We are fast approaching our next Diocesan Convention – my twelfth! I confess I am slightly anxious about it, not because I see any major controversy brewing, but because it will be compressed into one day under a tent at Procter. That’s a big change from recent practice, and I worry that we will have less time for spiritual conversation and just plain fellowship.
Nevertheless, the fact that we continue to come together year after year to conduct the business of the diocese should not be taken for granted. This way of making decisions as a Christian body reflects ancient ecclesiastical tradition, and reflects the Episcopal Church’s essential (although not always fully embraced) commitment to dialogue, debate and discernment across all kinds of devices.
This is precisely why any diocese – that is, the ministry and witness of a whole range of parishes and faith networks within a particular region – is the fundamental unit of our life together as a church. At our best we operate on the assumption that no congregation can achieve its full potential in isolation from or indifference to the faith communities that surround it – Episcopal parishes first, because of natural affinity, but also others, however similar or strange.
And so we go to the trouble of governing ourselves collectively. This is what our annual conventions are all about. We work together and discern the Spirit’s guidance together: endowed and struggling, small and large, urban and rural, east and west, liberal and conservative. If we do this with sincerity and civility, then what we do matters spiritually, even if there is not as much time for fellowship and catching up as some would like. It builds us up internally, and it provides a much-needed witness to our nation that difference does not equal disunity.
I am reminded here of the literal meaning of a synod – for this is what our annual convention is. “Synod” is a Greek word meaning a journey together. I mentioned above that synodical gatherings are deeply imbedded in church tradition, beginning with the first general council of the church, which took place in Jerusalem and is described in Acts 15. It is often said that we Anglicans are episcopally led but synodically governed. That means that bishops provide pastoral oversight, but it is the whole people of God, through their chosen representatives, who come together to chart the Church’s course. This is the ancient pattern we are about to re-enact in November under a tent in the cornfields of Madison County.
The tent itself connects this convention to our Exodus Convocation in the fall of 2017, which also took place at Procter in what we lovingly termed “the tent of meeting.” That was a reference to the moveable tabernacle that accompanied the children of Israel as they made their exodus from Egypt through the wilderness into the Promised Land. That tabernacle was the place where God would meet Moses and his people to guide them on their journey. My prayer for us as we prepare for our annual convention is this: May our work together in November be a continuation of our exploration of Exodus last year. May it further our journey into the neighborhoods that surround us. May it prove to be a journey together that continues to find us gathered in a tent of meeting with our Lord.
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal serves as Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.