Bill Van Cleave
I am a lifelong Episcopalian. I have served my eight different parishes in many roles over the years: acolyte, usher, lay reader, Eucharistic minister, and vestry member. I have never had the opportunity to serve the larger church outside of the parish until now. I was excited and dug in. In preparation, I read all the information provided in advance by the diocese: proposed budgets, proposed canon changes, proposed bylaw changes, proposed resolutions, schedules, voting procedures, etc. I was ready.
I was not ready. First, the obvious: I have never seen so many clergy in one place in my life! But more importantly, I think I have grown closer to the lay delegates and clergy of St. John’s, and my little parish view has been opened to the important work being down by parishes across the diocese. In informal conversations I heard how a small parish in the Sandhills has placed the state’s payment for a sliver of property in front of the church in trust to keep members of their community-at-large housed during times of personal financial crisis, and how church members informally meet community members one on one to give conversational English lessons. Another parish in High Point has a created a program to help young adults explore spirituality and justice in a residential program while combatting food scarcity in and around High Point. The Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill successfully petitioned the diocese to transition from a mission to become a self-supporting parish!
So, there was more, much more, than budgets, resolutions, and votes. It was eye-opening and it was good.
The NC Diocesan Convention provided inspiring insights into the organizational functioning of our larger Episcopal family in its efforts to enhance our loving community. I loved seeing the interplay among the bishops, staff, clergy, and church leaders. The sermons, keynote speaker, and several liturgies reminded us all of our mission of sharing Christ’s love. Added to the information and uplifting experiences, our little St Johns delegation had many enjoyable bonding moments. What’s not to love about this opportunity?
I enjoy Diocese Convention; it is a way of representing St. John’s and being in fellowship with friends, other churches and the Diocese. This year’s theme was “telling our stories.” Stories bind us together in communion with one another. Thursday evening, we heard stories from two African American Episcopal Churches in capturing our past and mapping out our future. On Friday and Saturday, our keynote speaker was Dr. Rich Melheim. He spoke to us in ways for us to capture our own stories in building community by five ways of sharing our Faith through intentional means: Share, Read, Talk, Pray and Bless. It is a simple and effective tool for families and small inter-generational groups to build community. More on this topic to come later. And finally, I participated in a housing resolution proposed to be submitted to the General Convention on Affordable Housing from a national perspective. The resolution was supported and passed. The bigger conversation happened after the resolution meeting where everyone in the room wanted to learn what other churches in the Diocese were doing specifically to address affordable housing. St. John’s Church had much to offer on this topic based upon the work we have done and continue to do based upon the growing need for more affordable housing in our area. It was a rich conversation to hear what other churches are doing to address this issue. Overall, the Convention was a spiritual and enriching experience for me as it always is.