Identity, faith, and reconciliation: Bishop Mary’s convention address
Spiritual identity, hope, and relational power were key themes of Bishop’s Mary Gray Reeves’ annual address at the 37th Convention of the Diocese of El Camino Real on Friday, November 3, and Saturday, November 4. While conventions are primarily held to manage the business of the church, this year’s event served also to inspire, challenge, and celebrate the community of delegates, alternates, clergy, and friends from across the diocese who gathered at Sherwood Hall in Salinas.
Bishop Mary’s address drew inspiration from the birth of Moses and the role of several midwives – and a girl, his sister Miriam – who kept him alive. “The scene gives birth, years before, to the journey the Israelites would take in becoming a nation,” she explained. “Identity emerging out of formed character, values, courage and grit. They are all present in this story.”
“This is a story of trusting that God’s desire for God’s people is freedom,” she added. “This is a story of discovering one’s identity in the calling of God. This is a story of those who appear to have no power, but oh, how they do.”
She noted how some congregations struggle with articulating their identity, typically when searching for a new rector, priest-in-charge or vicar. “Articulating who you are is more challenging than articulating what you do,” she said. “To say we know we are called to something, but we don’t know what, is to name a starting place. It is to conceive of hope that God wants more for us than unknowing and an uncertain identity.”
“Faith is the centerpiece of our identity. It is the operating system, if you will, of being Christian,” she shared, as her address introduced the need for reconciliation. “If faith is the centerpiece of our identity, reconciliation is the centerpiece of our activity . . . it is the church’s mission.”
She pointed out that gathering for worship is part of the structure that encourages reconciliation. “Serving our communities, sharing one another’s burdens, loving one another – both enemy and stranger, these are ways we the church come together, or midwife the process alongside others. In many ways we reach out to those who may have no one at all reaching towards them. We feed, we clothe, we listen, we share, we welcome, we challenge, we change unjust structures, we speak, we march, we sit quietly in prayer. We embody God’s desire to be with humanity.”
She also introduced two practices of faith development and reconciliation that the diocese will add to its growing repertoire of tools for Christian life:
The Emergency Mediation Team – also known as the EMTs – is a group of professional mediators who are also members of the diocese. They will work with congregations who want to improve their communication skills, or, who are in deep conflict, where they need to become “friendly again.” In the first quarter of 2018, EMTs will offer training at the deanery level that will provide broad support for general communication skills, mediation of difficult subjects or challenges, or the “occasional knock-down, drag-out fight,” she added with a laugh. “And yes, nice church people have those from time to time!”
At the spring conference in May, the diocese will host a session on storytelling, inspired by Bishop Mary’s course this summer in Monterey where she heard from the Story Center in Oakland about the empowering work they do with victims of violence, post-war, in helping them tell their stories of not only trauma, but also salvation.
“There are more areas of brokenness in our world than we could possibly name here,” she noted. “But part of why they rage is that we do not do the reconciliation work required for healing . . . how many stories in our neighborhoods need to be heard? How many stories in our pews? From the person now sitting next to you? Hearing them might inspire faith and bring reconciliation.”
Read Bishop Mary’s complete convention address online. More convention coverage, including awards and resolutions, will be posted soon on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and in Along the King’s Highway.