17 July, 2018
Dear Members of the Episcopal Church in Central Pennsylvania,
I write to you from the big comfortable chair in the corner of my living room, having arrived home on Saturday afternoon from General Convention #79 in Austin, Texas. It was a whirlwind 14 days in which we worked, prayed, witnessed, debated, voted, worshiped, walked, ate, sang and, on occasion, slept. I am grateful to our diocesan deputies for their faithful participation:
Mr. Chuck Banks, Esq., Mrs. Bonnie Chambers, Mrs. Cathy Rippeon, Brother David Rutledge, Mrs. Amy Swiernick, the Rev. Canon Nelson Baliira, the Rev. Regina Bautista, the Rev. Canon Stephen Casey, the Rev. Canon Kate Harrigan, and the Rev. Canon Daniel Morrow. Also joining us in Austin was our Episcopal Church Women’s (ECW) leadership team: Mrs. Cindy Mohr, President; Mrs. Alyce Pfeiffer, UTO Chair; Mrs. Jeannie Cooper, Mrs. Eileen Sullivan and Mrs. Shirley Wagner. And, in addition, the Rev. William (Bill) Alford joined us in his capacity as Navy Chaplain, the Rev. Linda Watkins as Province III Peace and Justice Coordinator, Mrs. Shannon Berndt with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and the Rev. Howell (Howie) Sasser, visitor. Mrs. Rayelenn Sparks Casey, served as one of the team of sign language interpreters at General Convention, and Mrs. Alexis Guszick, Canon for Communications and Events worked to coordinate daily media briefings in blog and video formats. We were well represented by this team and I am proud of them for their labors.
It is no easy task to summarize the outcome of this two-week triennial gathering of more than 10,000 Episcopalians. For the uninitiated, General Convention is a combination family reunion, legislative congress, vendor trade show and tent revival. Seminaries host dinners for their alumni, old colleagues from across the church gather in hotel coffee shops and restaurants for quiet conversations, legislative committees stage hearings on topics of interest and work into the wee hours of the morning perfecting resolutions for consideration on the legislative floor of the two houses ( The House of Deputies and the House of Bishops), legislation is adopted and speaks as the “official voice” of the Episcopal Church, networking in the exhibit hall allows for opportunities to learn about new programs in our Church, and worship is lively and moving as we gather in a worship space designed for thousands of people in prayer. Communion is celebrated daily, and Christ is made known to all.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s emphasis on us the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement is compelling and enlivening; he has laid out three major areas of work for us – Racial Reconciliation, Creation Care and Evangelism. General Convention’s theme, “The Way of Love” lifted up these three “pillars” of our work together. A new emphasis on our own personal practice of the Way of Love was suggested to us, emphasizing the components of commitment, study, prayer, worship, blessing, movement, and sabbath. (Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest).
Legislative work in the Houses addressed more than 400 resolutions. All of these resolutions were required to be considered, first, in open hearing sessions, and all of them were then considered by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Major areas of work included marriage rites; prayer book revision; roles and rights of women, transgender and gender fluid people in the Church; and Israel-Palestine relations. Briefly, it was decided to continue to offer same-gender marriage rites in our church and that bishops could no longer thwart the desire of a same-gender couple to be married in their home parish. Arrangements for “flying bishops” (bishops from other dioceses) to offer pastoral care and oversight of same-gender marriages in dioceses where the bishop is not in accord with the practice of same-gender marriage has been accommodated. The outcome of the debate on whether or not to revise The Book of Common Prayer was to “memorialize” the current prayer book, allowing for its continued use, while dioceses and liturgical leaders continue to shape new ways of praying and deliver new options to the Church for worship. The Book of Common Prayer 1979 is not going away. A major emphasis of this convention was the lifting up of stories of women, men, gay brothers and sisters, and transsexual Episcopalians and how, through the years, they have suffered abuse, sexual violence, harassment, exploitation and discrimination in the Church. A listening session held on July 4th presented a dozen stories of those who had, in various ways, been victimized in the Church, and we wrapped the stories up, praying to God for a new and transformed future. In response, several pieces of legislation affirmed the need for careful attention to these issues (a Task Force was commissioned to study further, discrimination and the need for gender equity in the church), the House of Bishops signed onto a behavioral covenant regarding honorable practices regarding gender equity and racial reconciliation, and significant changes were made to the Title IV disciplinary canons including the lifting of a statute of limitations on reporting sexual misconduct in the Church. The Houses considered the resolutions regarding the Israel-Palestine situation very carefully; the House of Deputies was bolder in their affirmation of supporting divestment and other measures affirming Palestine while the House of Bishops landed on a more moderate approach, hearing testimony from many bishops regarding their travels in the Holy Land and the need for ongoing prayer and work for reconciliation.
Other important pieces of our work together included welcoming the Episcopal Church of Cuba back into The Episcopal Church (they had been separated from us since 1966), and a decision to begin paying the President of the House of Deputies for her work. In our bicameral system, the Presiding Bishop is the head of the House of Bishops and compensated for his work. The President of the House of Deputies has long been a volunteer role and it was decided at this convention to pay the person in that position for the duties performed.
A luncheon for the ECW was held in which our own Shirley Wagner was honored as a “Distinguished Woman” for her years of service in the church and the world. Congratulations, Shirley!
And in the area of social justice and witness, a gathering of the Bishops United Against Gun Violence was held on Sunday morning in which we heard powerful witness from Episcopalians Philip and April Shentrup whose daughter Carmen was killed in the Ash Wednesday shooting in Parkland, Florida; and a Sunday afternoon trip to the Hutto Detention Center by more than 1,000 Episcopalians for a prayer service as the women immigrants inside the building looked on.
My guess is that if you asked any of the other 21 Episcopalians from Central Pennsylvania about their experience of General Convention (and I hope that you do!) that you would get a similarly enthusiastic report of our time together.
So- how does all of this affect what happens in our congregations Sunday by Sunday?
My hope is that our time in Austin will not be an isolated event, but that some of the enthusiasm and energy that we experienced has come home with us and will filter into our congregations. The seven-way “tool” that the Presiding Bishop offered us- Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest- is a good way for us to focus on how we live out the Jesus Movement in our local contexts, and the important pieces of legislation that we have passed will continue to shape how we live and move and have our collective being. Our diocesan deputation will meet to de-brief their experiences in Austin and to plan for the implementation of our work here in our diocese.
Please know how proud I was to represent our 12,000 Episcopalians in Central Pennsylvania. We are serving our Lord, faithfully, here in this corner of the Church and I am humbled and honored to serve as your bishop.
With love- in the Way of Love-
The Rt. Rev. Audrey C. Scanlan