The Spirit Blows Where It Will

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin, Rector

Every three years, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets for approximately 10 days to ponder the life and ministries of the Church; to seek the guidance of the Spirit; and to pass resolutions and decisions that shape the collective life of Episcopalians around the country and beyond. This year, the 78th General Convention is meeting from June 25 through July 3rd in Salt Lake City. Bishops from all of the 101 domestic Dioceses within the United States, and from several so-called missionary Dioceses abroad, will meet in the House of Bishops; and laypeople, priests and deacons-eight people elected by each of the Diocesan Conventions from those same Dioceses, with an additional eight alternate Deputies available as needed-will meet in the House of Deputies. General Convention was first held in 1785, close on the end of the War for Independence. Designed by many of the same people who drafted the U.S. Constitution, General Convention is now the largest deliberative and legislative body in the world.

What is Convention like? I cannot say, personally, never having attended. But friends and colleagues have, over the years, described the gathering with colorful, evocative words, words such as "noisy," "chaotic," "lively," "spirited," fractious," "joyful," "conflicted," "ambiguous," and the like. Sounds rather like normal, everyday life, doesn't it?

There are those who believe that the Episcopal Church-and all individual parishes, for that matter-should be free of strife and dissension, characterized by constant unity, peace, and harmony. I can certainly understand and sympathize with that viewpoint, for serenity and joy are our ultimate hope and ultimate promise as Christian people. However, to be honest, I like living within an extended faith community that is untidy and messy. Sure, it is occasionally embarrassing and uncomfortable. Yes, sometimes our leaders or visible members of the Church take steps or make statements we would rather they had not. But the history of God's relationship with the human race is one that has been filled with growth pangs, tension, unrest. Think of the journey of the people of Israel as they wandered the trackless desert for four decades, grumbling, mumbling, complaining. Think of the first Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit jolted the frightened band of disciples to pour into the streets of Jerusalem in order to proclaim the Good News of Christ in languages they didn't know they knew. Think of the challenges Paul faced as he journeyed around Asia Minor healing and teaching and preaching. That which is not tested, which is not tried, is not, ultimately, truly owned. I would rather be part of a Communion and a Church that welcomes-indeed, encourages-discussion, discernment, disagreement, and dialectical tension, even with all their attendant messiness, than be part of a tradition that is less "roomy" than the Episcopal Church. We are an imperfect people trying to hear and be moved by the Spirit; and such work is noisy, chaotic, lively, ambiguous...and joyful.

Pray for those who have gathered in Salt Lake City, especially the delegation from the Diocese of Chicago. Pray for The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, who has just been elected to serve as the next Presiding Bishop. Pray for provocative debate, spirited conversations, challenging decisions. And pray that the Spirit, in the midst of our messy, unpredictable lives and world, will make her presence known and felt.