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.+George looked out at the congregation and said, "Too bad for you."
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."
There were other really great moments in that sermon but I'll leave that for another time and post.
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.
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.