The Convention Address
A report given by Greg Rhodes for Outside Church Walls
For the past two years Doyt has served on a Diocesan committee called Outside Church Walls. The work of this committee has come to an end, and their final report was given at the Diocesan Convention this year. Below are some excerpts of the final report given by the committee chairman, Greg Rhodes. At the very end of the presentation all members of the committee came forward and gave a thirty-second response to “Why I am a Christian?” You will find Doyt’s “Why” at the end of this article.
I’m Greg Rhodes, and I am here on behalf of Outside Church Walls. Some of you heard about us last year, and some are new to this story. We are a group formed by the Bishop on behalf of our diocese to spend two years considering the intersection of our church and culture and how God might be calling us to respond.
It’s been interesting work—hard, frustrating, confusing, enlightening, enriching, and faithful. And as our name implies, we’ve been roaming around outside our church walls. In our two years we’ve held every meeting someplace besides church. Because, of course, all places are God’s; we’ve just chosen to join God out there in the world.
As we’ve worked our way through this past year, there are three things we have felt called to say here. In one way or another these have been on the table from our earliest meetings. We’re going to mention structure, leadership, and “why.”
Structure first. Technically this was not part of our mandate, but here you are anyway. If you’re a church geek, you probably know that the mother ship—the big EC—has the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. That means that most of the energies of the powers and principalities of our tribe are focused on designing a new structure without much consideration of what God is calling forth from us regarding mission.
We don’t think that’s where our diocese should spend its energy. We believe we’re better off focusing on what the Gospel calls from us in this time and place. However, we do want to say this about our structure: it’s going to be in the way. In some cases it may already be. In a culture allergic to authority (rightfully so), in a time when God calls forth new expressions and forms of leadership and ministry, it’s going to be in the way.
Now is the time for the good and faithful people who comprise our structure to begin to pray, study, and explore what it would mean to get out of the way, to release energy and open ourselves to new ways of being the church, grounded in the best of our tradition.
Okay, if that made a few people uncomfortable, let’s see if we can’t loop in the whole room.
We’d like to say something about leadership.
We have to do better. Everyone.
I have to do better, which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. Bishop, you have to do better. Our clergy have to do better. And our lay leaders don’t get a pass. We have to do better. In case you think I’m talking to the person sitting next to you, you’re a leader if you’re in this room. People from your congregation or your group chose you to represent them here, to listen and speak on their behalf.
What does “better” look like?
Well, it doesn’t look like our historical, rigid, positional authority that we have used and at times abused. It certainly doesn’t mean pushing through a personal agenda by force of personality or influence.
Effective leaders as we envision them are faithful and authentic, courageous and vulnerable. Unlike some of our leaders of the past (and perhaps the present), they encourage people to hold them accountable in constructive ways; they seek critical feedback and create structures for it. This doesn’t mean that leaders get to be targets for our discontent; healthy leaders need healthy feedback.
Effective leaders build their roles upon trust, a trust rooted in God, humbly pointing to something beyond themselves. They behave in ways that allow people to trust them, and they trust people in return. It must go both ways. They understand that ministry is mutually held between lay and ordained, old and young, new and experienced, and all the ways we are unique and wonderfully God’s. Powerful ministry is based upon all people having room to use their best gifts.
We need leaders who can communicate a vision in compelling, articulate ways. We’re a church that loves its words. But we can run into trouble here. Just because a leader can speak well doesn’t mean it’s about a faithful vision, and a big personality is not the same as leadership. This is why constructive accountability and critical feedback are so important.
Also, just because you don’t see yourself as a public communicator doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective leader. This may need to be your growing edge. You might be one of those people who doesn’t have much to say until the subject of your passion comes up. Loud leaders make space for other voices, quieter voices, who are passionate and compelling when given the space.
Finally, leaders have to own the job. They might not have created the circumstances they now inhabit, but they own them along with the others involved. They spot opportunities and take initiative, inviting others into the process of discerning God’s will in a busy, noisy, and often chaotic world.
So there you have it: faithful and authentic, open and accountable, trustworthy and trusting, dedicated to mutual ministry, articulate and willing to own the job. These are the leaders we need. Easy, right?
Recently I found this quote by Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize: “I don’t cover my face because I want to show my identity.” That’s an incredibly powerful statement, and challenging to me. She insists on showing herself—her identity—at real risk. Conversely, I have hidden my identity as a Christian partly because of some perceived social risk: “What will people think of me if they know I’m a Christian?”
There’s something deeply spiritual and important about personally claiming why I am a Christian. It’s not about making sure I have the right answer; there is no single right answer. My articulation of my faith is imperfect and in process and probably will be for my whole life. But efforts to articulate it put me more deeply in touch with the faith journey I’m on, and it’s hard to tell people why they might join me in seeking God if I can’t articulate why I’m doing so in the first place. Personal whys are foundational.
This summer our group met with Eldon Olson, the consultant conducting the MMR with the bishop and standing committee. Eldon said there had been lots of previous consultants and studies that led to great recommendations, but nothing seemed to happen with them. He was asking what people thought of that. Our answer was this: those recommendations were full of “hows” in search of a compelling “why.”
Passion and energy come from purpose. When our purposes, our “whys,” are aligned with the Holy Spirit and supportive of each other, they are full of vitality.
Let’s be honest: most every group has a “why,” stated or unstated. Often that “why” includes preserving the group and those things that make its members comfortable. That’s not good enough for God’s church. As the saying goes, the church is the one institution that exists primarily for the benefit of people outside it.
We live in a new age. The expressions of church God may be calling forth, even with “Episcopal Characteristics,” may look dramatically different than we expect. As we seek to live the Gospel with real people in real situations, we most certainly will be called to take risks… that risk may be actively sharing your why.
Here is the “Why” Doyt spoke at the Diocesan Convention:
I am a Christian because
I was born in a Christian family.
I was raised in the church.
I left religion to find God,
and got lost.
Then I met Jesus
first in anxiety,
then in my intellect.
Now he inspires my heart,
and liberates my soul.
I am a Christian because it is
quiet, practical, illuminating, challenging, mysterious, and ordinary.
Christianity perfectly fits the world as it was made.
Jesus loves us,
he walks with us, with you and with me,
that is why I am a Christian.
How We Know Racism Is Real
A reflection on a Holy Spirit moment by Diana Bender and Robin Wilt
We are mothers of teenage boys in youth group at Epiphany, a white woman and a black woman who became friends in our Epiphany small group. We had each been reflecting on how we had been acting against racism in our lives outside of church and wondered how we could bring it into our beloved faith community. It is so clear to us that racism has no place in the Kingdom of God and that working towards undoing racism is certainly something Jesus would do were he living here. In our Epiphany small group, we had been talking about the terrible death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and what it means for us in Seattle, which felt like a good start.
Then Emily Linderman gave her sermon about the reality of racism in August. We were moved and inspired and noticed others were as well. We realized the Holy Spirit had given us a beautiful opportunity to find others in our congregation who felt similarly drawn to work in this area. We had no idea who would show up, and we missed the communication deadline, but we created fliers the day before the picnic and gave them to as many people we could. Now we have had a couple meetings where 20+ people shared their stories and thought together how we might move forward.
We have noticed and recognized our fear to talk about this difficult topic: “What if we make it worse?” or “What if we hurt someone?” or “What if it’s too late?” And we decided to talk about it anyway.
As a group we explored the questions “Why are you here?” and “Why is it important to undo racism?” Parents participating often responded with their children and grandchildren in mind. A white woman remarked how it is easy for her to return to “business as usual” and to disregard the reality of racism because she’s not confronted with it every day. Two medical people and an educator reflected on how racism comes up every day at work. We thought about the impact of our history in Seattle, at Epiphany, and in our families and wondered about opportunities for reconciliation.
We thought about how Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly, and yet that abundance is not distributed equally in our society. All too often lives are interrupted or end before their time. We feel a sense of great urgency: as one participant said so clearly, “racism is horribly inconsistent with the heart of the gospel, and people are dying.”
Robin reflected on her experiences growing up as a black woman, “One of the mantras that my parents repeated to me was that I would have to work twice as hard and do twice as well as my white peers to achieve the same amount of success or recognition. This was something my parents instilled in me and my four siblings from a very young age. We never questioned it because we experienced small examples of that unfairness routinely growing up. I was called the “n-word” to my face for the first time at school in the third grade. We grew up during a time when urban-suburban busing was more common, so it was often presumed that I was an outsider in my community even though our family lived there. When I went off to college at a prestigious, predominately white Ivy League institution, the pattern of being singled out continued. Today, with my own children, I offer them that same advice that my parents once gave to me: that people will make assumptions about their abilities and motivations based on their race; that they need to excel more than their peers to achieve the same level of success; and that they will be less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt in encounters with authority. It is painful to have to raise your children with an awareness of this injustice. It is painful, but necessary for their safety. It is that sense of urgency that compels me to engage in this discussion.”
Diana reflected on her experiences as a white person seeing unfairness, but feeling frozen, guilty, and unsure of what she could do about it, “For me, a catalyzing event was a training on the way that racism was developed in our country over 400 years and the systemic nature of racism. I realized that even if we shipped all the white supremacists off to Mars, our institutions would still treat people of color differently than whites. Understanding structural racism gave me a pathway to action and helped me realize that I could work to change the systems I am a part of.”
We all reflected on the differences in our background, understanding, and experience of racism and decided that in these conversations, we would seek to create the openness for everyone to participate wherever we are on our anti-racism journey (to borrow our favorite phrase).
Having a safe place to speak about these issues as they relate to us personally, socially, and professionally and raise honest questions about the ways that we participate and/or counteract them and what our faith calls us to do instead has been invaluable already. In talking about racism in the context of faith, something seems to be getting unlocked in us all.
—Diana and Robin
Racism Is Real Follow-Up Conversations
We are meeting again on November 30 and December 14 at 12:15 pm in the Christie House Library to have lunch and watch the remaining segments of the PBS series RACE: The Power of an Illusion.
Save the Date! Advent Day of Quiet
When we commit to a quiet time with God, the stress and busyness of regular life falls away. The deeper, more peaceful parts of ourselves emerge and in that stillness, we feel more in touch with the Divine. In Advent we celebrate with quiet waiting for the Light who is to come. While December is so crazy (usually), it’s lovely to carve out a window of time to stay in the true (and non-commercial!) spirit of the season. It’s also wonderful to do a day of silence in community. By honoring each other’s response to the call to silence, a new connection often emerges.
On December 13 from 10 am to 4:30 pm, much of the Epiphany campus will be devoted to silence. There will be:
+ Candles and Taizé music going in the Chapel
+ Silence in the Church
+ Art supplies in the Fireside Room
+ Tea, coffee, and snacks in the Christie House Kitchen
+ Lunch buffet in the Christie House Library from 12:15–12:45 pm
Prayer exercises and art examples will be available for inspiration. A guided meditation led by Pieter Drummond will be offered in the afternoon. Feel free to come for any part or all of this experience.
Questions? Please contact Diana Bender. To register, please contact the parish office or simply show up.
Christmas Giving Trees for the YWCA will be up on November 23
Please take gift tag ornaments from the Giving Trees to purchase presents for families in YWCA housing. There are two options:
(1) There are 30 tags for small families that need to be adopted. These have instructions for purchase of two presents for each child (ages and wish lists included) and a $50 Safeway gift card for holiday dinner. The presents should be wrapped and returned to church according to the instructions included with the gift tag.
(2) There are also 70 gift tag ornaments requesting specific children’s toys/clothes and gift cards that need to be bought and brought to church unwrapped. These are for families that move in near Christmas too late to be adopted. These go to the YWCA Toy Shop where YWCA case managers come to select gifts for newer families.
Please deliver the presents to church no later than Sunday, December 7.
Please, please adopt a family or take some gift tags for the Toy Shop and help give families a brighter holiday.
Contact Sherilyn Peterson with any questions.
An Update from the Building Team
There has been some work this week to prepare the St. Francis garden for the renovation. We are grateful to Chinn Eap and Alice Foreman, and everyone else who participated in tagging and transplanting last weekend. The Building Team has been working with LCL to make sure we have a site logistics plan that works for everyone. There are questions about the best location for dumpsters, especially in consideration of Epiphany School’s and EELP’s needs, but we are working through those questions. We are also readying for some preliminary work to begin on the Christie House lower level. There are renovations to do there in order to move EELP out of the Parish Hall temporarily and Gieth’s office out of the lower Chapel area permanently.
The Next 100 Years Building Team
Ed Emerson, Laura Blackmore, Bob Barnes, Jim Marlow, Ben Bradstreet
Contact the Building Team at email@example.com
Parish Prayer List
Sunday Lectionary Corner
November 23, 2014
Christ the King Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24
Upcoming Events in the Life of Epiphany
November 23: +TEC Sunday Forum – Why Morality Really Mattered
The Old Testament is full of history, but modern culture tends to discount it because it isn’t “factual.” And if it isn’t factual, then it can’t be believed. But do facts make history? In this session in the Great Hall at 9:15 am, Steve Clemons will ask you to perceive ancient history through ancient sensibilities in which God was history and history was God.
November 27: Thanksgiving Day Eucharist
Start the day of thanks by giving thanks to God for everything God has done. Put the turkey in the oven and come for a short Eucharist service at 9 am in the Church.
Events Down the Road
November 30, December 7 & 14: Family Caregiving Near and Far
Do you provide care to an elder (or a friend) who is struggling with dementia or other chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, or mental health issues? Are you concerned about a family member who is in decline and who seems to be in denial about it? In small group discussion and case study presentation at 9:15 am in the Fireside Room, Kathryn Barrett, RN and Parish Nurse, will lead an exploration of the challenges and rewards of providing on-going care. Read more here.
November 30: The Racism Is Real Conversation Continues
Join the group that has been engaging in conversations about race on Sunday, November 30 after coffee hour for a potluck lunch and a viewing of PBS’ documentary RACE: The Power of an Illusion, Part 2. Contact Diana Bender with questions or read more here.
December 3, 10 & 17: Learning to Walk in the Dark
Join The Rev. Kate Wesch in exploring Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark during the Wednesday Evening Advent series. Each Wednesday, we will start with Evening Prayer in the Chapel and then discuss the book over a potluck in the Christie House Library. Read more here.
December 7: Advent Lessons and Carols
You’re invited to an annual Epiphany tradition: our service of Advent Lessons & Carols at 5 pm in the Church. In this liturgy, readers from the parish will recount age-old prophecies and Epiphany Choir and Choristers will offer music which illuminates the stories. A Wassail Party will follow the in the Great Hall. Read more here.
November 24: Ebola Relief Concert
The Early Music Guild, of which our own Erica Chang is a part, is offering a musical response to the Ebola crisis in Africa at Town Hall. A free-will offering will be taken to support relief efforts. Read more at earlymusicguild.org.