If you've ever sat in a long, slow business meeting at work, you know how downright dull they can be-- the endless budget numbers, the minutiae that people continue to discuss long after you've ceased to care, the occasional fights that leave one party or the other bruised. Now, when most of us think of the things we love about church, on the other hand, we think of the inspiring worship or the warm hospitality of a church potluck. Maybe we think of a transformative mission trip to the Gulf Coast. My guess, though, is that most of us don't think of the church business meeting. It's like a meeting at work, except that we're usually there on our day off. And the church business meeting, whether it is in the vestry of the local congregation or a meeting of the entire denomination at the General Convention, also becomes the battleground for some of our most un-Christian and public fights. I've been to many denominational business meetings over the years, and seen many of the ways in which they cast light on how far from God's vision of justice and love we really are. All in all, it doesn't seem like much fun.
And yet, I must confess that sitting on my pew at Diocesan Convention here in Boston, listening to some guy give an extremely thorough Power Point presentation on clergy compensation at 9 am on a Saturday morning, I had a feeling in my heart that John Wesley once described as "strangely warmed." And I realized that I love church business meetings. We spend a lot of time talking during worship about what it means to be Christians in our everyday lives. We may go chat for a while at coffee hour after church, or maybe we go volunteer with our church group in the walk for breast cancer once a year. For some of us, those are the biggest training grounds for living out our faith. But the church business meeting... that's the place where we begin to really practice what it means to live a Christian life. Because it is there that we must learn how to talk across difference. It is there that we are faced with the complexity and beauty of the body of Christ in all its fullness. It is in the church business meeting, boring as it is, that we can open ourselves to the Spirit's teaching about the everyday task of discipleship-- not a series of "mountaintop" emotional highs, not always full of glorious organ strains or richly colored stained glass, but the faithfulness it takes to deal with the little details that make a big difference to our sisters and brothers.
Take the aforementioned clergy compensation discussion. While it may not have the excitement of a discussion about mission (which was actually yesterday's really inspiring presentation), the Diocese's decisions about paying priests and other workers makes sure that those people have the resources they need to continue their ministry to all of us. And it is a justice issue, too-- we can't demand justice for the world's workers in the name of Jesus Christ if we don't pay our own laborers their day's wages. The decisions we make here are a tangible expression of how we live as Christians in the world, and give force to our witness to Christ. This IS the body of Christ at work. Plus, let's face it-- church business meetings are just plain funny. Where else can you see Bishop Tom Shaw's 15 years of distinguished service to the Diocese commemorated by-- and I'm not kidding--a bag of manure? Follow that up with Bishop Bud Cederholm leading all of us in a rousing rendition of "Sweet Bishop Tom," to the tune of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," and you've got stuff to put a smile on your face all day. Last night at a fundraising auction, a homemade Episcopal-logo Snuggie fetched double the price at auction of a Josh Beckett-autographed baseball. Where else would that happen? Where else would anyone pay $650 for a SNUGGIE?!
So if you want to see the church at its most authentic and, yes, heartwarming, take your precious Saturday and check out some church convention or business meeting. You may need a big cup of coffee to stay awake, but if you pay attention you'll find yourself drawn deeper into discipleship and real Christian love.