An Alternate’s Lifestyle

Written by the Rev. Matt Handi, First ECCT Alternate to The General Convention

I was sitting in the airport in Austin in November of last year watching the livestream of ECCT’s Annual Convention. I had put my name forward to serve as a deputy to The General Convention and watched as my name was called to serve as Second Alternate. Soon after, I learned that I would serve as First Alternate when a member of the deputation resigned.
Now, Alternates are not allowed to vote but they are on stand-by in case one of the full Deputies need to come off the floor. As an Alternate, too, I am able to sit in the bullpen consisting of other diocesan Alternates, guests, and visitors to watch the business of the church move by motions and votes. I am so in awe and impressed with the passion we all carry down here at GC81 for this church we love and are called to serve.


And there were perks to this trip as well. The Deputation was invited by the Union of Black Episcopalians to a gala this past Friday night to celebrate Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s retirement. And this was a gala in the truest sense as people were dressed to the nines, the fabrics so many wore were a living quilt of color and awe, an homage to culture, a celebration of strength and independence.


The escalator was an A-list event in itself. There was Kelly Brown Douglas just steps (literally; it was an escalator). Stephanie Spellers rode the same path. I was a agog. These women having meant so much to me in my formation; I still read Radical Welcome just to remind me that through the simple act of welcoming, we are breaking down barriers between each other, becoming closer to each other, and fulfilling that greatest commandment by loving each other.


I shared an elevator that night too with Presiding Bishop Curry. I was pushing a luggage cart at the time while wearing my clericals and I joked about having a second job. He smiled at my not very funny joke and we got into a conversation about the difficulty of pushing luggage carts. There is a metaphor there I am sure, but I’ll just say it was quite an evening. It is as if my Facebook page of Episcopal celebrities came to life and I had to hold myself back from geeking out and telling complete strangers that I loved them.


The next day was work. Work for this Alternate meant that I was to begin planning for the week, scoping out places to eat, communicating with fellow Deputies about lunch choices, ordering food from grocery stores, and setting up the hospitality suite. We all communicated by the texting app called WhatsApp. And by the end of The General Convention we probably should have called it LunchApp, because I was sending out a lot (A LOT) of texts about lunch orders and lunch menus and lunch order updates. It kept me busy.


On Saturday afternoon into evening, I visited the Thomas Merton memorial where Br. Merton had a vision, a revelation that he loved all people, that he could see in them God’s light, sunshine emanating from all of those he encountered on the corner of 4th and Walnut (Now West Muhmmed Ali Blvd). And I imagined the same and I wondered if any of those who passed by this spot were loved in such a way and, if they were told this, would they believe it. It can be sometimes hard to believe that we emit the light Merton perceived. I am convinced we do, but can you believe that you do?


I left the memorial to get dinner at an Ethiopian spot down the road and watched as other convention attendees trickled in. Bishops, priests, deacons, laity, every order seemed to be represented. A group from Africa, two priests and bishop walked in. I saw them pray over their food, their hands held above their injera and Doro Wat; they went to a holy place to thank God for holy things.


By Sunday, we were in the swing of things: Morning Eucharist; lunch ordered by the deputies via LunchApp; a meeting in the Hospitality Suite amongst the deputation and so on. This was our routine. Those who could escape the floor would head to the suite each day for fellowship, conversation, and debriefs. And I also found time to sit on the floor to observe every now and again.


Tuesday was Friday night event planning day. I had to follow up on phone calls I made to various event facilities who might host the ECCT contingent for the Friday night wrap up and celebration. One place sounded promising, and I visited another place just in case. That turned out to be a good idea as the first option fell through.


While traveling via one of those stand-up electric scooters from event place to event place, a woman on the corner of Market Street and 2nd waved me down. She shouted from the sidewalk, “Are you a pastor?”


“I am,” I replied.


“Can you come bless me?”


“I can,” I said and navigated three lanes over to meet her on the sidewalk. She spoke from a place of pain and sadness, her voice rose as tears brimmed but would not fall. She asked me to pray for Lawrence. She asked me to pray for Dominque who has been in a vegetative state for two years.


Soon, her tears grew brave and dared to fall. Her bus was soon to arrive, a half block away, she asked that I pray with her. We prayed for her sons. Her Lawrence. And her Dominique. I held her hand. Her bus arrived. She held on until the light turned green: her in the bus and me on the sidewalk. She let go. “I ask you too, please pray for Lawrence. Please pray for Dominique…” She rode off on a bus that would take her to the hospital. Or home. Or work, I know not where. I rode off on my scooter.


Wondering.

And so it was these past few days: Lunch and LunchApp; planning and replanning; walking the Exhibition Hall and spending some time on the floor watching the proceedings proceed. It has been an absolute gift and joy to serve this diocese, to serve you, in whatever capacity I could.

I left Thursday morning because I had a wedding to celebrate Friday afternoon. It was meaningful to celebrate this couple’s love and their continuing relationship as it transitions into a different kind of relationship with a new set of ups and downs and negotiations and renegotiations. New love celebrated. Continuing love renewed. Old love rekindled. A wonderful celebration.


And after all, isn’t that what we’ve been celebrating this past week here in Louisville?

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