Executive Council kicked off its first meeting since the 79th General Convention, gathering in a conference center Oct. 15 in suburban Minneapolis to begin discussing how to align church operations with the priorities and mandates established in July.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry opened the morning session at Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center by using a passage from the Gospel of John to set the tone for this four-day session: “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said during his Last Supper. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Curry came back to those lines several times during remarks that ran about 20 minutes. The church “loses its soul the further it gets away from Jesus of Nazareth,” he said, but the work of the council will build on the movement of Christians seeking to reclaim what it means to be followers of Jesus and his teachings.
“I know that it’s easy for fads to come and go, and yet it is my deep and earnest prayer that our embracing what it means to be the Jesus Movement will not be a fad that comes and goes,” Curry said.
The Episcopal Church passed more than 500 resolutions at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. “Our structures for translating, processing and disseminating strained at the sheer volume” of resolutions, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies. But she was heartened rather than troubled by the numbers. A record number of resolutions shows Episcopalians are energized by their faith.
She also was encouraged by the number of people who have volunteered to serve on one of the interim bodies that continue the work of General Convention during the triennium. “The good news is 1,200 people want to be involved in the work between conventions,” Jennings said.
At convention, the House of Bishops held a “Liturgy of Listening” to hear the stories of sexual abuse and exploitation, including within the church, drawing attention to these issues “that too many church leaders have refused to acknowledge and have only become more urgent since convention concluded,” Jennings said.
In February, Jennings appointed a 47-member Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation to lead the church’s efforts, and those efforts will accelerate in the new triennium, Jennings said Oct. 15. She also referenced her guest post Oct. 8 for The Christian Century, which she wrote in response to the sexual assault allegations made against Justice Brett Kavanaugh by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford.
The agenda for the first day of the meeting was light on legislative business, though the group voted in the morning to establish a new roster of committees based on the priorities set by General Convention under Curry. They are Finance, Government & Operations; Ministry Within the Episcopal Church; and Ministry Beyond the Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Michael Barlowe, secretary of General Convention, sought to frame the council’s business partly as an attempt to bridge the gap between the churchwide and the local. “The further you get from the local congregation,” he said, “the more remote things can sometimes seem.”
He encouraged council members to keep the local context in mind, and he said the council plans to meet in all nine provinces during the triennium leading up to the 80th General Convention, which will meet in Baltimore. “We’re going to make an effort to learn more about that local context as we go around,” he said.
In his remarks, Curry alluded to unspecified organizational crises within the Episcopal Church that had been hindering its spiritual work. “Every crisis is a disguised opportunity; you just have to figure out what it is,” he said. “We realized we needed to do something different.”
One of those things was hiring a personnel consultant to study the workplace culture of the churchwide offices and help church leaders improve that culture.
“Through it all, we’re going to love each other and take care of each other,” he said.
Curry was more pointed in making his case for “reclaiming Jesus,” invoking an initiative that he and other ecumenical leaders launched earlier this year to refocus the broader culture on Jesus’ teachings.
“Christianity is being hijacked in public perceptions of what it means to be Christian,” he said.
By trying to reclaim the Jesus of love and compassion, Curry said, he was not making a political commentary, though “it may have political consequences.”
“That’s what I believe we need, not just in the church,” he said. “I’m talking in the culture — a revival of the way of being Christian that looks something like Jesus, the Jesus that said ‘love is what it’s all about.’”
The next council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21-24 in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Future locations have yet to be announced.
Adapted from David Paulsen, ENS