By Tom Ehrich

The closing at Episcopal General Convention 2012 in Indianapolis brings to mind Detroit 1988, when I edited “The General Convention Daily.”

The soul of that convention lay on the floor of Cobo Hall: hundreds of fabric squares honoring persons who had died of AIDS. The “AIDS Quilt” provided respite and meaning.

Upstairs, the House of Bishops had ceased to function, its bitter divisions over change erupting in distrust and rancor.. The House of Deputies was engaged in lifeless debates — plenty of heat, but little sign of life.

Discouraged and frustrated convention-goers made their way to the basement and walked silently among the fabric squares, pausing to read about a life snuffed out early, a partnership and a family shattered, human dignity on display even in dying.

People wept as they walked, partly over so many dying of a mysterious disease, and partly over a church that seemed to have lost its soul.

From what I see at a distance, General Convention 2012 seems to have been a hopeful affair. Still dominated by old people — only a handful of Deputies under age 40 — and still rehashing stale debates over sexuality and who’s in charge, and yet showing an apparent desire to get on with building the new church. Not in easy-to-make symbolic gestures toward global mission, but in day-to-day rethinking of how faith communities function in a changing world and in communities mired in economic injustice, religious extremism and joblessness.

In a sense, we have made the easy decisions — who gets to preside at worship, whose lifestyle is deemed okay — and now we are girding for the harder decisions:

  • How we will function as believers in a world that sees us as judgmental, argumentative, dull and old
  • How we will serve people who don’t care about the thing we most enjoy doing, Sunday worship, but are hungry for a living God
  • How we will speak truth to power when the powerful threaten to stop funding our beloved edifices.

I find this shift hopeful. It opens the door to a badly needed generational shift and to an outward-looking focus on the world beyond our walls.