In previous General Conventions, each Bishop and Deputy to General Convention, and each Episcopal Church Women Delegate to their Triennial (which means at the same time as General Convention in a different part of the Convention Center) was assigned to table for common worship and Bible Study in the Worship Hall. The Worship Hall is vast, and able to hold up to about 5,000 worshippers at one time. In past General Conventions, after the sermon at each Eucharist, time was allowed for tables to engage in Bible Study. This year, a different model is being used.
As I described in a previous blog, a process called Mission Conversation: Public Narrative is being introduced at this General Convention. Dr. Marshall Ganz of The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University took time on Tuesday to brief the General Convention on this process. Four sessions of 1 ½ - 2 hours each have been built into this General Convention to allow this process to take place. Instead of being assigned tables with people from other dioceses or parts of the church, as in previous General Conventions, we have been assigned to tables with others from our own diocese for these sessions. There are three primary elements in which we will engage during these Mission Conversations – Public Narrative Sessions: The first is “the story of self” answering the question, “What does commitment to mission mean for you personally?” The second is “the story of us” attempting to answer the question, “what mission commitment do others at your table share? Third, the story of Self – Us – Now and Commitment to Mission, attempting to respond to the question, “how will you translate your mission commitment into action.”
Integral to this process is the importance of each of us being able to tell our stories in ways that communicate our personal values in a very concise manner. Each of us will only be given two minutes.
During the opening, introductory session, a priest from Falls Church, Virginia, The Reverend Michael Pitmann told his “story of self.” Fr. Pittman is now priest-in-charge of the “continuing church” of Falls Church, meaning those that remain after most of the members of Falls Church voted to leave the Episcopal Church with their previous rector. Fr. Pttiman shared the very powerful personal experience of serving in a healing role as he took on the ministry of Falls Church. His value of healing was shaped early in his life. He came, he told us, from a “family of conflict.” His parents divorced when he was 12. “Conflict almost always meant for me the ending of relationships,” Pittman stated. He told of being a chaplain and of seeing the gaping hole in the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11. “Ministry found meaning for me in the midst of conflict…in the worst that people could throw at one another….I am exhilarated to bring the peace of God to them, the peace of God that brings healing.” For Fr. Pittman, the primary image of the priest’s ministry, and the Church’s ministry of healing and reconciliation is the Eucharist and “the breaking of the bread.”