Has the Episcopal Church Lost Its Center?

As Center Aisle launches its digital edition this month, the first chapter of its fifth round of service as the Diocese of Virginia’s opinion journal at General Convention, I’m hearing two big questions about this 12-year-old publication:

Has the “center” shifted in the Episcopal Church, with the departure of some members and the arrival of others?

In a year when, for the first time in recent history, no controversial resolutions were introduced at the Annual Council of the Diocese, does General Convention still need a journal aimed at building unity within the church?

The answers are “no” and “yes.”

It’s true you can argue that the “center” has shifted in terms of a growing consensus on issues like same-gender blessings—issues that have been divisive within the Church for many years. But the “center” in Center Aisle has never been gauged as the midpoint of an ideological or theological line. We’re not mushy moderates pushing everyone toward the middle at any cost.

The “center” we’re talking about is the midpoint of a circle, not a line. It refers to our belief that the foundational center of our church, the fundamental core beliefs that bring us together at the foot of the cross, are more powerful than the divisive spats of one General Convention. Far from being milquetoast moderates, those who work for Center Aisle are radical centrists who see the dynamic core of our Church as full of passion and free of malice.

As for the paucity of controversy at Annual Council, don’t be misled into thinking that Episcopalians can’t work up a head of steam over plenty of issues on the GC agenda. After all, we managed at Council to find a way to debate an amendment to an amendment to a canonical change. That’s nothing compared to what’s coming up at General Convention.

Here’s a short list of what’s ahead: the proposed Anglican Covenant; recommendations to change the structure of the national Church and of General Convention; more about same-gender blessings; possible changes in denominational health plans; intense budgetary discussions; communion of the baptized; and the nominating committee for the next Presiding Bishop.

Yes, there will be plenty to debate and discuss. And Center Aisle, with an enhanced digital presence and an emphasis on interactivity, will be there to encourage debates that reflect, not only the diverse points of views within our church, but the commonality among us as Christians.

Our staff in Indianapolis for the July 4 through 12 convention will be rich with experience and overflowing with energy. At the top of our team is the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, bishop of Virginia. Emily Cherry, communications officer for the Diocese, will again serve as our indispensable managing editor.

Returning for their fifth General Convention assignment as reporters and commentators are the Rev. John Ohmer, rector of St. James’, Leesburg; and the Rev. Lauren Stanley, whose missionary work has included assignments in Sudan (now South Sudan) and Haiti. Back for a second turn at Center Aisle is Matthew Lukens, a former bishop’s clerk and now a Virginia postulant at Yale Divinity School, who will be specializing in our digital content. We’re also hoping to entice Mike Kerr, whose day job is treasurer of the Diocese, to man once again his post as editorial cartoonist extraordinaire.

We’ll also have a team of volunteers to help with everything from distribution of our daily print edition (via a red wagon in front of the convention hall) to youth members who will give us their take on issues, big and small.

The content from our staff and from a wide range of guest contributors will range from the weighty and theological to the light and funny. After all, General Convention is an opportunity not only to deliberate but to celebrate.

There is still much to do to make our church the reconciling force in the world it seems naturally suited to be. We look forward to the lively, passionate debates ahead.

Ed Jones

Categories: GC2012