I was in the elevator on my way back to my room to write this when another deputy said, “Today feels like several days!” So it’s not just me!
Today is Sunday at General Convention, which was an odd, hybrid kind of day. Our morning was one of witness and action; prayer and song – a strange combination of power and helplessness, as we attended two different events in quick succession.
First we gathered at the park for the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Witness, where we wept with the family of Carmen Schentrup, even as we were awed by their strength. Then we were inspired by Abigail Zimmerman, a rising ninth grader from Waco, Texas, who talked about organizing a school walkout in remembrance of the victims of the Parkland shooting, victims like Carmen. At the walk out, she and her friends challenged their classmates to do 17 random acts of kindness in honor of the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Abigail described how it felt to see people doing kind things all over the school. And then she challenged us to make change happen, to vote, to make a difference. So that children and young people don’t have to be afraid to go to school anymore.
Every day that we are here at General Convention, the Bishops are gathering for public prayer for 15 minutes before our meetings begin in the morning (7:15 a.m.) and giving out 96 small wooden crosses each morning – to represent the 96 people who will be killed by gun violence that day. The crosses are on a string, so people can wear them, and some have written the name of someone they pray for whose life has been affected by gun violence. It’s already eerie to see people wearing them.
Immediately following the witness event we got on buses. There were many, many buses full of Episcopalian witnesses to the way of love – as we rode almost an hour to the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, to hold a prayer vigil on the grounds there, in witness to the women who are being held inside – while their immigration status is being determined. It was noon and hot, TEXAS HOT – but there we were, hundreds and hundreds of us– singing and praying and protesting our hearts out. At one point I looked over and Carmen Schentrup’s family was there in the crowd with us at the detention center – advocating for others, praying for others, and willing to join us in this witness on this impossibly hot day. As good Episcopalians, we split ourselves between worship and mission: the 1/3 of us who were up front worshipped and prayed together, while the 2/3s in the back turned toward the detention center, eventually walking over to see how close they could get before being turned back by the police. All of us sang and prayed in hopes the women would hear us somehow, through the narrow windows in the big concrete structure.
One of the women inside the Center reported on a call to an advocacy group that the women could hear the singing, their faces pressed against the windows, watching and waving. For a moment they felt they were not forgotten or alone. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry got up and preached another extraordinary sermon – you should hear it for yourself, honestly.
What was interesting was how hopeful and empowered we felt in the midst of so much powerlessness. We didn’t do anything today to stop gun violence, nor did we change the situation for a single woman detained in the Hutto Center. But we remembered ourselves and were renewed for action. And I believe the women in the detention center felt a little better knowing we know they are there, and if, when we pray, we are joining our will to God’s own, then surely something will shift, even a little. For there were a lot of prayers out there in the hot Texas sun today!
[I had contacted artist Janet McKenzie, who had helped me get these beautiful signs to bring to the Hutto Detention Center Prayer Vigil, and then this morning we were told that signs were not allowed at the event. So I’m including images here with this post. We will have them with us on the floor of the House of Deputies this week.]
When we got back on the buses and returned to Austin, we had a legislative session on the floor of the House of Deputies, where we –
wait for it – voted on various officers and positions in the church for the better part of three hours. Not the most exciting part of the day. The conversation on the marriage liturgies resolution was begun, and will resume tomorrow.
Here’s a photo of me, dutifully wearing the hat – and the General Convention House of Deputies pigeon.
Most days here at General Convention end with my walking over to attend a meeting of the Deputies of Color caucus meeting. (Because I’m bi-racial Asian-American – my father was born in India, I belong to the Asian-American Caucus.)
Tonight was a full caucus – all four groups met together (Asian, Black, Latino and Indigenous People). The group celebrated the many elections that were won by members of the caucuses today – in one day on the floor of the House of Deputies, there’s significantly more diversity. Which has everything to do with people being willing to take the risk, being willing to put themselves out there. The room feels hopeful and expectant – as if things are possible that weren’t before. People are showing up and supporting resolutions, and proposing legislation, and structural changes to promote more deputies and other leaders of color.
Looking beyond eliminating structural racism, to what might come after, structures which buildup the next group of leaders in our diverse communities of the Episcopal Church. I’m honored to be part of it, and to be welcomed into the group.