Episcopal Church Executive Council: opening remarks from the Presiding Bishop

June 14, 2019

The following are the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, which met June 10 through June 13 at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.

Executive Council
June 10, 2019
Opening Remarks

Let me just share just a few opening remarks and again, welcome everybody here. Just a follow-up item and then one particular, kind of a shout-out to the staff of The Episcopal Church. The follow-up item is—You’ll remember at our February meeting, we had conversations and a resolution of concern with regard to Lambeth and the attendance of spouses to Lambeth. I just wanted you to be aware that the House of Bishops met soon after that, in early March. They had a conversation about that, as well as knowing the resolution of the Executive Council, and grateful of being aware of that resolution, I might say.

The bishops had great and, how can we say, vigorous and wholesome discussion of that. We didn’t pass a resolution but [instead] a statement, but there's some work that is going on even as we speak. The community of bishops and spouses will be convening for our regular fall gathering in Minneapolis, in September. At that time, there will be even more discussion, and thinking about how to respond appropriately, in the way of love but with the clarity that love calls for from us. There will be more discussion because both the bishops and spouses will be present. There's a small group, vice president Mary Gray-Reeves is convening a small group that's working on thinking of ways to do that. That work is ongoing, and you'll be hearing more, I think, in October when we reconvene.

That's just a quick follow-up from our last meeting. I did want to, in my opening remarks, just offer a shout-out really to the staff of The Episcopal Church. The truth is we have a remarkable staff. These people, they are just extraordinary, and it is a privilege to serve with them. I know President Jennings, and Secretary Barlowe shared that with me. They are just a remarkable group of folks. They work hard. They really do, and I commend them to you. I think our ongoing working relationship between staff and Council are growing and developing in healthy and positive ways. I thank you for that, and I thank them for that.

A sign of that was really our last staff In-House, where people came in from wherever they are. As you know, almost half of the staff is deployed­ – that actually sounds military, but I guess that's appropriate- because they had to be deployed throughout the church. Everyone came together just a few weeks ago at 815, and we gathered and had three days of staff In-House. This one, as others in the past but in particular, this was really designed by members of the staff. Rebecca Blachly is here somewhere, Rebecca Blachly and Melanie Mullen. I think Melanie is coming later. They were the two co-chairs who really brought together a team of folk on staff.

What was fascinating was to see all of the members of staff who participated in a variety of roles, of making that actually happen, it really was great. It was just remarkable.

I say all of that to say that something happened that I think was really important, and I wanted you to know about it. We got feedback, you know those Survey Monkeys after you have meetings, Survey Monkey or whatever in the internet was, that gave feedback from previous staff In-Houses in time. To really identify what was helpful, what wasn't helpful, what could we do better, and that kind of stuff. Then ask people questions, "What could really help you in your work?" And it was really interesting. At the previous In-House, a year ago, I guess it was, folk had worked on goals and objectives. Kind of classic, G&O kind of stuff.

One of the feedbacks that came both from that, as well as the performance reviews that we were able to do, I think towards the end of the year, I guess it was, was that the staff really wanted more of a connection between our work to become the Jesus Movement daring to walk the way of love, and what they actually do as staff. Really wanted to tie those goals and objectives – their goals and objectives, if you will, to the work of Jesus Movement, of walking the way of love. Where it becomes critical and really important, is when you look at the three overarching movement goals, if you will. Evangelism, racial reconciliation… And I add, whenever I say racial reconciliation, we've raised– in America at least. It may not be true everywhere. At least in America, racial reconciliation and justice is the gateway to all the ways we are broken, and fragmented, and separated from each other. It’s the entrance, not just the end. Evangelism, reconciliation, and care of God’s creation.

Anyway, those three make sense. Everybody says, "Yes, Amen. Very good."

[laughter]

But suppose you work in building services. How does evangelism, reconciliation, and care of creation impinge on your job when you're keeping the boilers running? Or as it is in the Presiding Bishop’s apartment upstairs, when you turn the air conditioning on and off – there’s no gradations of degrees, just on and off-it’s an old building.

[laughter]

How does that – what does that have to do with evangelism? The question, the very practical on the ground question for many folks is, "What I do every day. I love my job. The paychecks come on time. The checks don't bounce - Everything is fine.

[laughter]

But how does my regulating the thermostat in the building, how does my overseeing the construction work that is going on [have to do with evangelism]?  Because New York State has lots of laws about buildings and stuff. We have scaffolding all over the outside - How does somebody who does that, what does that have to do with evangelism? What does that have to do with racial reconciliation? What in the world does that have to do with care of creation out here in building services, creating an environment that is friendly to the environment. You could actually make that connection. That was the data we got back from previous in-houses from the staff. The team kind of designed our three days to engage that more deeply.

One of the insights for me - and I don't why it took… I'm a slow learner, but it took four years or three and a half years – I don't know how long I've been Presiding Bishop – to realize that the goals of evangelism, racial reconciliation, care of creation, those kinds of church-wide goals make sense. But there needs to be a fourth goal. Not for the whole church, one that's particularly for the staff. That one comes out of…

See, normally, my Bible is on the iPad, so I had to go back to the old way.

[laughter]

That goal was particular and unique, if you will, to staff, but I have a feeling, [also to] Executive Council. That's why I'm sharing with you. It comes from Ephesians, Chapter 4 -- Ephesians is Paul or Pauline literature. I know folk have issues with Paul on some days, I know we all do. My grandma used to say, "Paul is like every other preacher; he has some good sermons and he has some not so good sermons. Big problem is they're all in the Bible."

[laughter]

But on one of his good days, the Paul or the Pauline writers say this in Ephesians 4. They're talking about the community of faith in the church. The gifts were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. The reason that they exist, whatever the role or function, the reason they exist would be to equip the saints for the work of ministry. It dawned on me - I don't know why it took three and a half years – that’s our job, and I said to them, "My job." Our job as a staff, and I have a feeling our job as an Executive Council, is to equip the church to be the Jesus Movement in the world, witnessing and walking the way of love. That's our job. To equip the saints for the work of ministry. That, for me, unpacked a whole world.

Then folk dug deeper into this. Some remarkable things came out, even to the point of looking at staff effectiveness. Little things like no more meetings without an agenda among staff, and no more meetings without -- What do you call it? After the meeting report.

Female Speaker: Read-outs.

Without a read-out, so everybody knows what we say we're going to do. It's helpful to know what we say we're going to do up front, but then it's also helpful to know… And this is classic stuff but until you stop and have to think about it… And the staff came up with that. We didn't hire any consultants to do this . . .

[laughter]

But that came from really wrestling, all of us engaging, how can we more effectively and faithfully equip the saints for the work of ministry? And that was a remarkable realization for me, and I hope for members of our staff, and I hope for you. When I think about that I remember one of the great people of, I think, American history but not as well known. His name was Bayard Rustin. Now, if you don't know him, Google him, or Wikipedia him, or whatever you call it, but go find him. I think there's documentary coming out. His name, he's resurfacing. Rustin had been trained in the fellowship of reconciliation after America got- trained in the fellowship of reconciliation, and was engaged in non-violent civil rights, and studied the work of Gandhi.

He was a gay man long before he was said to be publicly gay, and was much vilified, to be honest, by our government. Probably one of the things that Dr. King would regret, I suspect, is that he wasn't able to do more to support Bayard Rustin, especially when the FBI came after him. That was the reality. Rustin's name needs to be remembered because he didn't give the speech, "I've been to the mountaintop and I've seen the Promised Land," he didn't give the speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He's not known for soaring oration and his name is barely even known. Yet, what he did was profoundly well-known, and part of the annals of American history.

It was Bayard Rustin who orchestrated the March on Washington. He was the genius who actually made it happen. He was the one who oversaw all the logistics, all the work, all the interconnections that were done. It was Bayard Rustin who helped the speech, I have a Dream, take its place alongside the Gettysburg Address, and the Declaration of Independence, and maybe defined this country for the better. It may well be our role as staff, our role as Executive Council, is to be Bayard Rustin for the Jesus Movement. Otherwise known as The Episcopal Church.

Amen.