Sing in your own voice: Report from Diocesan Convention 4/20/13

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By Chuck Wolterink, Convention delegate

The annual Diocesan Convention was held on April 20, 2013, at the Western Michigan University Conference Center in Grand Rapids. I attended as one of three delegates elected from Grace at our last annual meeting; the others were Ann and Jamie Hackett, acting as alternates for Bob Foote and Jeff Wescott who were unable to travel that day. Others attending from Grace included Daniel Richards, Steve Wade and Greg Hagan.

It was my first time as a convention delegate, so I was looking forward to seeing what it would be like. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the relatively small amount of time we spent on the business matters of the convention. The election of delegates to the next National Convention and members of various Diocesan committees, and the approval of some amendments to the Constitution and By-Laws, were all accomplished quickly and with little or no comment in several brief sessions interspersed throughout the day.

A significant part of the day was spent in worship. We began with a bible study on the Gospel of the Day, John 15:1-11 (Jesus as the true vine and God as the vine-grower). In small groups, we discussed verse 2, “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit,” and what such pruning might mean in the context of our individual communities of faith. The Bible study was followed immediately by the convention Eucharist, celebrated by Bishop Robert Gepert. The sermon was given by our featured speaker of the day, Rev. Margaret Marcuson, who again focused on the Gospel reading.

Just before lunch, Bishop Gepert gave a brief reflection on his experience as bishop. One image he used struck me particularly strongly. Apparently he and his wife have kept pet canaries for some years. He has observed that, although most of the time the canaries sing a lot, when they molt they become completely silent. Then, when their new feathers grow in, they begin to sing again, but they sing a new song–as beautiful as before, but different. He compared this to the process of “molting” we all experience at times of change in our lives, and in particular to the change the Diocese is going through as we choose a new bishop, and he likened it to the idea of pruning referred to in the Gospel.

After lunch we heard a presentation by the guest speaker, Rev. Margaret Marcuson. Rev. Marcuson is ordained in the American Baptist church, and has taught for the last 14 years in the Leadership for Ministry workshop, a training program for clergy. She addressed the question of how church leaders can avoid burnout and create sustainable ministry. She emphasized the importance of knowing oneself, one’s purpose, and one’s context, in both ordained and lay ministry. I especially liked a remark she attributed to her vocal coach: “When you try to sing like somebody else, it sounds bad.” Like Bishop Gepert’s canaries, it is important to sing in our own voice, even when the tune changes.

I enjoyed going to convention, and I appreciate the opportunity to be your delegate.

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