Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jesus' Facebook Page

This is very clever. You may need to zoom in.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wrapping up

The Sun finally came out yesterday, and many of the bishops headed for the lake, canoes, and splashing each other (see attached). We just finished our final Eucharist together and farewell dinner. Many of the attendees have already left, so it was a smaller group. Many agreed that this was one of the better meetings that we have had. There was a minimum of posturing and debating, and a much better collegial spirit. We listened to some great speakers, discussed the hard topics of the day (money), elected a new bishop for Ecuador, heard about new strategies for Latino ministry, and were briefed on some important changes in the medical insurance coverage (better and cheaper). I look forward to sharing all this with you when I return. In the meantime, you can access our pastoral letter to all the churches on the either or own or the Episcopal News Service website. I also understand that there will soon be a video of some of us singing gospel songs in the chapel on YouTube. Perhaps if you search under "singing bishops?" Tomorrow (Thursday), I will be pack on the plane, headed west. I will be glad to be back in warmer climes and familiar faces.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Full Day

Monday was a full day of work. In the morning we had a "stand-about" of the three candidates for bishop of Equador Literal. This Diocese in Province 9 has excercised its canonical option of having the House of Bishops elect their next bishop after the local process became too conflicted. We heard from three excellent candidates. The election is Tuesday night.

The afternoon was given over to our regular business meeting. Attached is a picture of the Presiding Bishop and her assistants moderating the meeting. We got a lot done, but it was a bit tedious at times. There were no real controversial topics, but still plenty of parlimentary manuevering.

Today was not all work however. This evening was the time set aside for our class dinner, gathering with my collegues who became bishops the same year I did. We enjoyed some local cruisine here in Hendersonville. I had cheese grits with shrimp, something I knew I could not find in Arizona!

Catching Up

Yesterday (Monday) was so busy with meetings that I did not have time to run up to the main building and access the wireless, so I will try to catch up the events of the last 36 hours in two separate entries. I've attached first a video of the "Fireside Chat" on Sunday night. The Presiding Bishop covered a number of subjects, including her impressions of the most recent Primates' meeting, which were generally favorable. The bishops assembled however seemed more interested in talking about money, or rather the lack of it, the recession being the unmentioned topic that is clearly on every one's mind. One bishop addressed the "elephant under the table" the fact that some of our wealthiest dioceses pay very little to the larger church. ( I am happy to say that Arizona for many years has paid its full assessment). What followed was a long recitation of financial woes, what my old rector used to call, "crying poor-mouth." Frankly, I've heard it all before. When I was a parish priest, I would hear stories of how obviously wealthy parishioners just couldn't afford to pay raise their pledge. As a bishop I hear from parishes who just can't afford to support the Diocese as much this year (even when they have done little or nothing to improve their stewardship efforts). Now as a member of the house of bishops I hear about how various dioceses just can't possibly help with the mission of the larger church. The real issue for me on every level is stewardship. The average giving of Episcopalians is 1.7% of income, far from the Biblical tithe of 10%. The Pew Foundation stated recently that Episcopalians are the wealthiest of all religious groups. Even in a time of economic duress, we can certainly afford to fund our mission. The money is there, what is lacking is the motivation. Maybe if we spent a little more time proclaiming the Gospel instead of crying "poor-mouth," we would be better off on every level-- parish, diocese, national church.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Good News and the Bad News

I am taking a moment to catch you up on what happened yesterday. I am sitting in the library, trying not to type too loudly, because the Presiding Bishop is sitting next to me, hunched over her own laptop, deep in thought. Today (Sunday) is a very light day. It is an intentional "sabbath time," a day to relax, rest, (do laundry), and digest what we have heard the last few days. We had church this morning, and of course there are the meals. The video I've included shows us in the dining hall at lunch. The dining hall is where much of the real work of the HOB gets done. While enjoying great southern cooking, it is also the place to catch up with old friends, discuss the business of the church, and to do those vital "bishop to bishop checks" of clergy looking to move. I have about ten names I need to get a reference for while I am here.

I entitled this entry "good news, bad news", because yesterday we got a dose of both. Our main speaker was an economist from the Harvard Business School who briefed us on the depth and impact of the economic recession. The bad news? It is the worst economic crisis since the depression, and will effect us in some way for the next ten years (or at least the "seven lean years, the Bible speaks of). The cause? An unprincipled get rich quick "extended drunk" that effected us on every level. We are now paying the price for our greed. The effect on churches? Major, for even people who have money and jobs are now living in the grip of fear and will be less likely to give. The good news is that he is confident in the new administration, the attitude of the business students he sees graduating (who are committed to working rather than getting rich quick, the human resources of this country, and our innate ability to face hard times. We will make it through. His advice for those of us in church leadership? We need to counter the atmospshere of fear with a message of hope, and we have to redouble our efforts of faithful stewardship. As some of you know, I have been talking a lot with the clergy about this last topic, and will be doing a lot more in the future. Just as in the Great Depression, "We have nothing to fear, except fear itself." Perhaps in keeping with that theme, tonight we will be having a "fireside chat" with the Presiding Bishop. (I think she is working on her remarks right now).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Opening Day

Our regular sessions began this afternoon with a Eucharist in the Kanuga Chapel. Attached is a picture of Presiding Bishop Katherine preaching the opening sermon (with the Bishop of Nebraska's head in the foreground).

Then we gathered in the main meeting room for two presentations and discussion. The first speaker was Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort. His thesis is that Americans are more and more segregating themselves into like minded communities, where politics and life-style is shared. He does not see this as a healthy thing because it results in greater polarization. In order for people to understand one another, they have to be with one another, which only happens for most people at work, if at all. This has important implications for the church. The mega-church movement was largely fueled by an insight in the 1960's which said, define the parishioner you are after, and then create an environment that will attract people like him. This is one reason that the Episcopal church which promotes diversity does not do so well in a culture which promotes homogeneity.

The second speaker was the great Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman. His insights into Scripture are too technical to go into here (I hope to share them with the clergy at upcoming gatherings), but his argument was the the OT contains two "trajectories". One, found in the first part of the Torah--the priestly tradition--emphasis purity and absolute truth with no accommodation to society. The other, Deuteronomic strand, stresses adapting the truth of the tradition to changing circumstances. Both are biblical and need to be held in tension--absolutism vs. accommadation. He feels both liberals and conservatives have been following the first tradition (It's my way or the byway), and we need more of the second (let's go back to the source and see what we can work out). Without that corrective, we are can never find a way forward. In one of his more memorable phrases--"Final interpretations lead to final solutions." The total rejection of the other side.

So we have had lots to think about even in these first short hours.

Today (Saturday). We had an excellent presentation on the economy and its implications for church giving--and I will write about that tomorrow!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blogging from House of Bishops

Since our own Cathedral Dean, Nick Knisely is here at Camp Kanuga teaching bishops how to blog, I guess I had better get busy and start posting on my own blog. Those of you who follow this will remember that I did daily posting from the Lambeth Conference, including video. I have my camera and will try to do likewise these next few days. The setting for our meeting is the Kanuga Conference Center, just outside the town of Hendersonville, North Carolina. It is a great facility set on a small lake in the piedmont mountain country. The only problem for me with my thin Phoenix blood is the weather--damp and cold, with highs about 45 degrees. I am glad I brought my long underwear with me! I have been here since Wednesday, since I needed to attend a "pre-meeting" of bishops who are serving as mentors to new bishops. The spring meeting of the House begins this afternoon. At this point my guess is that our business over the next week will focus on the following: 1. Discussing the upcoming General Convention 2. Electing a Missionary Bishop for Ecuador 3. Looking at the impact of the recession on the wider church 4. Laying the groundwork for a closer union with the Moravians. We will also hear from Walter Bruggeman, one of the great Old Testament scholars of today, as well as from several other speakers. As always, daily Bible study will begin each day. I look forward to sharing thoughts and impressions with you over the next week. Your comments are always welcome!