A Big Episcopal Family Reunion

A Big Episcopal Family Reunion

Written by The Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, Cathedral Dean

I am excited to share with you the highlights of my experience at the 81st General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a gathering that was both inspiring and deeply enriching.

As you know, our Church has traditionally gathered every triennium to set the priorities in our participation in God’s mission, to approve the triennial budget, to engage in legislations that set the tone for the work of the wider church staff and for Episcopalians from around the globe to worship and join in fellowship together.

During the week, someone asked me what the highlight of General Convention for me was. The first thing that came to mind was Worship. Then, later in the evening, I paused to reflect on my experience of the past 10 days at what I call a big Episcopal family reunion.

The Worship Team and volunteers worked for four months to prepare for this gathering, a task that has usually been assigned for a three-year period of preparation. The challenge was to provide a worship as diverse as possible while keeping simplicity. God was praised! The music, the diversity of languages, and most of all the joy of the gathered community was a gift to many.

In addition to Worship, a meaningful highlight was an evening function. The Wider Church Staff hosted a Reception for Bishops and the HOB Staff to honor Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. The entire evening was delightful. The greatest impact for me was a moving tribute offered by the Rt. Rev. Michael Hunn, who served for many years with Bishop Curry. Bishop Hunn’s words were a testament of the kind, empowering, and caring leader Bishop Curry has been throughout his episcopacy. 

The Diocese of Kentucky did a remarkable job as hosts! Their Bishop, volunteers, Diocesan Staff, Cathedral Dean and Staff showed so much care. I am particularly thankful to Bishop White and his team for all the support we received in accommodating worship needs.

From a legislative standpoint, there were several highlights for me, most of them reflective of a changing church in a changing world, being the gift of adaptive leadership and collaboration the underline force:

  • A historic milestone was reached as Navajoland was recognized as a missionary diocese, granting them, among other things, the authority to elect their own bishop. This marks a significant step forward in empowering local leadership and honoring the unique cultural and spiritual heritage of the Navajo people. My heart smiled and rejoiced hearing their Deputation sing Amazing Grace in their mother tongue.
  • The way the bishops managed and interacted in relation to resolutions about the crisis in the Middle East was a testament to their mutual respect and desire to find common ground without compromising their beliefs. This ongoing dialogue is crucial, and the commitment to articulate their shared values and responses was evident throughout their discussions. This is hard and holy work.  
  • I was also moved by the engagement of our newest bishops in the legislative process within the House of Bishops. Their passion, clarity, and spirit of collaboration set a hopeful tone for their collective work and common mission.
  • In another significant development, the Convention approved the merger of the Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan, after nearly five years of experimentation and collaboration, officially merged into one: The Diocese of the Great Lakes. Both dioceses are familiar to me through colleagues from the wider church or through leaders who have been involved in missionary work in the Dominican Republic. It was a joy to see their hard work and openness to the Spirit culminate in what is indeed a new and strong beginning.
  • Additionally, three dioceses in Wisconsin received approval for their merger request, reuniting as the Diocese of Wisconsin. This decision reflects a commitment to fostering stronger, more cohesive communities within our church.    

Other dioceses are in conversation and collaboration about the possibility of merging. This is happening at a time when we have elected a Presiding Bishop who is clear about the need for adaptive leadership and structural changes. The Presiding Bishop-Elect was a member of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church in which he contributed largely to the vision reflected on the final report.  

On a more personal note, let me share that my first experience at a General Convention was in 1997, when I attended as Provincial Youth Coordinator, serving as one of the chaperons for the Official Youth Presence. At this Convention, I saw clergy and lay leaders from the 1997 Official Youth Presence serving this week as deputies. Words can’t express the joy and pride my heart felt seeing them serving God in this manner.

Finally, as one of the Chaplains to the House of Bishops, along with my chaplain colleagues, I had the honor of leading Bishops in prayer during the election of the 28th Presiding Bishop. We led a moment of prayer, silence, and readings. The election happened in closed doors at Christ Church Cathedral, Louisville. The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe was elected on the first ballot. 

Right before the election, the chaplains tried to guess how many ballots the election would take. We prepared worship for four ballots. We agreed that the chaplain who guessed correctly would get free ice cream. Clearly, none of us got ice cream for free!  

These highlights represent just a fraction of the transformative experiences and decisions that took place at the convention. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this significant event and look forward to how these developments will shape our journey together as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. Now, I get ready to start sabbatical and depart Kentucky with a thankful heart and great anticipation for the many possibilities of a future unknown but held in God’s hands.

This piece was also published through Christ Church Cathedral’s media channels.

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?

Turning Towards the North: Navajoland Takes Another Step Towards Becoming a Missionary Diocese

Written by Sarah Louise Woodford, Canon for Communications & Media

After Wednesday’s morning session, the Reverend Rowena Kemp, one of ECCT’s deputies, met Stacey Kohl and I off the House of Deputies’ floor and introduced us to members of the deputation from Navajoland, who the day before took the next step towards becoming a Missionary Diocese. Once the House of Bishops votes to concur, Navajoland will gain seat, voice, and vote at The General Convention. Even more important for those who call Navajoland home, they will finally be able to call their own bishop, instead of having one assigned to them from the outside. With me on camera, and Stacey filming, we learned more about these amazing deputies and their work, as well as their ancestors, who engaged in the work before them.

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut also has a connection to Navajoland. The Reverend H. Baxter Liebler (1889-1982) was a Connecticut priest who worked closely with the Diné of Navajoland (this is preferred to the term Navajo). Before moving west, he founded St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Old Greenwich, CT.

Camp Day at GC81

Written by Sarah Louise Woodford, Canon for Communications & Media

The Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky, was filled on Tuesday with deputies, bishops, and visitors clad in tie-dyed t-shirts, and in ECCT’s deputation’s case, a cheery green with Camp Washington’s logo on the front and STAFF prominently printed on the back in white letters. Tuesday was Camp Day, and many deputations wore shirts to show support for their diocesan camps.

As ECCT’s deputation worshipped, listened and voted on resolutions, stopped for lunch or an afternoon coffee break, the green shirts from ECCT’s Camp Washington were always present. Sometimes just as one person and sometimes in clusters of twos or threes, and even on the floor, after the nominees for Presiding Bishop were presented in a joint session, a solid block of green at the Connecticut table. A table that included all of our deputies, the Right Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello, the Right Reverend Doctor Laura Ahrens, and the Right Reverend Ian Douglas, Ph.D.

At the Province 1 luncheon, the Reverend Canon Lee Crawford, Ph.D. shared a moving story about her experiences at Camp Washington in the early 1970s and how this special place in our diocese helped to form her, not only as a person of faith, but also as someone who was called to the priesthood, even before women were ordained.

What a great witness, both past and present, of how camp is an important place that forms us and brings us not only closer to God, but also closer to hearing God’s call for our lives.