The Episcopal Church Welcomes You... it was an unusually large sign, that peculiar combination of sky and periwinkle blue, hanging above the entrance to the Anaheim Convention Center as our bus pulled up. I got off, a bit stiff from the drive, and my mom and I walked into the main hall to register. In a few moments we had our name tags and a handful of information that we needed to sort out and we headed upstairs to visit the House of Bishops. There was a rather genteel sense of decorum in the ballroom populated by people wearing that peculiar shade of purple bishops seem to love, with a calm and serene manner reminiscent of a convocation of elders somewhere. On the other hand, when we visited the House of Deputies on the main floor of the convention center I had a feeling of brashness and an in-your-face chaos. I suppose that had much to do with the harsher lighting, cement flooring, larger room, and strangely decorated tables representing each diocese. I know that I was much more impressed with the collegiality expressed in the house of bishops, but I suppose some of that was due to the way the bishops were seated.
In due time the houses recessed to attend the mid-day Eucharist. I was fortunate to arrive in time to be able to be a Chalice for one of the stations on the floor. It wasn't until I was in my station after the Peace that I realized just how big this "chapel" was. I don't know how many people were there, but I found that from my position on the edge of the crowd the dais where the altar resided looked to be a few inches wide, with the people on it as over sized ants. The music was beautiful, the sermon inspiring, and in an ecstatic state I was able to participate in the Rite I worship of my childhood without needing to read the program for anything but the music! My spirit soared as I stood in the assembly blessing and being blessed by the magnificent language the lifts me above the mundane and reminds me of when my faith was so much simpler and more direct.
Lunch followed the Eucharist and then an afternoon of wandering around the various exhibits. First, we looked in at the National Altar Guild's display of liturgical art - including vestments and paraments. The stitching and stories on these beautiful works was amazing. Then, when we realized that the bishops were in a closed meeting, we went to wander the exhibition hall. I was overwhelmed by all of the various groups represented. Some seemed to be out of place in this hall, and it showed in the way they spoke to us. I was particularly taken aback to be asked, when mom recognized a publication often on display in a parish that abandoned the church, "then what are you doing here?" by a representative of the American Anglican Council who obviously thought that because we knew enough about a departed church that we should have gone with it. Other groups were much kinder and more enthusiastic about the fact that all of us, as a church, had gathered together to do the work set in front of us.
By the time we left that afternoon I had experienced some highs and lows in the midst of the congregation. I am still reeling today and most likely will continue to sort out my responses to this event for a while. One thing is certain, however: I was able to connect with new resources and information and to renew connections with old friends.