Monday, July 20, 2009

The Bishop comes to visit: GC review

Sunday was the formal "Episcopal Visit" day by the Bishop of San Diego, James Mathes, to the Cathedral. It was also a soccer tournament for the Boy, the schedule for which meant we had to attend the 8am service, where we were somewhat surprised to find the Bishop presiding and preaching. We hadn't heard him preach before, and he proved to have a wry sense of humor and a matter of fact delivery. He discussed some of the issues of GC, not in detail (that came later) but enough to build on a theme of unity and inclusion--no strangers, no aliens, no distinguishing between them and us, GLBT and straight, liberal and conservative. And he was very clear, speaking to his Cathedral listeners, about the need to bring all these groups together. In fact as he proceeded down the aisle afterwards, I reflected that his crozier was an apt symbol, because he really did give me the impression of a shepherd earnestly trying to keep his flock intact.

As I've mentioned before, San Diego's diocese reaches from the liberal enclaves of Hillcrest (the arty city neighborhood that includes the Cathedral, Balboa Park, tons of restaurants and San Diego's gay district), to the to the the well-educated, high-tech coastal corridor of northern San Diego county, the immigrant encampments, and the poor and struggling neighborhoods towards the south. And then it runs east, all the way through farmland, mountains and desert to the Arizona border. This vast expanse includes rural Imperial County, one of the most conservative regions in the state (and one where the pro-Prop8 vote exceeded 70%). In other words, these sheep are headed every which way and are thus challenging to herd. In 2003, San Diego's then-Bishop Hughes walked out of the GC vote on Gene Robinson, and in the fallout thereafter, several parishes also walked. But conservative Bp Hughes retired, and Bp Mathes has clearly brought in a new style of moderation and inclusion. (This was apparent in the op/ed he wrote after the passage of Prop8.)

Between the 8am and 10.30am services, Bp Mathes spoke about GC at the weekly Cathedral forum. He has a quiet voice with a whisper of a southern accent, and again his sense of humor was clear and at times rather pointed! The Bishop was very positive about the achievements of GC, and he also noted how different was the tone of Convention from the previous years even when disagreements occurred (he mentioned several times his indaba group). On the topic of blessings, things will move with deliberation; he will require individual congregations to study the issues in detail and he himself needs to do substantial work. The Cathedral community is particularly impatient on this topic, but I don't think he'll be rushed! ;-) Bp Mathes stressed again his concern for those who have different viewpoints, and the need to include them. It was interesting how the Bishop drew a sharp distinction between those who have honest disagreements and seek to find a modus vivendi (some of whom he spoke of by name, with evident respect), and those who actively seek destruction of TEC and/or the Communion. He didn't mention names, but I think we can guess who they are.

Other GC issues relevant to San Diego, particularly outreach to the Hispanic and Latino community, as well as support for cross-border charitable activities in Mexico, were discussed as well. The Bishop's wife spoke about some of this in the context of her interaction with ERD.

Overall, we came away impressed by the Bishop, and by his wife. They both seem measured and intelligent, and able representatives of this very diverse community. The Cathedral audience is a liberal one that was generally pleased with the results of GC and the Bishop's efforts; I wonder how different his reception will be as he visits some of his other congregations who have different views, and who may not be so happy to have a Bishop sympathetic to GLBT inclusion. Indeed, it is evident that Bp Mathes is well aware that some people this year are as disappointed as the Cathedral congregation was 3 years ago, and he again made an explicit call for charity, understanding, and inclusion. "Reach out to them," he said. "Let them know there's a place for them at the table."

Despite his mild exterior, I think Bp Mathes is a pretty tough and savvy guy.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Bishop Mathes and his wife sound like fine people. I'm glad he had such a positive impression of the convention. I wonder if the whole experience was better because certain cantankerous folks have flown the coop.

The bishop has the right attitude about serving his whole flock, even those who are disappointed about the outcome of the convention. I expect that he will have a much harder time of it in his visits to the more conservative parishes.

Does his mention of indaba mean that he was one of the 25 bishops who met?

IT said...

HI Mimi,
I don't know for sure who were in the 25, but BP and I got the distinct impression that Bp Mathes was involved with things ... I know he testified in committees on this issue, it seems important to him. But I can't answer for certain.

Bill Carroll said...

I wish I had thought of trying to find you. We were there...

IT said...

I'm sorry you didn't Bill. We would have liked that!

Gillian said...

I am pretty sure he was part of the C056 indaba group, based on his comments either at that Forum or the following Tuesday night Town Hall Mtg.

IT, I think your final sentence's description of Bp Mathes is spot-on! We are most fortunate in having him for our Bp.

IT said...

Thanks, Gillian. I also got the impression he was probably part of the indaba group. We have been quite impressed by what we have learned about his commitment to this issue at GC.

Would be happy to meet IRL some time....!