Good morning. It is wonderful to see you again. I pray that our time together this week will be energetic and productive and holy and safe. Please take good care while we are here and observe all of the risk mitigation measures that were outlined so well by our GCO colleagues in our meeting materials. I know that we are all ready to be done with this pandemic, but unfortunately, it is not ready to be done with us yet.
In fact, in the last few days, like the Presiding Bishop, I have been reflecting on the ways this pandemic will be with us for a long time to come, particularly through the troubling disparities that it has exacerbated in the United States and throughout the world. In the United States, the wealth gap before COVID was already enormous. Now it’s much worse, after months in which white collar workers stayed home, kept their jobs, and collected their stock market gains, while front line workers—many of whom are people of color—lost wages and jobs and, in far too many cases, lost their lives. And women, especially women of color, suffered disproportionate job loss and caregiving burdens during COVID-19, and it continues.
In short, if you started with pandemic with a lot of privilege, and I include myself, there’s a good chance that you have more of it now. And if you didn’t, things might well be worse for you and those you love than they were in March of 2020.
A couple of weeks ago, we learned that COVID hasn’t just widened disparities among individuals. It has also widened the gap that separates our congregations. Thanks to the good work of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, which crafted new narrative questions for the 2020 parochial report; and to Elena G. van Stee, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania who analyzed the data; and to the General Convention Office, which coordinated this great work, we now have extensive qualitative data about how our congregations have weathered the pandemic.
The report is called “The Church Is Not a Building: Observations and Insights from Narrative Responses to the 2020 Parochial Report.” You might not have heard about this new element of the parochial report results, and I commend it to you. It is must-read reading. I want to read a few sentences from it now in the hope that it will pique your interest and help guide our work this week:
Considered as a whole, the narrative responses paint a portrait of a year characterized by loss and grief as well as innovation and growth. Churches experienced unprecedented challenges and opportunities that varied greatly across the denomination and cannot be reduced to a simple narrative of denominational growth or decline. On the one hand, the pandemic exacerbated and exposed fault lines of inequality, particularly with regards to human and financial resources. On the other hand, the circumstances of the pandemic inspired innovative new initiatives, fostered intra- and inter-personal growth, and provided new opportunities for the church to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Recognizing the truth in both narratives will be essential for understanding the complexity of the The Episcopal Church’s past, critically evaluating the present, and pursuing new ways of loving God and neighbor in the future.
It’s an amazing report. Please read it.
I find this report especially helpful right now, as we are all struggling to make sense of what we have experienced in the past nineteen months. If you are a person with privilege, or if you come from a congregation with privilege, you might be seeing the entire church through the lens of your pandemic experience. You might be thinking—the economy is strong, people have lots of disposable cash, the outlook for our congregation and diocese is good, and so that must be true of the entire Episcopal Church. You might not be seeing the congregations that closed during the pandemic, the lay leaders who are struggling to hold things together in congregations without clergy or paid staff, the dioceses whose revenue forecasts are grim. But at the same time, it might be hard for all of us to recognize the ways in which the pandemic did inspire new opportunities for growth and connection. And so I hope this report will help each one of us understand better the needs of all of the people and all of the congregations we are here to serve.
As we try to understand where God is calling the Episcopal Church in this late pandemic world, I am especially grateful for the guidance of previous General Convention resolutions—you know I can’t do opening remarks without talking about General Convention resolutions!—that can guide us through these difficult times. In particular, I want to highlight for you two issues—one about which the church is speaking now, and one on which I hope we will find our voice:
In August, the Presiding Bishop and I became two of the lead signers on a faith leaders amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States in the matter of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. This case, which is scheduled for oral arguments on November 3, will determine whether New York State’s law setting sensible restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms in public is constitutional. It could also have significant implications for a broad range of common-sense gun laws. We were proud to be joined by more than 20 participants in the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Network and many Episcopal clergy across the church.
The amicus brief cites General Convention resolutions from both 1976 and 2015 and urges the court to consider the burdens on religious institutions that would be imposed by the unrestricted ability to carry concealed weapons in public, including the heightened risk of gun violence in houses of worship. This is a critical issue for our congregations, but even more so for faith communities that are too often the targets of hate crimes. I am proud that General Convention has put us on record in favor of sensible gun restrictions and that we are able to make a witness in this critical case.
The second issue is one that many of you will have heard about in the last few days. According to news reports, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Ghana has endorsed a draconian anti-LGBTQ law now awaiting a vote in the Ghanaian parliament. This is upsetting and particularly regrettable in light of the 2005 commitment of the primates of the Anglican Communion to stand against the “victimisation or diminishment” of LGBTQI people.
For our part, in 2015, General Convention passed Resolution A051, which commits us to stand with our LGBTQI Anglican siblings in Africa, and that our churchwide offices, including the Office of the Presiding Bishop, “be directed to work in partnership with African Anglicans who publicly oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality and incite violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people.”
I expect that it has not yet been possible to understand exactly what has transpired in the church in Ghana, and what kind of risk our LGBTQI friends and allies there are now facing, but we must commit ourselves to standing with them in whatever ways we can. I hope that it will be possible for us to discuss this matter at this meeting with the goal of hearing a full report and taking action in keeping with Resolution 2015-A051 at our January meeting. Mission Beyond, I believe that this is in your portfolio.
Yesterday, as you know, the gospel reading appointed for the day was the story of Jesus restoring sight to Bartimaeus. When Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, Mark tells us, Bartimaeus called out to Jesus from the side of the road, begging him for mercy. And when Jesus called him over and asked what Bartimaeus wanted him to do, Bartimaeus said, “Teacher, let me see again.”
As we begin this meeting—together, at last—let that also be our prayer. Let us ask Jesus to let us see again so that we might better understand the needs of the people God calls us to serve and the church we have been elected to lead.