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Report on Plano East - Day One

Report on Plano East
Day One
From: Mary Ailes, Truro Church, Fairfax, VA

FRIDAY, JANUARY 9
PLANO EAST CONFERENCE, VIRGINIA

When a diocesan bishop goes into another diocese to celebrate the Eucharist, the bishop cannot just show up and start celebrating. That would be like Tony Blair dropping into the White House and ordering new drapes for the East Room. It's just not done. Bishop Peter Lee, Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, graciously gave his consent for Bishop Bob Duncan, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, to celebrate the Eucharist at the opening of the "Plano East" Conference (Jan. 9-10) today, sponsored by the American Anglican Council chapters of the Diocese of Virginia and the Diocese of Washington.

Did Bishop Lee ever dream that Bishop Duncan would lead a Eucharist of nearly 3,000 Episcopalians?

Tonight was the kickoff for the follow-up conference to the historic gathering of Episcopalians in Texas last October 7-10. Called "Plano" since that was the original site for the conference until the numbers grew too large (around 2,500 people as I recall) and had to be moved to Dallas.

Tonight nearly 3,000 Episcopalians are registered for this gathering in Virginia. What is going on? The place was packed. Instead of being discouraged, we are being encouraged. Instead of being beat down, we rise up. Though the seas are rough - and they are rough - we "fix our eyes on Jesus."

We are gathering in the Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge, Virginia, just off I-95 north of Richmond and south of Washington. The Chapel is unique - a conference center that seats thousands, but is designed as a traditional congregational church, including a steeple! It is a perfect setting for worship.

I arrived just as the Processional began. The long line of clergy - men and women of many different traditions - processed into the Chapel as we sang "Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of creation." This was followed by "God of Grace and God of Glory." Songs of worship then followed the procession and we sang "Shout to the Lord" and "Be Unto Your Name." As I gazed around the room I saw so many faces I didn't recognize - where are these people coming from? And I also saw so many old friends - so many that I haven't seen in a very long time.

The collect we prayed was inspired. "O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you, bring the nations into your fold, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever."

Outside the winds were blowing cold, a cold wind from the North. It is so cold here you can feel it in your bones. But inside this great hall it was warm, as though we need this strengthening for the days that lie ahead. The world outside is cold, but our hearts are being warmed for the task, God willing.

Hebrews 12 and Matthew 14 were read and Bishop Duncan preached from those texts. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12). We also read the magnificent account of Jesus walked on water, terrifying His disciples, as the storm raged. "Take courage!" Jesus says to them. "It is I. Don't be afraid."

Bishop Duncan took the podium and gave a strong word to the thousands gathered on this blustery winter night. "Been in any storms lately?" he asked. Yes, I thought, quite a few actually. "Feel like it was someone else's decision that put you in the boat the you find yourself in today?" he asked. Yes, you could say that.

"It was a far worse storm than anticipated," Bishop Duncan said, "wondering if the terrible night would ever end. Any of us find ourselves doubting lately, feeling like sinking? What a great Gospel we have, what a great Gospel passage is before us tonight before our sinking souls."

It has felt that way sometimes, as we read the letters and quotes from our bishops and wonder what is going to happen. Will the storm be too much? But how we can say that when we have such a great Gospel for our sinking souls. It is such a great Gospel, even for our apparently sinking church. We must persevere and not be afraid

"Discipline and Discipleship are the same word," Bishop Duncan told us. But then he had a tough question for us. Before this present crisis, he asked, would others have known our commitment to discipleship? "How sorry I am for how laxed I have been," he said of himself. "This storm is not just 'their' doing. Forgive me, Lord, forgive me - how good you are that despite my unworthiness and sinfulness you would come to me on the sea. And still I doubt and sink. Even now you reach out your hand to catch me up. How can we end but to say 'All praise to the Lord Jesus Christ.' We are here to accept our hardship, to weather our storm no matter how long the night may be. Jesus endured the hostility himself so we would not have to endure. Have we resisted to the point of shedding our blood - brothers and sisters, He has. Set your eyes upon Him. Lay aside your sin, every bit of rebellion and look to Him. Then you shall run, then persevere, then the prophet's promise shall be fulfilled in you. Have you not known, have you not heard, the Lord is the everlasting God. He does not faint or grow worry, His understanding is unsearchable, He gives strength to the weary, they shall mount up with wings as eagles."

Eagles. As he spoke this word I remembered the scene in the new film "Return of the King." The picture was so vivid - the Eagles come to rescue Sam and Frodo, there "at the end of all things." I want to remember that picture in those moments when I feel discouraged, when I feel weary, that I shall set my eyes on Jesus.

Bishop Duncan also reminded us that is not only for discipline in our discipleship as followers of Christ that we have gathered for this meeting. It is also for encouragement. "We have more especially come together to be encouraged," he said. "The truth is that whenever we turn to Him, whenever we turn from the storm, and from our sin and the sin of others, we receive heart, we are given courage, we become again both loving hearts and brave hearts. The encouraged disciples of Jesus Christ - and that is our whole purpose in this awesome gathering. Have we not been driven to worship and to proclamation - to encourage one another?"

Bishop Duncan concluded with an amazing story that only just happened in the past few days. He was ringing up US Air to change his flight reservations. US Air is a big deal in Pittsburgh, it's Hub. There's a lot in common between US Air and the Episcopal Church USA. So Bishop Duncan calls up to change his flight and the woman on the phone is making the arrangements and handling all the details.

Suddenly she breaks in with a question for him, as if it has just occurred to her. "Are you Bishop Duncan?" she asked him directly. He was surprised. "Uh, yes," he told, "I am." He wasn't sure what was going to happen next.

"I pray for you every day," the woman from US Air told him enthusiastically. "I thank God for what you are doing." Bishop Duncan was speechless and very moved. One never knows where the encouragement will come from.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly trust in Jesus' name.

When darkness seems to hide his face,
I rest on his unchanging grace
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.

Tomorrow we should learn the latest news - which I will pass on to you. We will be hearing from Kendall Harmon (Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina) on "Anglican Essentials." He knows what it's like to walk through the fire - even friendly fire. Please pray for him - and for our friends in the Diocese of South Carolina. They remind me a bit of the Scots in Braveheart. We must hang together or surely we will hang separately.

Martyn Minns, Diane Knippers, Hugo Blankingship, Thomas Logan, Kendall, and Andrew Pearson will be speaking in a panel presentation and that should be quite interesting. There will also be panels in the afternoon on World Mission, Local Mission and the Mission of the Church in the Next Generation. Martyn will give the closing address. All I can hear right now - because I have it playing in the background as I type is Sir William Wallace crying "Freedom!"

Bishop Gerard E. Mpango, Bishop of Western Tanganyika, Tanzania will give the closing prayer and blessing. Is this a great church or what!

Thank you for your prayers. If you have any questions - please let me know!

God bless you!

Mary Ailes
Truro Episcopal Church
Fairfax, VA

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