November 22, 2009, Christ the King, Last Sunday after Pentecost

November 22, 2009
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Last Sunday of Pentecost, Year B

Even though today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent, I suspect that what we really want to hear about is Diocesan Convention. Christ the King Sunday is placed where it is in the liturgical year to remind us of exactly what type of “king” it is that we are awaiting. It is not a powerful king armed with weapons of death and coercion, not a king that is ready to ready to dominate and bend all to his will and desire, not a king that seeks worldly power and control, not a king that will lock us up in a cell. We remember that this is a king that embodies and through whom makes possible that deeper yearning we have for calling forth our very best by nurturing our capacity to be generous, to give dignified life to all, to live in accountability and responsibility with mercy, love and an awareness that we are all subject to the same shortcomings and mistakes. It is that of the self as part of a Body, not a self over and against the rest. This is a deep hope and expectation that we live into only in part. But it to this hope and expectation that Christ is loyal and to which he gives his allegiance. That is also our hope. It is the threshold moment when we step into Advent: that wonderful season of quiet and contemplation about the deepest hope that resides within for what we can be with God’s grace and presence and of preparation of our hearts for the arrival of the one that lived it fully.

There was a wonderful synergy in having our Diocesan Convention on the eve of Christ the King. After many months of hard work and healing, we are on the threshold of expectation and hope for the new, for the arrival of our next Bishop. We are now preparing our hearts for this new arrival and all the promise that it bears. We have lived through a difficult and painful recent past and have emerged stronger, wiser, and more able to be gracious with each other. We, like Mary, have been able to say yes to the unknown with trust and a deep faith that it will be for good.

So, what exactly did we say yes to these past two days for our Diocese? Quite a lot. Much was done in a short time and I have to say I think we established a Diocesan Convention business land speed record in doing our work. I’ve been to a good number of conventions by now and I must say, we were moving. If one checked out for too long or took too lengthy of a break one came back to find the train had moved on by about 5 stations. This, I believe, is a sign that we had done our work well and were ready.

The Rev. Michael Hanley was elected as our new Diocesan Bishop. I hope that most of you have read about him and the other candidates in the diocesan newspaper or on the diocesan website. He was elected on the 2nd vote. This is truly a rare thing. I doubt any of us expected it to go quite that quickly. When the first vote results came in we were one vote shy of electing him on right then. One ballot later and he was overwhelming voted in as bishop by both lay and clergy alike. To say we were excited and joyous was an understatement. We were all just smiling with happiness, even those of us who had voted for someone else. And here is why: all three candidates were so superb that we knew we were going to be in good hands no matter how it turned out. But to see such a clear sense coming from lay and clergy from the start indicates a deep common discernment and movement of the Holy Spirit. I admit that I waffled a lot between Andy and Michael. It was always a dance of 49% to 51%. So when I voted the first round for Andy and saw the results, I was able with a glad heart to give my second vote to Michael. Michael is grounded, experienced, possessed of a good sense of humor (a most necessary trait for a Bishop), and ready to listen, learn and encourage. I truly believe we are going to be in very good, very compassionate, very able hands.

On Saturday we skyped with Michael to say congratulations in person and to also sing him Happy Birthday. He is eager to join us and humbled at our confidence in and call of him. I look forward to his first visitation with us and for the future mission and ministry he will support us in and challenge us to do.

All this electing was done by about 11 a.m. Friday morning. In short order we got through several reports and lunch. After lunch we looked at and voted on all our resolutions except the two related to changes to our canons and constitution, in other words, the DPA. On three ballots we elected all people to various diocesan posts. The first resolution we passed was on a statement of support for health care coverage for all. It passed with no discussion.

Moving on, we arrived at the second resolution for consideration, that policy on Same-Gender Blessings to affirm what was passed at General Convention earlier this year. This resolution states that “the Bishop of Oregon provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of this Church by authorizing the blessing of such partnership by the clergy of this diocese who may choose to do so.” Those clergy who in good conscience cannot do so are likewise supported by the Bishop. This passed after no discussion by an overwhelming majority and with only about a dozen dissenting voices. We continue to move forward in this difficult, yet important work, of full acceptance of all God’s children in the Church.

We next passed a resolution to endorse the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation as voted on by General Convention. This too passed by an overwhelming majority after a few comments from the floor. Lastly, in similar fashion we voted to establish the first Sunday of Lent as Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday. And then, it was 3: 30, we were an hour and half ahead of schedule for the day and also almost done with all the work set aside for Saturday. Naptime and break were obviously in order. We returned later that evening for a sit-down dinner and a chance to honor and thank various people in the Diocese and most especially Bishop Sandy and Mary.

On Saturday we gathered for the discussion on changing our DPA structure. While new enough to this Diocese to not know all the background, I do know that there has long been a need to restructure this process and mechanism and that it has been under discussion for a long time. I also know that a rather significant number of parishes do not pay their DPA because the current structure is obsolete and creates an undue burden on small parishes. Last year, a change was voted on that passed by a simple majority that would have substantially reduces the DPAs assessed. Such canonical changes require a 2/3 majority (which was not achieved last year), so another vote on it was required this year. Many felt the reduction was too drastic and that many other issues were not addressed. Many voted for it out of frustration and to galvanize some action.

During the past year a small group of very knowledgeable and capable people worked on an alternative version. This version allows for a reduction for most parishes along with mechanisms for parishes that are in financial hardship to work with the diocese and negotiate a payment that is truly equitable and responsive to their particular situation. The hope is that given this new collaborative approach most parishes not paying their DPA will now be able to do so in a way that benefits them, benefits the larger work of the Diocese, and affirms our participation in the Church in Western Oregon. It is about mission and ministry, commitment and accountability.

The vote to replace lasts year’s version with the substitute passed by a large majority. There was then some lengthy discussion about whether we should vote on this new version with various amendments or vote to refer it to a committee appointed by the new Bishop. The idea behind the referral was both that there is still some work to be done on the new version—after all this is a complex and multi-faceted issue and there is indeed room for further clarification—and also to give our new Bishop who is very skilled in this type of work the chance to come in and help refine it rather than receiving a substantial change that has already been approved. In the end, we voted by a large margin not to refer to committee and to approve the new version. Indeed, the new version was passed by a 2/3 majority by both lay and clergy and thus is now an official change to our canons.

The Resurrection delegates came in of a common mind to support the new version, but to vote to refer it to committee for the reasons given above. When the vote came, all voted for referral except me. I changed my mind. And here is why. One, the new version is not perfect, but we are still able to revise and revisit it. Those who worked on it are highly talented in this area and have done tremendous work. It is a vast improvement on what was and lives into the spirit of who we are becoming as a diocese as far as governance style and approach. The new bishop and those who worked on it so far will be able to flesh it out further and refine it, bringing to our next convention amendments for improving and clarifying it so that it works well.

Two, it seemed to me that after so many years of talking we needed to do something, to get off the fence, to actually take the plunge and try something. What we had to vote on this year, unlike last year’s proposal that I did not support, is very, very good. If we wait until something is perfect we will never do anything. It was time to give it a go.

And three, I realized that we needed to move forward and own this lingering business of ours that predates the new bishop. To put it on hold once more for further discussion once the new bishop is here is also a way to shift responsibility. If we did it now, it was ours and ours alone. To wait for approval until the new bishop was here created to my mind the opportunity to then make it the Bishop’s new DPA policy. For those who were then not pleased with it, it could become something the bishop did that they didn’t like and thus his fault, problem, etc. I wanted to avoid this possibility and encourage us to begin this collaboratively and honestly.
All in all, we did good work and it was truly a celebration. We have a wonderful new phase of life before us and we continue to grow into the full stature and maturity of Christ here in this Diocese. We are ready to move forward, to live creatively, to continue to become more and more the disciples Christ invites us to be. We are strong; we are committed to this Church; we are safe. And we have a lot of difficult, wonderful and amazing work to do. And do it we shall with God’s help. Amen.