We’re getting ready. Earlier this month, our diocesan deputation, deputies and alternates, lay and clergy, met for the first time – a Zoom meeting, the end of a work day for many of us, in the midst of our Advent preparation for Christmas. It’s early; the 80th General Convention is still over eighteen months away. It will be many months before we know anything about resolutions and committee assignments, the substantive content of General Convention. Still, we met.
An important item on our agenda was the assignment of mentors for new deputies and alternates. As seasoned deputies reflected on their experience of being mentored as a first-time deputy or alternate, again and again they commented on the relationships they built with their mentor. At the end of the meeting, when we outlined a plan for meeting over the next eighteen months, we quickly agreed that the next meeting needs to be face-to-face, so we can get to know each other more deeply.
Our relationships are key to our work at General Convention. We come to know one another’s commitments and passions and hopes as followers of Jesus Christ, the gifts each of us brings to the ministry of governance, the challenges we face in our lives and our ministries. Building relationships establishes the foundation that supports and sustains us when we get to convention.
Relationships are also key to our Christian faith. We understand the God we worship in relational terms. St. Augustine of Hippo described God as Lover, Beloved, and Love itself. God, whose very being is relationship, loves us so much that the Word who was with God and was God became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1, 14).
God’s dwelling among us is at the heart of Christmas. Our celebrations – pageants, hymnody, the crèche – often focus on the infant Jesus, “all heaven in a little room” (Carol Christopher Drake, “What is the crying at Jordan?” The Hymnal 1982 #69). Underneath our wonder at the birth of a baby in humble circumstances is the unfathomable love of God for the world.
The love that Jesus embodies calls us into relationship, not only with the triune God but also with one another and with the world. Jesus built relationships throughout his earthly ministry, with the disciples he called, with the women and men who followed him, with those he taught and healed, with those he fed and those who fed him. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he charged them to enter a house and stay there, an opportunity to form deep relationship over meals and conversation. On the cross as he was dying, Jesus commended his mother and the disciple whom he loved to one another (John 19:26-27), knitting them together in a new relationship.
Jesus’ invitation to relationship calls us beyond ourselves, into relationships with fellow deputies, with friends and family, with colleagues, with members of our congregations, and much, much more. The love that Jesus offers us and the love that we have for one another sends us into the world, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to visit the sick and those in prison, to work for justice and peace, to care for creation.
The gift I cherish most from my service as a General Convention deputy is the gift of relationship, formed in early-morning committee meetings and late-night resolution writing, in conversation over a quick cup of coffee or lunch, in deep listening to those with whom I disagree. This Christmas, I pray that each of you may also delight in this gift.
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
love incarnate, love divine;
worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and neighbor,
love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rosetti (1885)
The Hymnal 1982, #84