The Evangelist

What I Took Away From General Convention 2018

Between July 2 and July 14, 2018, 880 strong-willed and passionate deputies met in Austin Texas to agree on some important and sensitive issues in our Church. In reminiscing about these two weeks, one of our senior deputies (having attended 7 GC’s) described this General Convention as the best ever. Another deputy captured it under three C’s – Collegiality, Congeniality, and Committees. I would add another C – Cordial. Unlike in 2015 where the tensions were high, 2018 was friendlier with a lot of “give and take.”

Having been appointed to the legislative committee 10, dealing with Congregational and Diocesan Vitality, one of the things I learned is that all the work happens in the committees. All resolutions (this convention had over 500 resolutions) are sent to the different committees, and all the committed and passionate Christians come to those committees and testify in the open hearings. It is from these hearings that the committees propose, amend, or drop a particular resolution. To pass any resolution from the committee, it has to be voted on in both houses – the house of bishops and the house of deputies present in the committee. Unfortunately, for some reason, there are well-intended Christians who never show up in the hearings and wait to speak on the floor. These are the cause for the prolonged General Convention which is still stuck at 2 weeks, minimum.

Like any other convention, the hot buttons in this General Convention were two: The liturgical revision of the 1979 Prayer Book and, the allowing of same-gender couples to be married in their home parishes. While we decided not to revise, but memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the final resolution in one sense authorized the church to do some revision of some sort through “trial-use liturgies.” By memorializing the prayer book, the church meant that you will always have the 1979 BCP in your pews as the duly authorized prayer book of the Episcopal Church, but you can use other trial liturgies “as long as they are Trinitarian,” says Bishop Jake. In case you are wondering, the drive for the proposed liturgical revision is the need for inclusive and expansive language when addressing both humanity and divinity.

As far as allowing same-sex marriages in the local parish is concerned, in essence, the passed resolution removes the Opposing Bishops’ authority to prohibit access by same-sex couples to be married in their dioceses and local parishes; but allows them to oppose such (and teach such) as they secure a more permissive bishop to counsel parishes within their dioceses to oversee these local rites. The canons were however upheld and reaffirmed in the language of the resolution that the Rector/Priest-in-charge OR Vestry/Congregation have the right to refuse to celebrate the said rites. Likewise, in more permissive dioceses; bishops no longer have authority to restrict or give permission for parishes to restrict such rites, but with the same caveat that no Rector/Priest/Vestry or Congregation will be compelled to do so. Also, the rites for gender-neutral nuptials will remain as trial-use liturgies and will not be included in the Book of Common Prayer unless and until a new revision of the BCP is authorized.

Reading between the lines, you realize that there is some canonical confusion as to the extent of the Opposing Bishops’ response to all of this, and the local issue as to the status of vicars/mission councils as per diocesan canons. The practical interpretation is clear that the decision-making here (as of Advent this year) will shift from the Bishop/Diocese to the Clergy/Congregations (including the future path for liturgical revision) in general. In a nutshell, the resolution implies that while bishops are able to lead their dioceses with their conscience, “Their conscience is NOT their diocese!”

The highlight of the General Convention was the welcoming back of the Church of Cuba into The Episcopal Church. In addition, there was a lot of discussion on ensuring safety and honor for women in the church, the dismantling of racism, the witnessing at the Hutto Family Detention Center for the sake of detained immigrants, the rallying against gun violence and the appeal to Israel on behalf of Palestinians.

What did I take away from the General Convention? I think Deputy Sam Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia has captured it well for me in his wise counsel to any who might happen to be a deputy in the future: “offer and let go”. As Sam says, I have learned that “in our Church, no one –no matter who we are! – no one gets their own way. We offer what we have, and then we let it go. We don’t get our own way. But we do, indeed, get the Church’s Way, the greater good, the common good, the Way of Christ. The same goes for our local congregations and local communities of faith. Our most healthy communities of faith are those where people faithfully make our offerings and then let them go, for the sake of the whole Church. In the end, it is not any one person or party who “wins.” In the end, Love wins!”

Posted by Thomas Nsubuga

Summer 2018

I cannot recall the exact interview, but I remember watching a segment where Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, explained a moment of awakening from her childhood.  As a girl she was visiting with a family member, a cousin our an aunt, explaining what difficulty she was having reading and understanding the Bible.  This family member said, “Well Ruth, why don’t you try this, it works for me . . . every place see someone’s name in the Gospel – like Peter, Mary, Matthew, Nicodemus – someone with whom Jesus is talking – just replace it with your own name – Ruth.”

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a person called Ruth sitting at the tax office; and he said to her, Follow me.  And she rose and followed Jesus.”  Matthew 9.9

“And Jesus said to Ruth, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.  And when they had brought their boats to land, Ruth left everything and followed him.”

Ruth Graham recalled the difference this made in her life.  She pointed to this suggestion as a doorway toward understanding that the Bible contained a message for her own life.  I found this insight helpful and sometimes illuminating in my own journey of faith.

Sometimes regular Bible study reminds me of the lonely broccoli and salad on the buffet at some “All You Can Eat” palace of junk food delights.  More and more I find my “screen-life” is like a carnival midway, a circus, of social media and cyber distractions and entertainment; minds being constantly harassed by the “next shiny thing.”  The presence of the Bible, the language of the Bible, the study of the Bible simply cannot compete with the light and noise and rhetoric generated in the cyber echo chambers of thought and opinion that many of us find ourselves drawn toward.  Reading and studying the Bible requires a willingness for us to suspend stimulation and enter a deeper level of concentration.  Bible study is sometimes assumed to be for the simple minded, or those without the advantage of cultivated diversions.  When the fact of the matter is that the greatest of minds in our history have spent countless hours in the pages of this message St. Augustine calls “our letter from home.”

Our Wednesday Men’s study group has taken up a good book, Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs To Know, Timothy Beal.  My older brother suggested it to me.  He is part of a study group of urban professionals in the DC suburbs who are seeking to understand the Bible in the midst of busy lives.  It is a user-friendly introduction for those curious about the Bible; it is nice summary of significant passages for students of the Bible.

Bible study and The Daily Office is a wonderful antidote and counter-balance to the never-ending stream of advice and contemporary wisdom that we find on the internet and social media; it seems that there are many who would offer right pathways and right thinking for those who might have questions about life’s deeper purpose.  Many who would prescribe the highest and best use of our attention spans is to read their blog, or follow their postings, contribute our attention span to the greater good of their agendas. 

Reading the Bible, for me, is about finding voices who speak with the power of God, and voices that point toward an eternal reality; voices whose ultimate goal was not audience approval, or the congratulations garnered from creating a personal “brand.”  Finding our life’s story within the Bible is an invitation to discover purpose, clarity, as well as wrestle with deeper questions regarding the trajectory of our temporal, as well as our eternal life.  The promise from God is that when we turn our attention in his direction, that the Spirit will be there to meet us.

Father Thomas and I were visiting about Bible reading, and he offered this poignant insight taken from Timothy Beal’s essay, The Rise and Fall of the Bible, “The iconic idea of the Bible as a book of black-and-white answers encourages us to remain in a state of spiritual immaturity.  It discourages curiosity in the terra incognita of biblical literature, handing us a Magic 8 Ball Bible to play with instead.”  Reading the Bible with the knowledge that our names are included in the trajectory of the message communicated in scripture is to accept an invitation to struggle with the reality that our lives are actually unfolding within the context of God’s greater story.  We may not find pat and easy answers, as much as we might find an invitation to wrestle in our way with what it means to know that Jesus is calling us.

I turn to the Bible and find that it is “more protein than carbs,” because it addresses both my life on this day and my life for all the days to come.  Or as Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes, “I know the Bible is inspired because it finds me at a greater depth of my being than any other book.”  It is our letter from home; it is the story in which our names are already written.


Godspeed in your journey.
Alston Johnson
Dean, St Marks

Posted by Alston Johnson

The High Calling of Discipleship

...Christ did not appoint professors, but followers. If not reduplicated in the life of the person expounding it, then he does not expound Christianity, for Christianity is a message about living and can only be expounded by being realized in individual lives. — Soren Kierkegaard

I remember a wise teacher once sharing insights about how each of us is called to pray. “Each of us has a special conversation that we are having with God – that conversation is as unique to each of us as the fingerprints on our hands.”

That made a lot of sense to me. Although we all have hands and fingers, things in common, upon closer inspection, we see that although we have much in common we are still utterly unique in the eyes of God in the tiniest of particularities.

I am reminded of these small but significant differences when we hear stories of faith. It reinforces my belief that the Holy Spirit moves in our lives with the hand of a carver whittling away, shaping the larger scope of our lives as bits and pieces are cut and fall away. We may have some sense of the shape we are taking in the hands of God, though we can never really foresee what God is making of us.

I always love to hear someone say, “If you had told me that I would be here with this group of people joining this Church so many years ago...I would have thought you were crazy.” To me it seems to be a “good kind of crazy.” It is a crazy that speaks of God’s hand moving and shaping and whittling away amid the details, so that in the larger scope of life there is purpose and meaning that we can one day discern, that we can share with others, and over which we can laugh with great, open hearts.

I believe that Christian Discipleship is perhaps the greatest adventure that any one of us might take in life. We often reserve that sense of high calling to our careers, our leisure, our romantic prospects, the lives we build for our children; but I believe that there is no more exciting place to be than to consciously place ourselves into the hands of the living God. My own journey, and the time I spend with others, tells me that this is actually what every human soul is searching for in life; that place where we may rest in God’s hands, knowing that the carver is shaping the wood.

In the fall we will begin a program that has taken root in England and now the United States: The Pilgrim Course.

The Pilgrim Course is meant to meet folks at the “ground zero” of their sense of belief in God and faith. It seeks to equip people to become followers of Jesus Christ in all corners of their lives. It is built from Scripture, and draws inspiration and teaching from the Ancient Church. In short, it is an invitation to deeper discipleship. We will begin with Book 1 “Turning to Christ” as we join with others in seeking to answer the question – “What do Christians believe?”

The Pilgrim Course is for anyone who would like to visit the foundations of the Christian faith. Perhaps you are living through a season of life where revisiting the sources of our faith would be helpful; perhaps you know someone who has questions and needs a safe place in which to ask them; perhaps you know someone whom you could introduce to Christ.

My hope is that The Pilgrim Course will introduce both new and old believers to the high calling of discipleship, and open doors within their own journeys of faith.

Blessings and Godspeed,
Alston Johnson, Dean

“Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a living presence.” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Posted by Alston Johnson