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Reflections from 222nd Annual Convention


I recently had the privilege and great joy to attend, on 27-28 January, our Diocesan 222nd Annual Convention as the Lay Delegate representing Church of the Good Shepherd, Bluemont.  It was a privilege to be involved in the business of the Diocese: considering resolutions and canonical changes, deciding on four clergy and four lay persons to be our Diocesan deputies to General Convention 2018, voting for our Annual Province III Synod meeting representatives, and electing two clergy and two lay persons to serve as the next class on the Standing Committee (essentially the Vestry for the Diocese).  The business proceeded with great aplomb, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, under the able leadership of Bishop Shannon and the various committee chairs.  Two resolutions were passed, the first expanding family leave benefits for both primary and secondary clergy, lay, and adoptive caregivers, the second urging the governor and legislature of Virginia to extend wider health care coverage to the people of Virginia, especially those of limited means.

But what really surprised me about convention was the pure joy of gathering with so many faithful and energetic Christian brothers and sisters; praying, singing, and worshiping together; hearing powerful messages from our bishops and from The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, Bishop of Atlanta; and being inspired by the Stories of the Diocese, of Christ’s work being done throughout our body of faith in churches and congregations large and small.  The theme of convention was “Walk in Love” and the message was inclusion and sharing, preparing and defending.  Bishop Shannon Johnston shared the good news of refugee resettlements happening in our churches Richmond and Falls Church.  He told us that our inter-cultural ministries office is flourishing with 20 inter-cultural denominations in our Diocese.  But he warned that nationalism and self-interest are becoming idols. But that he and his fellow bishops will stand for justice wherever most needed, will walk in love and kindness with congregations, and even humbly suffer arrest for peaceful civil disobedience if that is what is required to defend the dignity of all human beings.

We heard a story of reconciliation from Leeds Church, Markham, a church founded in 1769 that incorporated a “slave balcony” with separate entrance in 1842.  How those slaves founded their own church, Mt. Morris Baptist, in 1867 in the wake of The Civil War.  And how, almost 150 years later, the people of Leeds have reached out in contrition to the people of Mt. Morris, and what started as lunch has now become shared services and worship.  God will work wonders if we but share his love.

In his keynote address, Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta exclaimed, “Justice is love revolting against anything and everything that is not love!”  Or, as Bishop Curry puts it, “If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.”  Jesus did not say wait and welcome.  He said, “Go and make…”  And it’s Jesus’ love that compels us to go.  We must walk more intentionally toward young people.  And to the disenfranchised.  We may feel overwhelmed, but as Malcolm X said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”  We worship a living God and we need to keep learning and experimenting.  What experiment is God calling us to do?  In our Diocese? In our Regions?  In our Churches?  In our souls?

Reaching our youth was an important theme.  And you know what… there were lots of young people at Convention.  Lay delegates and clergy.  And many preparing themselves for service at seminary.  We raised $4,900 for Campus Chaplaincy in loose offering at Friday evening Eucharist.  And we increased the budget to support the same.  We heard about food banks and elder outreach and day care.  We heard how Episcopal Church Women are fighting human trafficking. And we heard the St. Francis Korean Episcopal Church drum team give a fresh take on The Beatitudes! 

Bishop Susan Goff told us that two mission churches have been graduated to full mission status, and we celebrated that with the hymn, “We all are one in mission”.  She told us that we come to know God in knowing others and that we serve God by serving others.  And that it’s at the heart of the cross, the intersection of our relationship with others and our relationship with God, that we must strap on our “Gospel Shoes” to walk in love and offer ourselves in sacrifice to God.  We pray for Susan as she goes off on Sabbatical.

And then there was Bishop Ted Gulick, eight years into his three year promise to Bishop Johnston, standing again for justice.  “Discipleship is a matter of life and death.”  There was a small Protestant Huguenot town of 300 in France that during WWII saved 5,000 Jews from the Holocaust.  When the Nazis came looking to round them up, the towns people replied we have no Jews here, only human beings.  Discipleship is a matter of life and death.   And we are all crucial (same root as “cross”) to acting out our calling to be disciples for Christ.

I’ve had a few “mountain top” experiences in my life.  Times where I felt a particular intimacy with God, a closeness to my fellow Christians, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  And this was right up there.  I’d urge us, brothers and sisters, to consider ways that we can become more involved with our Diocese and Region XIII, both of which have so much to offer.  And if you can, try to make it to the 223rd Annual Convention.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, if not overjoyed like me.

Your brother in Christ, Tim Hall

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