Yesterday, the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance presented their proposed budget for the 2010-2012 triennium for the Episcopal Church. It was grim. The revenue has shrunk because of the state of the global economy and expenses have risen, which is no surprise to the millions of households experiences the same pressures. As a result, there are drastic cuts to effect a radical change in how the Episcopal Church will be working out its mission, with more emphasis on the mission and less on administration.
There will be many people in the Episcopal Church Center who will lose their jobs. Pray for them. I have been laid off four times in my career, and it is devastating. Pray for all who have lost their jobs in our current economic crisis.
"Mission" has been much talked about at this General Convention. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and "mission" was always a central focus of our congregation's life. When I hear "mission," however, the next words seem often to address issues affecting people not in the United States.
David and I went through the exhibits hall this week, looking for educational and liturgical resources that we could use at St. Luke's, Cleveland, where more than half our membership are under age 18, and almost all of them are people of color and poor. As we searched for pictures of people who "look like us" at St. Luke's, we either found no people of color in the photos, or they were wealthy people of color--cleaned up, well-dressed, and quiet. Those children who were clearly not well-dressed and quiet seemed always to be not in the United States.
Lots of our young people at St. Luke's are deep, rich, chocolate brown, dressed in the most current urban styles--ball caps, long shorts that are worn low on the hips, t-shirts with abstract graphic designs, and hoodies. They have their cellphones always at the ready, and they sometimes forget to mute them during worship. (We all forget sometimes.) They are clean, well-dressed, and (mostly) quiet, but we couldn't find any pictures of them in the exhibit hall. They are also almost all from single-parent, poor families. They love Jesus, and they love our church.
On the floor of the House of Deputies yesterday, there was a regular--though not exactly continual--sound of a child from the visitors' section, probably an infant. The child made squeals, but it wasn't crying. I only noticed because deputies around me were growing increasingly tense, and I was asked whether that sound wasn't making me crazy. It was the first I had even heard it. I think I didn't hear it because St. Luke's is not a quiet parish.
We worship in the round with chairs, and there are often little children roaming around and making child sounds. When parents visit for the first time with their youngsters, and they sit worried and trying to "shoosh" their children, we go to great lengths to tell them that we really don't mind. They can relax: We'll help them keep their children safe because there is a place for them in our congregation.
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I'm trying to make several points here today, the ninth day of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Who we have been as the Episcopal Church--from a cultural point of view--is not who we need to be as we move closer to the Realm of God. We can no longer be the all-white, all clean, all well-dressed, all properly quiet folk all in our own, private pews we have prided ourselves on being in the past. There are fewer and fewer people like that in our society, and those who are like that mostly don't want to be with only others of their class and kind. They want the richness of difference, the experience of being changed.
The poor, the people of color, and the people who need the prayers and missional support of the Episcopal Church are not only outside of the United States: They are also right next door to us at home, our neighbors. Pray for us in the Episcopal Church that we not only serve the poor, both in the US and abroad, but that we invite them into our congregations. Pray that we can be open to being changed by them, so that we don't regard them as strangers--strange to our ways--but as our family, strange as we ourselves have become strange and beautiful.
It's the only way for us to grow: By opening ourselves up to the strangeness, so that it no longer seems strange, but just like home.