Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies and honorary degree recipient from Episcopal Divinity School, gave a rousing speech on the opening of the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, using the occasion of the Independence Day of the United States to remind those assembled of the democratic heritage of the Episcopal Church and the importance of living up to that tradition.
“Just as we celebrate the distinctive democracy of the United States on Independence Day, we should celebrate the distinctive polity of the Episcopal Church that became part of our DNA because of the circumstances of the American Revolution in which our church was born,” said Anderson in her remarks.
She then complicated the narrative of American democracy with the words of Frederick Douglass and what the church might take from the narrative of the Promised Land.
“I am a bit concerned that this recent round of wandering in the wilderness has put at risk our central identity as a people whose democratic decision-making has led us time and time again to take prophetic actions on issues of justice and peace and build strong mission relationships with one another and with our sisters and brothers across the Anglican Communion. I am worried that a false choice between mission and governance will keep us from hearing the voices of all the baptized as we restructure the church and create a budget for it,” offered Anderson.
Anderson, who recently guest lectured in Professor Ed Rodman’s June course at EDS on the General Convention, ended her opening remarks with an extended quote from Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology and faculty emerita at EDS, Fredrica Harris Thompset’s classic work, We Are Theologians.
“I want to close with a passage from We Are Theologians, a seminal work by Deputy Fredrica Harris Thompsett. Listen carefully—she has wise words for us: ‘If our vision of the church is meager or even modest, we have missed the mighty acts of God. If we think of Christians as hopelessly embattled, we have lost our ancestors’ experience of the expansion of God’s reign. If we reject biblical wisdom because we see the Bible used as a tool for legalistic oppression, we have forgotten the gospel’s response to Pharisees, the way in which Jesus’ liberating ministry threatened the religious establishment of his own day. If we think religious complacency and indifference are modern habits, we have overlooked the complaints of the biblical prophets. And if we think the question “What does the Bible have to do with my life?” sheds more light on heaven than on our work on earth, we have lost the creative essence of God’ work.’”
After the session Professor Thompett, who is a member of the Massachusetts delegation and running for a seat on the Executive Council, said she was honored to be mentioned in the address by the president and in the company of Verna Dozier.
“President Anderson captured the importance of the long view—both in reading our history and in planning for the future,” said President and Dean Katherine Ragsdale after the opening remarks. “In times of crisis there’s tremendous pressure to narrow one’s focus and plans with immediate results in mind. In the long term it tends to be costly, often sacrificing our proudest traditions and best hopes.”