By Michael D. McManus
I attended the 140th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan on May 2 and 3. This was my first experience at this gathering and I had no idea what to expect; I wondered if there would be a lot of ‘rubber-stamping’ and was happy to see that this was not to be.
There was a good sense of friendship and spirituality; we had daily Morning and Noonday Prayer, together with Eucharist at Grace Friday afternoon.
The Rev. Martin Smith gave the Keynote Address Saturday morning and it was well received. His topic was Spirituality and Mission and the need for both. He emphasized the need for an Experiential Experience of God in each of us and the need to arouse such a spirituality in ourselves and others (Mission). We should welcome others into the experiences we have had.
Father Smith developed the theme of the three dimensions of God: Father, Son and Spirit. I will not try to develop this as Father Smith did but will merely state some of the notes that I made for myself (the italics are mine, as is the interpretation):
We have had an image of a vengeful Father who is concerned with ‘sin’, rather than a Father, who wants to be in out lives and to live within us. We are the desire of God’s heart.
Sin is the fear of intimacy with God. We need to be aroused by Christ, and acknowledge that we are part of Christ’s mission into the world. The Eucharist is Christ inside of us as we are within Christ—Christ’s embodiment in the world, in its joys and suffering.
The Spirit is God’s presence in our hearts—an inner presence, which asks: What shall we do together? We are co-creators with God!
In summary: God desires me to be aroused by his desire for me.
When I offered to be a candidate to represent Grace at the Convention, I wanted to have the opportunity to get to know our new Bishop, Whayne. I was not disappointed!!
The Bishop is warm, direct and caring, with a good sense of humor. He addressed us at the beginning of the convention and spoke of the fears that he hears from the churches: decreasing numbers, decreasing contributions and the aging of the church—in essence this all leads to a fear of survival. Has the church failed? He felt that change is here but there are things that still need to be done:
Be a people of Prayer, a people of daily community prayer—listen to each other and the Spirit, stay in community and, as Henri Nouwen said: to pray is to live. Be intentional in our relationship to God and our community–be our Authentic Person.
The Bishop would like to see a revitalization of the Diaconate as a Ministry in itself, not just a ‘helpmate’ to the Priesthood. He calls us to raise up Deacons from our churches and to have this person(s) serve those in need in our communities—be the face of God and the church for them. Therefore, practice a Ministry of Outreach.
A second wish of the Bishop is to develop a strong Young Adult Ministry within our diocese and local churches—as noted above a whole generation has been lost to the church and we need to be available to them—they will not seek us out on their own.
It was very educational for me to hear about some of the activities in the Diocese, such as the Youth Group, the Mission in the Dominican Republic, local missions and reading camps and a new Elimination of Racism initiative (in partnership with the other two Episcopal Dioceses in the Lower Peninsula).
We were also educated/informed about various outreach grants that are available for Congregational Development and Mission and a new Congregation Development Initiative; there is also a taskforce, which is studying a possible restructuring of the National Church. There was good discussion on the issue of the need for attention to a Young Adult Ministry—since the Church is missing a whole generation of persons and there is a the need to go to them and not expect them to come to us.
Two recommendations for changes to our Canon were proposed; one was defeated (a new process for the Assessment Committee to use when churches have declining revenue—it was felt that this is already covered by our present Canons) and one was referred for further study (what part of each Church’s Principle in savings can be used each year). There were several other items that were passed by acclamation; one thing I noticed was that there were no choices for some of the offices/committees; this corresponds to my experience with Grace’s Nominating Committee—-sometimes there are few who wish to commit to a committee, vestry, etc.
In summary we have a warm, strong, Christian person as out Bishop; he reaches out to his parishes and has stated the desire to visit each parish at least once every 18 months—and he is well on his way to completing his first go-around. We have a leader in Whayne who listens and guides and we are fortunate to have such a person of God.
(PS. A strong vote of Thanks to Ann and Erica for the work they did. After the Eucharist there was Bar-B-Q in a large heated tent in the parking lot and this was followed by a dance in the Park Place Dome. Grace and the many volunteers involved were thanked profusely and Daniel said it was just an every-day type of party for Grace. We Rock!)