Episcopal Church President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings presented the following remarks at the opening of the Executive Council Meeting at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, MD (Diocese of Maryland).
Executive Council Opening Remarks
June 7, 2013
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President of the House of Deputies
The Episcopal Church
In her 1998 book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris writes about learning to believe:
Perhaps my most important breakthrough with regard to belief came when I learned to be as consciously skeptical and questioning of my disbelief and my doubts as I was of my burgeoning faith. This new perspective also helped me to deal with my anger over the fact that churches, as institutions, so often behave in polarized and polarizing ways. I found an unexpected ally in Fr. Martin Smith, an Anglican monk, who wrote in an issue of Cowley, his monastery’s newsletter, that ambivalence is a sacred emotion. Restating in spiritual terms Keats’s definition of ‘negative capability,’ he wrote that he finds
“a widespread need in contemporary spirituality to find ways of praying and engaging with God, our selves, and one another that have room for simultaneous contradictions, the experience of opposite emotions. We need to find the sacredness in living the tensions and to admit how unsacred, how disconnecting and profane, are the attempts at praying and living while suppressing half of the stuff that fascinates or plagues us…We can connect our own fear of death and the unknown,’ Smith writes, ‘with the institution’s dread of the new.”
Ambivalence is a sacred emotion. Let’s remember that as we continue what I proposed last year we call the “something else” triennium. We have a lot of change to provoke and manage, and sometimes we are going to feel ambivalent about it. We’re going to need to live with simultaneous and contradictory emotions as change happens. Ambivalence is okay. But paralysis is not.
We have right here among us some great examples of how to live in this tension of ambivalence and get the work done. FFM (the Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission) is picking up the pieces from last triennium’s budget process, which was a pretty spectacular example of the institutional church behaving in polarized and polarizing ways. Through their new budget visioning process, FFM is charting a better course for us all. My thanks to Susan Snook and Mark Hollingsworth for leading the work, and to all who are participating.
We’re also trying new ways of carrying out the work of General Convention by establishing coordinating committees for resolutions that cross our old boundaries of departments and commissions. At our last meeting (February 2013), we created a coordinating committee for Resolution B019, “Israeli-Palestinian Peace and Support for the Diocese of Jerusalem.” That committee has been appointed and, in one case, reappointed when Deputy Chip Stokes went off and got himself elected bishop of New Jersey.
The committee will begin work later this summer. Given that faithful people have different and strong beliefs about the plight of the Palestinian people and how the church is called to respond, I expect that this work will give us many opportunities to practice finding the sacredness of living the tension.
At this meeting, we’ll consider another such resolution from GAM (Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission) with endorsement from A&N (Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking) and LMM (Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Local Ministry and Mission). The proposed resolution will create a coordinating committee for resolution A135, titled “Focus Mission Funding on Alleviating Poverty and Injustice.” I’m particularly excited about this work because I believe it will help the church learn more about how community organizing and asset based community development can call us away from the comfortable models of charity we have too often built to protect ourselves and toward the heart of Christ’s mission with those who are poor.
Here’s a new development that many of us who have served the church for decades feel deeply ambivalent about: While some standing commissions and Executive Council committees are working productively, others are floundering in the new virtual ways of working that we have adopted. Some, too, had little or no work referred to them by General Convention and are struggling to interpret their mandates in light of changing priorities and structures. This may be hard for some of us to accept, but I think that we are in the death throes of the current standing commission and committee structure. Both those who are on TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) and those of us who aren’t need to begin imagining new ways of bringing together laypeople, clergy and bishops to accomplish the work of General Convention.
Thanks to the work of GAM (Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission) in the last triennium leading to a canonical change made by General Convention last summer, Executive Council may now sunset committees. What needs to go so that new structures can emerge? At our last meeting, a number of committees were sunsetted and a few were extended to the end of this triennium We have two years left in this triennium—enough time to do some serious reshaping.
Last, I want us – I hope we will each - recommit to faithfully and actively executing our corporate and fiduciary responsibilities as members of Executive Council and the DFMS Board of Directors. The church has entrusted us with this work, and it is especially important as we continue to examine our corporate structures, the location of the Church Center, and the relationship of staff and elected leaders. You might feel skeptical about your ability to ask questions or ambivalent about what you might risk by participating actively, but remember—ambivalence is a sacred emotion. Let’s stick with it and let it lead us toward greater belief in each other, in the work we have been called to do, and in the promise of the risen Christ that new life awaits us.
 Kathleen Norris. Amazing Grace. (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), 67-68.