Reverend Sandy Webb is blogging from General Convention in Salt Lake City.
There is no wizard in Oz.
Many people come to the General Convention expecting to find something magical. They expect decisions that will make the Church a more thoughtful, courageous, and compassionate place. They expect actions that will make our world look a little bit more like God’s kingdom. But, by the sixth legislative day, most have discovered or remembered that there is no whiz here to do these wonderful things for us. We have to do them ourselves.
General Convention is hard work, and unfortunately the hardest work comes late in the game. The most complicated and controversial resolutions need more time in committee; therefore, the more straightforward topics find their way to the floor first, in the days when bishops and deputies are the freshest. So far, the General Convention has dispensed with most of its routine business and worked through a large number of common sense resolutions, but we are only now getting into the meat of what we came here to discuss: Structural reform, marriage, addiction and recovery, the triennial budget, etc. The trust that bishops and deputies have established in the last several days will serve them well in the days ahead, but the yellow brick road is about to get rougher. In some ways, it already has.
On Monday, the House of Bishops had an extensive conversation about the nature of marriage. The end result was predictable, but the conversation was rich. The bishops’ honesty with each other informed those of us listening in from the gallery. We were able to hear the bishops’ differences in theology, opinion, and experience, as well as their shared love of the Church. Relationship, the Church’s greatest earthly asset, was enhanced by their efforts.
Similarly, on Tuesday, the House of Deputies had a robust discussion about alcohol use and abuse in the Episcopal Church. The conversation was an uncomfortable one because it required us to ask difficult questions: What is our experience of alcohol in the Church? How present is alcohol in the Church? Are we modeling good behavior for our children? Are we supporting those in recovery? Again, relationship was enhanced when we found the strength to speak honestly with one another.
Both houses took action on resolutions aimed at planting new congregations and revitalizing old ones. I was hoping that these conversations would be just as rich as the more controversial ones, but they were not. The resolution was hard to oppose, and as a result we never got to hear our leaders grapple with the issues of declining membership and shifting culture. While I support any serious effort to invest in congregational vitality, we are not here to cheer ourselves on as we pass uncontroversial legislation. We are here to wrestle with challenging issues.
General Convention is supposed to be hard work, and its conversations are supposed to be uncomfortable. Life would be easier if we put our trust some great wizard who would answer our questions and arbitrate our disputes, but it would not be as rich. We place our trust in the God who made us diverse in his image – one God, three persons; one people, infinite perspectives. There is value in process, in struggling to find common ground, and in forcing ourselves to listen to the opinions of others.
While Dorothy and her friends did not find a great Wizard of Oz, they did find that for which they were looking. Home, heart, courage, and brain all abided deep within. May we find the same as we seek out the strength to engage difficult conversations, to speak honestly with one another, and to discern God’s will for his Church.
Top photo licensed through CC BY-NC-SA; courtesy the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (Flickr: DioFW)