There are a lot of things that happen at a General Convention beyond the business of passing legislation: movie screenings, talks, networking, and, oh yeah, worship.
In celebration of the first anniversary of the independence of South Sudan, there was a Eucharist on Monday evening for those connected to the work of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. It was a terrific service: lots of great singing led by the Sudanese there, support from some of the many bishops in the Episcopal Church who have Sudanese congregations in their diocese, an honest acknowledgement of the pain and suffering that has happened and remains ongoing, and much else.
There is lots packed into a General Convention so the service didn’t begin until 9:30pm. As wonderful as it was, I have to say I was a bit weary during the first part of the service. That changed during the passing of the peace when the three bishops in the service took a liturgical liberty to tell the congregation about their relationship.
From left to right, that’s Ruben Akurdit, of Bor, Sudan; Cate Waynick of Indianapolis, Indiana; and Mauricio Andrade of Brasilia, Brazil. Together, they have a three-way companion diocese relationship. Last year, Cate and Mauricio were in Bor together. (Three-way companion relationships are increasingly common. We recently saw the fruit of another relationship in this letter to Rowan Williams from several bishops.)
In their comments, the three bishops stressed how they see in one another the body of Christ: difference (of race, background, culture, sex, etc.) but commonality in worshipping the same God in Christ.
I was completely awake by the time they had finished their short remarks. Then, in the Eucharistic prayer, each said the words of institution (the “take eat” part of the liturgy) in their own language. It is not often that a Eucharistic prayer I have heard so often and know so well can surprise and move me but it did on Monday night.
The act of celebrating the Eucharist in multiple languages with people from multiple backgrounds seemed to me to be so central to what the good news of the body of Christ is all about. And it’s yet one more reason I have hope about the future of the church and its role in God’s mission in the world.