Diocesan Convention 2014: Hearing Stories, Telling Stories

At the Diocese of Chicago’s 177th annual convention, the message was clear:  members of the diocese must be willing to step out of their churches and into their neighborhoods. They must be ready to talk about how God is active in their lives and listen to how God is active in the lives of neighbors and strangers.

The convention, held November 21 and 22, drew more than 600 people to the Weston Hotel in Lombard for two days of workshops, worship, elections and a legislative session.

In her keynote address, Sara Miles, author of “City of God,” “Take this Bread,” and “Jesus Freak,” urged her audience to think of storytelling as an essential tool for evangelism.

“I know, it’s a scary word,” said Miles, who said the stories of faith that contemporary Christians tell one another are “sometimes as maddening and mysterious as the ones Jesus tells.”

“There are stories so hard we don’t want to hear them: Rachel’s lamentations, or the sword piercing the heart of Michael Brown’s mother in Ferguson. But speaking the hard truth aloud, and really listening to all our stories, requires a willingness to be challenged by the Gospel that make conversion possible. Where are you in the story? Where is God?

“Because we can always find the people of God in every story…If we really listen to these stories, including the awkward parts, the inappropriate parts, the unexpected, dirty or frightening parts, we may start to hear something else:  the song, the chorus of praise that rings through eternity.”

In his convention sermon, Bishop Lee announced a new initiative designed to get the people of the diocese to listen to more stories, particularly from people who don’t go to church.

“On visitations this coming year, along with Bishop Epting, I’m going to ask members of vestries to invite friends they may know who are not members of any church to come for coffee so I can meet with them,” Lee said. “I want to hear from them, listen to them, ask them what might make participation in the life of the church worth their while. No strings, no tricks to get them to sign up, no sales pitch.

“What might we learn from them? What might change us? What do we have to offer them? How precious is a living relationship with Jesus Christ to us anyway? I’m asking you to join me in this project of listening to stories we might not otherwise hear; to offer our own stories in language and images the world around us is dying to hear. We need to get out there.”

In addition to hearing from Miles and Lee, and celebrating the convention Eucharist in a vast but crowded hotel ballroom, convention delegates heard reports from diocesan leaders and committees. The bishop appointed deans, Commission on Ministry and Diocesan Council members, and made appointments to other leadership bodies.

The Peace and Justice Committee presented the 2014 Michael Yasutake Peace and Justice Award to the Rev. Rod Reinhart, and the Episcopal Church Women awarded grants to four parish-based outreach projects around the diocese.

The Rt. Rev. Benito Juárez, bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Mexico, attended the convention and brought greetings from the people of his diocese, and the Rt. Rev. Joseph Garang Atem, bishop of the Diocese of Renk in South Sudan sent a video greeting. The Diocese of Chicago has longstanding companion relationships with both dioceses.

At the convention, delegates amended the constitution of the diocese to allow clergy who have been canonically resident in the diocese for six months to vote in elections for bishop and to update the job of historiographer. Read the canonical amendments in English or in Spanish.

Delegates also approved resolutions on clergy compensation, health and dental insurance, marriage equality, and environmental awareness. The convention also voted to ask that Mother Theodore (Anne Thérèse) Guerin be included in the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints. View the resolutions in English or Spanish.

The Rev. Judith A. Doran, the Rev. Margaret (Peg) Williams, Michael J. Mattson and Bradley P. Summers were elected to serve on Bishop and Trustees. The Rev. Jeanne Leinbach Stewart and Derrick Dawson were elected to serve on the Standing Committee. See the election results on the website.

At breaks in convention business, delegates posted “selfies” on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #diochi14. A photo album from the convention is now available on Facebook.