The first day of my very first General Convention of the Episcopal Church felt a little bit like the first day at a new school. I worried that I wasn’t dressed right, that I would get lost, that I wouldn’t find my meetings, that I wouldn’t have anything intelligent to add to the conversation, and, most imporantly, that I wouldn’t find any friends to sit with at meal times.
As I made my way from the Hilton hotel to the imposing Salt Palace convention center, I found myself thinking about how much time I’ve spent hanging out in my own little corner of the Episcopal Church–in the Diocese of California. In many ways, I’ve been quite sheltered. I spend much of my time in a parish home (Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos–Do drop by some Sunday and get a dose of joyful worship, great music, thoughtful liturgy, and warm welcome. End commercial message). In that community, I know the people and the customs. I have some level of influence. I feel known and cared for–and I feel completely confident that I could make the worst imaginable mistake and still be treated with loving grace.
The walk was short. From the door of the hotel, I could see the imposing structure of the giant convention center just kiddy corner to me. As I made my way down the block, I saw two other Episcopalians. How did I know? One was wearing the distinctive purple shirt that signifies a bishop in Episcopal circles. Both had colorful landyards and nametags hanging around their necks. I felt a moment of profound relief: I had found people who had already found the registration area for the convention!
As we stood at the corner waiting for the Green Man to appear on the traffic indicators, I smiled my friendliest smile and said “I guess you’ve found registration for the Convention. Are you going back there? If so, I’ll follow you!” Both smiled broadly and then the bishop held up his name tag. It indicated that he and his companion hailed from the Dominican Republic. They spoke only Spanish. (More than being just the American arm of the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Chuch has a presence worldwide, with delegations at this convention from Ecaudor, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, the Virgin Islands, and Europe.)
That first day of school feeling ratcheted up within me. Not ony was I going to new school, clearly it was a huge and multicultural school. The opportunity for social gaffs seemed exponentially greater. My new acquaintances and I, though, managed with my tiny bit of Spanish and their smattering of English and a few hand signals and enthusiastic nods to come to some shared understanding.
Now, the big moment had come–entering the building and facing the throngs of strangers. As I approached the doors, they opened and a pair of people burst through. The fellow on the right exclaimed “Hailey!” and hugged me. No, it was not one of the DioCal deputies. It was, instead, a member of the church that sponsored me for ordination in the Diocese of Long Island. He was part of my church family–a family that I was reminded stretched all over the country, and perhaps the world.
It made me wonder what I was so worried about. I know that the Holy Spirit always has my back. I know that people of faith never walk alone. And I know that the Episcopal Church, even as it welcomes the whole world, is really a small town. That’s part of what I really love about it.
So, dear friends, I’ll be writing home regularly in this space during the General Convention to share all the Good News I hear in this neighborhood. Stay tuned!
PS: Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. You know my big worry about lonely meals? I was invited to attend the gala celebration sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians. I walked in to a packed ballroom, only to discover that it was a “dress up” event (something I didn’t know) and my brother in Christ was not to be seen. Finally, I spotted an emtpy seat and a purple-shirted bishop motioned to me to join the table. We had a lovely conversation about a vareity of interesting topics–and, when I confided my first day of school jitters to him, a smile of relief broke across his face. “I’ve only been a Bishop for about nine months, and this is my first convention too. That’s exactly how I felt! I wondered if I was the only one.” Well, there’s an important lesson there…but we’ll talk about it another time. And when I finally found my host and apologized for my casual attire he said “You have clothes on. So who cares?” Life really is good.