Greetings from Spokane, Washington!
I am here to participate as a co-consecrator at the ordination of The Rev. Canon Dr. Gretchen Rehberg as the 9th diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane. Our Episcopal polity tells us that it takes “three bishops to make a bishop” and so I will join, proudly, with our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry and others on Saturday morning to consecrate our sister Gretchen to the order of bishop. Gretchen and I are new acquaintances; she invited me to participate in the role as one of her co-consecrators since she was first called to ordained ministry in our Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Gretchen worked as a professor of organic chemistry at Bucknell University. She was raised from St. Andrew’s, Lewisburg and later served in our diocese at St. John, York, working as a curate with The Rev. Canon David Lovelace, Rector.
This is my first trip to the Northwest. I arrived on Wednesday night at midnight following a week-long meeting with the House of Bishops at Kanuga Retreat Center in North Carolina. While we had some snow of our own at Kanuga, it was with some surprise that I looked at pictures from home of 18-inches of fresh snow on the back porch. I am grieving my poor tulips and hoping, as I write this, that all have made it through the storm without incident. (I did hear the story of a certain house-cat-who-shall-not-be-named who was forgotten and left out all night to weather the storm under the front porch… Word has it that she came inside, ate an entire bowl of cat food and slept for 12 hours on her favorite down comforter.)
The work that we do at the House of Bishops is important. We gather twice a year to engage in study, worship, fellowship, business and prayer. It is the custom of the House to spend the fall meeting in a different diocese each year, and for the spring meeting to alternate between Camp Allen in Texas and Kanuga in North Carolina. Some have called the spring meeting a “retreat,” but based on the schedule of the past seven days in which we had one three-hour block of free time, I’d argue that it is anything but retreat-like.
I want to write, today, about the work of the House that we did last week in the “study” portion of the week.
We were given instruction in multi-cultural organizational development by a consulting and teaching group called Visions, Inc. I first worked with Visions, Inc. in the Diocese of Connecticut where we received multiple trainings in acquiring new world-views and methods of communication that celebrate difference and work to eradicate oppression, the abuse of power, racism and other forms of “isms” (ie: age-ism, sex-ism) and invite us to view our participation in our world on four different levels: personal, inter-personal, cultural and institutional. Like other multi-cultural training programs, Visions, Inc. works to explore our current understanding of the world and to offer possibilities for enhanced communication and behavior that respects all of God’s children as equal and valuable and loveable.
The work of Visions, Inc. and other groups like them offer, I think, a new “operating system” for those of us who may have been raised with a limited or narrow world view. (I know that I was.)
The work is important and hard and deep. It does not shame or blame others for their world-view-of-origin, but offers an entry point for thinking and doing things differently. We engaged in this work as bishops of the Church who care deeply about racial reconciliation as one of the three “parts” of the Jesus Movement: Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism and Creation Care.
The House of Bishops worked hard in its intensive training program. There were some comments and no small amount of anxiety about the need for conversation about our ministry in a time of deep political division in our country. There was a call to examine more closely the identity of the House and how we can best support and equip each other for our work in our individual dioceses, and there was the opening of conversation about how we can better address the widespread decline of the mainstream church in our country and our role as Anglican leaders in the ecumenical, inter-faith and secular communities in which we live. It was not an easy time, but it was good. These are important questions.
Years ago, when I first joined a gym, a trainer explained to me that the soreness that one feels after a workout is the result of micro-tears and stress to the muscles that, after the “work,” re-cover and are re-built to form stronger and bigger muscles, as a result. Some of what we did at the House of Bishops felt like an intense muscular workout for our bishop-body, as we pushed and pulled and strained a bit in our time away. The balm of worship, prayer, singing in the choir and good meals wove in and around the work and… a few days out, I think that we have emerged a little bit stronger and better for it.
And so, how is it with you? Do you have the opportunity in your work and rhythm of your daily life to step away and do some work on a meta-level that offers skill building and examination of the status quo? What operating system is running your life and when did you last explore it? Tweak it? Work through the possibilities for new ways of being? I am grateful for my time away and look forward to returning, yes, even to the snow, with gladness.