In a couple of hours I will travel to Madison, WI to participate in the annual business meeting for the Diocese of Milwaukee, commonly called “Diocesan Convention”. This gathering, comprised of the clergy in this diocese and laypersons who have been elected by their respective congregations to serve as deputies, will, amongst other things, worship together, receive reports of various sorts and conditions, hear the annual address from our bishop, approve a proposed budget and possibly pass another resolution or two. Betwixt all of this activity there will be opportunities to catch up on news from other parts of the diocese, greet folks we don’t get a chance to see that often, and maybe share a few stories, a few burdens and (hopefully) more than a few laughs.
This will be my ninth convention as a clergy person in the Diocese of Milwaukee. In addition I attended two conventions as a clergy in Southern Virginia (but they call their conventions “councils”), plus eight conventions in the Diocese of Florida (five as a deputy; three as a seminarian). The people are different. The venues have varied. The food quality uneven. But a few things remain remarkably consistent — governed by Robert’s Rules, guided by constitutions, canons and bylaws, most of the business, most of the time is transacted with the formality and decorum Episcopalians are known for.
Conventions, by and large, are reliable. If you sign up to go, you generally know what you’re going to get. Conventions don’t change much. And those who attend aren’t much changed by them. Most of the time most people don’t expect much to happen at a convention. Most of the time conventions fulfill those expectations. But I wonder…
What would happen if someone presented a “lately occasioned” resolution calling upon this diocese to liquidate its endowment fund and give all the money to the poor? What would happen if we spent a few hours listening to testimonies from folks about how some of our parishes’ ministries, in their respective communities, offered in the Name of Jesus had changed their lives? What it would be like for us to take a recess in the middle of our meeting and head out to do some hands-on ministry in the greater Madison community — what could a few hundred fired up Episcopalians accomplish in that span of time?
I know, I know. Most folks in attendance at a diocesan convention agreed to participate in a business meeting, not a revival. I understand that, as of now, business has to be transacted, ballots cast and decisions made — in decency and in order. I do believe, though, that where two or three are gathered in the Name of Jesus (regardless of where they’re gathered!), the Risen Lord is in our midst. He is as present at a business meeting in a hotel conference room as he is in at a Sunday liturgy in a church building. In the flurry of paper and the serpentine “rules of debate” this weekend, I will do my best to keep in mind this promise of Jesus to his followers. I plan to be on the lookout for glimpses of Jesus in the faces and stories of my fellow Episcopalians over the next twenty-four hours.
Who knows? In spite of our best planning and just when we least expect it, the Risen Lord could overturn a few conventions this weekend. He’s reliable like that.