Panelists at Wednesday’s "conversation" exploring convention’s theme, “Engage God’s Mission: Receive, Repent, Reconcile and Restore,” discussed models for making convention and the larger church places of reconciliation and peace.
The meeting was one of five “conversations” drawing hundreds to two-hour presentations on the opening evening of convention.
“The environment in which we begin our meeting is highly charged over issues we will face,” said Delbert Glover, a retired business executive and active lay church member. “The environment in which we meet is replete with anxiety. Is there such urgency to find permanent solutions that we are willing to risk being unfaithful to the mission of the church? We can make a difference by how we live and work together these next few days,” he said.
Much of the evening’s discussion addressed ways to make the church more welcoming and how to stretch its boundaries. Panelists and audience members shared experiences of attempts to find and extend welcome in the church across boundaries of age, gender and culture.
A boundary is “a line that defines and gives identity,” said Caroline Westerhoff, the Diocese of Atlanta's canon for ministry. “Without a boundary – without a skin, if you will – there is no body.”
“The other side of the 'boundary coin' is hospitality,” she said. “True, deep, profound hospitality means welcoming the enemy as guest. Clear boundaries make possible deep and intimate relationship, deep and intimate hospitality.”
Crossing cultural boundaries can be rough, noted the Rev. Jaime Case, who grew up with missionary parents in the Philippines and now works in Hispanic ministries. In his ministry, he said, “my main concern is to try to figure out how to cross those boundaries with some appropriate care to allow us to have some positive engagement rather than a shock or a collision.”
The Rev. Eric Law, missioner for congregational development for the Diocese of Los Angeles, and trainer and author of books on building multicultural communities, challenged convention to practice a discipline of inclusion. “Inclusion is a discipline of extending our boundary, to take into consideration another’s need, interests, experience and perspective, which will lead to clearer understanding of ourselves and others, fuller description of the issue at hand and possibly a newly negotiated boundary of the community to which we belong.”
“It has everything to do with God, because our God concept is the number one way we exclude people. Because you do not look like my idea of God, I can exclude you,” said Law, who with Case enacted a short dialogue from a play to illustrate his point. He urged changing our image from a God of scarcity to one of abundance, with enough grace for all.
The Rev. Lisa Ann Senuta, a 30-year-old assistant to the rector at a Kansas church, described her joy in finding the Episcopal Church after spiritual formation as a child and teen through the Roman Catholic and evangelical traditions and her attempts to share that joy through a short-lived bar ministry for young adults called God and Guinness.
“Reconciliation for the future of the church must be about thinking outside the walls,” she concluded. “As a young female, I have encountered a church that seems to me to be grieving [for] the way it used to be. We seem to be in a bit of an identity crisis. I am hopeful and excited about the struggles and challenges that we are facing. However, I realize that we need to reconcile within ourselves so that we can follow with confidence where the Spirit is leading us.”