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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Postcards from a Diocesan Convention #2: The Last Word

One down, one to go.

Diocesan Convention is over and Annual Meeting at St. Paul's is tomorrow.

The above picture was taken at Friday afternoon's opening Eucharist at The Cathedral of Trinity and St. Phillip in Newark. That's Bishop George Councell, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey in the pulpit who gave a wonderful opening sermon.

His opening story was one I understand he tells everywhere he preaches. Even though I had heard it before, it was good to hear him tell it again. So, here it is:
A deacon, a priest and a bishop were all found guilty of a high crime and sentenced to death. They were each asked for their last request before execution.

The deacon asked for a grand meal: steak, lobster, and a great dessert. The bishop was appalled that a servant of the servants of God should ask for such extravagance. "Before I die, I wish to preach one more sermon for the glory of God."

The priest said, "In that case, my last request is that I be executed before the bishop gives his last sermon."
+George looked out at the congregation and said, "Too bad for you."

There were other really great moments in that sermon but I'll leave that for another time and post.
Here are three members of our deputation: Ms. Conroy, Charlie and Mark, looking very much like they are earning their keep.

They did. It was not an easy convention.

We only had four resolutions, a record for the Diocese of Newark - at least in my recollection and I've been here since 1991. There was one limiting the terms of the Trustees (from 'life' to 5 years). One which asked for the development of a liturgy, suitable for Sunday Eucharistic celebration, which honors veterans and is to be used on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Two resolutions were proposed by the Women's Commission. One asked congregations to utilize the resources at our Bishop Anand Center to bring the issue of human trafficking to the attention of our congregations.

The other asked the Human Resource Advisory Commission and the Women's Commission to survey search committees and vestries in terms of clergy compensation. We are especially interested to see the discrepancies (because we know they exist) of salaries in terms of gender . We will do that and report to Convention 2011.

The rubber hit the road in terms of the budget. My view is that the budget is the most powerful theological statement a diocese - or church, or any body that purports to be Christian - can make. There were some serious theological shifts which resulted in some policy decisions which made us all uncomfortable.

For the first time in anyone's memory, the budget was challenged. That resulted in a resolution which called for greater transparency as well as better communication in the budget process.

That was a good thing, but it took a great deal of work to get us to that point.

During lunch, our deputation went to various workshops - one on Prison Ministry and another on Ministry of the Laity. Both returned enthusiastic about what they had learned.

I was working on budget stuff and the other deputy chose to 'schmooze' with the nuns among us. I won't mention her name, but she's pretty hopeless around women in long black or gray skirts. It's her natural default position.
And here am I with John Donnelly - holding down different ends of the theological spectrum. John and I have had our sharp differences in the past - he, at one point, was the President of the NJ Chapter of the American Anglican Council. He remains solidly 'orthodox'.

He and his wife, Ellen, have served as co-rectors of St. Michael's, Wayne, since 1991. You will note that he and Ellen came into the Diocese of Newark at about the same time Ms. Conroy and I did.

Indeed, when Bishop Spong was diocesan, he would invite new clergy to his home on the first Monday of the month for a home cooked meal (Christine would do the main course and he would prepare dessert).

I'll never forget the occasion. It was All Saint's Day. While seated at the dinner table, +Jack asked John and Ellen to tell us about their family. When they finished, he turned to Ms. Conroy and, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, asked, "Why don't you tell us all about your family?"

She returned his mischievous glint and began to talk about our six kids. I can still remember the looks on the faces 'round the table. Ms. Conroy did so well that +Jack and Chris invited us many times to their home - especially when they had visiting bishops or clergy from conservative dioceses.

At some point during the meal, +Jack would look at Ms. Conroy and say, "Why don't you tell us about your family?" And, right on cue, Ms. Conroy would wax eloquent about our children and what they were all doing.

It was Ms. Conroy and +Jack's special "thing" which has become even more special to me over the years.

If you click on the link on John's name, you will find his position on homosexuality as reported by VirtueOnLine, which couldn't be any further from my own position.

You have to know that John and I really like each other as people. I don't know a more authentically Christian man who holds his positions as passionately as I do my own.

I greatly admire and deeply respect what he and Ellen have done at St. Michael's. Most recently, they closed the church one Sunday and asked everyone in their congregation, instead, to "engage the world" in ministry. At the end of the day, they all returned to the church and worshiped and praised God together.

See what I mean?

I love being in a diocese where John and Ellen and Ms. Conroy and I can live and move and have our being and worship the God of our understanding in our own way: They with a Praise Band, hands in the air, speaking in tongues as the Spirit moves. We with our traditional BCP liturgy and music from the Hymnal.

This is the Diocese of Newark that I know and love.

Diocesan Convention is one part business, one part legislation, one part prayer and worship, and one part 'My Big Fat Episcopal Family Reunion'.

And, you know what?

I wouldn't have it any other way.

11 comments:

L said...

This warms the cockles of my
Episcopalian heart as I sit under the big tent!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's the part of the Body of Christ that I think pleases Jesus most. Not just TEC but ANY religious organization that practices his "high priestly" prayer "that we all may be one."

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Wonderful tales.

And I bet +Jack and Ms. Conroy had that routine down like Abbott and Costello doing "Who's on First!" I would pay real money to buy a ticket for that!

Malcolm+ said...

The much more conservative than me Executive Archdeacon and his wife have decided to worship at the place where I hang my metaphorical biretta. (I actually don't have a biretta. Ironically, the evangelically trained archdeacon does.) Gatta love big tent Anglicanism.

On the matter of wee jokes, there is the story of an English bishop who dreamt that he was preaching at St. Paul's Cathedral and woke up to find it was perfectly true.

Mark Beach said...

Hi Elizabeth

and thanks for this... Isn't it the way Anglicans are supposed to relatie to each other. Broad church, respectful of our differences but worshipping the smae God?

I have General Synod next wek and we will be forced away from this position once again by a motion seeking closer links with ACNA...

Love to you all in NJ from over the pond.

Mark

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Mark. Good to hear from you. One word about those "closer links to ACNA": RESIST

Mark Beach said...

RESIST is the intention here, but it will be an interesting test of the Synod's mind...

M

Dale said...

I have a John Donnelly story for you. My family went to that church when we moved to Parsippany, in the late 80s, early 1990s. My parents were conservative, so as we started looking for churches, we tried St. Peter's Morristown, Morris Plains, Mountain Lakes, Denville... none of the clergy passed the dinner test. St. Michaels' then Rector did, so we went there. Anyway, my mother went to that church for most of her life, and about eight years ago, she died. She was on vestry when she died. My wife and my aunt flew with me back to north Jersey to do the arrangements, and that funeral service at St. Michael's made my aunt, an old cultural Catholic, coin the phrase "Jesus orgasm." My mother was lying there, dead, in her box, and there were John and Ellen gyrating for Jesus with their hands in the air and their eyes closed. My aunt whispered to me "Its like they're auditioning for the academy awards over who can have the biggest Jesus orgasm!" They projected the song "Be Not Afraid" on to a big screen during the service, and there was a typo... it said "when you cross the raging waters of the sea you shall NOW drown" (instead of not drown) and my wife did a double take. Then, a month later, when we interred my mother's ashes in the memorial garden, they put that song up on the screen again, and again, a month later, it still had the typo. St. Michaels is an interesting place. I remember, at that funeral, seeing all these nice Jewish ladies who worked with my mother, wearing black suits and makeup and trying to be polite, using words like "overstimulating." I was thinking, that busted the Episcopalian stereotype for them. I of course, in post-adolescent rebellion, went high church. It drove my mother nuts. In her mind, the sun rose and set on John and Ellen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

OMG, Dale. A "Jesus orgasm" ????? "Gyrating for Jesus"???? That's really too funny, but I guess to 'proper Episcopalians' that's just what it looks like.

Not my style, but if it helped to put your mother's soul to rest, then 'no harm, no foul'.

John and Ellen are good Christians and I genuinely admire the work they've done at St. Michael's. Again, not my style, but they've done some good work for Jesus - gyrations not withstanding.

I just love being in a church where "no matter who you are or where you've been or where you're going" - or how you worship Jesus, you are welcome.

Well, that's under assault these days, but that's TEC I fell in love with and am still willing to fight for. And you know what? I think that's another point John and Ellen would be in complete agreement - even though it makes neither of us completely happy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I just hope your Synod doesn't lose its mind. Do keep us posted.

Dale said...

The charismatic nature of St. Michaels developed over time. Under Gutekunst, it was not so "overstimulating." Donnellys arrived when I was a Junior in HS. I got the heck out of NJ as soon as I could after HS, and only went back a handful of times before my mother died, so I was surprised by the gyrations, especially at a funeral, when my nerves were fried. Its still a dinner topic. "That church in NJ" is still a dinner conversation topic when I go to dinner at Aunt Marilyn's. I was back in NJ in 2008, and I went to the Memorial Garden at St. Michaels, and they had an electric sign out front (they called themselves Anglican on their sign) and the sign said "Chill out with God."