Tuesday, September 23, 2014

LIVE FROM TAIPEI: PART 7

Well, it’s all over but the shouting – that is if we shout at the reception and closing dinner tonight.

The business of the Fall 2014 meeting of the House of Bishops is concluded. We had our Town Hall Meeting this morning, which is an open mike format. The high points were thank you’s for prayers and support given during times of personal and family hardship since our last meeting. We actually do that for each other and it helps.

In the business session we took up various questions including a resolution to support the Anglican Church in Hong Kong where the political situation is complex and shifting. We also took up the question about how best to work for peace in the war torn Middle East and offer support to persecuted religious minorities especially Christians. Instead of formal action on our part, we agreed to pass on messages to the Archbishop of Canterbury through Bishop Katharine who is talking with him next week.  Various other matters of business were addressed, but nothing newsworthy.

This afternoon I attended a discussion with members of the task force on marriage. It was an opportunity to offer input from our different diocesan contexts on both the liturgy and theology of marriage.

At this point, I am tired! But I have 90 minutes of downtime before the reception. I plan to use it to continue e mailing transition officers as a way to beat the bushes for candidates for priest openings in Nevada.


Tomorrow, bright and early, I take a shuttle to the airport and fly away home.

Monday, September 22, 2014

LIVE FROM TAIPEI: PART 6

Can systems change?

I am self-conscious that I go on so much about what a wonderful group of colleagues I have in the other bishops, how kind and supportive they are, what a sane, gentle, and caring group I encounter each time we meet.

But it was not always so. Back in the bad old days I kept my distance from bishops, even when they were solo. As for when they gathered in a pack, I’d have sooner hung out with a pack of wild dingos. So I don’t know much first hand about those days. But I am told that it was bad.

There were times when one faction of the bishops refused to stay at Camp Allen with the others. That faction held their own separate worship services rather than receive communion with the rest. Bishops would stand on opposite sides of the room shouting insults at each other. This did not happen during the main era of seceding congregations and dioceses. The era of bishop rancor was what led up to it the fracturing of the Church. For better or worse, bishops do lead. That dysfunctional group of bishops led us into chaos. Of course, there had to be good bishops in those days. I am sure there were excellent bishops among them. I knew some of them and admired them. But the group as a whole was, as I am told, not playing well together.

I remember when one of the leading left wing bishops and his arch enemy, one of the right wing bishops, retired within a short while of each other. Rather than stop fighting, they went on the road together continuing to duke it out for the entertainment of churches around the country. I am not sure but I think this may have coincided with the popularity of The Jerry Springer Show.

Today, things are different from that as the night from the day. But how did the change happen? Yes, of course, some of the hotheads retired and went away. But that doesn’t always change things. Usually when one troublemaker leaves, another arises to take his place. So the departure of the difficult bishops may have created the opportunity for change, but it did not guarantee it.

I am told that Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, with his contemplative spirituality and devotion to the discipline of conversation, undertook a specific program to change the way the bishops behaved. We went from sitting in straight lines with seats assigned according to seniority to sitting around tables with the same small group assembled for three years at a stretch. We began to meet more often. The College For Bishops worked on building relationships among the new bishops coming in, and connected the new folks to veterans as we were assigned first a 90-day-companion and then a bishop coach for our first three years. I don’t know what all the changes were or when they were made. But I am reliably informed that there was an intentional plan to change the way the bishops related to one another. We now have a network of personal relationships that bridges differences of theology and politics. We work well together and my life is the better for knowing these good people.

As the tenor of the House of Bishops has changed, it seems to me that a different kind of people are seeking the office. A different kind of people are being elected. How that happens is a mystery. But I observe it to be true. We are more measured, balanced, temperate in speech and action than many of the bishops in decades past – not all of them certainly, but many of them, the ones who grabbed the headlines.

The point here isn’t to praise the current team. It’s to say that a bad system became a good one through intentional action. With Bishop Griswold’s leadership, continued by Bishop Katharine, we decided to change.

Could a congregation do the same? I have seen it happen there too. I have seen a congregation that has been swimming in its own rancorous bile for years decide to get healthy. It takes some action steps, some intentional work. It doesn’t change all at once. It takes time, patience, and determination, but it can be done.

There is no one right way to go about it. I think Gilbert Rendle’s Behavioral Covenants In Congregations is a great guide for starters.  I believe the practices and principles of broad based community organizing can change how people treat each other in a congregation. Others agree. http://www.ucc.org/news/community-organizing-to-help.html In fact, there is a short and easy book on how to do it, Michael Gecan’s Effective Organizing For Congregational Renewal. http://www.amazon.com/Effective-Organizing-Congregational-Renewal-Michael/dp/0879463848/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411386465&sr=1-1&keywords=Organizing+for+congregational 

I am intrigued that our new Archbishop of Canterbury is going around the world having a one-on-one meetings (the basic building block of community organizing) with each of the Primates of the Anglican Communion before he calls another Primate’s Meeting. It looks to me as if Archbishop Justin has got it. I confess I sometimes slam my head against the wall in frustration over how hard it is to get our people in Nevada to sit down together one-on-one and just talk. We want to make speeches and send out e-blasts, anything but relate eyeball to eyeball.

Our best turnaround in a parish has been led by a priest trained in Christian conflict transformation at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. http://www.lmpeacecenter.org There are other models that invite relationship building – the Indaba Process, World CafĂ©, Appreciative Inquiry, etc. I don’t know that any one model has all the answers. But what I do know is this: a group can change how it functions. Old habits can be broken. New habits can be formed. The bishops have done it.

As I look at some of our congregations that have been stuck in bad habits, relational vices that may even have seeped down into them from the bad influence of the bishops in decades past, I wonder which of those congregations might decide to give up their familiar rancor and misery to try something new, something like becoming the Church the New Testament calls us to be, the kind of community worthy to be called the Body of Christ, a community that looks like Jesus, heals people instead of wounding them, and ushers in the Kingdom of God.


LIVE FROM TAIPEI: PART 5

This morning we heard presentations from the Primates of Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. In Japan, Christians are less than 1% of the population but the Primate believes they can nonetheless be the light of the world. He attributes the smallness of the Church there, in contrast to Korea where 35% of the population is Christian, to the Church’s complicity with the government’s aggressive policies in the 1930s and 40s. The thrust of Anglican mission in Japan is peacemaking, which begins with repentance. I am struck by the courage of the Church in calling on Japan to repent of its violence in history. What if the Church in the United States did that? I don’t know that I could be so bold. I am struck that living on the edge, as the Church does in Japan, makes them daring, not timid.

In Korea, Christianity has more people, but Archbishop Kim believes that interdenominational strife prevents Christians from being the kind of witness that is needed. The Anglican Church of Korea is the principal Christian voice for the poor and marginalized. The political situation is dicey as tensions between North and South implicate American military power, which casts an unhelpful shadow on our Church there, especially when they try to speak for peace and reconciliation.

It was good to see Archbishop Edward Malecdon of the Episcopal Philippine Church. I have met him several times before. He spoke movingly of the EPC’s struggle to become independent of us, and even more movingly of their advocacy for human rights and justice. Some of our bishops there, including Bishop Wannadag of Nevada’s companion diocese of Santiago, have received death threats for their stands against human rights violations. He also spoke of their aggressive work for community and economic development. When I visited Santiago, I saw that half their diocesan staff are community and economic development workers.

I regret that I cannot tell you much about the afternoon because it was a closed session for candid discussion of three matters: the report of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church (restructuring), the task force working on theology and liturgy of marriage, and the search committee for the next Presiding Bishop. I can say that table discussion of restructuring taught me a lot about how TEC works so that I better understand where some of the stumbling happens; the discussion of marriage was personal and deeply heart-felt; and the nominating process for the next PB is moving right along.

Thanks to cyber technology and multi-tasking, I got a little Nevada work done on the side. The UNLV Legal Clinic has a client who is a human trafficking victim who just had a botched, disfiguring implant job. They asked me to help find a doctor who would try to repair the damage without compensation because there are no resources. We have a couple of promising leads thanks to good people in our congregations.

After the day’s work was concluded, I bought myself a Chinese Book of Common Prayer to add to my collection, and then had a glass of wine with the Bishop of Montana as we swapped tales and compared notes on our somewhat different, somewhat similar parts of the Wild Wild West.

One more day to go. I confess, that though this has been inspiring, edifying, and informative, I am ready to be home.