When I was elected as an alternate deputy to the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, no one warned me about the tears. Who would think that the business of the church would make me cry every day, and sometimes more often? These are not the terrible tears caused by being irrevocably wounded or badly wronged. Instead, my tears come from that deep, internal place that recognizes when holiness is present.
I wouldn’t have said, a week ago, that I was much of a crier. Yet, again and again as I sit in meetings, move through the halls, and partake of worship, I have been moved by acts of generosity, personal testimony, impassioned speech, and well-done worship. As important as the business of the convention is, I would say that these are moments that give us our identity as a Christian community, that will redeem the mistakes that we inevitably make, and that will provide healing in those moments when we are far away from the ideal.
I saw a little girl break free from her father so that she could run ahead to walk hand in hand with the bishop of her diocese, a bishop who welcomed her with a smile as if this were an everyday occurrence. I heard young adults speak to their hopes and dreams for the Episcopal Church, passing the microphone back and forth to create a cadence of belief that invited this generation of leadership into thinking creatively and generously about the church that we are building now, and that we will leave as a legacy to this next generation of faithful people.
In the House of Bishops, I heard one bishop stand and ask, “Do we love our gay brothers and sisters enough to tell them that they should refrain from intimate interactions with their partners?” On a personal level, I was heartsick and heartbroken at the lack of welcome in this statement. And yet I was profoundly moved by the respect and love that allowed every voice, every viewpoint to be heard. I recognized the stalwart belief in dialog that brings Episcopal people to the table and keeps them there. That more than the original statement brought tears to my eyes.
Then, of course, there are the moments that you would expect. When the House of Bishops elected the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church with a landslide vote (300 out of about 360 votes went to this one candidate). Although, as a church and as a world, we have a long way to go to reach true inclusion, we can point to our most recent choices of leadership as embodied belief that God works through people of all kinds, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other temporal marker.
At the daily Eucharist today, the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, preached on the parable of the lost sheep saying that lost sheep are not hard to find—and shared the work that her organization is doing. Magdalene, Thistle Farms’ residential program, offers two years of housing, food, and programming to women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction, and life on the streets. She told of one of the people who emerged from this program to become a leader in it.
This woman, after 20 years living on the streets in a ten-block radius, started travelling around the country to talk about the organization. One day, she got a chance to visit the ocean for the first time. As the waves lapped against her feet, she raised her hands in praise and asked in wonder “Has this been going on my whole life?”
This is transformation in its truest form. And this transformation is living out its ideal promise of hope, growth, vitality, and grace. “When we leave no one behind, we will be the vision of a beautiful fold,” Stevens concluded by saying. How could I keep from crying?