Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Northern Michigan Prepares for the Next "Trial by Internet"

Last weekend, I traveled to Escanaba, Michigan expecting to encounter a disappointed and perhaps even bitter crowd at the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with warm smiles and numerous outbursts of laughter. After having the opportunity to speak with a few people individually, I'm convinced that their upbeat mood was not simply a show of false bravado, but an expression of the deep current of joy that seems to flow freely throughout that Diocese.

No doubt that there were moments in the last year in which that joy was stifled. In a recent Living Church article, Linda Piper, President of the Standing Committee of Northern Michigan, describes the deep shock experienced by the entire Diocese when their bishop-elect did not received the necessary consents:

...I don’t believe that any of us were prepared for the shock and disappointment, the anger and the sorrow, that came as a result of the failure of the consent process,” she said. “We weren’t ready for trial by internet. We never imagined that what we know to be true and right for us would cause such a reaction from the wider church...
Those that I witnessed gathered last weekend to do the work of the Diocese seemed to have gotten past their shock and anger. They shared stories of their encounters with God and joined their voices in songs of praise and thanksgiving. Their joy may have been stifled for a season, but it was not snuffed out.

Then they got down to the business of the diocese, which is outlined in their press releases, found here and here.

One significant piece of legislation was their approval of a resolution entitled "A Plan for an Episcopal Search Process." Here it is:

The Diocese of Northern Michigan, meeting in convention, October 30-31, 2009, adopts the following elements for the next Episcopal Search Process:
  • Build on the work of the Episcopal Ministry Team
  • Communicate effectively with the wider church
  • Form a Search Committee engaged in discernment
  • Be open to working with a search consultant
  • Use a broad process of collectiing potential candidates
  • Intend to present multiple candidates to the Special Convention
  • Use the "Petition Process" for adding names
  • There was some discussion about that last element, with a motion to strike it altogether. Some of the visitors were invited to address that particular point. The concern was that the Diocese might end up with a candidate who had little knowledge of Mutual Ministry, or even one who was antagonistic to the concept. The chances of that happening seem pretty slim to me, but that concern effectively highlights how important Mutual Ministry is to the people of this Diocese.

    After a healthy discussion (much passion, but no heat), the amendment to strike the petition process was voted down. Then, after a few changes in the wording, the resolution was passed.

    It's a good resolution, in that it should silence the critics of "the process" that were shouting so loud during the last election. To those critics...perhaps you might want to learn a little bit about Mutual Ministry before deciding to challenge what these folks are doing?

    Regardless of who Northern Michigan's next candidate is, no doubt there will still be those who love a good witch hunt expending hours googling up every statement, sermon or liturgy that person ever made public. These hunters appear, at first glance, to have high standards.

    Thomas Merton would be condemned by them. He might be a Buddhist, don't you know. William Temple wouldn't make the grade either, as he was known to say some rather shocking things when he was having a bad day.

    Come to think of it, if all candidates had every sermon they ever preached, or every liturgy they ever designed, carefully scrutinized, I doubt if we'd have any candidates fit for Episcopal election, at least according to the standards of the self appointed watch dogs.

    However, this same group of witch hunters/watch dogs actually commend their own leaders who bear false witness against their brothers and sisters, attempt to steal property from their Church, and strive to exclude great swaths of people from the kingdom of God, based on their personal biases. So much for their high standards.

    One would hope that in the future our Bishops and Standing Committees will think twice before taking the accusations of such angry mobs seriously.

    But, I digress. Back to Northern Michigan.

    A big "thank you" to the people of Northern Michigan for allowing me to join your family for a few days. May your joy continue to flow. And may God grant you the courage to pursue what is right, and the grace to accomplish it.

    And finally, if any of you reading this ever visit Escanaba, Michigan, you must check out the Swedish Pantry. The dining room walls are lined with clocks, all set to different times, causing a constant melody to ring out as they each strike the hour. The Swedish pancakes are heavenly. I had them with peaches, but the locals tell me they are best with lingonberries. Thanks, Rayford.

    Oh, and Ernesto, next time you are seeking Upper Peninsula pasties, try to remember that the word has a short "a."


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