In her opening remarks to the meeting of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council November 12, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori set the group's work in the context of mission and ministry.
Executive Council members must "figure out how to communicate the Good News we know in this body" to the diverse communities in which the Episcopal Church exists, especially to those people who have not been touched by the gospel or who are not yet part of a faith community.
"We have remarkable opportunities to speak and do Good News to people who don't know what that means," she said.
Both she and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said they are committed to what Jefferts Schori called the "deed-based evangelism" personified in the church's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.
"We've got a long road and the journey begins today, and I am delighted that you're all here," she said.
Anderson, who is also the council's vice president, said that she sees "accountability" as a major challenge to both the House of Deputies during the time between General Conventions and to the Executive Council.
She noted that while deputies are an "amorphous" group from the end of one General Convention until the next convention's House of Deputies is elected, they do have both canonical responsibilities and responsibilities "as a body of the church."
And, she said, Executive Council members must be accountable to the larger church. "It's our responsibility to keep people informed about what we're doing, to communicate with each other readily and to ask the hard questions and to give accurate answers to each other and to the people we are accountable to," Anderson said.
Jefferts Schori and Anderson made their remarks to the opening session of a four-day meeting at the Chicago O'Hare Marriott hotel. The members spent most of the November 12 afternoon session being oriented about their responsibilities and building a community. Those activities will conclude on the morning of November 13, and then the council will move into committee work and other business sessions.
The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention and oversees the ministry and mission of the Church. The council is comprised of 38 members, including bishops, priests or deacons, and lay people, 20 of whom are elected by General Convention and 18 by provincial synods.
Executive Council meets from November 12-15, and 22 of the church's commissions, committees and one board will meet jointly from November 15-18, all at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare hotel.
Earlier Sunday, council members and Church Center staff traveled to All Saints' Episcopal Church in Chicago for Eucharist. The service took place under strings of multi-colored paper cutouts or "papel picado" strung across the nave for All Hallows' Eve and All Saints' Day, made in remembrance of members and friends of the congregation. Parishioners, church school children and neighbors had also made "ofrendas" – traditional Day of the Dead "shrines" paying tribute to lost loved ones. The ofrendas were placed among candles on tables along the walls of the nave.
Jefferts Schori, during her sermon, noted Jesus' admonition from the morning's gospel (Mark 12:38-44) to "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers."
Holding her cope out from her sides, Jefferts Schori said "Ouch."
"Surely that can't have anything to do with us," she added, smiling.
She noted the Old Testament story (1 Kings 17:8-16) of Elijah asking a starving widow for food and promising her that if she shared her last bread with him, God would replenish her grain and oil until the killing drought was over.
He was, Jefferts Schori said, asking the woman to make the "remarkable gamble" of trusting a stranger and the stranger's God.
The gospel reading also included Jesus' observation of the widow's contribution to the temple treasury, noting that she had given out of her poverty, not her abundance. Jefferts Schori told the congregation that the word "poverty" in the gospel was translated from a Greek word—hustereseos—associated both with the word "hysteria" and with a woman's womb.
The widow whom Elijah encountered was "hysterical" because the fruit of her womb, her children, were in danger, she said.
"The desperation of the terribly poor knows no gender," Jefferts Schori said. However, she noted that widows and mothers of children are more likely to find themselves in such desperation.
This desperation is what makes some people buy lottery tickets, enter every sweepstakes offer that comes in the mail, and otherwise gamble away their paychecks, she said. And it makes others bet that "even a God they haven't met will provide."
"You and I must be foolish enough" to believe that God will provide, Jefferts Schori said. "We have to bet it all."
Making such a bet is hard for most people, she added. "We're much more interested in playing it safe that in betting it all."
Today's "long-robed ones" can point fingers and calculate percentages of giving, Jefferts Schori said, "or we can figure out how to cure the hysterical desperation of poverty."
"Be merciful, join the hysterical and companion the friendless," she said.
After the post-communion prayer, co-warden Joey Sylvester presented Jefferts Schori and Anderson with rolls of duct tape—because "for years, All Saints has used duct tape to hold this place together. For us, it is an outward and visible sign of God's grace and longing for unity."
Sylvester added that the tape also symbolized the parish's prayers for them, and the parish's pledge to "stick by and stick with you as you shape and lead our church in the days ahead to respond to God's call for a more compassionate, just and peace-filled world."
All Saints, whose building is the oldest wood-frame church still in use in Chicago, is in the midst of a multi-phase capital campaign whose first phase of interior work was recently completed.