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General Convention and the power of community

Bishop Carlye J. Hughes

After her first General Convention in the House of Bishops, Bishop Hughes reflects on the power of community and of listening.  (Time: 5:50.)

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Video Transcript

This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. About a week ago, the deputation from the Diocese of Newark, and I, returned from General Convention. And what a gathering that was. For those of you who don't have a lot of experience or knowledge about General Convention, it is the triennial – meaning every three years – the triennial gathering of the Episcopal Church. Sometimes we can think the Episcopal Church is the Anglican Church in the United States, and there is truth to that, but the Episcopal Church is international. We have churches in Latin American countries, in the Caribbean, we have churches in Taiwan. So there is an international aspect to our ministry as the Episcopal Church.

And bishops and deputies – and deputies are lay and ordained people, and every diocese gets to bring four of each – bishops and deputies gather. They work in two separate houses, making decisions, talking about ministry, deciding on the budget, helping to elect people to run the ministries of our church, praying together, worshiping together, spending time with each other – though this year was very different. General Convention used to be 14 days, it was cut back to 10 days, this convention should have happened last summer, but was delayed a year, and then took place in four days. And then also with a lot of precautions being taken to keep everybody as well as possible.

People asked me what was it like to be in the House of Bishops, and I can't give you much of an answer within four minutes. That's how long I try to make these little videos. But I can say this, it's heartening to me to watch the bishops work and to watch the deputies work. We come together as individuals, and then we come together as dioceses, all of us with particular goals and particular things that are important to us. We all have an agenda. And then we get in the room together, pray together, ask God to show us what's the most important thing that we need to spend our time on, and where you listen to each other.

I think that was the most powerful part about being in the House of Bishops – I've been as a deputy before, but this is my first time being there as a bishop – was how the bishops listened to each other. We don't agree on everything. We are not of one mind on many things. But there was a real desire to hear each other. And we looked at some complicated and complex issues. How are we to think about what the Prayer Book looks like going forward? When there are people who feel underrepresented by the Prayer Book, it feels like the Prayer Book doesn't even recognize that they are there. How do we think about that going forward? How do we think about our response to people who are struggling with where we are in terms of reproductive rights of women? And we are all over the map in response to that, but how do we make plans about that together? And then the thing that I think affects everybody in every church everywhere: what do we do with the resources God has given us? How do we devote people? How do we devote energy? How do we devote financial resources to doing ministry in a world that is so changed, and so challenged?

Listening to us, and there were times that all of us spoke and times when all of us listened. But being a part of that gave me such hope for the future. Because the thing that I'm aware of is that God speaks to all of us. And it is rare that any one of us is right all the time. All of us hold a piece of the truth, but we don't get the whole truth until we are there together. There's one last thing that had a strong impact on me. And it's not the first time I've seen it happen in the House of Bishops. But it's when a bishop stood up in front of everyone and apologize for their words that had been uttered in haste or harshly and they had hurt an individual person, another bishop, but publicly said before all of the bishops, I am sorry for what I have said to my sibling bishop, and I apologize to all of you bishops for that happening. And I promise that I will continue to do better on that. But I ask for everyone's forgiveness.

Powerful statements. Powerful ways to be in community. A way for us to consider how we are each in community at a time when the world tells us only you are right. Only you know the answer. Our life in communion tells us something different. That it is God who is right. And it is God who is guiding us and together when we are listening to God, we all find the answer.

If you want to know more about my experience at General Convention, please do ask me. I'm happy to talk about it and so it is all of the rest of the deputation, and we will be finding more ways to share it with you more fully.

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