Afrecs at General Convention 2009
By Connie Fegley
“Afrecs (American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan) really needs to have a presence at General Convention,” I heard myself say at a board meeting late in 2008. “In the Diocese of Bethlehem, our world mission committee had an exhibit at Diocesan Convention every year, and it really made a difference in strengthening our ties to Kajo Keji.”
Little did I know what lay ahead as the board endorsed the concept, with the caveat that this exhibit needed to be professionally prepared. After securing a wonderful graphic artist in Lancaster County who does work for the Mennonite Central Committee, we were off and running.
Seeing the exhibit finally erected in Anaheim, months later, made the hours and hours of work all worthwhile. The booth had such a welcoming feel to it. At one time or another, it seemed everyone who had any connection to the church in Sudan made their way to it.
One of our main purposes was to feature the existing companion relationships with Sudanese dioceses and encourage folks from other dioceses to consider beginning a relationship of their own. On the Bethlehem/Kajo Keji Day, it was a beautiful sight to see our entire delegation, resplendent in African shirts, gather at the booth.
A real highlight happened on the second day. The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared in the exhibit hall, and you would have thought he was a rock star. I recognized the shock of white hair way across the hall. The next thing I knew, excitable young Brits telling us that he wanted to visit our both next and that we needed to “get ready” surrounded us. Quite honestly, all I could think of to do was to put on a little lipstick!
In no time, the horde swarmed into our 10 x 10 space and I was shaking hands with a very bemused ABC. He was clearly quite put off by all the hoopla, which definitely endeared him to me. We had used an engaging photo of him in one of our panels, taken when he dedicated the cathedral in Renk, Sudan, where he was kneeling down in front of a Sudanese bishop and was captivated by an adorable baby on the bishop’s lap. Pointing out the photo was all I could think of to say to him, and it did seem to bring back a very good memory for him. Then, after a blaze of cameras, he was gone. It took quite a while for my heartbeat to return to normal.
Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul arrived in Anaheim at the end of the first week and paid our little booth a visit. The night before he left, we Afrecs folks had dinner with him and were definitely sobered by the grim picture he painted of the situation on the ground. Because we had a presence at convention, we were able to mobilize and arrange several dinners to strategize with key folks, all of whom care so passionately about Sudan. An immediate result was a letter drafted and prepared for the House of Bishops to send to President Obama. It was signed by 96 bishops.
While many exhibitors were disappointed that this year there seemed to be fewer people in the exhibit hall, we Afrecs people definitely felt it was worth the energy and expense. Time will tell. And there are so many memories, from the drumming Korean children who began convention to the power of thousands and thousands of Episcopalians worshipping together, the beauty of Elizabeth von Trapp’s singing, the poignancy of all sides’ testimony at the ordination hearing, the Senate-like atmosphere in the House of Bishops to the joy in Triennial as the Episcopal Church Women celebrated the miraculous amount of money raised for the Jericho Road Project.
My daughter-in-law said that, at a General Convention, I would be in my natural habitat, “released back to the wild.” I suppose on some level that was true. Even though I relished the time at night in our quiet little hotel for exhibitors and the beautiful solitude of my room, it was a privilege and challenge to be at convention on behalf of our dear Sudanese brothers and sisters.
[Christ Church Reading parishioner Connie Fegley, member of our diocesan World Mission Committee, played a significant role in the initiation of our relationship with the Diocese of Kajo Keji in southern Sudan]