By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The Episcopal Church needs to face its fears, let go of “what no longer gives life,” and embrace an unknown future, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Wednesday in opening remarks at General Convention.
“What no longer brings life must be laid down to fertilize future growth,” she said. “We will not all agree about precisely what that includes, but we need to be fearless in examining what will come before us, whether it is marriage, the size of this deliberative body, or where we store up our treasure.”
Bishop Jefferts Schori repeatedly exhorted deputies and bishops to be brave and not cling to vestiges that have served their purposes.
“It is abundantly clear that many of the older plantings have reached the end of their lives,” she said. “We need to find new ways of tending the birds of the air who haven’t found sheltering trees or nourishing fruit.”
Such new ways, she said, include churches in which worship happens around a meal, camps for children of prisoners, and elder housing.
Structural changes will not be easy because, in debating such proposals, deeper issues are at stake, according to opening remarks from the Rev. Gay Jennings, president of the House of Deputies.
“When we’re talking about structure, we’re really talking about our identity,” President Jennings said. “We are talking about who we are as the people of God if we are not the church we have always been. We’re talking about what it means to be a deacon or a priest or a bishop if it doesn’t mean what it meant — or what we thought it meant — when we finished a local formation program or seminary.”
Jennings received the only standing ovation of the morning when she spoke of the church’s opportunity to make a difference in race relations.
“General Convention is where we Episcopalians have the ability not only to proclaim that black lives matter but also to take concrete action toward ending racism and achieving God’s dream and justice for every single person,” she said as hundreds in the sprawling room rose to their feet.
She urged Convention not to dwell on recent, sobering survey data about declining participation in religious life, especially among young adults. The Episcopal Church has more to do, and the work needs to begin promptly.
“God is not done with us yet,” she said.