It was a glorious weekend, worthy of all the early planning from a year ago onwards. Much work went into it, not the least being the connectivity project which allowed almost every congregation to be linked with the sending worship. And so, even after remarkably uplifting reports, videos, and addresses of Convention, we still had the final climb of the technological live-stream. It was rather like facing Alpe D’Huez at the end of a grueling Tour de France stage. And with God’s help we climbed that mountain. I am sorry to hear that the live stream did not come through for everyone because of local conditions, and I have heard that some managed to use personal phone hotspots to boost receptivity. On the whole we connected in Eucharistic worship across the state.
One retired priest described his dilemma. He was at a point in his life where crowds, the cost of Convention, the energy required to travel to be present were unsurmountable obstacles. And he wondered where he would worship that day of the Sending Eucharist. Then he recalled, “a picture came into my head of watching an Iowa State basketball game at a local sports bar and of my telling many people that I much preferred, at this point in my life, not to attend large sporting events. But rather to watch (participate) in an important game, locally, with locals, seated at a comfortable table…The answer to prayer! If I felt that way about a sporting event, then surely as an old man—and a priest—it would be good to view the sending Eucharist among friends…..from my perspective 100s miles away, it was great. We sang the hymns and service music well, we laughed, we said AMEN, loudly, we heard and saw the PB Michael. Yes, there were technical glitches but they can be corrected. It was a memorable occasion.”
In Convention itself, we honored Nancy Cogan of Trinity, Iowa City for her more than 14,000 volunteer hours as a visiting hospital chaplain; we rejoiced and congratulated Cathleen Bascom on being elected as the Tenth Bishop of Kansas; we welcomed our companion Bishops from Nzara and Brechin, Samuel Peni and Andrew Swift; and we played with technology some more in utilizing a reporting system called Mentimeter, which offers the opportunity for the whole gathering to see people’s responses to questions in real time. People left Convention making more than 250 commitments to God of mission resolve. Also using Mentimeter, together we created a word cloud of the things that give us confidence and courage to engage in ministry, and top of the list was Eucharist. Love and Jesus were the top responses to another word gathering exercise on how people imagine the Growing Iowa Leader weekends will impact their congregations.
My own address was interwoven with other voices via videos on things like the extraordinary work started by the Beloved Community Initiative, a reflection on General Convention, and Growing Iowa Leaders 2018, and an introduction to next year’s theme of Engaging All Disciples. The address shared our financial aims through GILEAD, the diocesan campaign being launched during Eastertide 2019, and more immediately through the 2019 Budget.
The Presiding Bishop called us to be God’s witnesses of the Love we find in Jesus. He invited us to engage the Way of Love through turning to God, praying, worshiping, studying, witnessing, serving and resting in God’s grace. And Bishop Swift reminded us at Evensong that often the sweet words of God turn in our stomachs because we seek to follow in an imperfect world and as imperfect people. This was brought home to us as we wrestled with responses to the emerging events around us as we met—transgender discrimination, the responses to the approaching caravan of migrants, and the murder of eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which happened over the Convention weekend. As Carl Mann wrote in a memorial resolution for Don Twentyman, deacon of this Church and this diocese who died this past year, he is received in the Church expectant while awaiting the Church triumphant.
It is in this world still struggling with evil in so many forms that the call to witness goes forth. Jesus had no question about the kind of society into which He sent His followers; or into which He sends us. He promises to be with us even to the end of the ages.
A little more than twenty-four hours later, a number of us were at the synagogue on Polk Boulevard in Des Moines in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers, lamenting and reflecting on the murderous shooting in Pittsburgh. I was invited to give a brief statement. As I stood at the lectern, with eleven candles flickering before me, I chose to recall how the day before we entered into the final worship service of our Convention in the Marriott Hotel. I told how we were in two minds about the celebratory final hymn, which also had a Jewish flavor to it. We decided to place eleven candles around the baptismal font in remembrance, and at the same time honor the deep place of our common creation in the image of God, and that the water before us was also the water of life itself.
In that final hymn, Sharon led us out with the slow, haunting clarinet, and gradually we entered into a place of joy. It was not shallow joy, but provided a depth of spirit because we were willing to sing while carrying our compassion and mourning with us. And that experience leaves us no doubt that there are many places where we must carry on God’s work of witness to. As a prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book asks: “God, give us work till our life shall end, and life till our work is done” (125). May that be a prayer we take home with us.
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa