House of Bishops Spring 2012 retreat meeting: Daily account

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is meeting in retreat at Camp Allen Conference & Retreat Center in Navasota, Texas (Diocese of Texas) from March 16 to March 20.  The following is an account of the activities for Friday, March 16.

The spring retreat meeting of the Episcopal Church House of Bishops continues the House’s ongoing theme of The Church for the 21st Century, with a focus on The Gift of Episcope/El Don el Episopado. The schedule calls for prayer-filled sessions, and bishops will participate in daily Bible study, reflection and worship.

The morning was devoted to retreat, prayer, reflection and discussion on Spiritual Discipline, led by Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts.  He began and ended the session with a prayer by St. Augustine.

Emcee for the day was Bishop Nedi Rivera of Eastern Oregon.

In the afternoon session, a conversation on the General Convention 2009 Resolution B014 (Reconciliation or Dissolution of an Episcopal Relationship) was conducted by Bishop Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan, Bishop Brian Thom of Idaho and Bishop Jim Waggoner of Spokane. HOB members reviewed the proposal as a body and in small groups, and shared reactions, thoughts and suggestions with each other.

The draft Social Media policy for electronic media at HOB meetings and gatherings was introduced and presented by Bishop Gayle Harris of Massachusetts and Bishop Waggoner of the Pastoral Development Committee. The bishops discussed the draft and provided suggestions.

The daylong session concluded with Eucharist, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori celebrating and preaching. (The text of the sermon is below.)

Visitor at HOB:
The Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, Church of England

Media Briefers for Friday, March 16
Bishop David Bailey of Navajoland
Bishop Scott Mayer of the Diocese of Northwest Texas
Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire

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House of Bishops opening Eucharist
March 16, 2012

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

My mother used to tell us that when my mother and her siblings did something that did not meet with parental approval, my grandfather used to say, “We’re going to have words, and you’re not going to get to use any of yours.” Note what Hosea says: ‘Return to the Lord and take words with you.’ He goes on to specify three kinds of words: repentance, affirmation, and ‘the fruit of our lips.’ Relationship with the God who has planted Israel in this garden is about the creative, effective, and life-giving word shared between planter and planted.

What kind of word or words do we take with us into relationships? Most of our work at this meeting will center on that question. We’re going to consider covenantal words in several different relational contexts – lifelong partnerships between human beings, the communion relationships between Anglican and Episcopal provincial churches, the words for dissolving a pastoral relationship, and the words we will collectively affirm (or not) in resolutions at General Convention.

Our understanding of God is deeply related to word, both the Hebrew dabar and the Greek. We understand that word in relation to creativity, efficacy, and fidelity. Creation begins as God speaks it into existence: ‘God said, let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good… Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”… God blessed them… God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.’ (Gen 1)

Isaiah reports about God’s effective word in the words we all know: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

God is the one who is faithful. God hears the cries of people in the wilderness, and responds by changing the divine mind, and/or by calling out leaders, and rescuers, relievers and healers. God names Jesus ‘my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ The prophet’s work is always about speaking forth God’s word to build a healed and beloved community. The words that we take in returning to the Lord have to echo God’s own word. Those words are meant to be about returning and re-engaging in relationship, about creative and faithful engagement with Life Abundant and Love Incarnate, for the sake of all creation.

When the scribe asks Jesus, the Word, what is the most important word of God, the clear response is about loving relationship with God, self, and neighbor. It is about that creative and effective word in action and in being. And at least for a time, it puts an end to the questions!

We are going to use our words here, and they are meant to be of the sort that restores relationship, that builds up the body into maturity and the full stature of Christ. Yet we’re not all going to agree about what that looks like!

How do the words of our lips become fruitful, even when they seem to meet competing words? How do we work at speaking and being God’s word, particularly as companions in the Body of Christ, in this body, and in the diverse dioceses where we’re planted? How do we help the vines planted in those different gardens be fruitful, how do we ward off grape stealers and vineyard destroyers, so that the fruit of God’s planting might feed the hungry and thirsty who gather at the gates of the vineyard?

Faithful and effective words bring more abundant life. We have plenty of examples around us of less than fruitful words – the current political campaigns are filled with destructive, soul-destroying ones. We have experienced similarly destructive words in this house, though not much recently, but there are plenty of anxious and destructive words in Episcopal internet conversations, and even occasionally face to face. The life gets sucked out of conversations when labels substitute for the image of God, when positions are seen as ultimate and eternal – in other words, when words become idols. When idle/idol words are used, what is communicated is arrogance about one’s own version of truth, and words become stony stumbling blocks – they become scandalous and deadly, rather than lively and creative fruit of the heart.

God’s word is ultimately effective; yet even our best words almost always partake of that three-fold nature that Hosea sets out – repentance, affirmation, and fruitfulness. It’s not the good, bad, and the ugly – but perhaps the good, the bad, and the hopeful. If the words we take into our conversation contain some hope, God’s word will be present and creative. The politicized conversations around us are closed and dead because there is little space for hope or new and creative possibility.

We have multiple opportunities to receive others’ words – to eat them, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel did, to savor them and take whatever nutrition we can find in them. An attitude of vulnerability like that expects – hopes – that they will be creative in us. Our willingness to taste and receive the words others bring is literally the opposite of what so often happens in the conversations around us. When words disgust us they have lost the ability to make life within us – they are dead on arrival, just straw or dust in our mouths.

Loving God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, is mostly about a faithful hope that God will continue to be creative, even in the dry or surprising words others may offer. We hope for healing, growth, and more abundant life even and especially in relationships that seem less than abundant. That’s really what covenantal language is about – that we will continue in relationship in the expectation that God is still at work in the midst of it – and in us.

That hopefulness applies to our relationships around the Communion as well as to the relationship between two partners or spouses. We will continue in relationship with whoever sits on Augustine’s seat in Canterbury. Hopefulness applies to the relationship between bishop and diocese or priest and congregation. For the sake of God’s word, we pledge to continue to work at those relationships, and to hope for more, until we or the relationships die.

Part of our challenge is the discernment work to be done about the ongoing liveliness of relationships, particularly when we bear responsibility for those who may be affected by destructive ones. Yet we are challenged not to end relationships prematurely. Sometimes we make decisions that seem to the world to be overly hopeful – persisting in the hope for more life and healing. Yet coming to the conclusion that a particular relationship is dead, and that it’s time for the partners to seek greater possibility in other relationships, can also be a loving and hopeful response. That tension between hope and the care of the shepherd is ultimately resolved only in the heart of God.

What words will we bring to these covenantal conversations? Will our words include turning back to Love itself, an affirmation that we and others are blessed and beloved creation, and that because of Love, there is hope for all? There is nothing greater than that, my friends. Use your words, and use them well. May they partake of God’s word now and evermore, and may they be fruitful – sweet as honey, substantial as desert quail and breakfast fish on the beach, holy as bread. Taste and see that the word is good. Bring that word when you turn to the Lord and to your neighbor.

Comments

  1. They are not the “House” of Bishops unless meeting in conjunction with the House of Deputies. They are just the bishops.

  2. Exactly right, Ann! If Congress were adjourned, and if all the senators got together for some reason, it *still* would not be a session of the Senate.

    But, when the bishops meet in plenary session outside of General Convention, it does make sense for that group to have a name.

    I propose, therefore, “College” of Bishops. Whatever else they are, they are one another’s colleagues, after all….

  3. Chuck Till says:

    There is one reference in the national canons to a Council of Bishops as distinct from the HOB. That said, the totality of the national constitution and canons clearly implies that the HOB is an ongoing body to act throughout the triennium and not merely during GC.

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