July 5, 2012
It has been a very long and full day here at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church! We started with a legislative sessions at 8:00 am and I have just now gotten back from my last meeting at 11:30 pm. Let me give you some of the quick highlights and I will write more in the morning when I can see straight.
The Legislative session this morning was about “organizing” the convention. The President of the House of Deputies appointed a Chaplain and a parliamentarian (strangely complimentary positions) for the House. A quorum was certified. We elected a Secretary of the House of Deputies… Lots of prep work so that we could report to the House of Bishops that we were organized and ready to proceed to business. We are a bicameral legislature so while we were organizing the House of Bishops was busy organizing itself and sent representatives to report to us that they were likewise ready to proceed to business. It was most fitting that at this point our “business” meant adjourning for the opening Eucharist.
The Presiding Bishop’s sermon was a good one, calling us to action as a church and asking us to leave our self interest behind to “work together for the commonweal of God’s created world.” Here is a passage that I thought was one of the highlights of her sermon:
“Our ongoing challenge is to look beyond our own interests to God’s intent for this world. That will continue to be our challenge until the end of all things, for there is nothing so characteristic of sin as the centrality of our own self-interest. We will have repeated opportunities here to remember and to turn around. We will have opportunities to reach beyond ourselves to neighbors here and far away. The good gifts that we crave for ourselves and our own families are the same ones that God intends for all his children. “
An afternoon of Committee meetings was followed by another legislative session, this one from 4:30 to 6:30. We passed resolutions giving consent to the election of 8 bishops elect, my good friend from Seminary Jeff Wright Fisher, suffragan, Diocese of Texas being one of them! We tweaked several rules of order, passed resolutions expressing gratitude to our Presiding Bishop and to the past Presidents of the House of Deputies, and we passed two resolutions that could have a real effect on the budget.
We passed resolution A007:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church re-affirm resolution 2009-D027 (Five Marks of Mission:
1) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2) To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3) To respond to human need by loving service
4) To seek to transform unjust structures of society
5) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth)
as the framework for the 2013–2015 budget.
If you have been following the budget debate you know that the Five Marks of Mission form the organizing principles behind the budget that the Presiding Bishop proposed a couple of weeks ago. I think that this is a solid step. It feels like we may be moving towards some form of consensus. That is really good news!
The effect of the other two resolutions on the budget is other resolution that we passed is a little more murky. I’ll talk about one of them to illustrate why their impact isn’t so sure.
We passed resolution C100
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 77th General Convention directs PB&F to restore $300,000 to the Youth Ministries Budget for the Episcopal Youth Event.
The funding for the triennial national gathering of Episcopal Youth (EYE) was stripped from the budget proposed by Program, Budget, and Finance. The de-funding of Christian Formation programming at the national level was one of the reasons people were so opposed to the original budget. We heard from many members of the official Youth Presence at convention this afternoon and there was no way that we could ignore their impassioned please to restore the funding for this ministry. But of course nothing is simple in the real world.
The House of Deputies directed Program, Budget, and Finance to restore the funding for EYE, and the President of the House of Deputies told us that she has directed PB&F and Dispatch of Business to give priority resolutions that might impact the budget, but if PB&F cannot find the funding for this ministry they may propose a budget that does not include underwriting this important program. How was that for a run on sentence? I think that it was absolutely perfect in its description of the position that we are in. We can pass all of the resolutions that we want. In the end we will need to make some hard decisions about the budget and what we can fund and what we cannot. It will be interesting to see how PB&F balances the House’s desire to fund this program with the other needs and desires of the church.
Which leads me to the real nuggets of the day.
After dinner this even there was a two hour hearing led by the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church. We now have pages upon pages of resolutions offering a way forward as we seek to restructure the church for mission in the 21st century. These resolutions have been proposed by commissions, committees, dioceses, and deputations and I was amazed and very pleased at the tenor of the conversation as people came forward to speak to the resolutions. We seemed to be of one mind! We all acknowledged that, “our 18th century structures no longer serve us.” And that we need “creative, significant, adaptive change.” That “we need a new structure that will allow us to make, equip and send disciples into the world.” So if we are of one mind why do we need so many resolutions? Well there is the rub. There are a lot of ideas about how we go about changing and how fast we should move.
Should we call a Special Convention that will be scheduled between now and the next triennial gathering in 2015? Do we call a Constitutional Convention to address our constitution and canons? Do we assemble a special commission to look at ways to restructure the church we love? Now you begin to understand the monumental task that faces the Committee on Resolutions and Dispatch of Business. They are going to take all of the resolutions that deal with the structure of the church and try to distill them down to a few representative resolutions that we will be able to deal with on the floor of convention. That will be quite a job!
It is now going on 12:30 and I need to sign off but I don’t want to leave you under the weight of this massive undertaking. I would rather leave you with word of my final meeting this evening. The Acts 8 Moment started out as the brainchild of three of the bloggers I have linked to on the Saint Andrew’s General Convention Resources web page. Here is their premise:
The Episcopal Church is in an Acts 8 Moment. Everything is changing, and the only thing to do is to go where the Holy Spirit leads!
We gathered tonight to pray, study the scripture, and to dream.
“That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:1, 4-8).
By the end of the evening we had begun something very powerful. One by one people came to the microphone at the front of the room and in one sentence completed the statement, “I dream of a church…..”
I will write more about this tomorrow but I hope that you will take a look at a couple of articles about The Acts 8 Moment that is happening at this General Convention. And I hope that you will begin to formulate some answers to the open ended statement above. You can even go The Acts 8 Moment facebook page and add your dream to the growing list.
Like Phillip we need to face this crisis with an act of Proclamation. When we do, when we begin to dream and to share, when we follow where the Holy Spirit leads us there will be great joy!