Become a people of mission, Bonnie Anderson tells Episcopal Divinity School’s St. John’s Society
God is at work in the lives of Episcopalians and “setting us up to live and act in freedom and truth,” Bonnie Anderson, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, told the members of the Episcopal Divinity School’s (EDS) St. John’s Society on October 12.
Anderson, a 2006 recipient of a Doctor of Divinity degree, honoris causa, was the keynote speaker at this annual event honoring individuals and organizations that have provided significant gifts to the seminary.
Anderson recalled the Episcopal Church’s 74th General Convention in 2003 in Minneapolis when deputies, bishops, and visitors were asked to sit in silence and prayer to await the results of the consents to the election of Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire.
“We were asked to remain in silence after the announcement was made that the required number of consents were received,” Anderson remembered. "Breaking the silence was the far-off ringing of a church bell. It rang and rang. The ringing of a bell signifies a time to listen up, to stop and pay attention. The bell rang on that day symbolically for many and it cannot be un-rung.
“The Episcopal Divinity School has been ringing the bell in the Episcopal Church for decades,” Anderson continued. “EDS was among the first to advocate for the ordination of women, bringing into its faculty two of the Philadelphia 11.”
Anderson called EDS “a place where, through deep spiritual commitment, theological study, and dialogue, and a commitment to hope, reconciliation, and justice, the people of God come to study, learn in community, and are changed for life.”
“EDS is a place where we learn to answer God’s call, whether we go kicking and screaming or running eagerly forward,” she said. “For me personally, I thank you for your support and encouragement. You have enabled many people to find their own voices. And by your generous award to me of an honorary degree, you have encouraged me to use my voice for reconciliation, justice, and peace.”
Anderson explained that her work as president of the House of Deputies has involved helping link the Episcopal Church’s identity and its mission.
“Our identity as the Episcopal Church, like all of God’s creation, is in a constant state of flux and change,” she said. “It is a good time for us to look at ourselves, our history, our hopes and the way in which we are and continue to become, the people of God. We need to be able to explain and describe ourselves. We need the language to explain who we are in a public format.”
She said that many Episcopalians only became keenly aware of their church’s membership in the Anglican Communion after Gene Robinson was elected, adding that the awareness has created an opportunity for the church “to be a people of mission in a new way.”
Mission, Anderson said, is the “so what? -- the action that comes as a result of true understanding of our identity and understanding our relationships in community.”
The church’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals made at the 75th General Convention in 2006, has drawn in more than 75 percent of the church’s dioceses, she said.
“I venture to say that our response to the MDGs is the largest and most successful grassroots initiative in the Episcopal Church,” Anderson said. “The commitment to mission, across the church is huge. We need to internalize the mission imperative and become a people of mission.”
Anderson predicted that the 76th General Convention in 2009 will consider resolutions which, if passed by both houses, will “enable us to move forward in mission, perhaps with more resources and with structures designed to assist us all in becoming a people of mission” and “continue to demonstrate that we are a church that advocates for justice and that embraces just and inclusive practices in all parts of our spiritual life and governance, honoring, embracing and celebrating fully the gifts of all the baptized.”
Anderson ended her address by saying God is “setting us up.”
“We are delving into relationships worldwide that can enable new mission partnerships. These partnerships can effect and save lives. I think God is acting in our lives and setting us up to live and act in freedom and truth,” she said. “These partnerships can save our own life, our own spiritual lives. We are being set up to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are being set up to clarify who we are and what we stand for and then to act on it. The bell has rung. Attempts to unring it are futile and misdirected and should not be made. The bell cannot be unrung.”
During the event, the St. John’s Society gave distinguished donor awards to the Rev. Dr. Compton Allyn ’54 of Cincinnati, Ohio, and former EDS trustee Marianne Rust Rowe, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and St. Andrews Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
The St. John’s Society, named after the EDS chapel, was established in 1984 to recognize, encourage, and bring together individuals and parishes whose leadership, philanthropy, and support of EDS is exemplary. Society members agree to live by a three-fold rule of life: to live in prayer with the EDS community, to live in learning as a lifelong adventure in faith, and to live in stewardship as a witness to the Gospel.
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