Windsor report response, and the rest of that raft of agendas. Then he gives a most wonderful meditation on facing up to what is not real, to nothingness and death. Here's the link to the text on his site.

After his words and during some of the music and prayers, before the eucharistic action, I find myself tearing up. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps anxiety mixed with joy. I have not spent much energy here so far thinking about the issues, because, frankly, I am tired of them and think that the church's over-energetic preoccupation with sex and who's more orthodox or in the progressive spirit or whatever is a devil's trick to destroy this part of the Body. The major issues are all important, and I have my opinions on all of them, of course. I am generally on board with the mainstream agenda of the Episcopal Church. What bothers me is a passion for being right and don't count the cost, on every side of every issue. My anxiety is there, because these 990-plus people can actually move this boat in the water, and it isn't clear yet what they will do. And since it is They who have the power, and the Rest Of Us really don't, there is a sense of detachment for me, just watching as Whatever slouches into view. Joy because of the magnificent voicing of the truth of the Christian faith at a fundamental level this morning by the leader of the Communion, who has taken time to be here and tell us his concerns and lead us, for a moment at least, out of the legislative lowlands into something very profound.

There are more people today in the exhibit hall, and more good conversations. I sit down at a lunch table with Carmen Guerrero, who was the multi-cultural staff person in LA when I was there and then went to 815 to run Jubilee Ministries, and is now in Arizona working on those issues. She tells me of a large Sudanese congregation in Phoenix that has organized itself. At our table is the Rector of Sitka, Alaska, who tells of the ministry of his church to the marginalized there, where addiction issues are huge, and the expense and difficulty of their Standing Committee, which can't afford to gather very often. There is an older woman from New Hampshire who tells of doing Vacation Bible School in Alaskan villages in the 50's, and is very moving.

David Bryan Hoopes and Tom Schultz arrive in the afternoon. Clark Trafton and Lew Kerman have brought David from Palm Springs, where he had a little R&R with them. See the picture of them with Don Anderson above.

Tom brings news of injuries to Jeff Bullock, the Rector of All Saints, Montecito, the husband of Nancy, who is the administrator for our ministry in Santa Barbara, and a dear friend of mine from seminary. He had a bad fall from his mountain bike. A little later I see Jim Burns, Rector of Heavenly Rest in NYC, who is returning this evening to be with his wife Nancy for major surgery. Please pray for them all.

Good chats with Fred and Barbara Borsch (formerly Los Angeles and CDSP), Ward and Jennie Ewing (General Seminary), Steve Huber (National Cathedral), and many others. If you read this and I have not mentioned your name, mea culpa. Everyone is a joy, every conversation a treasure. Really.

The day wears on. 5pm comes. Evening prayer, then taking DB, Tom and Lister Tonge back to the motel to get ready for dinner. Clark and Lew take us to the Anaheim White House, which maintains its high culinary standards (as I remember them from my days here) in an over-the-top decorating mode (it represents the School of Creative Fabric Use: covered chairs, ceilings, etc.). In the next room is a little party for Ed Browning attended by Frank Griswold and Carl Gerdau, among others. Frank and Carl say hello on the way in.

And so to bed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

General Convention - 3

Wednesday began with breakfast at the motel. They provide donuts, sugar-laced dry cereals, milk, orange juice and coffee. The Holy Spirit Sisters have arrived. Also Fr. Lister Tonge, who was CR in England, but left, and has become Chaplain to CSJB and also to Cuddesdon College. A great guy. On to the Conv. Center. Too early for Lister to register, so we went in to the huge space used for worship to find a place for the opening Eucharist of the Convention. Set up with round tables, about 8 chairs to a table. Lively opening music (a southern African guy with a drum whose energy level was just a tad above mine at that hour). The Archbishop of Canterbury arrived about 10 minutes before the service with a retinue of 6 or 8 people, sat down at a table near us, but behind a post so we couldn't see him.

The PB presided and preached, very well. Her text was Ezekiel 36:24-26, a new heart will I give you. She used the analogy of a heart transplant, quite effectively. A good sermon. There was a little hiatus at communion when it was realized that they had stationed all the cup-bearers but hadn't put out the bread, but after 5 minutes or so that was rectified. A decent Eucharist with a good sermon.

Being at GC to represent an organization means standing around your booth a lot and talking to people who walk by, and also wandering around and talking to other people at their booths. My impression -- and it is only an impression -- is that there are fewer exhibitors at this GC than I remember from the past. Certainly there was not a horde of visitors. After a brief rush in the morning, it settled down pretty quickly.

But the relative quiet meant that I had a lot of really good conversations with OHC friends, personal friends, Church acquainances. My predecessor at St. Michael's, Gary Goldacker, was just around the corner, and we had a long talk. Also Barton Jones from the Pension Fund; Jane Tomaine (St. Benedict's Toolbox); Leo Frade, Bishop of SW Florida. Two former OHC brothers, Paul Colbert and Philip Mantle. I'd better not get deeper into names, because I will forget some. I'm name-challenged, a terrible affliction for someone in the ministry.

The day went fairly fast, although standing and talking is hard work and quite tiring after some hours. I encountered the PB and told her I liked her sermon. She seemed pleased, but probably 100 people had already told her that.

Everyone wants to know about Santa Barbara.

Schmoozing For Christ. That's the phrase I started using in conversations. I''ll be interested to hear if it comes back.

Evening Prayer again. More this time. 3 OSH, Don, Lister, Gregory, 2 CSF who have arrived from San Francisco. An Army chaplain from Oklahoma who is the nephew of Sr. Ruth, OSH, and has some funny stories about growing up with an aunt who is a nun. And Andrew and Barnabas from SSP, up from San Diego. Barnabas is having serious foot problems, and has had for some time.

The others being variously engaged, Lister and I depart for the evening. I take him up to St. Michael's and show it to him. This is the third time for me. I realized this morning that I am inoculating myself against old memories, bringing St. Michael's into the present for myself. It is good. Again, people recognized me. That was lovely. The Roman priest who got married and joined the Episcopal Church in Miami, Cutie, is preaching at St. Michael's tonight. A real phenomenon may be starting. He is very famous in his television ministry in the Hispanic community. All the Hispanic clergy I have talked to say this is the event which has brought the EC to the attention of masses of Latinos. So tonight's preachment is aimed at non-EC Hispanics. Interesting.

I wangled a dinner invitation from my dear friends Tom Curtiss and Saul Renteria in Silverlake, so Lister and I changed and we drove up. Lister had never been in LA before. We had a drink and looked at Saul's latest paintings (Saul's website is here), and then went to a great old Mexican restaurant for dinner.

An uneventful freeway drive home (well, uneventful for me -- Lister is not yet tuned in to the zen of the flow of a 10 lane freeway at 75 miles an hour). And so to bed.

General Convention - 2

I thought it might be useful to set down the basics of what has happened on this trip day by day and let thoughts, if any, emerge from them.

It turns out my suspicion about the distance of the motel from the Convention Center was correct. I'm glad I rented the car. The walk takes 20-30 minutes, along the heavily traveled Disneyland Drive. It is nicely landscaped, but a long haul, at least for me. Some of the CAROA folks enjoy the walk, to which I say, God bless you.

Don Anderson, Director of CAROA, Fr. Gregory, OJN, President of CAROA and I assembled the booth on Tuesday morning. One of the St. Margaret sisters arrived as we were starting and helped. It looks fine. There's a wide, flat screen tv that plays the CAROA video in a loop. We are giving out the dvd of it along with a brochure to anyone who asks. It is a little weird to hear Br. Scott's radio announcer voice all the time. The Order of St. Helena has its own booth next to us, with Srs. Cintra, Deborah Magdalene and Sophia Woods doing the honors.

That task was done about 11:00 or so, so Don and Gregory came with me for a little "inside Anaheim" tour. We went past where my old house was (much improved), then to St. Michael's. The secretary let us in to the two churches and the other spaces, and we saw pretty much everything. Then up to my favorite taqueria, Guadalajara on Anaheim Blvd. Don and Gregory were in a new world, with Mexican food in an untranslated menu. I had my favorite burrito pura carne al pastor (all meat, pork). Then on to the Anaheim Police Department where Sgt. Chuck Knight, Warden at St. Michael's in my time, was desk sergeant for the afternoon. Chuck gave us a little tour, including the dispatch center, which has very spiffy new computer stuff. Then to the local Vons supermarket for supplies, back to the motel, plug in the fridges in the rooms and load the produce in. And then we walked back to the Conv. Center. We wanted to hear the Presiding Bishop's opening address in the afternoon but did not understand the schedule correctly, and so missed it.

Tuesday was not the official opening day, but there were lots of people I know among the exhibitors and volunteers, many happy reunion conversations. A trickle of visitors. It is clear that everyone wants to know about what will happen in Santa Barbara.

CAROA is supposed to man the "Prayer Chapel" (as distinct, I suppose, from other sorts of chapels) which is WAAAAY at the north end of the huge exhibition spaces lobby, on the second floor, around a corner, tucked away next to the ultimate pair of bathrooms in the complex. You really have to be intentional about prayer in this space. No cheap grace. Your typical bare, room-divider divided, high ceilinged, overlit, "smaller" convention space. Some weird furnishings ordered up included four very colorful 5-6 foot pavement candles; an incomplete (8 of 14) set of "stations" -- a face with various expressions set against a dark background; a large square purpose built (two by fours and plywood) altar with fabrics (iridescent orange and a squarish fair linen); and most interestingly, three Asian (Tibetan?) umbrellas on long poles anchored in concreted plastic buckets. Later we met Randy Kimmler, who works in the LA Diocesan offices, who told us he was responsible for setting the room up. We came back a little before 5 for Evening Prayer and the rooms looked fine, the orange iridescent altar with the pavement candles creating a space in front, fifty chairs in three groups, and the station pictures in a semicircle behind. See the picture above.

So we (Don, Gregory and myself, and 3 OSH) had Evening Prayer. Don and I headed back to the motel on foot, took a detour into Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, sat in the beautiful Ahwanee-style lobby for a while, found our way into Disney Downtown, which was packed, and then got lost trying to get back to the sidewalk on Disneyland Drive. It is pretty clear that walking outside the Disneyspace is not greatly encouraged. We finally found our way back. I wanted to take Don to Nory's, a wonderful hole in the wall Peruvian-Japanese seafood restaurant in a strip mall, but when we got there, it was closed on Tuesdays. So up to another old favorite, Marie Callender's, where St. Michael's folk often congregated. Middle American comfort food. As Pepys would say, And so to bed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

General Convention - 1

I was wide awake at 4 am from jet lag, so here's a new blog.

Our Superior, Br. Robert, asked me some time ago to help represent OHC at the GC in Anaheim, so here I am. The trip yesterday was fine. I took the 8:56 am Metro North train from Poughkeepsie to 125th Street and then got the M60 bus ($2.25 - a pretty good deal) to LGA. The train took 90 minutes, the bus arrived at the stop in 5, and 45 minutes later I was at the Delta terminal. The flight, to Minneapolis and then on to Orange County (SNA) boarded but then waited 50 minutes for takeoff. No problem in the plane change at MSP. I'll be here until Sunday morning, July 12.

During the flights I started Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight, which has been sitting on my shelf forever. Finally shamed into reading it. Pages and pages of dialogue which seems to be going nowhere, and then all of a sudden, a passage of narrative that just grips you and won't let you go. And Julia S. Konstantinovsky's new Evagrius Ponticus: The Making of a Gnostic. I'm three chapters in and it promises to be one of the best things going on Evagrius.

In addition to schmoozing for OHC, I am helping out with CAROA, the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas, which will have a booth in the exhibit hall. The point of it all is to be visible, to connect with old friends and make some new ones, and basically to hold up the flag for Holy Cross and the religious/monastic life in the Episcopal Church.

I have been to several GCs before: New Orleans (1982), Anaheim (1985), Detroit (1988), Phoenix (1991), Denver (2000), and now back in Anaheim. It is huge: each diocese (110 or so, including 10 foreign dioceses) is represented by four clergy and four laity, plus alternates, as well as its bishop. There are two legislative houses, like the US Congress: The House of Bishops (the bishops) and the House of Deputies (the clergy and laity). You can do the math. A minimum of 990 people to do the business, depending on how many alternates show up and whether there's an extra bishop or two. Well over a thousand official members of the Convention. But of course that's just the beginning. Most of the national church staff is here and a lot of diocesan staff people as well. Then there are the official organizations of the Church, from the Pension Fund on down, with people from the myriads of committees and commissions, the different official ministries, and a lot of unofficial ministries. The vendors of church stuff of all kinds. The exhibition hall is always huge. And of course faithful (or at least interested) church people drop in. It is a huge event.

My friend Tony Jewiss worked in the GC office for 8 years or so, retiring in 2007, and so I got a peek inside the planning process. It is complicated work, with facilities having to be locked in years in advance, schedules to be coordinated, people's egos to be massaged, and enormous amounts of detail work.

I was the Rector of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Anaheim from 1992 to 2001, so the first thing I did after checking into the Motel 8 on Disneyland Drive, where CAROA are staying, was to drive up to see it. There was a gathering of Native American ministries just ending, and I wasn't dressed to be recognized, so I just poked my head in here and there to see how it looked. Pretty good was the answer. St. Michael's has had hard financial times recently. It is one of the largest Hispanic congregations in the Episcopal Church, and most of those folks are poor and virtually all of them were raised in the Hispanic Roman Catholic culture where stewardship is handled quite differently. Maybe I'll write about that someday, but the bottom line is, there are a lot of dollar bills in the plate on Sunday morning, but not enough of them.

I had been back to Anaheim for a wedding at St. Michael's some years ago, so this was not the first time. But it is a strange feeling. Fortunately the first person I ran across remembered me (bless you!).

More later.