(Note: As many of you know, the Diocese of East Tennessee will finally consecrate Fr. George Young as Bishop today. I am heading down to Knoxville with two friends to take part in the Mass. Of course, the Presiding Bishop of the Church will be there. This reminded me of first time I heard her speak at my Diocese’s Convention in 2007. I can say, without a doubt that her answer to the question at 10:00 AM directly lead to me becoming an Episcopalian. That day and today are good days to be an Episcopalian!)

5:00: Ding-dong, ding-dong, furiously rang my alarm clock this morning. Five o’clock is too early. For most of my life, I thought five o’clock only came once a day. I think God is not even awake at five in the morning. Alas, I am awake and ready to start the day

5:45: I spent so much time on the internets and realized that I hadn’t taken a shower! I jump in the shower and get ready in lightning time!

6:15: After a quick stop at McDonald’s and a McSausage and McEgg McBiscuit, we’re off to Gatlinburg, TN!

6:30-8:15: The car ride there is uneventful but beautiful, as the sun rose over the mountains along the interstate. It was just my traveling Episcopalian friend (TEF) and I; my TEF was nice enough to let me come along. Very early in the trip, I warned my TEF that I would be blogging about this entire day and if there was something he did not want me to blog, just to let me know. After a quiet moment of consideration, he said: “I don’t plan on this, but if I start to hit on the Presiding Bishop, please, don’t blog about that.” I laugh for sometime about this.

8:00: We drive through Pigeon Forge, TN: truly the Reno of Tennessee. Go-Kart and min-golf places fill either side of the road. Thirty million pancake houses and thirty-million-and-one Best Westerns fill the sight! My ADHD (which I don’t have, by the way) reacts to the sights.

8:15: After sometime of kitsch, we arrive in Gatlinburg proper. Driving through the town, we arrive at the base of a monstrous hill – the murderhorn — atop which sits the Park Vista Hotel. At the base, an attendant tells us that parking is full. We have to park either at the Episcopal Church or at the Lutheran Church and a shuttle takes up the murderhorn. The irony is not lost on us, because my TEF is Episcopalian and I have a love-hate relationship with the ELCA. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that is where I’ll end up.

At the time, the temperature was a cold zero degrees; it was negative fifty with the wind chill. As we stand waiting for the shuttle, our spit freezes before it hits the ground. Dressed very nicely, the TEF and I forgot to wear more than a suit jacket; we are freezing. As we wait for the shuttle, an-unnamed-person-from-Emmanuel-School-of-Religion (aUPfESR) waits with us and we have a blast.

8:25: The shuttle arrives and is full. We cannot go because it is too full! Awhile longer in the frigid tempatures . . .

8:30: aUPfESR and friend get in car with someone who offers some of us a ride. My TEC and I stay behind.

8:35: The Shuttle finally arrives and we board. Now, the murderhorn has an incline of about ninety degrees. While driving up the murderhorn, the bus begins to stall, but we surrive and make it all the way to the Hotel. While the bus was stalling, there was a man hiking up the murderhorn. If someone ever tells you that Christians are not crazy; they are lying.

8:45: In the large Park Vista Hotel, my TEF realize that I am not registered. I am promptly registered by a woman who was wearing a peace shirt, but wasn’t peaceable. Ah well, such is life!

8:50: We enter the huge ballroom of the Park Vista Hotel as the morning session is still going on. Some distance away from us is the head table where the Bishop of East Tennessee (sans miter) and his cannon are sitting. There is also the podium. Between the head table and us were numerous round tables where the voting delegates from each conversation sat. Most people sitting where we were came to hear ++KJS speak.

The first presentation of the Millennial Development Goals we saw was on cutting poverty in half in a few years. The presentation included a video on poverty in Appalachia– which is truly a problem.

While my TEC and aUPfESP were listening, ++KJS suddenly entered the room to no fanfare but aUPfESP leaning to me and saying: “O my! A PB (presiding Bishop) sighting!”

9:30: ++KJS stands to speak in the middle of the body, so I am sitting about twenty feet away from her. While she is speaking, I am amazed. Her style is engaging and compassionatly intellectual. She gives food for thought throughout her address. Here are certain things I recall:

1) Because most of her address was on the millennial development goals, I was afraid I would hear nothing more than a social gospel message. This is not a bad thing, because I believe we need to clothe the naked and feed the hungry, but I get tired of hearing only about it. It would be like when one goes to an evangelistic church and all you ever hear is salvation. Thankfully, ++KJS said that one can not divorce the spiritual and the social aspects of the gospel: we must pray, we must share the gospel message, but we must also make sure that everyone is fed and has the basic necessities of life. I admired and applauded that. I believe I also said, “Amen” – a last remnant of my Baptist youth.
2) During her address, she kept saying, “This reminds me of this . . .” or “This reminds me of a Scotch proverb.” It was quite evident that ++KJS was not only eloquent but also well educated (she has a Ph.D. in oceanography). Her address was not only food for the soul, but also for the mind. I felt engaged as a whole person.
3) Sine the ordination of a practicing homosexual to the house of Bishops, the detractors of the ECUSA have categorized it as an unbiblical and extremely liberal denomination. Surely, the appointment of a woman as Presiding Bishop would only further this idea. Within ++KJS’ address, I found nothing but a highly intelligent woman of faith who was a fellow sojourner. She was moderate in her language and was nothing like how the ECUSA is characterized.

10:00: ++KJS answered questions from the body. The questions were quite good, but one of them sticks out in my memory. The question was about the churches in Virginia who were leaving the denomination. Her response was “If someone feels that they need to go elsewhere to find a home, bless them on their journey. Leave the light on and the door open . . .” Sitting where I was, it suddenly hit me:

Some churches are leaving the ECUSA, not only because of the appointment of Gene Robinson, but also because of her appointment as Presiding Bishop. If there is anyone there who has a right to be angry or vitriolic about those Churches, it is ++KJS. Yet, she stands there and tells us to bless them on their journey.

How many Fundies would stand on this issue and bless the liberals? How many Stone-Campbellites would live out the call of Christ and bless those who disagree with them? How many Baptists would leave the light on for a homosexual? How many Evangelicals would love like this – this painful, freely given love?

Hearing her say those few words of grace and mercy, put me to tears. Although I still consider myself an evangelical (notice the “e”), I would rather align myself with someone who loves with abandon than the vitriolic hate mongers who cover themselves in the message of “the gospel.” I do not know the answer to the “gay issue,” but I do know this: they are people and not an issue. They are broken, just like you and I, with hearts that need to hear the gospel. Let us love with abandon to bring about the Kingdomof God.

11:30: We hear another Millennium Goal: Prenatal and pregnancy care to end infant mortality. I liked these people! An ending Liturgy and we leave.

12:00: We have lunch at Cracker Barrel outside of Pigeon Forge. During the meal, we debrief and unpack what just happened.

1:00-3:00: We drive back, while Cavalleria Rusticana played on NPR. The weather warmed and it It was a nice drive to end a wonderful day!