Some of the more than 700 worshipers who gathered at the U2charist in recognition and support of the Millennium Development Goals hold up cell phones during the U2 song One.
Columbus, Ohio Although they are not the events that draw secular media like CNN’s Larry King Live – which assembled a panel on June 15 to discuss sexuality and the Christian church – a myriad of other events and issues besides human sexuality and the election of a new national leader are on the agenda of the huge triennial General Convention of the U.S. Episcopal Church.
There are about 1,400 bishops, clergy and lay delegates considering and passing legislation, but the numbers of exhibitors, staff, visitors and other participants total more than 7,000. In addition to two large halls devoted to legislative sessions and smaller rooms for committee meetings, journalists and offices, the convention includes a huge exhibit hall featuring vestments, books, church restoration companies and groups from around the world. Bands and music groups perform at daily eucharists and throughout the convention halls.
The convention will pass legislation and make statements on such global issues as Israel’s place in the Middle East and relations with Cuba, which has been under a U.S. embargo for more than 40 years.
It is considering resolutions that support the “rightful existence” of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Others calls for an end to violence and the withdrawal by Israel from settlements in the West Bank. Another resolution calls for “corporate engagement” and “positive investment ” practices when dealing with companies in which the Episcopal Church owns assets or shares.
Bishop Clive Handford, president bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, told an Episcopal television interviewer that a new Anglican centre is planned for Qatar. He added that “our largest challenge is to preserve a sense of unity” in the diocese.
Such social issues as the question of reparations for slavery are also under discussion, with one evening featuring a screening of Traces of the Trade: a Story from the Deep North, a documentary about the largest slave-trading family in the United States.
Ecumenical concerns are also on the agenda, with the convention being asked to ratify the founding in 2005 of Christian Churches Together in the USA, an organization of leaders from several Christian denominations. “It’s the broadest ecumenical table that’s ever existed in this country,” said Bishop Christopher Epting, presiding bishop’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations.
Poverty and social justice are also being addressed through the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. On June 13, more than 700 worshipers gathered at a ‘U2charist,’ featuring the music of the rock group U2, in recognition and support of the Millennium Development Goals. A related initiative, ONE Episcopalian, seeks to rally Episcopalians to the cause of ending extreme poverty and achieving those goals. The ONE Campaign, which organizers are asking General Convention to endorse, calls upon the U.S. government to spend annually an additional one per cent of its budget to fight world poverty.
Episcopal Church Women (ECW) are also holding their triennial meeting here and celebrating the 30th anniversary of women’s ordination. ECW also manages the United Thank Offering, a national collection that distributes grants to churches and organizations worldwide. The meeting also heard from Phoebe Griswold, wife of the outgoing presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, who reported on her Anglican women’s initiative that calls for equal representation of women in decision-making bodies of the church.
ECW is producing a daily four-page insert for the daily convention newspaper that is reporting on such ECW initiatives as “God’s Park,” a room at the convention centre filled with park benches, balloons, checkers, chess, crayons and drawing paper. According to a story in the insert, “God’s Park is intended as a ‘play room’ for those attending General Convention … its purpose is to enable us to refresh ourselves with a bit of ‘godly play’ in the midst of all the work.” It also contains a large “knock out” punching bag, possibly for tension release.
Men and women who tend to the altar at their local church are also meeting here as the National Altar Guild Association holds its triennial meeting. The group’s logo proclaims “unity in diversity” and morning eucharists feature clergy in ethnic vestments, including Native American, Asian and Hispanic.
The convention’s lively daily children’s program takes place at nearby Trinity Church and has a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe theme, from C.S. Lewis’ classic allegory of Christianity.