This weekend was Annual Convention for the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefforts Schori and her husband Richard Schori were in attendance. Yesterday morning, the PB spent two hours with diocesan clergy while her husband met with clergy spouses. She began her session with us by asking us to meditate on the words Jesus heard as he came out of the Jordan River after being baptized, “You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.” After meditation and conversation in small groups about what we heard during our time of meditation, and how we responded to those words, we had the opportunity to ask questions of her.
During that time, and later in the afternoon during an open conversation with clergy, lay delegates, and other interested people, the Presiding Bishop spoke about what she saw as she traveled around the church in the US and the world. One of the things she stressed repeatedly is that the Episcopal Church is a world-wide church. It is not just an American, or even North American denomination.
She was honest about all of the ways Episcopalians do mission, both here and abroad, and she had a lot of positive things to say about the impact of the emergent church on our denomination. But she was also honest about the challenges facing us. One of the greatest may be demographic. According to her, while the average age for Americans is 37, the average age for Episcopalians is 57. Another theme that came back both in her remarks and in questions from the floor was the challenge we face with our aging physical infrastructure. To one question, she answered bluntly that some buildings need to be abandoned, given over to other purposes, while others can be revitalized and can continue to be the focal point of ministry. She also stressed that we have to get out of our buildings to do ministry in new places and in new ways. “Those churches that thrive,” she said, “are more than a worship space; meaningful to the larger community; while some of them are albatrosses.”
There were questions concerning the Anglican Covenant, to which she pointed out that “covenant” can mean very different things in different cultural contexts. For the Maori of New Zealand, who were victimized by a treaty that the settlers labeled a “covenant,” the term is deeply painful.
It was a good visit, an opportunity to hear from someone who has a much wider perspective on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion than we can have in the local parish. It was also a powerful reminder of the challenges that we face as well as the world of possibilities that lies before us.