Monday, November 06, 2006

Observations and Meditations

Observations and Meditations from “Remaining Faithful,”
the First National Gathering of The Episcopal Majority
(Martha K. Baker)


[Editor's note: Martha K. Baker is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis, where she has many roles and responsibilities. She is also a frequent contributor to Episcopal Life. The Episcopal Majority is asking many participants in the Nov. 3-4 meetings to submit their observations and reflections.]

We gathered in the sunny nave of St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Friday, November 3. Old friends hugged. Newbies stared at clavicles to see who was who among the unknowns, duly labeled as to name and diocese. Some wore collars; some did not (David+ Fly wore a fly in his lapel). Some names came with crosses in front, some with crosses in back, some loudly and proudly without crosses to bear. (For those who may not know, Verna Dozier RIP said, and I paraphrase, “I wouldn’t want to be demoted from the laity to be a bishop.”) Some bishops (+Gene Robinson) wore purple (the reddish version and the bluish); some (+Joe Morris Doss) didn’t. We were tall (+Jon Bruno, Adrienne Anderson Fly, and Bill+ Coats) and some were short (+Gene and David+ and Martha). Some were moderate; some were ultraliberal. All were smiling, happy to be together.

Representatives of the media were also there – not only moderates from Episcopal Life and Episcopal News Service, but also a representative of The Living Church. Acronyms and alphabets were there, flying about like monkeys: APO, AAC, ACN or NACDP, and IRD; whispered confabulations translated for those not in the total-know.

After corralling the gabbing faithful, David Fly opened the meeting at 1:20, giving credit where it was due. In particular, he thanked Jane Cosby, who was at the meeting of the former college chaplains, who had reunited at General Convention 2006. (David spoke about her role in his opening remarks, available here.) They’d met with heavy hearts and ire after the passage of B033, and she’d said to them, simply and firmly, “What are you going to do about it?” and “What do you have to lose?” Gauntlet words.

David talked about what had happened over four short months to develop a website (thank you, Lisa Fox and Jeffrey Simbeck) and to develop leaders, organizers and writers (including David, Bill Coats, Judy Wright Mathews, Richard+ Tombaugh, etc.). Four months later, some 150 people from 47 dioceses gathered in the blonde-wood sanctuary of St. Columba’s a few short miles and merely hours away from the National Cathedral, where – the next day – the Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori was to be installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. We convened there to support her as much as to take any specific action. David mentioned that he and Adrienne spoke with Bishop Katharine that morning at the hotel, and she had spoken highly of the meeting of The Episcopal Majority, although she was unable to attend because she had rehearsals all afternoon.

After David’s remarks and those of a few others, we immediately broke into workshops, introduced by Dick Tombaugh, because the keynote speaker, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, was driving around D.C., hunting for St. Columba’s. [His hotel concierge, hearing he needed to get to St. Columba's on Albemarle, sent him off to the town of Albemarle, Maryland!] The five workshops – along with their leaders and topics – are listed on The Episcopal Majority's website. Special thanks go to Sally Johnson, chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies, who assisted David Booth Beers in the "Legal Issues" workshop.

Our workshops were interrupted by the arrival of Bishop Bruno – a force to be reckoned with. The Rev. Canon Mark Harris introduced Bishop Bruno briefly and let the bishop speak for himself, which he did embracingly, engagingly, energetically, and earnestly. He reminisced about the time in his priestly life when he didn’t think women should be priests; that lasted, he said, until he was compassionately pastored by one (praise Jesus!). He spoke about the recent profile of him in the Los Angeles Times. He spoke about the lawsuits he’s pursuing in his diocese. He spoke about his unconditional support of +Gene Robinson and how he, Bruno, as a divorced heterosexual has more to answer for as a bishop than Gene Robinson does as a homosexual. He made us laugh and cheer and care.

We returned to our workshops and 40 minutes later, reporters from each group filled-in the larger group on our learnings and leanings.

The communications session, which I joined, included, among others, the Rev. Terry Martin of Father Jake Stops the World; Sarah Dylan Breuer, who runs the award-winning SarahLaughed blog; Dan+ Burke, retired priest in the Diocese of Rhode Island; and Louise Brooks, media consultant to All Saints-Pasadena and the producer of Voices of Witness, a DVD on the witness of homosexual Episcopalians. During the discussion, I kept thinking about how I’d thought I knew what was going on in the national church and the Anglican Communion, but that I didn’t know Shinola from apple butter and had boo-gobs to learn, Oh! fabulous day!

Our conversation in the communications group ranged from new-fangled media (blogs and websites) and old-fashioned media (newspapers and television) to the name of the group, to ways to identify the group as it gains a reputation. We raised the need for discipline and defined it as “one spokesperson, one message, and one tone.”

St. Columba’s, under the gracious hand of the Rev. Drew Bunting, Associate Rector, hosted a coffee break of veggie chips, soft drinks, and cookies (surely 250 calories each, with enough trans and sat fats to kill a cow, but yummy).

After reports from the workshops and before the day’s concluding remarks, David Fly conducted the raffle drawing for two tickets to the next day’s installation of Bishop Jefferts Schori. One ticket had been donated by Lisa Fox (force behind The Episcopal Majority's blog), who had received a ticket in the nationwide "lottery" but been prohibited from traveling to Washington. The tickets were raffled off, with proceeds of the raffle going to Episcopal Relief & Development, in honor of Bishop Jefferts Schori's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Much joy arose from the winners. There was also a call for attendees from “network” dioceses, especially those whose bishop has called for Alternate Primatial Oversight, to meet each other for commiseration, and an offer from someone in an abiding diocese to join them in solidarity.

We adjourned around 6:00 p.m. with an invitation to a hospitality room at the Omni Shoreham. John and I, exhausted by the trip and exhilarated by the meeting, turned out the lights at 10 EST, after a brief and outstandingly stupid discussion about what time our bodies thought it was (Central Daylight-saving Time from the week before, CST from that morning, or EST in the evening) and if it was okay to turn off the lights at 10, a quite meaningless number, really.

The next morning, Nov. 4. A vignette: At breakfast at the Holiday Inn Georgetown, my husband, John Clifford, and I were surrounded by female priests. To a woman, each had a grin on her face that was the tiniest indication of the golden joy that seemed to infuse and radiate from each priest as she moved from the buffet to her table. Hugs all around. A priest at one table visited a priest at a clerical women's gathering in the back room. The first woman silently proffered a slip of white paper, a ticket to the installation, to another woman; the second priest, d’un certain age, jumped up and down as if on a holy pogo stick – that’s how excited she was to be going.

We assembled again at St. Columba’s at 8:30 for an open meeting of the Steering Committee. There were about a dozen of us, as so many were already standing in line for admittance to Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, where +Katharine's investiture was to be held.

The tear sheets from the workshops held center place as we talked about action that could be taken from the discussions. Bill Coats, in particular, met every suggestion with an emphatic and exhortatory, “Great idea. Are you going to do it?” He was particularly interested in someone’s taking on the research of all the lawsuits currently being levied by dioceses against parishes seeking alternate primatial oversight – a project that the has not been undertaken by staff at the Episcopal Church headquarters. Terri Jo Barron of the Diocese of Florida volunteered to help with that research.

Ron Haynes expressed eloquently what the meeting meant, and Eric Scharf suggested we take advantage of their being a pressroom at the Cathedral to draft a press release about our meeting. (I was dragooned, er, drafted to help write same, toute de suite and it was published here.) George+ Swanson encouraged us to be careful with wording – that is, to avoid “splitting” language, labeling “them” and “us,” or referring to our adversaries within the church as renegades or schismatics [Coats’ plainly descriptive words].

By 10 a.m., except for some mingling, the morning – and last – session of the first national gathering of The Episcopal Majority was over. We dutifully stacked chairs and tossed coffee cups (again, thanks to St. Columba’s mighty hospitality), mindful that the good fairies do not appear magically after a church meeting to clean up.

John and I wandered around the Mall for an hour or so, found a group of Haida dancers in their button blankets dancing at the Indian Museum, and took the Metro back to the airport. We were home in St. Louis and in bed by 10:00 p.m., but we didn’t sleep. We were too excited. We rehearsed the workshops, we reviewed the meetings, we revisited all the people, known and unknown, we’d met, and we re-outlined what we’d learned. In essence, the sous text to our after-lights-out discussion was that we were terribly glad to have been in Washington, D.C., at that meeting, at that time in our beloved church’s history.


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