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Editorial: Calling on Jesus

“My one objective as Presiding Bishop was to get the name Jesus into the vocabulary of the Episcopal Church,” Michael Curry told a group of young clergy a few weeks ago in Manhattan. We will be talking about his royal wedding sermon, his racial reconciliation work, and the introduction of the word revival to Episcopalians for years to come. But the freedom and joy to take the Name of Jesus on our lips in such times as these — this is surely the gift we needed most.

Jesus and his disciples were together in a boat one day on the Sea of Galilee, when “a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger” (Luke 8:23). Maybe the seasoned fishermen among them argued for a bit about how to turn the sail or if rowing on the right side or the left was the safest plan. Voices were raised, egos bruised, and for a few moments, the disciples seemed to be making things worse.

But then they turn to Jesus: “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Saint Luke continues, “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm.” Expertise, procedural rectitude, rhetorical flair — all these were useless. Only Jesus could help.

The small boat of the Episcopal Church feels exposed on the windswept sea on the eve of our 81st General Convention. We are in a period of profound unsteadiness. Recent moves to consolidate dioceses are resourceful decisions, but they also make the reality of decline more vivid. Despite many creative projects, our numbers continue to fall sharply. We are closing more churches than we can plant. Zoom church was not the cure-all it may have seemed three years ago, and it’s harder to make our message known in a time of such shrill polarization, within and outside the church.

Squabbling and disorganization have set in. The president and vice president of the House of Deputies are not on speaking terms, and now challenge each other for the top post. Executive Council and Church Center staff squabble over appointment processes and divisions are found between and betwixt them. Many complain that our clergy discipline system (Title IV) is unfair or unwieldly. But there is not widespread agreement about problems or potential solutions. The work that task forces and standing commissions were able to accomplish in only about a year is uneven. At least one crucial working group, charged with sorting out the chaos of our various liturgical rites, was never appointed at all.

In light of all these struggles, the bloated size of General Convention and its bureaucracy looks more and more silly and insulates many of us from the stark reality on the ground and the necessity of returning to basics: the person and work of Jesus; the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and salvation; the source and summit of the Holy Eucharist; confession and forgiveness; care and service to the vulnerable and needy.

Doing the church’s work by our own methods clearly isn’t working. “Master, Master, we are perishing!” We have no other hope than this. To whom else could we go? It is only our Lord who has the words of eternal life.

In at least a few corners of the boat, that seems to be already happening. The search committee wisely called for a Presiding Bishop who would help us speak with care to a world of violence, inequality, and division, while facing our weaknesses in sharing and teaching the faith. “We have discerned that the church faces a challenge of adapting to our current reality,” the committee wrote, and called for a leader who can help us reorder our structures and priorities to use our resources more wisely.

The Holy Spirit has moved five people to offer themselves for this task. Each of them has weathered storms in the dioceses they now lead, learning to call upon the Lord in their times of crisis. All of them bring gifts we need, all love the whole church, none is angry or polarizing. They know that the future must include a commitment to being a big-tent church. We pray for God’s clear direction in this weighty decision.

The Task Force on Communion Across Difference, a group equally composed of those who hold traditional and inclusive understandings of marriage, has developed solutions to help our church flourish across this deep divide, which sets Christians against each other in nearly every church in the West. Our editor-in-chief hasbeen a part of the task force’s work in this triennium.

The task force’s proposals secure continued access to our current Book of Common Prayer in the face of inevitable revision. They deal with the emerging problem of weaponizing the Title IV process against theological conservatives, and they create assurances about access to discernment for ordination, call processes and canonical residency for all clergy, ensuring that the agonies that attended the consent process for the Diocese of Florida’s bishop election won’t be repeated. The proposals emerge from patient listening, mutual respect, and sincere love, and we pray for their success.

Several other promising proposals before General Convention would help our church “adapt to our present reality.” Resolutions proposed by four of our strongest dioceses urge a gradual reduction in assessments to the Church Center to keep funds where they can best foster local mission. Some practical fixes to the denominational health plan would ensure more equitable access while also lowering costs to parishes. A series of rule changes should help the House of Deputies act as a more deliberative body by limiting the number of issues that can be discussed constructively in the time we have together.

Perhaps most hopefully of all, General Convention will begin for the first time with a revival, a signature Michael Curry event. Together, we will call on Jesus for help — the Name our Presiding Bishop has restored to our vocabulary. We will pray to heal our relationships and focus us on things that really matter. May he rebuke the winds and the raging waves, so that our little boat may be filled with his peace, and we might witness with clarity to his death and resurrection and to the power of a life grounded in Holy Scripture and the Sacraments of the New Covenant.

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