[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The following are the opening remarks of President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting through January 11 the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, MD.
Executive Council opening remarks
Maritime Center, Linthicum Heights, MD
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President of the House of Deputies
The Episcopal Church
Here we are in January of 2015. In a few short months, General Convention will be before us. I find that the mood is expectation and anticipation, and it feels a bit like Advent. Christians believe in the future return of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead, a return that will result in the end of the present world order. Early Christians believed that the return was imminent. Christians today have become complacent – perhaps because so much time has passed, but perhaps even more likely due to the uncertainty of when it will happen coupled with a strong distaste for the judgment of the Second Coming.
The disciples, not surprisingly, asked Jesus, “When?” Jesus told them it can happen at any time on any day. And instead of giving them details, he told a story about a man who goes on a journey and leaves his slaves in charge of things, each with work to do. The message is clear. Don’t worry about things over which you have no control. Instead, be alert and watchful, doing the work you have been given to do.
None of us knows what will happen at General Convention – who will be elected to serve as Presiding Bishop, as President or Vice President of the House of Deputies, as Church Pension Fund trustee, or any other elected position. None of us knows what will happen to the TREC proposals, or resolutions regarding marriage, or how the triennial budget will look at the end of the budget process.
The question this raises for me is, “How do we live in the meantime?” How do we live and act between now and General Convention?
Make no mistake – Executive Council has important work to do between now and when we gather in Salt Lake City. We need to complete the draft proposed budget, consider the Constable Grant applications, determine how all diocese and missionary areas can fully participate in General Convention, develop a response to the TREC proposals, evaluate mission enterprise zones, develop resolutions to submit to General Convention on a variety of subjects, assess progress on Province IX sustainability, review grant activities and procedures, make decisions about sunsetting or continuing various Executive Council committees – the list goes on.
How should we function as Executive Council to get it all done between now and then? I’ve got three suggestions.
Travel light. There is a great story about a woman named Mary Smith who went to the cemetery to visit the grave of her husband, John Smith. She had not visited for a number of her months, and she couldn’t find the gravesite. Frustrated and upset, she found the groundskeeper and asked his assistance. He looked through the records and finally said, “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Smith, I cannot find any record of a John Smith buried in this cemetery.” “Oh, well that’s no surprise,” she said. “Everything is in my name.” As we live in the meantime, we need to remember that nothing is in our name. Everything is in the name of God and we are stewards of God’s creation, including the Episcopal Church.
The second is to live courageously. Living in the meantime, we have a choice: A life of complete safety or a life that risks the unknowable and takes a dare. We can be the lump, or we can be the leaven. While we generally do not have the opportunity to be courageous every day, we are all faced with opportunities to take a stand, to speak on behalf of what is right and just to tell the truth. There is a cost to living courageously, even here at Executive Council, but it is a price worth paying.
The third is to live a life beyond yourself. To live in the meantime is serious business, and how we choose to live impacts not only other people but also the Church we love and serve. Twenty-seven years ago I was driving on the interstate when, right in front of me, a small truck went off the road, flipped over and rolled down a steep incline. It looked like something out of a movie. I pulled my car over, got out of the car, jumped over the guardrail, and ran down the hill to the truck. There was the truck on its side. The truck was smoking, and the driver was half in and half out of the car. He was alert and I asked him if he was okay. He was fine and I helped him out of the cab and pulled him away from the truck. His injuries were slight, even though the truck was completely totaled. It turned out he was an off-duty police officer and soon the scene was swarming with police and fire personnel. I was pretty much ignored, so I finally asked a police officer if I could leave. He said sure, never took a witness report, and off I went to work.
At dinner that night, I relayed the exciting events of the day and my then eight-year-old daughter, Lee, said, “Mom, you’re a heroine. I’ll bet you’re on the news tonight!” I told her no one knew my name and that I was sorry to disappoint her, but I wouldn’t be on the news – not on one single channel. “Well isn’t that just like life,” she said. “You risk your life pulling a guy out of a smoking truck and no one notices. You pick your nose, and the whole world sees you!”
In the meantime, we are called by God to live a life that extends beyond ourselves, and even beyond this Executive Council. We don’t need an audience. It doesn’t matter if there is recognition. We are called to do what the moment requires.
We are called to be servants and leaders in the meantime. Don’t miss your opportunity.
Travel light. Act courageously. Live your life beyond yourself.