Friday, 7 July 2000
Conversations draw large, spirited crowds
(This article also released as ENS story GC2000-011)
Music, drama enhance experience of liturgy
More than 400 Episcopalians gathered for two hours of singing, drama, and small-group table discussions in the "Story and Song: Windows into Worship'' conversation. Small groups considered such questions as, "Can you identify with moments in the liturgy that connect with your story?'' and "What does singing together offer our common worship?'' Responses reflected a variety of viewpoints as participants shared their personal experiences of Episcopal liturgy and music. "Because our liturgy is so cerebral, music is essential in helping us shift from left brain to right brain to provide an integrated, complete experience of worship,'' the Rev. Kate Harrigan of Central Pennsylvania told fellow participants.
Dramatic offerings included perspectives from history brought to life by Newark storyteller RobertaNoblemanthrough her portrayals of Hilda of Whitby and the German Lutheran wife of Thomas Cranmer. "Is it still the Reformation?'' she asked in the latter role, allowing that she had arrived in England in a laundry basket. "Are you still putting people into boxes? Into closets? ... And you're still singing Thomas' songs?''
Musical offerings were enriched by the participation of Horace Boyer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Boyer, a leader in the publication of the hymnal "Lift Every Voice and Sing II,'' drew from its pages to lead participants in the soulful singing of several spirituals, including "Taste and See,'' and "Many and Great, O God, are Thy Works,'' sung to a Dakota Indian chant.
God, death, and end-of-life decisions
There is an "art to dying,'' Cynthia Cohen, chair of the End-of Life Task Force told the hundreds of conventiongoers whopacked the MoulinRougeroom of the Hyatt Hotel. Participants sat on the floor when the chairs ran out in order to hear a distinguished panel from the task force talk about its work over the past triennium. The task force was part of the Standing Commission on National Concerns.
When the end of life is postponed interminably by modern advances in medical treatment, families can be forced to make difficult decisions in an "atmosphere of crisis'' about the care of a dying loved one. Often "they have no community to support them,'' said Timothy Sedgwick of Virginia Seminary. "It is impossible for them to make an informed decision, and it is impossible for their loved one to have a holy death.'' The Rev. Randolph Dales, a task force member, agreed, noting that being supported by a community is essential if family members are to be able to sort out their confused feelings and evaluate their options.
After watching video clips and listening to task force members' reflections, some in the audience narrated their own experiences. Confirming the task force's conclusion that dying well is a component of living fully, participants related struggles over decisions to withdraw life support and spoke of the need to reclaim a spirituality of suffering.
Finally, participants shared their experiences of the grace of "being present'' to the dying. Confronted with a loved one on the verge of death, people may often feel helpless, primarily because they are so often "dazzled by the fascination of fixing things,'' noted one respondent. But those who have experienced the letting go find that it is, in fact, not helplessness but wonder that comes with the experience of attending another's deathbed. As one woman said, after narrating her story of being with an elderly woman at her time of death, "I felt like a midwife.''
What is the church's role in confronting violence? The conversation, led by Byron Rushing, deputy from Massachusetts, addressed four very specific questions. Presenter OwanahAnderson asked, "How do we help stop the continuing violence against Native Americans, the least visible of the nation's minorities?'' Tessie Ann Adams, a victim of domestic violence, shared her experience of being stalked and of literally becoming a fugitive. She led into the question, "How can the church help prevent the abuse of women?''
A third question asked how the church can put an end to the harassment and beating of gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual youth, which leads so often to severe depression and attempted suicide, as experienced by Michael Bisogno, national youth advocate for gay rights.
And Joseph King, a member of the youth presence from the Diocese of Chicago, posed the question, "What can the church do to help stop the exploitation of our poor, underprivileged, disadvantaged inner-city youth?''
Following the four presentations, attendees in the packed hall were asked to reflect in groups of two or three on what they had heard and to share reflections or viewpoints.
While the focus was on individual experiences of violence, some answers to what the church can do were offered, especially by the two young presenters, Bisogno and King. "If you want to stop the violence, you can. You have the power to stop it'' by individual actions, Bisogno said. He spoke of his own early rejection by the church, and how he recently found a welcome in an Episcopal church.
King also spoke of the impact of the church on his own life, and offered a suggestion: "The church needs to provide programs for youth. Ask your bishop to form a youth council, and ask them how to attract other young people.''
Mission in a hurting world
A youthful missionary, three years out of college and 15 months at his post, was asked at the last minute to fill in as a panelist for the "Mission in a Hurting World'' conversation. His remarks surprised many attendees.
"The preferential option for the poor " ... liberation theology ... has made it seem that Christian integrity is to befound entirely in a host community,'' said Willis Jenkins, a Volunteer for Mission in Uganda who teaches at Bishop McAllister College and coordinates youth mission.
"We don't bear the entire Christian gospel. The integrity is not ours. ... Nor is Christian integrity to be found in the host community,'' he said, with some trepidation. He admitted that his fellow panelists --- two overseas bishops, the director of a mission-sending agency and an Asian theology professor --- might not agree. As he continued, however, they and the audience began to nod in agreement.
"I want to submit that Christian integrity is created in the relationship of communities with mission to go and those with mission to receive. Mission integrity is created in the witness to each other, the mutual witness that at once establishes and recreates our identities as children of God and communities of Christ.''
Kenyan Bishop Joseph Wasonga had struck a similar theme when he told of a priest from Massachusetts.The Rev. Roger Wooten had arrived in Kenya apologetic and embarrassed about Western Christian imperialism. But what he learned from people there surprised him.
"They told Roger that they knew some of the missionaries despised their cultures, that some paved the way for colonization, that some were invited by colonizers to pacify the natives with religion in preparation for their subjugation,'' Wasonga said. "But despite that, these missionaries did a great thing: they taught them to read and write. They are able to read their Scriptures and see from their Scriptures that all people are created equal before God.''
Wasonga added, "That [gift of Scripture] gave impetus for their quest for freedom, for political freedom as well as freedom to express Christianity. They may have received from the West, but they can express it through an African voice and clothed in an African garment.''
A church without racism?
Even before the conversation on "becoming a church without racism,'' the House of Bishops had begun to deal with the church's efforts to eliminate racism by considering a resolution that would require anti-racism training for ordained and lay leaders.
The Rev. Canon Ed Rodman of Massachusetts led an overflow crowd in a "culture tree'' exercise that called onpeople to identify the "roots'' of their ancestral cultures and regional heritages and "branches'' of "cultural, ethnic, racial groups that have influenced'' their lives. Participants were asked to reflect on when they first became aware that there were "different kinds of people,'' and to recall a time when they stood up for themselves or someone else.
One after another, people stood to express gratitude for the opportunity to examine their own beliefs and assumptions. Charles Jackson, an African-American deputy from Alaska, cautioned that although the chance to share stories and histories was important, he remained painfully aware that "racism exists in the Episcopal Churchit's alive and well, and it's flourishing.'' He noted that he cannot "look back over 70 years and not be a little angry about the things I had to do to make CONVERSATIONS it,'' including walking five miles to the high school in his Florida hometown that accepted black students.
Another participant reminded the group that although July 4 is America's traditional Independence Day, for black Americans, "independence day'' was really June 19, the day on which the last group of American slaves learned that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Closing the session, Rodmanreminded the group that doing anti-racism work is "like peeling an onion: Don't start if you don't want to cry. But you'll have a wonderful soup when you're done.''
---Compiled by Bob Williams, Tom Beckwith, Dale Gruner, Nan Cobbey and Susan Erdey, all members of the Convention Daily reporting team.
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