[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council April 18 at the beginning of the council’s three-day meeting in Salt Lake City. This is council’s last meeting of the 2010-2012 triennium. Jefferts Schori’s remarks follow in full.
18 April 2012
Salt Lake City
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
I want to thank all of you for your service in this triennium. I know it has been a very difficult time for almost all, and I think it’s important for us to reflect on the larger context in which our work has been done over the last three years.
When we began our work together in late 2009, we were just past a major budget cut that forced a public and painful reduction in church center staff. It was prompted by the economic crisis that began in 2008, which became far worse than anyone expected. But this economic crisis only hurried a reality that has been emerging for some time. The Episcopal Church, like many of the other well-established churches in the United States and in the west – and not just the western United States – , is declining in numbers, financial strength, and societal influence. This church once was the established and state church in some of the American colonies, and it has continued to act as though it were established for a very long time. Well, my friends, that time is over, gone, and done with. I must note that we have never been established in the other 15 nations where we are present today, and those parts of this church have had to learn other ways of relating to the larger society – and American Episcopalians can learn from that experience. The laws under which the church exists in Latin America and Europe are an example – in some places, like Germany, this church is regulated like a sports club, rather than a church.
We are living in post-establishment times, and as a church, we are beginning to recognize that reality. It has brought an enormous amount of grief. The struggles over inclusion are a symptom, but only part of the response to losing a position and way of being that to many people has seemed intrinsic to being an Episcopalian. The post-establishment reality brings grief in abundance as former ways of living, governing, and privilege disappear. Like all kinds of grief, it can elicit anger, denial, and attempts to go back to some remembered golden age. None of those responses heals the grief. Nor can we fix the grief by tinkering with details. Only by living through the grief and loss, and beginning to embrace the possibilities and opportunities for new life will we ultimately find healing. We are a people who believe in resurrection, and we live in a season when acting out of that belief is absolutely essential.
The difficulties that this body has experienced in the past triennium are not the fault of any one person, structure, or decision. They are a symptom of collective grief. We have three days together, which I hope will be used for forgiveness, a search for understanding, and letting go. I want to thank all of you for the persistence to stay the course, even when the dynamics have been painful. Let’s see what healing we can find in the next 72 hours, and then carry that will toward healing out into the larger church. Your willingness to endure these difficulties has been sacrificial, both as a faithful act of holiness, and as a sacramental act on behalf of others.
Grieving the death of an era is necessary, and it will be fruitful as we invest in the next season of this body’s life. There are profoundly important opportunities before us. I believe the Spirit is inviting us into a significantly different way of being the body of Christ, in which we begin by remembering that the body already has a head. That head is not this body, or General Convention, and indeed that head doesn’t reside anywhere tangible – except as we begin to discern and discover how the spirit is at work among us and around us.
That spirit is inviting us to let go of what is dead and embrace the new life that’s emerging. We’re looking toward a church that is more varied and less rigidly controlled, more networked and less directed. This new church is going to be more organic, more profoundly a body with uniquely gifted parts, each one honored and blessed for the service of God’s mission. It’s going to need different kinds of communication and responsiveness. We are already beginning to live into some of those ways, and others are still waiting to be discovered. None of us knows exactly what this church is going to look like – and that scares some folks to death, even more than the dying that has already been. I don’t know what is coming, none of us knows exactly what’s coming, this body doesn’t know what the next shape will be. We are being invited into a more truly communal process of discernment, a listening to the spirit that is patient and alert enough to help us all embrace that green blade rising.
We will be more faithful, and far more effective, in that discernment work if we can let go of suspicion, assumptions about others’ motives, and power politics – all of which are based in fear and scarcity. We do know that perfect love casts out fear, and when we can remember how deeply and completely love dwells within us, the fear does begin to recede.
I want to invite this body to celebrate the life that has been – both here in the Executive Council and in the wider church. Celebrate what is good and what is gone, give thanks and let it go. One of the realities about grief is that it comes in different ways and on different schedules to different parts of the body. Be gentle with the parts that are angry or depressed, be watchful with those who are still in denial, and be encouraging with those who are beginning to dream a new church. And give thanks in all things, for in God’s economy, it all works together for good. Remember that you are beloved, and give thanks. Remember that the Holy One has called you friend, and do the same for one another. And start dreaming, for the good news is that there is enormous energy in this body for growth and newness – and the seeds are already springing forth.
Let us rejoice in the power of the Spirit. Alleluia, alleluia!