Reflections on Annual Convention 2017

Sean Vail-Rhodes
Sermon Text: 

Reflections on the Annual Convention

January 29, 2017

Sean Vail-Rhodes


I was nominated by the Vestry Committee to be All Souls delegate to this year’s Annual Convention.  The 222nd Diocese of Virginia Annual Convention was held over the last 3 days, 26-28 January, in Reston Virginia.  And before I go any further, let me say that I spent the better part of the last 3 days in the presence of women and men of incredible faith, courage, and conviction; and it was an incredible honor and privilege to be among them. 

The first thing that I was really struck by was the acceptance I felt.  Acceptance by people that were here to for total strangers.  Yet I felt as though these were people I’d known my entire life.  Warm…friendly…eager to introduce themselves…find out who you were and where you were representing.  Next I was struck by the clergy.  The *youth* of the clergy.  Young, vibrant, energetic people…and mostly female…that were ready to roll up their sleeves to do God’s work.  The paradigm of the old, white, MALE, Episcopal priest has been swept away.  These people don’t ignore the church’s history.  They embrace it with pride, especially in the liturgy, as where we came from, but understand that where we’re going in the future…and what the church looks like…may be drastically different.  On Sunday, I had a conversation with the Reverend Holly Hanbeck, who is Deacon at St. Gabriel’s in Leesburg (a bi-lingual church), and she expressed that the old model didn’t work for them.  Their parishioners are English speakers, Spanish speakers, young families, most with multiple wage earners and multiple jobs per wage earner.  “We needed to be more like Christ and bring the church to them”.  To use the old Islamic parable…the mountain needed to come to Mohammed…not the other way around.

The theme of this year’s convention was “Walk in Love”.  Words that we hear every Sunday that took on a new and special meaning this weekend.  “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, in offering and sacrifice to God.”  What does it mean to “walk in love”?  To Bishop Johnson, in his address, it was an impassioned talk in which he said he was willing to be jailed for civil disobedience for laws he felt were unjust.  To Bishop Goff, it was showing places she had been to help those who Christ called “the least among us”.  People. For example, living on the outskirts of a garbage dump in Guatemala City, gleaning scraps to sell for a pittance a day.  For Bishop Ted, it was recounting a tale of a book study of the Nazi occupation of France and how a small village of 300 people saved over 5000 Jewish people from fascist tyranny.  And for the keynote speaker, the Right Reverend Bishop Robert Wright of the Diocese of Atlanta, it was recounting how, as he said, “a poor Jewish carpenter’s son was lynched…on two slabs of wood…on top of a garbage heap outside of town…making sure he would die at the proper time so the ‘good folks could make it to service on time’…for us.  This is a man who, for the MLK Day of Service, went into downtown Atlanta in the wee hours of the morning to pray with the city's sanitation workers...then donned a union suit, hopped the back of a garbage truck, and worked an ENTIRE 8 hour shift with them.   *That’s* walking in love.  I urge you to find and watch the videos of these talks.  If you are EVER in need of inspiration, there’s all the inspiration you’ll ever need.

I attended a workshop entitled “A Priest and an Imam Walk Into a Room…” where an Episcopal priest and an Muslim Imam talked about the challenges of just being friends in these trying times…understanding that neither was going to convert the other…yet understanding it was OK to just meet once a week for coffee, talk about difficulties, and just BE THERE for one another.  After all, what’s left but to just TALK to one another? 

Yes, we elected people to office.  And yes, we passed resolutions and budgets.  But the true measure of the convention was watching how members of our Diocese walked in love.  How a small congregation in Northern Virginia took a mustard seed grant and opened a mindful childcare for those who couldn’t afford it otherwise.  How a church on the Northern Neck partnered with churches of other denominations in their region to open a food pantry for 300 people who might have suffered otherwise…and learned from and fed one another in the process.  How a Korean Episcopal church taught the Beattitudes through the music of the drum.

Two of our CCM congregations reached full parish status…and in a stunning feat of organization, five hundred worshippers received Holy Communion on Friday night in less than 10 minutes (that still bewilders me!).  And listening to the prayers of the people done in 4 different languages (English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese), drove home how we are TRULY a Universal Church.

I thank you for the opportunity to be your delegate to the 222nd Diocese of Virginia Convention.  The next convention, this November, will be held hear in Richmond.  I *urge* you, even if you’re not our delegate…go to the Convention.  Meet the people.  Hear the stories.  Connect with your clerical leaders.  I promise you’ll leave inspired.  And again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to represent our congregation at this year’s convention.




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