General Convention: Making History with the Holy Spirit

Billy Kingery, a parishioner at St. John’s, is a deputy to General Convention this year, and sends this reflection from Austin, Texas.

The Holy Spirit has been soaring these past six days. She’s been swooping down and whooshing us up, sometimes brushing us gently with the softness of her feathers and sometimes gripping us fiercely with the sharpness of her toes. I felt the brush and the grip during this General Convention as we witnessed history and we’ve made history. And I’ve seen it in the eyes of so many of the deputies that I know here.

The world that we know is very jaded, cynical and polarized, yet I’ve heard powerful testimonies from many people that respect others with different views, and we have seen compromise and a ministry of reconciliation which leads to transformative love. This is such a different way than we know values in our world. It is fresh and warm and loving.

Most people who attend General Convention agree that worship is a highlight. Almost without exception, the preaching, music and creative liturgy are extremely well done. Worship here at General Convention often symbolizes the larger issues that engage our Church and our larger society.

This past Sunday, at the Hutto Detention Center in Tyler, Texas, was a service that made us proud to be Episcopalians. Nothing is more important right now than the human tragedy unfolding on our U.S.-Mexican borders. These actions should not be representative of our country. Responding to these calls, Episcopalians have acted on behalf of the families seeking asylum on the southern borders with love, mercy and prayer.

Throughout Convention we have witnessed and participated in that love that binds us together in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who has spread her wings over us all.

***

The Bishop of Southwestern Virginia, Mark Bourlakas, speaking at Hutto:

Episcopal News Service story on Hutto Detention Center vigil can be found here.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon follows, reproduced from the Episcopal Church web post.

Before I share just a few thoughts I want to thank, ya’ll are in the sun, they’ll be few trust me. I want to thank all who have made this possible, Megan and Bishop DeDe and Winnie, all who have made this possible and I want to say a special word of thanks to this community, to those who have helped to get permits so that we might make our witness of prayer and faith in decency and in order. And I just want to say a word of thank you to the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tempore who came to welcome us.

Allow me to say we do not come in hatred. We do not come in bigotry. We do not come to put anybody down. We come to lift everybody up. We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus. And Jesus taught us love. Love the Lord your (God). And love your (neighbor). Love your liberal neighbor.  Love your conservative neighbor. Love your Democratic neighbor. Love your Republican neighbor. Love your Independent neighbor. Love your neighbor who you don’t like. Love the neighbor you disagree with. Love your Christian neighbor. Love your Muslim neighbor. Love your Jewish neighbor. Love your Palestinian neighbor. Love your Israeli neighbor. Love your refugee neighbor. Love your immigrant neighbor. Love the prison guard neighbor. Love your neighbor!

We come in love, in love. I would submit that the teachings of Jesus to love God and love our neighbor is at the core and the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And we must be people who reclaim Christianity from its popular modality, from the way it is often perceived and presented to a way of Christianity that looks something like Jesus! And Jesus said, love God and love your (neighbor). We come in love. That is the core of our faith. That is the heart of it. And we come, because we are Christian and the way of love calls for us to be humanitarian. It calls for us to care for those who have no one to care for them. And we come because we don’t believe that a great nation like this one separates children from their families. We come because we believe that this nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. We believe that we must call this nation America back to its very soul! We are here because we love this nation. ‘Cause if you really love somebody you don’t leave them the way they are. You help them to become their best selves. We are  here to save the soul of America.  Save the soul of America!

Now let me unpack it briefly this way. If you want a symbol for America, fly into New York City sometime. I’m not talking about New York City itself as the symbol of America. It’s a nice place, but I don’t know about that. I mean it is a wonderful place, good people, but the harbor, if you fly over the harbor, depending on your approach, and I do it all the time, usually because I’m coming from Raleigh, North Carolina. I have to look out the left side of the airplane, and when I do as the plane is making its approach into La Guardia airport, you’ll see a large, green statue. It is a statue of a woman and she has a torch in her hand, lifted up, and a book in her hand, and on that book are inscribed the words, July 4th 1776. We must save the soul of America by calling America back to its core, to its core values which it hasn’t always lived up to, but the values are there nonetheless. And on July 4th 1776, if I remember my history correctly, on that day was issued a Declaration of Independence. Now we’re friends with Great Britain now, but back then we had some issues. And on the day, in the Declaration of Independence, you will find these words, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men” – all people, all people – “are created equal.”

Not just American people, no, but all people, wherever they come from. People from Honduras, people from Mexico, people from Costa Rica, people from Venezuela, people from Asia, people from Africa, people from Europe, all people are created equal. All!

Now I think that’s America. And then the text goes on in the Declaration of Independence, “all people are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator,” not by Congress, not by a parliament, not by a potentate, not by a president, endowed by the Creator, “with certain unalienable” – unalienable rights, that cannot be abridged or cannot be amended because they derive from God! Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, THAT’S the American way. We come in love. We come because we believe in loving your neighbor. And we come because we love America and we want America to be true to her highest self.

But let me go on because I really am coming to the conclusion. On that same Statue of Liberty there is a poem that was composed by Emma Lazarus. And these are the words, I’m not making this up, it’s on the Statue of Liberty. You can’t get more American than that! So American hear me well! On the Statue of Liberty these are the words:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch in her hand.
Her flame is the flame of imprisoned lightning.
And her name –

Hear me America –

Her name is Mother of Exiles. From her beaconed hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air bridged harbor that becomes the twin great cities.

And this is what she says:

“Keep ancient lands your storied pomp!” she cries,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these the homeless, the tempest tossed to me,
I lift my torch before the golden door.”

America! America! Means welcome! Welcome! Come God’s children! America means welcome. We come because we are people of love.  We love those who seek refuge from war and violence and hardship. We come because we want America to truly be great. Alexander de Tocqueville came and spent time in the United States in the 19th century. He traveled the land, and met and listened to the peoples of the land, the indigenous people of the land. The other people who weren’t indigenous, or natives, who immigrated to the land – help me somebody – all the folk he got to meet, he met slaves and free slaves, met native Americans and their folk, met European Americans who had come here, fleeing famine, fleeing persecution, he met the peoples of America, and de Tocqueville wrote, and I quote, “America is great because America is good.”

Let us make America great again, by making America good, by making America kind, by making America just, by making America loving! Let us make America great again!

God love you! God bless you! And don’t you quit, and don’t you get weary! God bless you!

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