Issue Ten: Bishop Johnston, ‘The Circle Remains Intact’; Taking Reconciliation with Us

Our last print edition of GC78: Issue Ten, for July, 3, 2015

In this issue:

“After the Votes Were Cast, the Circle Remained Intact”
By the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of Virginia
“Taking Reconciliation with Us”
By Center Aisle
“10 Fun Facts about Utah to Take Home with You”
By Jeffrey Stevenson, Staff Writer, Native Utahan
“Prayers for God’s Guidance”
By Gail Goldsmith, Rachel Shows and Jeffrey Stevenson, staff writers

Ten Historic Days in Salt Lake: After the Votes Were Cast, the Circle Remained Intact

By the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of Virginia

Bp JohnstonSo now, here we are at last. By tonight, as far as General Convention 2015 is concerned, it will all be said and done. But, just what have we said, and precisely what have we done? More to the real point, what does it all actually mean?

To begin with, allow me to go back to my Center Aisle article that was published on the eve of Convention. In that piece, I made my case that “the center” is emphatically not a mushy, fence-sitting posture that tries to avoid or somehow soften the clash between the Right and the Left. No, I argued that the center is better imagined as the middle-point of a circle, as contrasted to halfway between two extremes on a horizontal line. For Christians, that middle-point is our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior. And, I would say that the center is also our common love for the Church—the Body of Christ in this world—and our commitment to its witness and ministry for the sake of the Gospel.

Now, I’ll up the stakes. The center is not simply a position or an opinion. Precisely because the center is our common faith in Jesus and our love for His Church, it is also a methodology. So, one can be a progressive/liberal or a traditional/conservative and still be a centrist! Yes, this might require, at times, that two sides engage in the art of compromise but the issue goes much deeper than that.

What I mean is this: Knowing just “what” we hope to achieve is not enough. Being in the center means paying as much attention to the “how” and to the “why.” This is something altogether different and is certainly more difficult. A committed centrist insists that the end does not justify the means. To meet in the center is to realize that each of the contesting sides must be given a full and profoundly respectful hearing in order to come to understand the truth. Expect a centrist to hold you accountable to those standards, being convinced that such careful consideration and deliberation will produce the answer with the most integrity.

In the end, after the decision is made and the dust settles, we’ve done everything we can to be sure that the circle remains intact—everyone is still there, our focus on Jesus even clearer. What’s more, we realize that it is all the others in the circle who together contribute to a fuller perspective of our Lord.

This is what I hope and pray that we’ve been able to do (even if only for the most part) here in Salt Lake City. Our Anglican heritage equips us very well for this way of working together. In and through Jesus, we are committed to one another, not to the idol of like-mindedness. Whatever we face and wrestle over, we find that all we can celebrate together still trumps the dividing lines.

Trust and pray that the center held as we approved a way forward with respect to marriage equality as part of the life and witness of our Church. Rather than attempting to achieve that goal simply by canonical changes to be applied to the Book of Common Prayer (which would have been, in my view, certainly unwise if not illegal), the convention instead opted for the adoption of services for trial use, as provided for in our Constitution and Canons. The conscience clause provision for a diocesan bishop and priests honors our strongly held differences even as we move on in a matter that Episcopalians have studied, debated and prayed about for 40 years. Surely, it was time to take our stand.

There is certainly no question that this has been a truly historic General Convention, but that is not simply with respect to marriage equality. The Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, is convinced of this (as he wrote in Center Aisle), given the many and varied opportunities that have shaped us over the past 10 days. His optimism about our Church is compelling. The Episcopal Church—and the entire Anglican Communion—will see that optimism in a big way in the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop-Elect. I know full well that Bishop Curry has amazing gifts for vision, motivation and encouragement, just what we need in this time of renewal for our Church. The fact that he is to be our first African American Presiding Bishop is also clearly a movement of the Holy Spirit in these racially charged days. For it all, I am joyfully confident in the utter greatness of this humble, but rock-solid, disciple of Jesus.

As of this writing, our debates concerning the Church’s structure and governance are still to be settled. But whatever the outcomes here, I am sure that the seeds of reform and re-imagining have been prudently sown. I think that you can be sure that The Episcopal Church will continue to find new ways to share in God’s mission, in all orders of ministry and in every part of our communal structure.

And now, as we return to our home dioceses and congregations, we have every reason to be strong and of good courage. Let us commit anew to God’s astonishing work, among us and through us. Carpe diem!

Taking Reconciliation with Us

ReconciliationSometimes you experience them in the grocery store, occasionally at the Rotary Club, often at marriages and funerals. They are the seeds of reconciliation – greetings and back-slaps in places like Fresno, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh.

The chatting among Episcopalians and those who left our Church is not about theology. The divisions there are daunting. But the community building is real and offers possibilities for a strong witness to the world, if not soon, then sometime down the road.

As we look to the future after 10 eventful days in Salt Lake City, reconciliation – the real kind that helps us disagree better – looms out there as an exciting opportunity. It won’t be easy. It’s difficult to build community with those who don’t want to talk to you. It’s not helpful to gloss over actions that ripped apart the fabric of a community of faith.

But all the same, it’s happening – in the grocery line, in the grieving for a lost friend.

We can water those seeds of community building by supporting the efforts under way in dioceses like San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh, and by not trying to regulate reconciliation, which thrives when it’s home-grown.

In a divided, polarized world, loving our neighbors is still a powerful force. With God’s help, we can take that power with us as we travel from General Convention back to our dioceses and churches, and, if we’re really brave, into the neighborhoods.

10 Fun Facts about Utah to Take Home with You

By Jeffrey Stevenson, Staff Writer, Native Utahan

Or, probably more likely, good bye from Utah.

Or, probably more likely, good bye from Utah.

After five days of trudging between your hotel and the Convention Center, you may consider yourself an expert on Utah. Well, not so fast. Did you know…

  1. More than two-thirds of Utah’s land is owned by the federal government.
  2. Jell-O is Utah’s official state snack, as ordered by the Utah State Senate in SR5, “Resolution Urging Jell-O Recognition,” with a vote of 25-3. (Who would vote against Jell-O?!)
  3. Utah granted women the right to vote in 1870, 50 years before the United States Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.
  4. Utah has a bellybutton. In the center of the state is a town called Levan, which is “navel” spelled backwards.
  5. Utah’s state animal is the Rocky Mountain Elk, whose antlers can span up to five feet.
  6. The state bird is the seagull, you read that right, the seagull. There are a ton of them in Salt Lake.
  7. On average, 2.6 billion gallons of water evaporate every day from the Great Salt Lake. Though larger than the state of Delaware, the lake rarely gets deeper than 33 feet.
  8. The Great Salt Lake is about four times saltier than any of the world’s oceans. If you boiled one quart of water from the saltiest part of the lake, you’d be left with a half cup of salt.
  9. Annual precipitation varies considerably by region – fewer than five inches in Utah’s arid Great Salt Lake Desert; more than 60 inches fall in the northern mountains. Snowfall in the mountains near Salt Lake City averages 500 inches.
  10. Utah has the highest literacy rate in the nation.

A Prayer for God’s Guidance

By Gail Goldsmith, Rachel Shows, Jeffrey Stevenson, Staff Writers

We pray for the Universal Church, its members and its mission, that we may give grace to one another, unite in spirit and become one Body in Christ.

We pray for our nation, that God may send out the Spirit of wisdom, charity and justice for the leadership of the Church and the world. May those in authority remember our sisters and brothers who suffer, that in their remembering they may be guided in their deliberations and decisions.

We pray for the welfare of the world. Help us to be kinder to the Earth and to each other, and to spread abroad your Spirit, that all may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace.

With thankful hearts, we pray for the people of the Diocese of Utah and offer thanks for their hospitality. May we return with hope and inspiration to our own communities. As we look ahead to Austin, we pray that the work of this triennium may continue with energy and prayerfulness.

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease and death as their constant companions. May we consider all of those who suffer as we continue, with your help, in the governance of your Church.

We pray for all of those who have died, especially for our nine Christian brothers and sisters who were “killed by the hands of hate, born of fear.”

May we all go forth in the world in peace.

In the name of the Father, whose guidance is with us and in us; the Son, who taught us redemption and forgiveness; and the Holy Spirit, who brings transformation, wisdom and understanding.


Thank you for reading. See you in three years.

2 replies »

  1. Thanks so much once again for all your hard work and clear reporting in “Center Aisle”! I’ve had no luck at all trying to comment up to this point…maybe this one will get through! Blessings to all

  2. Thank you, Center Aisle, for bringing General Convention to our desks, and offices and table tops. Your reporting has made these historical days even more meaningful.