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Friday, September 08, 2006

Out of the Funk

We used to call them “the dog and pony show.” Before that, it was unofficially known as “the beauty pageant.” Both terms drip with the sarcasm that comes from combining a blatantly political practice with a deeply spiritual process of discernment.

Some still call them “the walk-abouts” – an attempt to dignify the process with an Anglican term for organized group meetings in which members of the British Royal Family walk past assembled crowds of onlookers, meeting and chatting with various members of the public. It has fallen into disuse, because it is also an Australian pidgin (or perhaps quasi-pidgin) term, used in the film Crocodile Dundee among others, referring to the belief that Australian Aborigines "go walkabout" at the age of thirteen in the wilderness for six months as a rite of passage. The term is now considered to be racially insensitive.

The current phrase is infinitely more pragmatic if not less romantic: “Meet the Candidates” – which is exactly what we did last night. A capacity crowd spilled over in each of the five designated rooms at St. Andrew’s Holy Communion Church in South Orange last night, as the seven nominees for the election of the 10th Bishop of Newark met with us.

They had met the previous evening at All Saints Church in Leonia, where 150 people were expected, but over 300 people were reportedly in attendance.

Although the buzz at 11:00 PM outside the church was pretty clearly focused on three of the candidates, it would be highly improper for me to speculate on any front runner or dead last place candidate here. There remains an all day gathering with clergy today until 4 PM at St. Elizabeth’s in Ridgewood, an all day meeting with the laity at the Hilton in Parsippany on Saturday, and a Sunday afternoon gathering at St. Mary’s, Sparta.

There are many miles to go before anyone – especially the nominees – gets any sleep.

While each candidate was impressive in their own way, that’s not what was most impressive to me. I am delighted, beyond the telling, to see my diocese energized again.

We have been in a deep funk for a while now, which has only gotten more difficult to dispel the longer it has continued. We’ve been disillusioned with highly promised congregational development techniques which have failed to deliver on their promises.

We’ve been isolated and disconnected from each other, despite the clear intention of the reorganization of the diocese into districts in which we were supposed to deepen our capacity for ministry through increased congregational collaboration.

We’ve had to come face to face with the consequences of delaying important decisions about congregational vitality. Our new bishop is going to have to make some tough decisions relatively soon into their episcopacy and that’s a heavy burden to give anyone.

We’ve also discovered the high cost of discipleship – of being obedient to our call to call ourselves, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion into humble obedience to the radical call of Jesus for the full inclusion and unconditional love of God for all of God’s children.

And yet, we haven’t backed down from either our historical legacy or our unique vocation. The Nominating / Search Committee felt called to present a slate which included one who is honestly gay – despite the recent actions of General Convention in Columbus. And they did just that.

Through it all, we have remained faithful, courageous and bold in our faith in Christ Jesus. I have come to believe that this is what has made the difference. Our steadfast faithfulness is what finally released the energy last night as we meet the candidates long into the evening.

Clergy and laity were asking important questions, pointed questions – with intelligence, humor and grace – of each of the candidates. (Oh, there was one question asked by a man about “clergy with unnatural urges” but even that was handled well.) We were often excited by what we heard in their responses – the creative, innovative, grace-filled, prayer-full and deeply spiritual approach many of the candidates have to their ministry.

We were frequently impressed by the obvious thought and care they had given to how they would adapt their theologies to formulate a methodology that was respectful of and pertinent to our unique place in the vineyard of our mission and ministry.

I woke this morning with this prayer on my lips: “Thank you, Most Holy God, for sending us these candidates. They have become for us bearers of your message that we have been obedient to your call; that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and worthy, in fact, to proclaim it to the world. Thank you for having given us the courage to live out your gospel in a church which wants to contain and define and control the Great Mystery of your presence in the center of our lives. Now, help us to faithfully discern the one you have already chosen to be our Chief Pastor, to lead us as “pioneers of the future,” fueling the “diocesan engine of justice” with “the energy of evangelism” – which is “one hungry person teaching another how to get bread.” We boldly ask all these things of you, secure in the knowledge of your unconditional love and your promise to always be in the midst of us whenever we gather together in your name. Amen.

And now, let the funk be forever gone! Bless us onward to know the glory of God, the deep joy which the apostles knew, and the inspiration of the fresh winds of change and challenge.


Fr. John said...

Dear Elizabeth,

I rejoice that the "Meet the Candidates" events are going well, and that the Spirit is blowing through Newark with renewed power; of course, you knew She would.

In California, these events deepened "the bonds of affection" between the people of our diocese, and allowed us to show ourselves serious, joyful, faithful people. It sounds like you all are rising to the occasion as well.

My hope is that this week will allow you to narrow the field and to have the conversations that will prepare you for election day.

Newark is in my prayers.




Farewell to "the funk" and all best blessings to you and your diocese as you journey together into this new season of ministry!