Musings From EDOD Clergy Conference 2017

04.26.17 | by The Rev. David Thompson

    Bishop Chartres said bishops, priests, and deacons are the “knots in the net.” This makes good sense in so far as knots are points of intersection. Clergy are points whose intersect is with God and people. As a newly integrated knot in the net, I have been asked to simply share some impressions and takeaways from the recent communion of knots together at the annual clergy conference. Aside from suffering an identity struggle – not over whether or not I am a knot, but what type of knot am I, Biretta or Canterbury – I had a smooth time of it and will offer some aspects that stood out most in my mind.

    If building collegiality was a primary goal, then it was a success in this curate’s eyes. As Chartres recounted Pope John Paul’s remark to Archb. Rowan Williams, “affective collegiality is the basis for effective collegiality.” I am left wondering, what then was affective about our time together? Unlike “board meetings that are black holes to ministry,” this conference generated a spirit of clerical togetherness in and for ministry. We were reminded that we are not going it alone, but can reach out to one another in our efforts to strengthen ties between God and his people. Simply having the face time to talk amongst ourselves, freely and without the stifle of strict agenda, reminds us of our fellowship in this endeavor. The conference was not too structured, but fostered a sense of ease and liberal relationship, around food, sport, song, worship, and sleep. The affective aspect in large part being simply enjoyment of time spent together.

    Our guests, Bishop Chartres and the Rev. Annette Brownlee, sprinkled us throughout with a great many gems of phraseology and thoughts to ponder. A whole bullet point list of ideas and sayings could be produced. But beneath all the sayings, Chartres spoke frankly as one clearly influenced from a culture much further down the secular trail, as he confessed himself. The same is true of Annette, coming from Toronto, who also recalled another time and place in France where Christian convictions in WWII – pacifism and sanctuary for Jewish refugees – took root and were greatly put to the test in the face of a hostile Vichy government. Annette called us to “look again” at how the gospel, the true gospel, was preached under great forces of threat. This background and focus from the two together seems quite apposite for the challenges we are detecting and experiencing in the spiritual topology of Texas and the US. There is much to learn from secular England and war torn Europe, and I appreciate their unique knowledge and experience to speak out of these points in time for our purposes.

    The church that “runs on inertia” is the church not being challenged, but rather is feebly living off the energy produced during past challenges. I felt we had unique opportunity to glean together from some of this past (Le Chambon) and present (England) energy. How to realize examples of past and present momentum into our place and time is another challenge. Fortunately for us Americans, as Chartres noted, we seem to have a “constructive view of failure.” Something to keep in mind as we continue to labor as a diocese.

    I wrote this statement down at some point: “take heed to yourselves, then to the flock.” I don’t know who said it, but in light of an article on ministerial burnout I read this morning, I think this is essentially what we did in various ways together. Not that one conference a year fills us up and gets us by for another year, but it sure helps in that need to heed ourselves, in order to then take heed to the flock. As St. Augustine said, “for you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian.” If we are going to be for the flock as bishop, priests, and deacons, we need time like this together to strengthen the net.

    The final takeaway for me was in the panel discussion, where I heard three T’s put forth from the bishops. One, our Tradition is not to be possessed, buy dynamically lived into. Two, the Time is short, we as God’s people ought to always have a sense of urgency. And three, watch for Tipping points in our culture (e.g., Quebec), sometimes change isn’t as slow coming as we might expect. I will hang onto these and many other points of wisdom I fit here.

    Most importantly, I will hang onto the relationships formed and fellowship shared with you all, as we dialogued with God and each other.    

    The Rev. David Thompson
    St. James’, Texarkana, TX
    All Saints’, Atlanta, TX