The world beyond church walls was the primary focus of today’s opening press conference with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, General Convention Executive Officer Michael Barlowe, and House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings.
“We speak many languages,” said Jefferts Schori in her opening remarks. “We are increasingly focused outside of ourselves rather than on our members alone. We are transforming this world to something more like what God had in mind when God created it. It is a long way from that wholeness so we have plenty of work to do.”
“We come together at a time where the deaths of black men and boys at the hands of police officers and the massacre of nine black Christians by a white supremacist in Charleston has electrified people of faith and all people of goodwill,” said Jennings in her opening statement. “God is calling us to dismantle the systems of racism and privilege that are inextricably bound up in the history of both the United States and our church… General Convention is where Episcopalians have the ability not only to proclaim that black lives matter, but also to take concrete action toward ending racism and achieving God’s dream of racial reconciliation.”
The church will be debating issues both social and ecclesiastical at what Barlowe described as its “greenest and most digitally oriented” General Convention yet. “One of our technology consultants recently exclaimed, and I don’t think that’s too strong a word, that we have moved three decades in three years.”
Barlowe noted that the Salt Palace is LEED Silver certified, which reflects that it uses green building principles and sustainable design. “This is imperative for ecological stewardship,” Barlowe said.
Both Jennings and Jefferts Schori fielded questions on the use of alcohol by convention goers in the wake of the December 2014 death of Baltimore cyclist Thomas Palermo, who died after he was struck by a car driven by Heather Cook, who was at the time a bishop in the Diocese of Maryland. Cook is alleged to have been drunk and texting at the time of the accident.
Jennings, who appointed a deputy legislative committee on alcohol and other drug abuse in the wake of the accident, said that the church’s current policy on the issue was adopted in 1985. She asked the committee, which will work with a parallel legislative committee of bishops, “to help the church address these issues sensitively and pastorally,” she said.
“I always hope that people who choose to drink will do so moderately and responsibly,” Jennings added.
“Alcohol and good food are gifts from God, or they can be if used appropriately,” Jefferts Schori said. “But like other gifts, when used to excess, they can become destructive.”
Rebecca Wilson of Canticle Communications is a layperson in the Diocese of Ohio and part of the House of Deputies communications team. She is co-author of Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World.