image above: The Rev. Devon Anderson and Julia Ayala Harris before the prayer service at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. Photo: House of Deputies News
The Rev. Shelly Banner is a Deputy to the 79th General Convention and a deacon serving St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Liverpool. She reflects here on the presence of the Holy Spirit at General Convention.
See all reflections from CNY’s General Convention deputation at cnyepiscopal.org/gc79.
The soul is a sail. Sometimes it is spread helplessly from youth, snapping to every wind that blows. Other times it is kept it tightly furled against its yard, so it never even feels the breeze. But either way, if just a corner feels the stirring of God it will open wide, sailing to the ends of the earth.
Arise from the continual movement of the Spirit among us and the growing insights of our church to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. This is what General Convention feels like to me. And within that continual movement, I have felt the palpable presence of the Spirit passing through me and have witnessed it surrounding others. The emotions of the heart have been all over the map. Within 24 hours, I felt joy, outrage, sorrow, and thankfully, somehow, love throughout.
This emotional rocket began in the evening of July 7th, upon the approach to the Palmer Center, a large space for concerts and large group activities. By the busload, members of Convention and others from the surrounding area, totaling nearly 8,000, were going there for a Revival. It was in a different part of the city to which I had not traveled, so like the tourist I am, I was gawking out the window, taking in as much as possible. As the bus made the final turn I was shocked to see signs directed at me.
Perhaps not me in a directly personal way, because I knew none of those who foisted their thoughts up on placards and sandwich board signs, but their expressions were directed to whom and toward what I have been called to be. Grateful for the spirit within the concrete and metal of the Palmer Center cocoon, I could allow the annoyance from outside to dissipate, and let love take over.
Inside the Palmer Center, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, a.k.a. the PB (Presiding Bishop), addressed those gathered with a sermon focused on John 20: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” He made us laugh and cry, danced along with the hymns, and caused us to long for time with God. All in all, the sermon, in revival style, lasted 45 minutes. Can you say, “This wasn’t your parish’s sermon?” The crux of it: God wants us to have life (abundant, real life!) and the way to this life is through love.
A Public Witness Against Gun Violence
On Sunday, July 8th we stood with Bishops United Against Gun Violence in a park to bring attention to the epidemic of gun violence and heard witness from the Schentrup family. In order to survive the death of their daughter and sister at the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, the Schentrups have thrown themselves into helping others learn to advocate for action against gun violence.
Praying for Detained Migrants
Then we got on buses again, this time for a much longer ride: about 40 minutes. In all, we filled sixteen buses, and others drove in their vehicles. We went to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, once a place that housed migrant families detained at the border. This center now houses only women. Outside the center, more than a thousand people bore witness that those incarcerated for walking across the border without documentation had not been forgotten and were not alone. We gathered in vigil, giving witness to the plight of women who have been detained and, often, been separated from their children. Some vigil attendees brought signs and posters with them, but all of us carried compassionate hearts. The building was imposing and stark. We gathered near the entrance…and I felt so helpless. It’s such a big place. It was so forbidding with its walls and fences and tall narrow windows, and with many train cars sidelined right in front of it, I had an eerie sense of history. We shouted:
“WE SEE YOU!! GOD LOVES YOU!”
“You are not alone!”
“You are not alone!”
“YOU ARE NOT ALONE! NO ESTAN SOLAS!”
There is something else that can be done. Grassroots Leadership is launching our Community Deportation Defense & Bond Fund because we are committed to supporting mothers separated from their children at the border every step of the way, which includes paying for their bonds, facilitating calls with their children and family members, and fighting against their criminal charges. A bond is $2,000. No donation amount is too small.
Caring for Creation
The focus for June 10th was Stewardship of Creation. Water took center stage in all presentations. Four testimonies were given and for me the connection of water in our Holy Story was most compellingly told by a young Alaskan native, Bernadette Dimientieff . She spoke of the waters and land of Alaska as “ground zero.” For Alaskans, this is a disaster: the polar bears are drowning because their ice is disappearing.
Through the selling of permits for gas and oil exploration upon the “sacred place where all life begins,” Alaskan natives have lost critical feeding and breeding land for their primary food source, the caribou. Ninety-five percent of these lands have been given over to exploration, leaving only five percent to sustain the caribou herds. These herds are falling ill, starving and having inadequate places to live causes the herd to dwindle. The native population relies on the caribou for clothing, for tools, and for food. Bernadette called us back into the sacred trust, where indigenous rights are human rights, and where the care of all creation is the sign of respect that we owe to one another and to God.
Also announced today was the partnering w of the Episcopal Church with Blessed Tomorrow, a program by people of faith, for people of faith, that offers ideas, tools and language to address the impacts to our climate.