[Episcopal News Service] The House of Bishops ended its fall meeting Sept. 24 in Nashville, Tennessee, following six days focused on the theme “Transforming Loss into New Possibilities.”
“This has been a grace-filled meeting,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during a telephone press conference after the meeting ended.
The bishops looked at mission as going out into the community rather than as staying in “beautiful churches” waiting for people to come, she said. “There were challenges from and to the bishops to get engaged in communities.”
From the first day, said Bishop Todd Ousely of the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, the presentation “Missional Wisdom: Beginning Theologically” by Dr. Elaine Heath presented a challenge to the bishops. Heath is McCreless professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and co-founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.
“She talked about going into neighborhoods and engaging people where they are, where they live,” he said during the press conference, adding that the challenge for bishops can go beyond neighborhoods and be applied to reengaging ecumenical partners and other bishops.
Throughout the meeting, the 148 bishops attending heard presentations on innovative ways of doing mission, the new Diocesan Partnership Program and the work of the Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church. The bishops also discussed topics such as gun violence, ecumenical partnerships, and peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.
Besides Heath, invited guests included the president of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings; Bishop Gregory Palmer and Mary Anne Swenson of the United Methodist Church; Bishop Tilewa Johnson of the Province of West Africa; Bishop Miguel Tamayo, former bishop of Cuba and Uruguay; Bishop David Rice of the Diocese of Waiapu in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani; Dr. Hisham Nassar, Dawani’s coordinator for health care in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and Canon David Porter, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s director of reconciliation.
“I was moved by every presentation, but particularly by those beyond our own context,” said Jefferts Schori. Having Dawani, Nassar and other foreign guests, she said, “reminded us at a deeper level of our connection to and engagement with ongoing conflicts around the world. We continue to be called into engaging the conflicts in our midst as well as around the world.”
On Nov. 15, the Episcopal Church will host and produce a forum centering on a critical topic for our times, “Fifty Years Later: The State of Racism in America,” and in April a nationwide summit on gun violence will be held in Oklahoma – both “important ways to call us beyond our immediate context,” Jefferts Schori said.
The Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs issued daily accounts providing a brief overview of the bishops’ discussions and activities in Nashville.
On Sept. 24, the final day’s theme was “Moving Missionally: Episcopal Perspectives.” The day included a panel discussion using biblical pericopes (verses) as a frame of reference.
The afternoon of Sept. 23 was devoted to conversation with the United Methodists about the meaning of full communion and how ecumenical partners can draw on common roots to work together missionally in new ways. The Sept. 23 The theme was “Moving Missionally: Practical Applications,” with a panel discussion including the Rev. Tom Brackett, Episcopal Church missioner for church planting and ministry redevelopment; the Rev. Mary Frances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms.
On Sept. 22, the bishops visited several churches in the area. Jefferts Schori presided and preached at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville.
Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls gave a presentation on the new Diocesan Partnership Program on Sept. 21. He explained that a new name for the churchwide staff, “The Missionary Society,” is the simplification of the corporate name of the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.”
“It represents the effort of reorienting the work of the churchwide staff to work with the dioceses and to be facilitators of mission,” said Sauls, according to a daily account. “This happens as the staff offers (1) support for diocesan ministry (2) leveraging resources for this ministry [and] (3) makes connections throughout the church.” Sauls stressed that this contrasted with a “corporate headquarters” model of church where money flows upward and program flows downward.
“My sense is that it’s being very well-received; I’ve only heard positive feedback about the initiative,” said the presiding bishop when asked how the Diocesan Partnership Program had been received. “It’s a great opportunity for churchwide staff to be servants in ways that will serve the whole church more effectively.”
Many of the bishops received handwritten notes from their staff representatives “and were delighted by that,” said Bishop Dean Wolfe of the Diocese of Kansas.
The thing that excites him most, said Ousely, is that “the churchwide staff is entering into the stream with the dioceses.” So it’s no longer a programmatic focus, but rather the partnership program presents an organized way to facilitate networks and relationships, he said.
A Sept. 20 discussion on bridge-building mission focused on the work of peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land and included presentations from Dawani, Nassar, Gutow and Porter.
The meeting included daily Eucharists and prayer services. The House of Bishops Spouses/Partners group met concurrently.