This past weekend the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago gathered in convention at the Westin Lombard. Two of our delegates shared the following reflections:
Christina Padilla shared:
On Friday evening I was chatting via text with my 16-year-old, who had chosen to stay home while we went to Lombard for Diocesan Convention. One of his texts read, “What’s Convention about, anyway?” And I realized that this wasn’t as simple a question to answer as it might initially have seemed. But in the next few minutes I’m going to endeavor to answer that question for you, along with the question, “Why should I go to Convention?”
I’ve been to Diocesan Convention several times, and it is many things. It’s a business meeting. It’s a series of workshops. It’s a party. It’s a massive church service, in a huge ballroom, with a band and a pickup choir. It’s a chance to meet up with old friends from around the Diocese, and to make new ones. It’s one of the few times we get to be in the same room with our Bishop, to see him do the twist at Friday night’s dinner dance, and to hear him speak throughout the weekend, none of which you want to miss. Much of it is engaging, and some of it can be, frankly, a little boring (although I will say that the legislative sessions are always more interesting than I think they will be). But if I had to describe Diocesan Convention in one sentence, I would say that it is a time to reconnect with what it means to be the Episcopal Church in the world, and it is inspiring. When you are just one small part of the body of Christ, it can be easy to forget that the rest of the body is there, even to feel isolated and despair, but Convention is a time to look in the mirror, see the body all in one piece, and remember, “Oh, that’s what we look like!” I think we all need that once in a while.
When I was thinking about how to talk about Convention, I took a look at today’s gospel for inspiration. My non-theological, totally unscholarly read of this unfriendly gospel is this: God gifts us with literal talents, and when we take them out into the world, when we invest them in the people around us, God’s gifts are multiplied and we experience abundance. When we keep them to ourselves out of fear, nothing happens. No one’s life is enriched, not even our own.
How wonderfully appropriate that this idea of the experience of God’s abundance through sharing of our selves was a thread woven throughout this weekend’s entire Convention! During Friday’s humorous and motivational keynote address, the Bishop reframed the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 for us, suggesting that in gathering the people together on the grass, Jesus was putting them into community, providing an opportunity for them to be face-to-face with each other, and to share what they had with those around them. In this way, God’s abundance was multiplied, by their act of sharing with one another.
In his moving and inspirational sermon at Saturday’s Eucharist, Bishop Lee reminded us that the Christian response to the world around us is to love it with open arms, not with clenched fists. To paraphrase him (not nearly as eloquently as he himself speaks), living in this way, with arms open, leaves you vulnerable, but it is the only kind of life worth living.
We saw this expressed in two of the resolutions taken during this Convention, one dealing with mistreatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli government, and one dealing with the repeal of DACA, which has left the residential status of thousands of young immigrants in limbo and created an epidemic of fear and uncertainty within our families and communities. In both cases, the clergy and lay people of the Diocese of Chicago resolved to open our arms to the vulnerable and the stranger among us, by calling on our leaders in government to refrain from funding organizations whose activities result in the abuse of children, and to swiftly enact just laws that will protect young immigrants in our country. We heard from the bishops of our companion dioceses in Mexico and the Sudan about the ways in which our partnerships with them are changing the lives of Episcopalians in other countries. And we heard, again and again, stories of ordinary Episcopalians, compelled by their Christian faith and love of others, who invested the talents God gave them, with arms open fearlessly to the world, multiplying God’s abundance all around them.
I was inspired by the generosity of spirit I witnessed and experienced at Convention. I was fiercely proud to be a member of this group of Episcopalians dedicated to living out our call to be God’s abundance in the world. For the first time in a long time, I felt empowered to make change.
So, if you like a good business meeting peppered with horrific puns, or an edifying workshop, or a rowdy party replete with dancing priests, if you like singing and praying with 400 other people, or listening to preaching that moves you to tears, if you like getting lots of free stuff from exhibitors, or can’t wait to get your hands on the latest merchandise embossed with the Episcopal shield, you might like Diocesan Convention. But if you want to be inspired, if you need a shot in the arm to remind you why you chose this church anyway, if you are yearning to know why being Episcopalian matters, and that you make any difference in the world, then you might need Convention. But don’t take my word for it – just go!
Ginny Voedisch shared:
The idea of conventions isn’t really all that appealing to me. I have attended many in my career and what remains in my memory are sterile, cavernous meeting rooms, tedious business meetings and break-out sessions with a lot of potential but little take-away value. Why then did I choose to go to the Diocesan convention? Not once but three times. From the first, I found this convention to be different than most. OK there was the cavernous meeting room and some less than thrilling business to be done, but this convention is inspiring and restorative.
This is a group that thinks big ideas and acts on them. This year I found the spirit of those assembled helped soothe my anxiety over what’s happening in our country. Here was a body of people willing to not only talk about change and spiritual values but also actually put into action programs dedicated to social justice and welfare. Here, the group made resolutions to our nation’s leaders voicing opposition to torture of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military and as Christina mentioned urging for DACA and immigration reform. Here, you could see St. Matthews as part of something bigger and powerful beyond borders.
It was eye=opening in other ways. You know how we pray to SE Mexico and Sudan every week. They’re real! The rep from Mexico was there in person and the clergy from Sudan spoke remotely.
I learned about all kinds of grass-roots efforts spearheaded by churches throughout our diocese: a support group formed for opioid addicts at Grace Church, Pontiac, a Spiritual Fitness program for girls at St. Thomas Church in Chicago.
At a workshop organized by the Anti-Racism Commission, I found out that the bishop has charged each congregation to use study guide based on the commission’s years in the making Legacy of Slavery Taskforce Report. Although I knew we had recently conducted a Lenten program based on race, I realized that that program had already put St. Matthews on course to complete the commission’s suggested six steps of programming to begin a process of healing and reconciling racism in our country and community.
With hundreds of clergy milling around I thought I’d think I’d know a soul outside our delegation but I was thrilled to find people that had influenced my life in some way. I bumped into Pam Moore, our former atrium leader, and I reconnected with the priest who married my husband and me, the priest who baptized our son and the rector who presided over my dad’s funeral.
Whether I was swept up in the motivational energy of the gathering or moved in some more divine way, I surprised myself at a storytelling workshop by volunteering to stand in front of a group of strangers to share a deeply personal story.
I found the diocesan convention moving in ways I could not have anticipated—from the conviction to rectify social ills put forward in the resolutions to the bishop’s reshaping of the tale of loaves and fishes for contemporary attitudes to the stirring eucharist filled with music.
I encourage you reconsider what you know about conventions and give this one a try next year.