House of Deputies

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President Jenning preached this sermon on June 8 at the opening Eucharist of the Executive Council meeting in Chaska, Minnesota:

In the Name of God. Amen.

Today we commemorate Roland Allen, the son of an Anglican priest who was orphaned at an early age. Allen followed in his father’s footsteps and was ordained a priest in 1893 and sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to its mission in North China in 1895. I wonder if he went to Fresh Start before going halfway around the world just two years after he was ordained!

Allen had a difficult time of it by all accounts. Five years into his missionary service, he was preparing to lead a newly formed seminary in Peking for Chinese catechists when he was trapped by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Many foreigners were killed and their property seized. Allen, along with others, was rescued after which he returned to England. Allen returned to north China in 1902 and soon fell ill, forcing him to return, once again, to England. He became a parish priest but he resigned in 1907 as a protest against the requirement that a priest had to baptize any child whether or not the parents had any connection or commitment to the Church.  He never held another official position in the Church of England.

Charles Henry Long, former editor of Forward Movement, wrote that Allen, as a result of the crises of his early experience, was led to a radical reassessment of his own vocation as well as the theology and missionary methods of Western churches.

His critique of missionary methods formed the core of his teaching and writing until his death in Kenya in 1947. (Charles Henry Long, “Allen, Roland,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 12-13.))    

Roland Allen was rediscovered in the 1960s and his work was heralded as ahead of his time. Dr. Andrew R. H. Thompson, a young Anglican theologian at Sewanee, wrote that “Christians need an understanding of mission that integrates the Great Commission with respectful pluralism, and evangelism with concern for material well-being.”  That is going to be my new mantra.

Thompson writes that Roland Allen pointed the Anglican Church in that very direction by promoting a theology of mission that is contextual and recognizes that God is already present in every location - that missionaries do not bring God to anyone – God is already there. (Andrew R. H. Thompson, “Communities of the Spirit: The Missiology of Roland Allen in the Twenty-First Century,” in Edinburgh 2010: Mission Today and Tomorrow, ed. Kirsteen Kim and Andrew Anderson (London: Regnum Books International, 2011)

Allen called the church to put its trust in the Holy Spirit – that the Spirit will guide and direct new believers and new churches in ways that will glorify God and serve the local community. This requires missionaries – now more often called mission personnel – to avoid creating dependency and to trust that each local community inherently has what it needs in its own people, leadership, and resources to grow into the full stature of Christ.

This is a message for us today – we do not own the church or God. We do not know better than the people we serve – we may have more money, but that doesn’t make us smarter, or better, or holier, or wiser. The Spirit blows where it will and how it will. Sometimes we just need to get out of the way.

I want to close with a story Roland Allen told about a veteran missionary who came up to him one day after he had delivered his sermon.

The missionary introduced himself and said, "I was a medical missionary for many years in India. And I served in a region where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured."

But this missionary had developed a process which would arrest progressive blindness. So people came to him, and he performed his operation. They would leave realizing that they had been spared a life of blindness because of this missionary.

He said that they never said, "Thank you," because that phrase was not in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant, "I will tell your name." Wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they never forgot to eagerly proclaim it wherever they went.

I will tell your name. Whose name will you tell?

  • Whose name will you tell as a result of generosity, kindness, and mercy?
  • Whose name will you tell out of gratitude?
  • Whose name will you tell because you have been provided blessing in abundance?
  • Whose name will you tell because justice has been served?
  • Whose name will you tell because you have been brought out of darkness into light?
  • Whose name will you tell because you have experienced forgiveness and reconciliation?
  • Whose name will you tell because your life has been transformed and your very spirit resurrected?

Whose name will you tell?

I hope the name you tell is the name of Jesus and that his name is engraved in your heart, just as your name is engraved in the heart of God who loved you at the moment of your creation and loves you still. Now go change the world!


Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.--Soren Kierkegaard

Jennifer and TimothyFive years ago, Christmas day found me cradling a one-week old baby in my arms. A newborn, black baby boy holding all of the promise and hope of the future in his quivering, adorable, needy little body. At the time, I believed that to be the most vulnerable time of his life. But the epidemic of gun violence in our country has disavowed me of this notion. 

City streets, classrooms, shopping centers, health facilities, movie theaters and churches are all likely venues for what society calls “random” gun violence. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and countless others helped me to understand that with each passing birthday, each passing Christmas holiday, my son’s life becomes that much more vulnerable. Watching and hearing the grieving parents of children killed at the hands of the state or by acts of homegrown terrorism, I can’t help but ponder the hopes and dreams they had for babies who grew up to die too soon. In the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, God knows this pain perhaps more intimately than most of us. It is a thread—sometimes thin—that gives me comfort and even hope amidst the tragedies of gun violence, the protest chants of #BlackLivesMatter, and the seeming intractability of racism.

On the days when violence and warfare threaten to overwhelm me, that thin line is a reminder that God is always bringing new life and possibility into places that seem to have been abandoned by hope. It is in looking back from the shadows of the cross that the holy night we’ll soon celebrate finds its real meaning. Like Jesus’ birth, God’s saving work goes unnoticed—at first—by much of the world, but it is happening just the same.

Christmas reminds me of how much God was willing to take a chance on us—on humanity. God loves us enough to enter a world filled with beauty, pain and promise and invites us to do likewise. That is, to take a chance on humanity and believe that the next person who might transform the world might be born today. That person may be the young black man we pass by on the other side of the street out of fear. It may be the person of another faith (or none) that we are unable to see as an ally in the cause for peace. Indeed, the miracle of Emmanuel—God with us—is that the next person to transform a moment, or transform the world could be you or me. With each passing day as my son grows older and steps more fully into God’s full future, this is the thread of hope that allows me to sleep at night and embrace the possibilities of a new day.

The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is a three-time deputy and serves as the director of networking in the Diocese of Chicago.

In mid-September, a group of African Anglicans, members of other African churches, and Episcopalians held a consultation on the Bible and sexuality in Elmina, Ghana.  House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings and Deputies Brian Baker, Lowell Grisham, Fredrica Harris Thompsett, and Bonnie Perry participated in the meeting, which was held at the invitation of Bishop Victor Atta Baffoe of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Coast.

Other Episcopal participants in the Elmina Consultation included the Rev. Broderick Greer, Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee, Dr. Dora Mbuwayesango, Sara Miles, Kathleen Moore, Jim Naughton, the Rev. Keith Patterson, Bishop Sean Rowe and Rebecca Wilson.

The group, which has met three times in the last four years, issued a statement at the conclusion of the gathering, called the Elmina Consultation. African scholars, church leaders and activists from eleven countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been involved in the three consultations, which have also included Episcopal Church bishops, clergy, and laypeople invited by the Chicago Consultation. Baker, Grisham, and Perry are co-conveners of the Chicago Consultation, along with Deputy Jennifer Adams, and Jennings is a founding member.

“We call upon our faith communities to make either public commitment or private arrangement to serve as places of sanctuary for those who live under the threat of violence for working on behalf of the gospel,” reads the statement. “We understand this group to include LGBTI people, women and men living with HIV, ethnic, racial and religious minorities on both continents, and those who are potential victims of gender violence.”

Baker, who also participated in the group’s 2013 consultation in Limuru, Kenya, said that the Elmina Consultation “helped me realize that animus in Africa toward gay and lesbian persons was not necessarily indigenous but rather was imported and inflamed by activists in the U.S.” Relationships among Anglicans, he says, can help undo the damage. “The sustainability of the Anglican Communion is not dependent on relationships between primates,” Baker said, “but rather on relationships that are forged between individuals working across the Communion to draw us closer to the kingdom of heaven.”

At the gathering, participants discussed Resolution A051 of the Episcopal Church’s 2015 General Convention and, in their statement, called upon the Episcopal Church to fulfill it. The resolution supports using resources developed by African Anglican leaders and organizations working to curb anti-gay and anti-transgender violence and building relationships with African Anglican scholars whose biblical interpretations affirm the dignity and humanity of LGBTI people.

Deputy Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of the Diocese of Chicago preached this sermon on racial reconciliation and social justice at the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer on December 14, 2014 (Advent 3B):

jbbAs we continue to process the events of the day--the continued protests over the killing of black men at the hand of police and generally lament the poverty, disease, mudslides, and other disasters these days, this Advent, seem darker than usual.  And I don’t think it’s my mood.  Advent is supposed to be dark—this period when we intentionally look forward to the second coming of Christ with all of the upheaval that comes with it. But this is a bit much. 

We are given scriptural texts specifically chosen for this third Sunday of Advent and though there are nice words in here—rejoice! freedom! Oil of gladness!—I find no comfort. Let’s take a look at this passage from Isaiah. 

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me to preach good news.   At first blush, Isaiah sounds remarkably comforting to us—and we so want to be comforted—all of us.  Isaiah’s message told by the unnamed prophet is “to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion…”

After years spent in exile, after a period of being called back home, after confronting the monumental task of rebuilding a broken and dispersed community of people called Israel, all of the promises that come before in the 60 previous chapters of Isaiah—promises written over many, many years by different prophets—these promises are still being made.  The people still mourn and grieve because there had been no glorious kingdom of God established after the exile as they anticipated. They still needed comfort. And we live now, in a world into which Jesus has already come once—this Jesus who preached on these texts in his first sermon in the Temple and declared that all of these promises were being fulfilled as the listeners heard him.  We hear these words in the light of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, the second anniversary of the massacre of the innocents in Newtown, CT and I’m clear, are you not, that not only do we still want to be comforted—we are still in exile.  We have not yet found our way back. The superhighway that Isaiah spoke about in last Sunday’s passage is like the Eisenhower at the evening rush—going nowhere fast.  We want to cry freedom, we want an end to the mass incarceration of young Black and Latino men, we want the year of jubilee—the year of the Lord’s favor—and we want comfort for those very many who are in mourning.

Being comforted and being comfortable are different things.  Advent time—this time we are in—is not about being comfortable.  Advent is about waiting for Christ’s return, it is about waiting for the consummation of all things when all people, all of creation will be reconciled to each other and to God.  Advent is about finding our way back—home.  It is about loving a God who made a home, here among humanity, in the person of Jesus. So when I’m asked, what “can we do” in the wake of Ferguson and the rest; what can we do, when the protesting is over—all I can say is that it is complicated.  Sure there is advocacy work to be done and policies to change and reforms to effect.  Ultimately, though, the answers to that question—which I believe is aimed at getting at the structural and systemic forces that make institutional and hence, individual racism and privilege so difficult to dismantle—the answers to the question will vary with each of us.  But let me tell you what I’m doing.  It’s a small little thing called “going home.” 

So let me say, by way of confession, that over the past few years I’ve been slowing coming out as a kid from the projects.  I cannot express enough what a big deal that has been for me.  It is an admission that has me examining my own internalized racial oppression, identity, feelings of abandonment—and my own acts of abandoning my community in the name of survival—and I hope ultimately giving me the courage to use what little privilege I have as a multiple-degreed, Ivy-educated black professional to actually do something to make a difference.

At the age of ten my family moved to a housing project in Staten Island—not too far where Eric Garner met his fate. We left Brooklyn and relocated to a place where my own innocence of people of many races and backgrounds living together more or less peacefully was shattered. This was the place where I had to learn to navigate the White adults spitting on me and calling me the N-word as I walked home from school each day and the Black school kids wanting to fight me because I spoke funny and used words they didn’t understand. I hated this place. I took solace in the library and the classroom and dreamed of getting out.  Each night gunshots would ring out on the basketball court below my window as I did my homework. I strategized and dreamt about a different life—frankly, a Park Avenue classic six apartment was the dream. I saved my allowance and later after-school job money so that I’m pretty sure I was the only teenager walking around the projects in a Brooks Brothers navy blue, brass-buttoned blazer.  Success meant getting out and never looking back.  But as it turns out, going back just may be my salvation. 

For me, confronting the pain, violence, and for many, hopelessness of that place is critical in order for me to take all of this talk of racial reconciliation and social justice from an academic exercise that I can study and read about till there’s no tomorrow, to an experience of true compassion, empathy, and solidarity. This is about me amending the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to #AllBlackLivesMatter. All Black lives—especially, especially, the ones seen as expendable and disposable because of where they live, how they speak, what they wear. I don’t have time to do it, I’m hearing and remembering stories I don’t want to hear or remember. But this little bit of “putting myself back together” and finding wholeness, will be, I pray, a key to me effecting that wholeness that I desire for the whole community. This is about intentionally entering the brokenness to find that actually, those who made it out are not the only survivors.

This is also an exercise in Advent hope. It is about paying attention and believing, in spite of the “evidence,” that in the darkest of days, a light shines forth. From broken and abandoned dreams, hope is birthed. It is about trusting that transformation comes from unexpected places—whether it is the backwater of Nazareth or the housing projects of Staten Island, or the streets of Englewood. In her book The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister says of Advent, “… this is the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.”

I don’t know what “going home” looks like for you. Maybe it is a hard, difficult look at the places that have made you who you are and being curious about it. Maybe it is looking at the place where you live and move and have your being right now, and asking yourself, is this life you’re living and creating, helping to effect the change you desire for the world. Returning home—moving toward wholeness-- is what God most desires for us and the pathway as Isaiah and other prophets make clear, will not always be simple, clear or easy. But each time we go to those places—whether it is a street address or the part of your heart that has been hollowed out by complacency, sorrow, fear, and anguish—each time we go to those places we have to look oh so carefully lest we miss what God is doing in front of our very eyes. 

About a week ago I finally made it over to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie—I pass it all the time but never made it in. I’d been urged by friends from church and the community to check out the exhibit on race. It is a well done exhibit that takes the anthropological approach to reinforce the idea of race as a social construct but that also explains the evolution of physical features that account for the diversity in the human family. It also has what seems to be hours of video of personal testimony from folks speaking of discrimination, bias, and genocidal violence because of racism in this country. The exhibit is a good one but, frankly, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t really already know. It reminded me that what is happening to Black men today is part of a long string of racial atrocities. I left feeling a bit exhausted and a bit resigned that it was ever thus, and ever shall be. After I exited the exhibit I made my way to the gift shop. I thought I might check out the permanent exhibit about the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust but I didn’t want to take in more depressing narratives—I was full up. As I entered the gift shop a man pointed to a table where another, older, White man was siting and he asked me, “Would you like to meet a Holocaust survivor?” So I gave the only answer I could give.  “Of course.  Of course, I do.”

Many Christians emphasize the submissiveness of Mary in the miracle of the Incarnation, focusing on her words to the archangel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant; let it be to me according to your word.” According to the fifth century Syrian Orthodox writer Jacob of Sarug, however, the most important words that Mary spoke were not those of quiet acquiescence but rather, “How can this be?” Indeed, in Jacob’s account of the gospel encounter, Mary’s response is much more than a single question.  Instead, a teenage girl takes on an archangel in a theological debate and freely consents only when she has been convinced that the angel’s word is true.

In this interpretation, it is Mary’s eagerness to understand God’s plan and her own role in it that makes her exemplary rather than her meek consent. Jacob contrasts her behavior with Eve, who did not question the serpent that tempted her in the garden but uncritically accepted the claim that she and Adam would become like gods without testing the claim first.  In Eve’s case, “lack of doubt gave birth to death” because she simply believed whatever she was told and “was won over without any debate.”

EMM logo

Earlier this month, the Executive Council awarded Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) with a $44,910 Constable Grant to increase the involvement of Episcopalians in the Church’s refugee ministry. 

The Constable grant will support “Share the Journey,” a program that encourages Episcopalians to advocate for just solutions for all refugees and offers education and formation that “deepens and enriches lives of faith through prayer and mission as Episcopalians meet Jesus in incarnational relationships with their refugee neighbors,” says Allison Duvall, EMM’s program manager for church relations and co-sponsorship.  “As a vehicle to understand complex global situations and the resettlement process, Share the Journey will deeply explore the specific refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has seen some of the world’s worst violence and human rights abuses in recent years.”

While EMM has previously resettled only small numbers of Congolese refugees through its network, the United States has now committed to resettling up to 30,000 Congolese refugees over the next three to five years.

The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks are set to meet at the Meadowlands on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII. For months, Episcopalians in New Jersey have been preparing for the shadow side of the big day.

“The Super Bowl will bring more glitz and glamour than perhaps any other event New Jersey has ever hosted," wrote Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith in a January 24 op-ed in the Star Ledger. "And, as Super Bowl history has demonstrated, it will bring more suffering and darkness - in the form of human slavery - than we can possibly measure."

According to the Episcopal Public Policy Network, the Super Bowl is “arguably the single largest sex trafficking incident in the United States.” To combat human trafficking during the Super Bowl, New Jersey Episcopalians have been raising awareness and joining with other advocates to take action. Last week, Lynette Wilson of Episcopal News Service wrote about efforts in the Dioceses of New Jersey and Newark, including efforts spearheaded by Deputy Laura Russell and Executive Council member Martha Gardner.

The Diocese of Newark has posted on its website prayers for victims of human trafficking and links to government and advocacy coalitions working against the problem. The Episcopal Church website also includes resources on human trafficking, including a video of the Presiding Bishop speaking at a 2013 churchwide conversation on human trafficking.

Roderick Dugliss"Are you the one who is to come?"

It is one of the perennial questions.

It is a question arising out of our hope.

We look back in hope to the home we lost, yearning to reconnect, restore, reunite with essential oneness. We look forward in hope for the one who comes to reconcile us with that which we profoundly lost. Our great story tells that someone comes into our lives and times to show us, to lead us on the way home.

And so all who have hoped through time and each of us look in hope and ask, "are you the one who is to come?"

We have asked and asked.

Is it the giver of the law? The great shepherd king? This prophet or that, ablaze with the heat of God's love? Is it the itinerant carpenter from Nazareth? Even John the Baptist, who as the forerunner you would think would know, had to send to Jesus' disciples to ask, "are you the one?"

His radical teaching and disruptive healing was not expected. John, most intimately connected to Jesus, teaches us the expected one comes unexpectedly.

Our hope shapes our expectations and our expectations can get in the way of our ability to apprehend and embrace the one who has already come and is coming.


Sawubona, Yebho. This is a salutation you would hear if you were to travel to Johannesburg and Cape Town, the cities where my family live and where I was born and raised. The Zulu greeting, "Sawubona" means "I see you" and the response "Ngikhona" means "I am here." As always, when translating from one language to another, crucial subtleties are lost. Inherent in the Zulu greeting and our grateful response is the sense that until you saw me, I didn't exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence. Sawubona ("We see you") is an invitation to a deep witnessing and presence.  At its deepest level this "seeing" is essential to human freedom, and at the heart of freedom for South Africans was Madiba.

I remember The Trojan Horse Massacre on Thornton Road, Athlone in October 1985. All of us were at school and needed to run home because the army and police were out to get students who were protesting the government by burning tires in the streets. I remember the "whites only" signs on the beaches as we drove past in my grandfather's brown Valiant station wagon and searched for the handful of "blacks only" beaches. I remember police coming into the rectory at St. John's Church on Belgravia Road, Athlone looking for my uncles and any students who were hiding from the security forces. The church took the lead in turning out the lights on Wednesday nights and we would stand in the streets with lit candles singing, crying and remembering all who had died. These are some of the wounds that Madiba and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped heal.

Sarah Lawton Honored with House of Deputies Medal

lawton with familyMembers of Generation X are frequently portrayed as too cynical to commit themselves to creating institutional change. But the description doesn’t fit Deputy Sarah Lawton of the Diocese of California.

“There’s work for all of us to do in the public square,” says Lawton, who was awarded the House of Deputies medal on October 26 by President Gay Clark Jennings.

In presenting the award at the diocese’s convention at Grace Cathedral, Jennings praised Lawton for her commitment to the social justice work of General Convention and emphasized the importance of advocacy in today’s church.

“I think that we are called, now more than ever, to work for Gospel justice and raise our voices for those who have no voice,” Jennings told the delegates. “The imperative to proclaim generous Christianity is greater now than it has ever been in my lifetime.”