Some of us Hildegardians attended the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this July in Austin. With a gathering of 10,000 Episcopalians, there were a lot of interesting events to choose from. I played it simple, and went to events planned by groups we at St. Hildegard’s are connected with.
Of the four events I attended, I want to bring news from the Diocese of California night, which was something that brought me a new understanding of Episcopal involvement in projects to reduce the hardships impacting populations of people that are being brought on by the effects of climate change in their homelands, as well as practical, hands on projects to remedy environmental damage.
Many things were happening in the large reception room at St. David’s that night, Monday, July 9. Personally, I am most grateful for a conversation I had with the Chaplain from the University Chapel at UC Berkeley, Tom Poyner. From him I learned of an obscure Christian sect in China that was discovered by Martin Palmer, who I later learned is also the Secretary General of ARC, a worldwide interfaith movement to protect and preserve the environment.
The evening began at 6:30, but since I had arrived early, there were only a few people in the large, elegant hall full of tables. Already there was a rumor among the handful that Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, was going to speak. I knew that the evening was going to consist in part of presentations given by faith leaders that had received grants from the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation of the Episcopal Church.
Our Bishop Visitor for St. Hildegard’s, Marc Andrus, a co-chair of the Advisory Council and the Bishop of California, invited us, the Professed, to speak about our environmental justice work and asked Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon to lead the Four Directions at the beginning. Because of a long list of presenters, we were aware that each speaker, including us, had two and a half to three minutes to speak. It was strange to think that this cavernous hall would fill up very soon.
Judith had decided to speak about how we, to sustain our efforts to work for the Earth in this critical and frightening time have recognized the benefit of refreshing our rootedness in spirit. We planned to sing a part of the Eucharistic Prayer, We Sing in Deep Joy.
Standing by a table holding a sheaf of copies of We Sing in Deep Joy, I started up a conversation with a tall young man, Tom Poyner, about the music I had in my hand. This is the conversation that I am so grateful for, in which I felt a whole world of unknown Christianity appear out of the ancient past. He told me that he had composed some music based on Chinese modes to be sung at a speaking event for an author that came to UC Berkeley to talk about his book on the Jesus Sutras. He shared a little more information:
The sutras were written by Syrian Christians who were bringing the Christian Faith to the people of China in the 7th century AD. Following a tradition of the Church of the East to incorporate elements of local religion into the teachings they brought to different empires, the writers blended Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian elements into their Sutras during the height of the Tang Dynasty. Also there was cross pollination. Before the arrival of the Syrian Christians there had been no paintings or statues of Quan Yin. In the years following their arrival, artistic renderings of Quan Yin began to be created. It is possible that the artists of the Tang Dynasty were inspired by the Christian artistic representations of Mary the Mother of Jesus.
I was able to meet three other people before the presentations began: a woman Priest in Nashville who has an organic farm, a young African American Priest, Rev. Melanie Mullen, from Richmond, Virginia, who is now in New York City helping Michael Curry with three new areas of action ministry, the Department of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care, and Jerry Cappel, Associate Priest at St. James Episcopal Church near Louisville, Kentucky. He is the coauthor with Stephanie Johnson of A Life of Grace for the Whole World, which is a study course on the House of Bishop’s Pastoral Teaching On the Environment.
Suddenly the hall was indeed full, and Michael Curry was
threading through a path to the stage and speaker’s podium in the end opposite the wide entranceway. Bishop Marc Andrus introduced his friend and we heard how they have found many shared concerns and joys during the years through gravitating to each other in various church meetings before becoming family and visiting each other in their homes during vacations. The love between them was sweet and the humor they shared was infectious.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry then spoke about the love we have for our planet Earth and the work that the church is taking up to bring healing in the midst of our environmental degradation. We sang together He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.
Next Virginia Marie came forward and gave a grounded Four Directions Invocation that shook the house! She involved everyone by teaching us the word Ometeotl, which means: The Divine in you is the Divine in me. Then she demonstrated how we could turn to the different directions and hold our arms in respectful opening to call on the Spirit of each direction to listen and assist us. There were actually six or seven directions, giving us a chance to enter deeply in an orientation of respect and integration with Spirit, body and Earth. At the end Virginia Marie’s gritto and drum strikes electrified the audience. I heard some attempting grittos of their own. What a joy it was for all!!
Several presentations followed reporting on activities to help communities impacted by climate change and to work on the ground to clean up sites and restore ecosystems as well as to raise Earth healing awareness through liturgies. Judith introduced our contribution of singing the excerpt of We Sing in Deep Joy by describing parts of our journey in discovering that creating liturgies which address our anguish and hope in song helps to keep us rooted in Spirit in these times of environmental alarm and action. We brought some copies of the whole Eucharistic Prayer, as well as stacks of three distinct cards which announced Mary Truly Ermey’s book, the Spring SLS class, Ecowomanism, and our work of Creating Inclusive Liturgy to Love the Earth.
Sister Helena Marie, in addition to playing the piano for our song,
spoke in her own two and a half minutes about how people have a chance to love the Earth at the biodynamic farm she and the Community of the Holy Spirit created called Bluestone Farm in Brewster, New York. After we sang and the formal program was over, Helena Marie played the grand piano and filled the room with a wonderful ambiance of spirit and hope.
Since returning to Portland I have obtained a copy of Martin Palmer’s book, The Jesus Sutras, and I am fascinated by what I am finding in these writings that were created in China from the early 7th to the early 11th century ad .
Here is a six minute interview with Martin Palmer explaining what ARC does. He also speaks of Quan Yin in provocative ways.
Sheila Andrus, Bishop Marc’s wife has developed an online tool to help you green your life and cut down on your carbon footprint with other members and congregations in the Episcopal Church.