A Legislative Miscellany (my thoughts on important resolutions passed at GC78)… (Courage, Horatio! This is a bit of a long haul, but worth it, I hope.)
General Convention has ended. The final gavel fell two weeks ago, on July 3. We started, officially, when committees began their work on Tuesday (June 23), and we had several sessions of the Houses, separately and combined, on Wednesday, June 24. So, effectively, there were ten days of General Convention, and eleven days of work for those who had been appointed to legislative committees. This Convention, with the technology of the Virtual Binders, replacing the physical, three-ringed variety that had been a standard of Convention for aeons, and the near-instantaneous digital communication between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, our work progressed much more quickly. There was no log-jam of resolutions in the final session of Convention, as there has been at each of the ones I have attended previously.
The 78th General Convention took up a number of fairly momentous issues, as far as the Episcopal Church is concerned. The next Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, was elected. Recommended actions from TREC (The Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church) were acted on, with resolutions for incremental changes being adopted: the refocus of the Executive Council, the reduction of the CCABs, and defining the role of Provinces in the Episcopal Church. There were also a host of other issues that were the subject of resolutions. The fate of these were either that they were rejected by one or the other of the two Houses, or they were passed with, or without, amendment, or they were referred back to a committee for further work. If you’d like to see all of the resolutions, what action was taken, and what the final form of the resolution was, you can look HERE.
In my estimation, there were 15 resolutions that stood apart from the bulk of the legislation that drew the attention of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Others will have a different list, in certain regards, but here is my “Top 15 List.” (The number of each resolution is a link to the text of that document.)
A036-Amend Canon 1.18-Marriage (adopted by House of Bishops, as amended, with the House of Deputies concurring)—This was the resolution to change the canons, allowing clergy to perform marriage for same-gender couples. There was a need to adopt liturgies (A054), and it was necessary to make canonical provision for this change. There was considerable discussion over the “conscience clause,” allowing a bishop not to allow the use of liturgies in his diocese, and for a clergyperson to opt not to marry a couple, as always has been the case. The question is whether the Episcopal Church will grow into a place where conscience is honoured, or, true to historic form, it will initially give a nod to conscience, only to take it away at future Conventions. When the BCP was revised in 1979, it was said that there would be latitude for the use of previous version. That was not true in practice. The Port St. Lucie Agreement, a conscience clause regarding women’s ordination, was subsequently revoked. The unanimously-agreed “Mind of the House” statement by bishops, available HERE, is encouraging, in that it puts forward as a general good the “via media” of Anglicanism.
A040-Affirm Response to the Anglican Covenant Process—This seems like ancient history now. The Covenant was the conclusion of the “Windsor Process” that followed the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. For a season, all eyes were cast on who voted to accept the Covenant and who to reject it. It was meant to be a framework whereby a theological context of the understanding of marriage and sexuality was maintained, with provisions for discipline for those Provinces who did not find themselves congruent with this framework. There was absolutely no conversation about the Covenant at this Convention; with the discharge of this resolution, I believe the subject officially to be dead.
A054-Adopt Resources and Rites from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing, Revised and Expanded 2015”—These are the liturgical rites that will be permitted, beginning on Advent I, 2015, for the use of same-gender couples to be married in the Episcopal Church. Their use is contingent upon the approval of the bishop, and it is specifically stated that there will be no penalties for those dioceses, parishes and clergy that choose not to make use of these rites, though provision is to be made so that couples have access to these liturgies. Expect there to be some contention about the implementation of this resolution.
A056-Authorize New Liturgical Resources: A Great Cloud of Witnesses—The Church once relied upon a standard of sanctity to be included in the Liturgical Calendar. To be named in the New Testament, to have been declared a Saint prior to the Reformation, or to be widely recognized as a figure exhibiting Christ-likeness: these were the criteria to be given a day in the Church Calendar. No more; now one is given a place in the celebration of the Church by having made a significant contribution to the advancement of civilization or for actions in the political sphere. Hence, Albert Einstein, Nicholas Copernicus, and Charles Darwin are all included in the list of “Holy Men, Holy Women.” Mind you, I think it’s pretty great that these three are given notice by the Church, but why should they be included in its sanctoral calendar? Short answer: they should not. It is because of issues of politics, inclusiveness, and theology that many are placed in “A Great Cloud of Witnesses.” It marks an unfortunate distancing of our commemorations from a connection to being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in the world.
A159-The Role of the Church in the Culture of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse—With the tragedy that transpired in Maryland last December, when the Rt. Rev. Heather Cook hit and killed a bicyclist, this conversation over the place of alcohol in the life of the church has been ongoing. We heard testimony at Convention, some of it a bit on the hyperbolic side, that it was time for Episcopalians to take seriously the abuse of alcohol and other substances. This resolution sets forward some very sensible and helpful guidelines to assist in the important self-reflection to which the terrible events in Maryland have led us.
A169-Establish a Process for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer 1979—God help us! I came to the Episcopal Church after “The Prayer Book Wars” of the 1970s, so I didn’t have to live through the plethora of trial usages. Nevertheless, I witnessed the sad aftermath of a process that lacked pastoral sensitivity to many in the Church for whom established liturgies were where their relationship with Christ was lived. In too many places, the “old” prayer book was there one Sunday, and then next, when folks showed up for church, the “new” one was in the pews, having been delivered and placed there by deputies of the Ecclesiastical Authority. Much has been written recently of the appeal that traditional worship has for Millennials, and we heard testimony from younger deputies at Convention that they were not in favour of revising the BCP. We already have alternate liturgies in the “Enriching Our Worship” series, they argued, so why tinker with something that appeals to the young folks that the Episcopal Church says it is trying to attract? To be frank, I think the energy for this move is coming from aging Boomers who are eager to be “relevant” and who are eager to shift the theology of the Church by changes in the language used for God and the Kingdom. If we are, as I believe, a church where “lex orandi, lex credendi” holds (the law of praying is the law of believing), then the language of the BCP is a matter of great importance. We should listen to our younger members. It sounds flip, but it is heart-felt: Thank goodness, I’ll be retired by the time a “new” BCP is in place.
A172-Leveraging Social Media for Jesus—I was assigned to Legislative Committee #10, on Communications and Evangelism, from which this resolution arose. I heard the conversation about it, along with that of the next resolution, B009, but I really didn’t contribute to it. There were others on the committee more knowledgeable than I, and more ready to voice their expertise than I was. Part of the rationale for the title of the resolution was that it would appeal to our new Presiding Bishop. It’s a cute title. The action called for is to develop curricula for clergy/seminarians and lay people in the use of social media, enabling its more wide-spread use for the purposes of evangelism. A Task-Force is established, and seminary deans/faculty are to be part of this process.
B009-Conducting an Online Evangelism Test—Jake Dell, who is the staff member at 815 for Digital Communications, teamed up with the Diocese of New York in 2013 to conduct an online test for evangelism. Wonderful content was developed, see HERE, that helps parents answer important questions in their children’s lives. By optimizing Google search words, this material will come up high on the search results, thus directing folks to Episcopal Church material and information. According to Jake, the first results of this trial were quite encouraging, and he is passionate about expanding that trial to the wider church. It is instructive, particularly as we were meeting in Salt Lake City, that when one “googles” “Jesus,” the LDS church sites are first on the search results. The Mormons have done their homework and gotten into the game. It was the contention of our committee that it’s time for the Episcopal Church to do the same. The initial proposal in the resolution was that $1.5 million be re-allocated in the communications budget, with another $1.5 million coming from the dioceses that would be involved, with other sources. The committee, unrealistically, said that much more should be devoted to this effort, and the figure of $3.0 million, with matching from other sources, was put forward. In the event, the budget was $1.5 million, with half coming from the Communications Office budget.
B013-Peacemaking through Political Action—Given the passion surrounding the conflict in Israel/Palestine, it is not possible to have a General Convention without a number of resolutions being proposed that urge action on one side or the other of this terrible impasse. Having served on the committee that vets these resolutions, I know how difficult it is to chart a middle course through them, as the committee has members across the spectrum of opinions. This resolution dispensed with the more controversial appeals, such as divestment in companies that do business in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and charts a middle way. It calls for a secure two-state solution; calls on the U.S. government to implement a comprehensive plan, with time frames, for agreement on a two-state solution and resolution of all final-status issues (read Jerusalem); encourages travel of the new PB to Israel; calls for positive investment in Israel; and urges the use of the principals of restorative justice and non-violence to end the crisis. (A post-Convention note: The office of the Bishop of Jerusalem, Saheil Dawani, issued a statement that said the Episcopal Church, at Convention, did not reflect the views of the Bishop’s office when it suggested that divestment was at odds with the ongoing work of reconciliation in Israel/Palestine.)
C001-Set Rates for Diocesan Commitments—The issue of dioceses paying the “asking” of the National Church to the General Convention Budget each year has been fraught with questions for a long time. A number of dioceses, displeased with the actions of the National Church Office and the Presiding Bishop, have opted not to pay the full 19%. This action has led to recriminations from those dioceses that see themselves as faithfully supporting the work of the Episcopal Church. This bickering reached its logical silliness at this Convention, when a deputy sought to amend a resolution naming sites for the 2021 General Convention, asking that only dioceses that paid their full “asking” be considered. That amendment, ultimately, did not succeed. What did pass Convention was a plan to reduce the “asking” from dioceses to support the General Convention Budget, from the current 19% to 15% in 2019. There are penalties that come into force, beginning in 2019, if a diocese fails to pay its full 15%: it will be unable to receive funds from the Episcopal Church. Now, since the Episcopal Church is reducing its “asking”, let’s see how many dioceses reduce their assessments on their congregations.
C010-Invite All to Holy Communion—This really is the issue that just won’t go away. At the last two General Conventions, proposals came forward to allow priests to give Communion to “all,” meaning to include those who were not baptized. A practice that is welcomed and celebrated in many congregations, and some dioceses, “Open Communion” is not only based upon confused theology, it is also uncanonical, which is why there is a push to have the canons changed to allow it. First, the Episcopal Church does practice “Open Communion”: we invite all baptized Christians, of whatever persuasion, to receive the Eucharist. So, those who are in favour of this move have come to refer to it as “Open Table.” In that name lies the clue to the confused theology. At base, it arises from a category confusion. “Table Fellowship” is not the same as “Eucharistic hospitality.” Jesus, I would argue, practiced one but not the other. However, proponents of “Open Table” say that Jesus welcomed all to the table, sharing meals with all conditions of people, righteous and unrighteous (from the definitions of his day). Yes, that is true. However, what derives from this assertion, that the “Meal” of the Eucharist, the “Table of the Lord” should be open to all, regardless of baptism, doesn’t follow, because the Eucharist is not simply a meal that Jesus shares with us. Further, referring to the Altar as a “table” is misleading, because it carries us away from the notion of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice, through which his Body and Blood are present with us through the mystical “Real Presence.” The Eucharist is a Sacrament, instituted at the Last Supper, where a small group of Jesus’ followers, part of his “Body” I would argue, were present. Radical hospitality around the table? Certainly! Communion for all, regardless of baptism? I am pleased that the House of Bishops said “no”.
C050-Presbyteral Confirmation—Our practice, regarding Confirmation, has been a bit of mess for awhile. I recall, in seminary, twenty-five years ago having discussions about the role of Confirmation in the church and the place of the Bishop in it, particularly in light of baptismal practice. This current resolution calls for the creation of a study group to study the theological implications of priests conferring confirmation at Baptism. The study is confined to the confirmation of adults only, who are confirmed at the same time they are baptized. At first blush, this may seem like an innocuous and practical suggestion. However, there are two hitches (at least). First, the sacrament of confirmation involves the use of chrism. In the West, at least, the use of chrism has been reserved for the Bishop. In the BCP 1979, a permissive rubric was inserted which allows priests, when baptizing, to “seal” the baptismal candidate with oil of chrism. With our dialogue with the Eastern Churches, it was felt that this was an oecumenical movement to help align baptismal practice. The side effect is that it muddies the question of Confirmation. If an adult is baptized by a bishop and sealed with chrism, then that person is also confirmed. But what of an infant? If a priest uses chrism to seal the infant in baptism, is the infant confirmed? What, then, is the role of the Bishop? In Anglican use, the Bishop, as the locus of unity (ecclesiologically speaking), is the person who welcomes an individual into the Communion of the Church, through Confirmation. We have eroded the office of Bishop by making him the CEO of the Diocese, or the “Ecclesiastical Authority.” It is long past time to return the office of Bishop to one of pastor to the clergy, inspirer-in-chief of mission, and the visible sign of unity in the church. This move would further that erosion.
D005-Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches—Who can argue with planting churches? I could, but, let’s face it, that would be like arguing against motherhood and apple pie. There are some problematic pieces of this legislation. However, the emphasis is in the right place: let’s work at planting more churches and using imagination to do it.
D023-Continue the Work of TREC—At the 2012 General Convention, there was a veritable tidal wave of support for the creation of a body that would re-envision the structure and life of the Church and make recommendations to the 2015 General Convention. TREC (The Task Force for Re-Imaging the Episcopal Church) was thus formed. The hope, I believe, was that the task force would come back with a vision that turned the structures of the Episcopal Church from top-down to bottom-up and enabled significant de-centralization. Instead, what we got back was a plan further to centralize the life of the church, to streamline the institution for decision making (the buzz word was “nimble”), cutting out important steps in decision making, a de facto strengthening of the leadership, particularly the Presiding Bishop. At General Convention, the recommendations of TREC were almost entirely by-passed and rejected, not because we weren’t looking for change, but because the change that was offered was counter-intuitive, counter-productive, and grew out of an outdated model of the Church. TREC wanted to continue its work into the next triennium. The House of Deputies offered a resounding “NO” to that proposal.
D060-Establish a Process for the Revision of the Hymnal 1982—This resolution not only calls for developing a process for the revision of the Hymnal 1982, but a comprehensive revision. For this language, you should read “the revision of the Hymnal 1982 to excise all hymns that were written before 1960, all hymns that are not multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, or that do not speak to specific political situation in the modern context. “ OK, that’s a bit of an hyperbolic stretch, but it gets at the basic thrust of the desire for revision, I think. As with A169, I think this the energy behind this resolution is from aging Boomers, wanting somehow to be relevant and to reflect the diversity of the Church. The problem is that we already have resources that do just that. We have LEVAS (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”), “Sing Praise,” and “Wonder, Love and Praise.” Already there is an embarrassment of riches for hymnody in the Episcopal Church. What is the rationale for revising the Hymnal 1982? As with the proposal to revise the BCP 1979, the youngest deputies on the floor of the House of Deputies were the ones speaking in opposition to this resolution. We say we welcome younger members into the church, we say that they are “the future” of the church, and we say that they have an honoured place at the table. Yet, when they tell us plainly what it is that they are looking for and value, we fail to listen.
Day Eight of the 78th General Convention was easily the busiest day to date, and the one with the resolutions on the calendar of greatest moment. It was the day that we considered the resolutions from the Committee on Structure, those that arose from the work of TREC this past three years. In addition, the House of Deputies took up the resolutions out of Constitution and Canons and Prayerbook, Liturgy and Music on the subject of same-sex marriage.
As to the resolutions on structure (A004, A006, and D013), there was a special order of business passed to consider them. This means that there was an extended period in which the resolutions were introduced by the chairman of the committee, and then there were clarifying questions that could be used. All of that time, and more, was taken, as the House provided additional minutes for questions and comments. When debate began, we knew that there would be many amendments offered, and there were. The first resolution to be considered concerned the Executive Council. You can read it HERE. One point of contention was the recommendation that the members of the Executive Council, the governing body whose task is to be the “Convention between Conventions,” be allowed, by a supermajority (two-thirds) to direct the President of the Council (the Presiding Bishop) to dismiss any one of three executive officers (the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, or the Chief Legal Officer). Ultimately, that paragraph was removed from the resolution. There was an effort (coming straight from the TREC report) to reduced the size of the Council from 40 members to 20. That effort failed.
The other resolution that generated considerable warmth was the one that reduced the number of Standing Commissions, Committees and Boards from something like seventy-five to two. You can se it HERE. All that was left was the Standing Committee on Liturgy and the Standing Committee on Structure. The Parliamentary procedures and debate were lengthy and convoluted. Eventually, however, the resolution passed, with the two Standing Commissions going forward, with the ability of the Executive Council to create task forces (with a sunset provision) to accomplish the work called for by General Convention. There was no resolution for going to a unicameral form of government, nor were there resolutions calling for a reduction in the size of the deputation from dioceses. The word “nimble,” was mentioned only once in debate.
It was during the afternoon session, beginning at around 3:30, that consideration of the resolutions around the question of same-sex marriage began. One of the resolutions, A054, contained revised liturgies that could be used for the marriage of a same-sex couple. It is HERE. These were adapted from the liturgy adopted by the last General Convention for trial use in blessing the unions of same-gender couples. The other resolution, A036, made provision for canonical change in the Marriage Canons, such that they permit the marriage of same-sex couples within the Episcopal Church. It is HERE. Of course, these resolutions, and the conversation surrounding them, had as a backdrop the decision by the Supreme Court last week, in a 5-4 ruling, that same-sex marriage was legal in all fifty states. One of the questions during debate at the last Convention, and potentially at this one, was how the Episcopal Church could promulgate liturgies for same-sex marriage throughout the church when, in some states, it was still not legal. That point of debate was removed by the action of the Supreme Court.
I have to say that I was relieved that these resolutions were first taken up by the House of Bishops. In that House, the debate can be more in-depth and particular, as there are far fewer members. In addition, much like the House of Lords in the British Parliament, it is often the blocking House, putting the brakes on legislation that is over-zealous or ill-conceived. I’m not saying that these resolutions fall under either of those categories; they don’t. However, the fact that the Bishops had first crack at them meant that they came to the House of Deputies in a form that was deemed by those men and women who would have to implement them as workable and conducive to the ongoing health of the Church. One can argue those points, of course, but the Bishops made sure that each resolution contained a conscience clause, as well as providing access to the liturgies by all who wanted to use them. Their action, I think it’s fair to say, was a good example of Anglican compromise and comprehensiveness. Although a number of Bishops voted “No” on the resolutions, I have not heard any loud voices claiming that this is a “deal-breaker.” That is a relief.
Votes on both of the resolutions was by orders. That means the lay deputies, and the clergy deputies, of each diocese vote separately and as a block. For example, there are four clergy deputies for each diocese. If all four of them vote “yes,” then the clergy vote for the diocese is “yes.” If three of them vote “yes,” then the diocese votes “yes.” If the vote is split 2-2, though, the diocese if then deemed to have a “divided vote,” which, practically speaking, is a “no” vote. The Diocese of the Rio Grande voted “yes” in both orders on both resolutions.
Which brings me to a point of transparency. I voted “yes” on both resolutions. Three years ago, I’m not sure I would have. However, given the conversations that I have had over the last three years, and the relationships that I have had with gay and lesbian members of the Cathedral and the diocese, I have continued to wrestle with what my thoughts on this matter are. I have had conversations with my children, who are both firmly supportive of the church’s decision to provide support for same-sex couples to marry. Within me, there is still a place that is unsettled about this action, and yet I also know that it is the right thing for the church to do now. The understanding of marriage is changing; I don’t hold that it is a monolithic reality. When I voted “yes,” I didn’t do so grudgingly, but I also didn’t do so joyfully. It’s difficult to explain. I suppose it simply comes down to the understanding that I can’t pretend to know the mind of God. So, in humility, I have to admit that this seems to be a point of growth and evolution for the church.
There was a moving epilogue to the day. After sharing dinner with my friend Dan Edwards, a member of my class at General Seminary, and now the Bishop of Nevada, and his wife, Alexandra and I were walking back to the Alta Club. Along the way, we met two friends who are here as deputies from Vermont. They are partners and married. In the course of a brief conversation, one of them asked, “Are you OK with what we did today?” They have known me since seminary and understand my difficulties with these questions over the years. It was a genuine question of interest and concern. It was that sort of expression of hospitality that is what the church does at its best. I was deeply moved by the question. “Yes,” I said. I think that was all I had to say.
Evening gatherings are important at Convention. These are times when folks gather to celebrate a particular event or anniversary in the life of the Church (like the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Episcopal Relief and Development which happened last Saturday evening), or when various affinity groups come together to share their common connection. Each General Convention the Cathedral Deans who are attending come together, either for dinner or an evening of conversation. Monday night the Deans gathered at the Alta Club, guests of the retired Dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral here in Salt Lake City, Rick Lawson. It was an enjoyable time together, with special entertainment arranged by Rick.
Last evening was the time set aside for Seminary dinners, and I attended the one for General Seminary. I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to go, given all that has happened at General over the last year, but my loyalty to the seminary overshadowed my misgivings. In the event, it was a strange evening. A sizeable group gathered at St. Mark’s Cathedral, and the dinner was good. At least for me, the feeling in the room was not the excitement and joy that we had at the last General Convention, in Indianapolis, when we gathered. Bishop Clifton Daniel, the President of the Board of Trustees, spoke, as did Dean Kurt Dunkle. The whole enterprise, though, had something of a hollow ring to it for me. The “recent unpleasantness” was alluded to obliquely, and there was much cheerleading for where the seminary is going. Being a member of the Alumni Executive Committee, I am involved with the life of General in a tangential way. I know that change happens. However, I remain unconvinced that the changes that have transpired, and continue to occur, are for the best. There is part of me that says that the posturing is whistling through the graveyard and that General Seminary will never again be the place that instills values and formation of the kind that I was blessed to have. Time will tell, I suppose.
Yesterday morning’s legislative session was the time for a conversation about the Five Marks of Mission. You can read about them HERE. This was a joint session, meaning that the Bishops from each diocese joined the deputies. President Jennings also invited alternate deputies, the youth presence, and delegates from the ECW Triennium, to join the conversation on the floor of the House of Deputies. A brief video of each Mark was shown, and then the Presiding Bishop offered questions that spurred our discussion of how these marks were being lived out in our dioceses and congregations. It was an interesting time, culminating in a retrospective of Bishop Jefferts Schori’s time as Presiding Bishop. Our former PB, Frank Griswold, was on hand to offer remarks, and a video highlighting some of the work of Bishop Katharine were shown. Finally, the former, current, and next Presiding Bishop all gathered on the platform as a statement of fraternity and collegiality.
Rob Radtke, the Executive Director of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) to address the House of Deputies. This year ERD is celebrating its 75th anniversary, having been created as the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief in 1940. ERD does amazing work all around the world, and we celebrated their work, as well as the successful fundraising efforts of the House of Deputies in the lead-up to General Convention. Gay Jennings had called for $75,000 to be raised, and the actual amount was over $121,000. A great success!
Much in the news, I think, at least in some quarters, was the legislation that passed in the House of Bishops on Monday. Resolutions allowing the use of liturgical rites to bless same-sex couples were passed, along with a first reading of a canonical change that would make language surrounding marriage gender-neutral. This is a subject that elicits strong feelings on both sides of the conversation. One of the Bishops of a more conservative outlook in the House of Bishops described the mood over this issue as “spike the ball,” taking an image from volleyball. I, too, feel an aggressive spirit in the air, where it isn’t enough simply to have the rites available for those who wish to use them; some want them mandated for all dioceses and all parishes, with no conscience clause for those who disagree. In this debate, I find myself looking for the Anglican spirit of generosity and comprehensiveness. It distresses me that I’m not finding it in great abundance. Make the rites available for dioceses and parishes that want to use them, and have the generosity of spirit to allow a place in the church for those who, in good faith, disagree. Gentleness and reconciliation is what we need now, not “my way or the highway.” You may read a reflection HERE that is thoughtful and balanced.
Again, we are faced with resolutions that call for the Eucharist to be open to those who are unbaptized. I have written about this before, and I am (though I shouldn’t be) puzzled at how folks come to the conclusion that this move makes any sense theologically or liturgically. At the base of the call for “Open Communion” is a confusion of categories. Those who are in favour say that Jesus welcomed all into table fellowship, and so we should, also. They equate table fellowship with the Eucharist, and therein lies the difficulty. Jesus did welcome all to the table, to dine with him. However, at the Passover meal, it was his followers, those who were explicitly his disciples, who shared the meal, the first Eucharist, with him. We must welcome all into the hospitality of the Body of Christ. If there is a meal that is served at church, welcome one and all. If there are any who come on Sunday morning, make sure they are welcome at worship, at coffee hour, and at any other expression of fellowship. Then, share the good news of God’s love for them, and tell them that this love is open to them, too. They can become part of the Body of Christ and share in the Communion that we have with Jesus. I’m thankful that the resolution calling for continued study of this topic, and acceptance of it as “normative” in any way, was defeated in the House of Bishops.
Finally, we took a good run at the first three resolutions out of the Committee on Structure, the fruits of wrestling with the TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) report. One was a blueprint for restructuring the Executive Council, another was to restructure the Standing Commissions and Interim Bodies of General Convention, and another was to set the Budget Process for the Episcopal Church. After an initial period of questions, in preparing for the actual debate, it came to the attention of the President of the House of Deputies that the resolutions in question had not been translated into Spanish. So, in order to allow all deputies, particularly those from Province IX (predominately Spanish-speakers) to have access to the material, the House was adjourned until Wednesday (today), and these will be taken up at our first session.
It is always my intent to try to communicate everything that happens at General Convention. At least, that is my hope when I leave home and head to the triennial gathering. It never happens. There is just too much going on, and to try to capture all of it, even in a cursory way, would take gobble up a large segment of the day. My purpose in being here is to be part of the work of Convention, and I can only hit the high points in my reporting and reflections. My friend, Dan Edwards, who is the Bishop of Nevada, put it this way on his Facebook page for today:
“There is just too much happening to report. The election of Michael Curry as PB, great sermon yesterday by the late Bishop Stephen Plummer’s newly ordained daughter (Navjoland), another great sermon today by Bishop Katharine, the march against gun violence with powerful statements by gun violence victims and a barnburner speech by the PB elect, agonizingly tedious legislative sessions, vitally important progress on putting money back in parishes for local mission, precious fellowship with friends around the country, — just about everything except sleep.”
I will echo the judgement that the Presiding Bishop’s sermon yesterday was excellent. In fact, it was one of the best that I have heard her preach. She took as her text the story of the woman with the flow of blood. Out of the great throng that followed Jesus, this woman, in faith, reached out and touched Jesus’ clothing, hoping to be healed. In fact, she was, along with the daughter of Jairus, whose bringing back to life was contained in the same Gospel reading for yesterday. Bishop Jefferts Schori used the reading as an extended allegory for the life of the Episcopal Church, noting that it had experienced its own hemorrhage, and it would only be by touching Jesus that we would be (have been?) healed. You may read Bishop Katharine’s sermon HERE.
On Saturday, the President of the House of Bishops, in a moment of frustration about the system for determining priority of speakers during debate and the ongoing (very small) glitches in the smart card system for voting and speaking, said, “Maybe we should write a song about swiping our cards.” That evening, back in our room, I did just that. Here is the text, sung to the tune of “O my Darling, Clementine.”
When we gathered, at the outset,
Salt Lake City was sublime,
many hundreds, even thousands,
seeking spots to sup and dine.
We are voting at Convention,
Swipin’ cards and keepin’ time.
With the new House Rules of Order,
It can be quite labyrinthine!
And our President, Gay Jennings,
Gave a law to keep in mind:
When you go to lend your voice, dear,
Swipe your card, and stand in line.
Queues and Parliament’ry order
All prevent an awful crime.
On the screen your name appears not.
Swipe your card, and do not whine!
So the lesson we must learn here,
Memorize it, you’ll be fine,
Is to always swipe your card, dear,
Standing up, or e’en supine.
As I have noted previously, the legislative gears are beginning to turn more quickly. This is a good thing, since there is an enormous volume of resolutions to which we need to attend. For example, we haven’t had any of the resolutions from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), and the Committee on Structure has been burning the candle at both ends to get those matters to the House of Deputies. Stay tuned.
One of the most interesting resolutions to come before us so far was A011: Recommit to Criminal Justice Reform Study and Advocacy. As someone who considers himself to the right of center theologically, and slightly to the left of center on social matters, this resolutions raises issues that are complex, and on which I have mixed thoughts. For example, are there far greater numbers of black and Hispanic men in prison than white men? Clearly, the answer is “Yes.” The important question, it seems to me, is “Why is that?” It is too simplistic to ascribe all of the discrepancy to racism, and it is clear that mandatory sentencing guidelines lead to some being incarcerated when it might be best for them to be in a rehabilitation program of some description. There is a deeper conversation, however, that underlies the discussion of the reform of the criminal justice system, and that is the conversation over the inequality in income, health care, education, and family support between various segments of the U.S. population. And that, indeed, is a most complex conversation, with racial discrimination being but one of many components. A011 is HERE. No one said the work of reconciliation would be simple.
At the end of the day yesterday, there was an enjoyable time of fellowship with the Deputies and Bishops from Province VII and Province III getting together for dinner. We met at Tucano’s Restaurant, and it was a delicious and fun time. These are the gatherings that develop relationships across the Church, and they are good.
Last Thursday, I had lunch with the Very Rev. George Werner, retired Dean of the Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. George and I first met each other when I was the Canon Liturgist at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. In 1992 Christ Church was set to become the Cathedral of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, at the invitation of Bishop Herb Thompson. The Dean, Jim Leo, had asked me to put together a Lenten Series that would help the members of Christ Church reflect on what it would mean to be a Cathedral. I figured the best way to do that was to invite Deans of Cathedrals in surrounding dioceses to come and preach at the evening Eucharist and then to lead the class on each Wednesday in Lent. George was one of the Deans I invited.
George was the President of the House of Deputies at General Convention when I first attended General Convention in 2003 as the first Alternate Deputy from the Diocese of South Carolina. We renewed our acquaintance at that point, and we’ve remained in touch since. I’ve enjoyed our from-time-to-time meals together for two reasons. First, George is a priest of great experience, and so it is helpful to gain perspective on the ministry through his acquired wisdom. Second, he is an absolute font of amazing stories. From politics, to Church, to sports, George has had an incredibly varied life. I know that his good friends have urged him to write a book of his remembrances, and I added my words of hope that he might collect his memoirs so that all could benefit from them.
It was a happy time, then, that yesterday saw the gathering of previous Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the House of Deputies at this General Convention. The occasion was a celebration of the 230th Anniversary of the founding of the House of Deputies in 1785, four years before the first General Convention that included both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. The five on the platform today were Dr. Charles Willie (VP 1970-76), Dean George Werner (Pres. 2000-2006), Bonnie Anderson (Pres. 2006-2012), and Vince Currie (VP 2000-2003), and the current VP of the House, the Hon. Byron Rushing.
The Birthday Party for the House of Deputies was but a prelude to the central act of the day’s drama: the election of the next Presiding Bishop. By now, most will have read many news accounts of the actions of the House of Bishops and the timeline afterward. I’ll only add a couple of thoughts. First, there was such joy and excitement in the House of Deputies as it was announced that the Episcopal Church had elected its first African-American Presiding Bishop. I share that enthusiasm. And yet, even Bishop Curry put into words the question that some had asked: Can a man known for being a preacher and evangelist lead the Episcopal Church? I pray that he can, and that God will bless him and his family during this next nine years, and that his ministry and leadership will be a blessing to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The second notion is that this election presents the Church with an historic opportunity to engage reconciliation at a new level. May God bless us as we walk this path.
One of the great aspects of General Convention is the opportunity to interact with an enormous variety of individuals, lay and clergy, from around the Church. This applies not only to the Episcopal Church, per se, but to the Anglican Communion in general. In General Conventions past that has meant interacting with the Archbishop of Ghana, interviewing the principal of the indigenous theological college in New Zealand, as well as having the pleasure of meeting clergy from Africa, South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan, and elsewhere.
Today was another example of this exciting part of being at this triennial gathering. The Center for Anglican Communion Studies, at the Virginia Theological School, and the Compass Rose Society co-sponsored a lunch event: “Mission and the Future of the Anglican Communion.” The key-note reflection was given by the Rt. Rev. Graham Kings, Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion. Panel participants were the Primates of Brazil, Pakistan, and Korea. The Moderator was the Director of the Center of Anglican Communion Studies, the Rev. Robert Heaney, PhD, DPhil.
Dr. Heaney was a guest of St. John’s Cathedral back in 2009 or so. At that time he was finishing up his doctorate at Oxford University and was preparing to spend three years at St. John’s University in Dodoma, Tanzania. His wife, Sharon, is also a theologian, obtaining her doctorate in contextual theology. Their son, at the time of their sojourn in Tanzania four years old, spent the three years experiencing that new culture. Two years ago he was called to Virginia Seminary to begin a program in Anglican Communion Studies, and the Center has grown out of that work.
The mission of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies is to foster reconciliation, mutuality and cooperation among the 38 Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion. In keeping with Dean Ian Markham’s passion for interfaith relations, the work of the Center also encompasses this aspect of the life of the Communion. Robert’s efforts dovetail quite elegantly with the passion that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has for reconciliation. The Archbishop’s ordained ministry began at Coventry Cathedral, and he is a committed member of the Community of the Cross of Nails, which works relentlessly for peace and reconciliation around the world.
It was fascinating to listen to the three Primates talk about their particular contexts for mission. The Primate of Brazil, Francisco de Assis da Silva, spoke most about the political context in which his church exists, and the debilitating effect that globalization and economic growth have had on the work of the Anglican Church of Brazil, particularly among the marginalized. Samuel Robert Azariah, the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, commented about the parlous state of interfaith relations in his country and the centrality of the need for religious tolerance, of which there is precious little on the part of fundamentalist Islam. Paul Kim, Primate of the Anglican Church of Korea, spoke in moving terms about the concept of neighbour, and how, in Korea, establishing that reality is often difficult, especially with other Christian groups with whom one would expect a natural affinity. When the room was open for questions, one attendee asked, “State your definition of God’s mission in one sentence.” Bishop Azariah said, “The mission of God is the Cross.” Succinct, to the point, and growing directly out of his context. Striking.
In legislative sessions we are getting to the point of considering legislation that has arisen out of the various committees. Thank goodness we’re past the business of establishing the Rules of Order, posting nominees, and the rest of the routine groundwork of Convention. That’s all necessary, but I’m ready to get to the real business of why we’re here. One of the resolutions to come before us yesterday was from the Committee on Stewardship. A089, which can be found HERE, sought to establish “A Donor Bill of Rights” for those who give to the church. It is one of worst misunderstandings of a theology of stewardship that I have ever seen, and the comments from those who spoke against the resolution underscored the lack of understanding that the members of the committee have of stewardship. The resolution would have imposed a legalistic structure on the giving of the church, imposing a burdensome labyrinth of responsibility upon people who already operate from an understanding that people give with the understanding that their gifts will be used wisely and in the spirit for which they were given. The debate was helpful. In the end, the resolution was overwhelmingly defeated.
One of the next resolutions to be considered will be B009, out of Committee 10, on Communications and Evangelism. More about that later.
The work of General Convention is always a bit of a mixed bag. There are hours during which not much happens, at least not much that generates lots of energy and excitement, and then there are stretches when debate heats up, the legislative machine is humming along at high gear, and it’s all you can do to keep up. The first couple of days of General Convention have seen this same mix.
Actually, one of the most interesting events so far was on Wednesday, June 24, the day before the official opening of GC78. It was the joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, for the purpose of introducing the nominees for the next Presiding Bishop. The two houses meet in joint session during each General Convention, at least once, when the report of the Committee for Program, Budget, and Finance is presented to the Convention. There are other occasions, also, particularly if there is an issue that claims the attention of both houses, and during which the presiding officers of both houses wish to address the entire Convention. This, however, was the first time that there has been a joint session for the sole purpose of introducing nominees for the PB election, and during which those nominees were given opportunities for statements, and in which they answered questions offered by deputies.
Rather than try to put together some sort of synopsis of the three hours’ presentation, listing the questions and outlining the answers, you can see the video of this joint session, and hear the questions posed to the nominees, and their questions, HERE.
The nominees for Presiding Bishop are Thomas Breidenthal, Bishop of Southern Ohio; Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina; Ian Douglas, the Bishop of Connecticut; and Dabney Smith, Bishop of Southwestern Florida. These four bishops were proposed by the Joint Nominating Committee, whose work has been carried on over the last three years. They were officially placed in nomination this morning, at the beginning of a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.
Each of the Presiding Bishop nominees followed the required etiquette, stating that any one of the four would make an outstanding Presiding Bishop. It demonstrated a particular camaraderie and fraternal feeling, which was welcome, and there are significant differences between the nominees. I’ll go ahead and tip my hand; my favourite is Bishop Tom Breidenthal from the Diocese of Southern Ohio. I also like Bishop Ian Douglas, from Connecticut. Bishop Breidenthal demonstrates a genuine warmth that arises from a deep love of the Body of Christ and a pastoral and ethical understanding of the difficulty inherent in living as Christian disciples in community. He also has a theological depth that is refreshing and encouraging, without being academic or aloof. His answers to the questions put to him were, for the most part, direct and genuine. Bishop Douglas has a tendency to overthink his answers and tries to walk through the middle of them. It is, perhaps, the result of being the Bishop of a large diocese that, I imagine, is politically difficult. I found myself thinking, “Just tell us what you mean.” What I like about Ian most is his very strong connection to the Anglican Communion. He will work energetically to repair the relationships across the Communion that have been damaged over the last nine to twelve years. That will be much-needed and valuable work.
Bishop Michael Curry is well known in the Episcopal Church. Many speak of his gifts as a preacher and as an orator, and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s not the style of preaching that I most appreciate, but I can see where it would be appealing to folks. He is energetic and passionate. It seems to me, though, that emotion can only get you so far in the church today. We have had two Presiding Bishops now, Griswold and Jefferts Schori, who have a quiet disposition, are not given to passionate expression, and who approach relations with a cool regard. I don’t mean to say that they don’t care about people or the church. I know that is not the case; Bishop Katharine cares with her heart about the people of God and their common mission. I’m concerned about the pendulum effect, that we elect a bishop “who is not Katharine,” in trying to find someone who is warm, engaging, and outwardly passionate. At some point, one needs to set emotional appeal aside and engage at a serious theological level that builds bridges across the Communion.
Bishop Smith strikes me as a genuine soul who desires reconciliation and mutual caring. That has been his work in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, and he seems to have done it well. His answers to most of the questions posed to him, though, tended to be of a different quality than either Bishop Breidenthal or Bishop Douglas.
In the end, it comes down to a question of what the House of Bishops discerns the Episcopal Church needs at the moment. An evangelical orator with passion and fire? A caring pastor who works toward reconciliation and interdependence? A theologian of a more careful nature, striving to draw us more closely into the Communion? An able administrator who is also a gifted theologian who understands the life of the baptized and seeks the good of the Body of Christ? By Saturday afternoon, we’ll know.