House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

We Need All the Mission We Can Get: Executive Council Opening Remarks

President Jennings gave these remarks at the opening session of the Executive Council meeting on October 18, 2017:

Good morning. Welcome back to the Maritime Center, and welcome back to Executive Council. I’m glad to be here with you all. Our work of strengthening the church to spread the gospel seems more and more critical every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, and it’s a balm to be together for a few days to do that work face-to-face.

You don’t need me to tell you that these are sobering times. It has been, as you are all too aware, a difficult season for Christians in the United States who are committed to doing justice, protecting God’s creation, and safeguarding the dignity of every human being.

People are suffering in ways that many of us hoped we would never see again in this country.

  • Immigration agents are arresting thousands more people with no criminal histories;
  • Hate crimes have risen sharply;
  • Muslim people have been targeted and racism is more visible than in decades;
  • Nearly 800,000 young Dreamers are suddenly at risk for deportation if Congress does not act;
  • Environmental protections are being stripped away at alarming rates;
  • Refugee resettlement has been dramatically curtailed despite a worldwide crisis;
  • And natural disasters are reminding us of the peril of ignoring climate change and our culpability for it.

We are not surprised, because we long seen the deep divisions in this country that have brought us to this brink. But the situation feels unstable, and to many Americans, it is downright frightening.

I am encouraged that many Christians, and many of you here this morning, are mobilizing to resist the onslaught of policies and pronouncements—and tweets—that run counter to our gospel values and our vision of the kingdom of God. People of faith have played important roles in opposing several unsuccessful attempts to take health care away from millions of Americans, and we are also committed to defeating the current attempt to deport hundreds of thousands of young Dreamers who were brought to this country without documentation as children.

Thanks to the public policy actions of our General Convention and the support of our Office of Government Relations in Washington D.C., the Episcopal Church has mobilized and is doing important advocacy with our legislators when it really counts.

We were also able to play a pivotal role in helping defeat a so-called “bathroom” bill in the state of Texas that would have had devastating consequences for the health and well-being of transgender people. We are working hard; the issues come at us fast these days. But we are organized, we are mobilizing more quickly than in the past, and we are resisting for the sake of the most vulnerable people in our communities and our congregations.

I have seen something else heartening around the church in the midst of this frightening time. People who espouse values that are faithful to Jesus’ teachings about justice and liberation are countering the hateful rhetoric that currently dominates so much of our country’s discourse. In these times, it’s essential that we speak explicitly and forcefully as Christians, claiming our traditions and our sacred texts that are, as we say at the Easter Vigil, the story of God’s saving deeds in history. Far too often, the hatred we hear in political discourse comes from Christian voices, and we must counter an impoverished and vindictive interpretation of our faith with what my friend here calls the loving, liberating and life-giving message of the Jesus Movement.

And so, what we do here together matters. In these distorted and disastrous days, our witness, our voices, and our solidarity matter to people in our congregations, in our communities, and across the United States and all the countries of the Episcopal Church.

Given the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves, you might think it odd that when I lead part two of our “Big Picture Discussion” tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to ask us to think about—wait for it—our committee structure.

Now, I realize that the kingdom of God is not like a committee meeting. It’s not even like a constitution and canons committee meeting at a chancellors conference, much to the dismay of some of you in the room. But the work we do here to fulfill our canonical responsibility—which is to provide board-level oversight and direction to the work of the DFMS as defined by General Convention—makes it possible for the rest of the church do its work. In our tradition, governance does not stand in opposition to mission or detract from mission. Governance, done efficiently, transparently, and collaboratively, makes mission possible.

And when I look around the world as it is today, I know that we need all the mission we can get. We all need to be working together at all levels and contexts of the church, using everything we have to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

So while we’re here at this meeting, even—especially—as we handle routine business and devote ourselves to budget and structure and other governance responsibilities, let’s remember that we are helping to make possible the Episcopal Church’s mission in this hurting, broken world.