I've spent the past week in North Carolina -- the purpose of my trip was threefold:
1. To see my good friend from the Church Pension Group Board Martha Alexander in Charlotte and go to church with her before heading out to Hendersonville/Kanuga,
2. To work with the most talented group of people on a project which will result in a book (we refer to ourselves as the "dream team" -- after this past weekend it fits!), and
3. To attend Nuevo Amanecer -- a biennial gathering of Episcopalians and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), both lay and ordained, who work in/live in/love Hispanic/Latino ministry.
It seemed that one thing flowed so beautifully and naturally into the other. It was as if I had planned it that way (although I didn't) -- that it would be as wonderful and life giving as it was and will be as I continue to unpack the last week.
It began by flying into Charlotte on Saturday between storms. Yes, really. We made it to the gate right before they stopped planes from landing and taking off until the thunder storm passed. I rented a car and then the real fun began. I hadn't driven in the combination of heavy thunderstorms and very high temperatures which cause your windshield to fog up badly enough that you can't see in quite a while. It was over 90 out, and I quickly discovered that having the air conditioning on during a bad thunder storm was, well, not smart. I made it to the hotel in Charlotte after white-knuckling it over there and settled in for a night of reading and writing. What a great gift that time was to me!
My friend Martha told me after services that the number of members is about 4,000. I can understand why. The church is connected to the community. It is reflected in their buildings and in the welcome you receive. They have many and varied educational and group offerings, catered to all ages and walks of life. After the services the clergy and laity (assigned greeters) welcomed newcomers and showed them around the buildings and talked to them for quite a while. I was impressed! The buildings and grounds are beautiful -- but more, the work done there is gospel work. Martha years ago started a bookstore/gift shop at the church which has grown over the years. I met one of the managers as I walked through the gift shop -- they donate 100% of their profit each year to local social service agencies in Charlotte -- which totaled $109,000 last year. What a gift! And yes, they have Pokemon there!
I hugged my friend Martha goodbye after she treated me to lunch and a tour or Charlotte (talk about Southern hospitality), and I headed to Hendersonville. Part of the reason I fly into Charlotte and drive over to Kanuga (about 1 1/2 hour drive) is that it is cheaper to fly into there than to Asheville, they have more direct and varied flights than Asheville and Greenville, and the drive itself (BEAUTIFUL!) helps me "separate" from the rush of my life in the diocese and transition to a peace-filled center. I found the one NPR station I can listen to while driving all the way -- although sometimes to maintain the "peace" I will turn it off!
The next day we spent most of the day continuing the work we began the night before -- listening to the work we have each undertaken over the last few months. I am so impressed by the members of this "dream team"! The depth of their life experience, combined with their research and theological reflection is rich and is a gift to our church. I hope when our work is done you will think so as well.
Monday evening we all headed over to Kanuga to "sign in" for the gathering. There were over 460 brothers and sisters in Christ who gathered for this event! Yes, you read that right. Most were from the Episcopal Church, the rest from the ELCA.
The opening welcome and Eucharist were wonderful. This was made especially great because five bishops attended the opening evening: myself, Porter Taylor, Marianne Budde, Rob Skirving and Allen Shin. Two years ago three bishops attended. This year, five. Perhaps in 2018 there will be ten? Okay -- that's my pitch. This is a life-giving, love-sharing, gospel-message-driven gathering of the faithful involved in this ministry. Let's support it!
I'm humbled by the work God has given me to do. I'm more humbled by the commitment and hard work of our clergy and laity. We are very blessed to have them in our diocese!
I can't wait for 2018!!