Vegas maybe, but Ottawa no!

Published July 24, 2013

In 2002 two advertising executives reinvented an old saying that remains popular. With “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” the city’s tourism industry hit the jackpot. No matter that it wasn’t true: behaviour does have consequences. To make this point, one “Sin City” conservative religious group posted a billboard: “What happens in Vegas, God knows.”

In early July, some 565 delegates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada gathered in Joint Assembly in Ottawa. At many levels the assembly was a success-positive fellowship, opportunities to learn and moving presentations. But the measure of the success of this gathering will be in what happens next. In other words, what happens in Ottawa cannot stay in Ottawa.

The church itself often has a measuring stick that is far too short when it comes to results. An important resolution was passed by the assembly and then affirmed in both the Anglican General Synod and the Lutheran National Convention. The resolution concerned homelessness and responsible resource extraction. In the grandeur and comfort of the Ottawa Convention Centre, it won the support of 98 per cent of the delegates. But what are the tangible results? How many people will find affordable housing, thanks to this resolution? Will women, men and children be able to move off the streets of towns and cities into accommodation that they can call home?

It is now up to the two churches to indicate how this resolution will be lived out and acted on, not only in the hearts and minds but also in the hands and feet of the leadership, the delegates to Joint Assembly and the members of both denominations.

The church may call upon people to pray, and that is important, but it runs the risk of being like the religious people in the Good Samaritan parable-who crossed the street and passed by on the other side-if it does not directly take action on this matter. When the Anglican Church of Canada gathers for General Synod in 2016 in Toronto, the homeless will have every right to call it to account for results. I, for one, hope they do.

In support of indigenous communities in Canada and abroad, similar questions of action, direction and accountability must also be raised on the other part of the joint resolution, responsible resource extraction.

The customary dismissal at the end of the eucharist is “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” followed by the response “Thanks be to God.” But in her short address to the Joint Assembly, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, offered a different wording for dismissal. Quoting a retired bishop of New York, she said, “Get up, get out, get lost”-in Christian action!

No one who was in Ottawa representing their church can afford to forget this admonition. These words are a call to move out from the assembly with a gospel imperative to action. Those who participated in the Joint Assembly have every reason to be proud, but what happened in Ottawa cannot stay there.


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