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Reflections on General Convention

Phil Schentrup speaks at the Bishops United Against Gun Violence witness. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Phil Schentrup speaks at the Bishops United Against Gun Violence witness, supported by his wife April and their two surviving children. The Schentrups are the family of Carmen Schentrup, who was killed in the Parkland, FL shooting. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

The just-concluded General Convention did a lot of creative work inside during its 10-day gathering, which in some ways was a good thing, given the daily dose of plus 95-degree Austin, Texas heat. Some highlights from that indoor work include:

  • Designing a creative way to consider Prayer Book reform, which invited more input and less money.
  • Committing more people and dollars to racial reconciliation.
  • Welcoming the Diocese of Cuba back into the Episcopal Church after a 52-year hiatus.
  • Developing a creative way to compensate the President of the House of Deputies.
  • Approving continued use of marriage rites for all couples, while providing an out for dioceses that aren’t ready to recognize same-gender marriages.
  • Overwhelmingly passing a budget for the next three years – and celebrating the fact that while the percentage assessment for dioceses has gone down (to 15% of normal income), compliance has nearly doubled, resulting in greater income.
  • Having the opportunity to hear Michael Curry share his passion and vision several times – in his welcome, his opening sermon and his holding forth at a Texas style revival.
  • Spending time with Bishop-elect Carlye Hughes.

For me, the enduring memory of General Convention happened outside. Sunday morning, July 8, began with a rally/worship service outside the Convention Center. Organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, nearly all of our 80 bishops, along with about 500 others, were there to sing and pray – and to hear the profoundly moving witness of Phil and April Schentrup, who lost their daughter Carmen in the Parkland, Florida shooting on Ash Wednesday. In the wake of his daughter’s murder Phil mentioned that many people tried to offer comfort by saying that Carmen’s death was part of God’s plan. He recoiled at the insensitivity, not to mention the self-centered theology of such comments; and then, with courage and eloquence claimed that it is gun violence which is not part of God’s plan, and exhorted his audience/congregation to do whatever we can to join God in minimizing its scourge.

At mid-day, about 1000 people gathered at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, about 40 miles away. We waved, sang and prayed for – and maybe even with – the 500 or so women who were detained there, 40 of whom had their children taken from them. Some of us tried to get closer, but ICE officials kept us at a distance. Some women inside waved through the narrow windows. We were later told that when outside groups come, the recreation yard is closed off and the indoor music is ramped up so the detainees can’t see or hear what is going on.

While inside, among reports and recognitions, we processed over 400 resolutions. Many of them were attempts to move us forward as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. Yet more of them were regulatory and, to me anyway, reinforced a church that is engaged in business as usual.

In her sermon at the closing Eucharist, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of Indianapolis (who began her ministry as an Assistant at St. Peter’s, Morristown), gave a rousing challenge to the Convention attendees to go. Into the world. Following Jesus. Outside.

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