Episcopal Church Women 2018 Triennial Report
By Wendy Grace | Delegate, The Episcopal Church in Vermont
The Triennial Meeting of the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) gathers concurrently to the Church’s General Convention. While the delegates to General Convention spend two week’s conducting Church business and legislation with hours and hours of hearings, committee meetings, legislative sessions and the like, the ECW’s primary focus is exploring ways of putting the Church’s new canons and policies into missional action. As the Diocese of Vermont’s sole delegate to ECW Triennial, I was privileged to be among so many bright, enthusiastic and creative women. Our time was divided into a number of learning opportunities: there were keynote speakers, workshops, plenary session guest speakers, and joint sessions and events with General Convention. The theme or motto for this Triennial is “Go ECW! Share the Word: Every Day, Comunicamos Everywhere!” Over the course of the two weeks’ meeting, one could sense a tacit “here I am, Lord, send me” from the gathering. We had plenty of opportunities to share with one another ideas and missions from around The Episcopal Church.
Let me first tell you about the joint sessions with General Convention, because these three major themes were exemplified and enriched by our speakers and workshops at Triennial. In order, the joint sessions to which ECW members were invited were: racial reconciliation, evangelism, and creation care. The first session on racial reconciliation—lest you imagine it pertained only to the “Black Lives Matter” movement—concerned all areas where reconciliation needs to happen, including refugee and immigration issues, Israeli-Palestinian issues, economic disparity issues, Latino, Native American, Asian, as well as other broken relationships. This session reminded us that we must strive to be the “beloved community.” The session on evangelism offered three perspectives on how we might perceive and define what we mean by “evangelism.” The joint session on creation care purported that we human beings are not merely stewards of Earth, over which to reign dominion, but that we are part and integral to creation and therefore must incorporate the whole into our very being. Only when we do so can all life flourish and thrive with the diversity intended by the creator. At the ECW sessions, we talked about how we women of the Church put these concepts into action and what we might do to improve our expression as beloved children of God through racial reconciliation, evangelism and care of creation.
Our keynote speakers and guest speakers at the welcoming dinner set us on our way with impressive words of wisdom! The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former bishop of Alaska, opened the ECW meeting as our first keynote speaker. As a native American, Bishop Charleston spoke in the tradition of aboriginal story-tellers. He made simple the theme of the message yet embellished it with imagery that sparked the imagination and inspired an earnest quest for truth. His purpose, for our benefit, was to share how something as simple and private as his daily reflections which he shared through his increasingly popular blog exploded into a worldwide spread of the Word of God. He noted that good works and spreading the love of God does not have to be big. Indeed, our small, local steps are far more important to our immediate community and, like ripples in a pond, have ever-widening effects on others.
Our second speaker was the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Stewardship of Creation. You will have an opportunity to witness her for yourself at our own Diocesan Convention in November. Don’t miss her! She is an eloquent and charismatic speaker with a message so positive and liberating that you’ll know the Spirit speaks through her. She talked to us about listening to the Spirit and when we do that, we become so full that we have no choice but to release it out into our world, amongst our family and friends and into our community and wider. That love is not expressed by forcing others to see things your way, but love simply is in all its many-splendored ways. As she told her story of love spreading and settling over the Beloved Community, the whole atmosphere of the vast room seemed too small to contain her message. That, my friends, is evangelism backed with the Spirit of God!
Other guest speakers included a number of guests at the ECW Welcome Dinner, arranged by the young girls and women of the Girls Friendly Society who planned the event. They, too, shared stories of letting go of their own agenda and letting God work through them. To a woman, they each agreed that her life is better for living the life God asks of her rather than living life only as she expected it. During our Triennial plenary sessions, we also had guest share with us current missions being undertaken in the local (Austin, TX) community. One mission is a community for the homeless that quite literal is reconciliatory in its mission. The community brings the homeless together into a village that gives them refuge through permanent housing, purpose through work, and loving family through new relationships built. The result is that every member of this village community has come to a loving relationship with God which had been missing from their lives. The other ministry, which almost all the delegates participated in some way, either through collecting materials or assembling packages, was a shower ministry. The Trinity Center, run by St. David’s Church in Austin, provides a safe and clean space for homeless “street” women in the city to have a shower and clean her laundry. These are small, localized steps, but each mission and ministry we heard about demonstrated the Beloved Community in action through reconciliation, evangelism and creation care. Each demonstrated The Episcopal Church, and especially Episcopal Church Women, in action.
Throughout the Triennial, we had a number of sessions of workshops to be chosen from quite an extensive list. I attended a workshop about listening, another about making our parish churches ready for the recovering (from addiction) community, and one called “Wake Up! See! Hear! The Episcopal Community” which was designed to shake us out of our complacency. Of the three workshops I attended, I found the listening workshop to be the most meaningful and useful in my own spiritual journey. This workshop addressed not only how to become better listeners of one another, but how to become more attentive to hearing the Holy Spirit speaking to you.
In addition to workshops and speakers, we had the chance to put our “Go! ECW” into action. Many of us were able to reserve a seat on one of the many busses to the Hutto Detention Center where the Episcopal Church held a vigil for the families of immigrants detained by our government’s policies. I met a few familiar faces there and met some new friends as well. The photograph here is of a young woman and her daughter who have been reunited after experiencing the separation enforced at Hutto Detention Center. They were held there for over three months, neither knowing when and if she’d ever see the other again. On the day of the Episcopal Church’s vigil, the two were happy to stand in the blazing heat to thank every person they could for being there and for treating immigrants, regardless of legal or not, with dignity and humanity. It was unexpected to hear their story, and it was particularly moving to feel their joy at finally feeling safe for their lives.
The ECW does have some work to do doing a Triennial meeting. This includes reports from a number of affiliate organizations like The United Thank Offering, Church Periodical Club, Girls’ Friendly Society and others. We gathered an abundance of kitsch and paraphernalia to remember our time together. We touristed; we visited; we learned. We welcomed a new Board. We resolved to create a room for women’s research and studies at the Episcopal Archives. But the greatest resolve of the ECW 2018 Triennial Meeting is to “Go! Share the Word every day, everywhere!”