Last week I was driving home from visiting old friends when I received a call asking me if I would be on site to pray during the Council of the Diocese of Virginia. I have to admit, I was rather stunned. I tried to imagine what that might be like to do that after all that has happened this year. Could I set aside my own feelings and instead intercede for a community that I am separated from right now? I thought, well, if the diocese was willing to issue me a name tag, I am willing to come and pray.
They issued me a name tag.
I know I have lots of thoughts and feelings about what I saw over the past couple of days. There were certainly things that were done that I do agree and disagree with that will come up in the future. But as to giving a “report” – I think tonight I am thankful for the privilege it was to pray and stay out of the fray.
Being at Council was like attending a family gathering where a divorce is underway. Going and praying through the heart break was challenging, as though my own soul was undergoing restoration as this hotel has done since the last time I was here. The worst thing that could happen through all of this would be to discover that our own hearts had grown cold.
I saw colleagues I have been estranged from and we shook hands. I saw old friends I haven’t seen in a year. Much has changed over the year and some of those changes are sad. But there was a point that really captured my heart. I felt a mixture of sorrow, hope, loss, wonder, pity, bewilderment, and awe.
The budget had to be cut and one of the areas that was cut had to do with a ministry that has meant a lot to me over the years – the ministry of Shrine Mont. Nearly $20,000 had been cut from Shrine Mont camps and scholarships and that was what Council focused on after the budget committee concluded their report, at least as long as I was in the room. One delegate after another rose to the microphones to lament this loss and their pleas were indeed moving. They refrained from blaming, which in some ways was like the proverbial elephant in the room, but in other ways – which I found deeply moving – transparent. The bishop reminded the Council that a resolution would have to be made to make any changes to the budget, but it would have to cover whatever issues were raised during the budget hearings yesterday. I don’t know if this particular issue was raised or how it was covered, but as speaker after speaker rose, no one offered a resolution. It seemed to be an effort of futility.
Then a member of the budget committee came to a microphone on the floor and asked how many of the Council delegates could give $100 each right now and solve this problem. Hands went up. Tellers came out to count the hands. Bishop Lee asked those with their hands up to raise their voting “green cards.” A sea of green cards went up. Nearly $20,000 was raised and I learned that the camp director of Shrine Mont was sobbing at her table, overwelmed with gratitude.
And that is my prayer tonight, that we might some day – I don’t know when – but some day know that generosity again with one another, the generosity of the northern branch of the Episcopal Church who, during the Civil War’s only meeting of General Convention, merely marked the southern dioceses “absent.” A generosity that is transparent and wise, taking the longer view and not so quick to justify one’s self for the benefit of the immediate cause. A generosity that doesn’t seek to blame for expediency’s sake. A generosity that that seeks to forgive and weep with one another with the hope that there will be joy in the morning – whenever that day may come. A generosity that is honest in our divisions, not masking or hiding that we are indeed broken. A generosity that is kind and merciful. A generosity we see best expressed in the amazing act of God our Father who, not sparing even His own Son, suffered the greatest cost to bring reconciliation to the world.
Perhaps we will not know such generosity until the long-view of heaven, but perhaps we can pray now, here, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.