July 6, 2012
Day 3 of the 77th General Convention is winding down. I have lost track of what day of the week it is and am amazed that t is only Friday. We will be here for another week! It is a little hard to imagine how we will keep up this pace but I am expecting that as we get into some of the more controversial issues there will be plenty of adrenaline to go along with the caffeine that we are already consuming. I experienced a little of that adrenaline rush today.
At our afternoon legislative session we addressed an issue that has come before the convention on numerous occasions. Should the church sell the property that it owns at 815 Second Avenue in Manhattan? Why would we want to sell prime real estate in New Your City? The article from Episcopal New Service that describes today’s deliberations on this resolution offers some insight:
“The resolution’s explanation noted that the building will cost more than $11 million to operate over the next three years. Debt service amounts to $8.7 million, with facilities management nearly $6.5 million. Rental income offsets those expenses by just over $4 million, for a net cost of $11,093,156.”
That is a lot of money for a building that is underutilized by the church. We have been renting space to other organizations but the cost of owning and maintaining this piece of property is hard to justify today. Another clip from the ENS article:
“The Rev. Frank Hubbard, deputy from New Jersey, urged deputies to agree. He said, ‘815 Second Avenue is the relic of our delusions of being an established church from an imperial era. Constantine has left the building. Unfortunately, Constantine has left us the building.’”
This line got a good laugh but I think that it demonstrates the mood and mind of this convention. Here is a quote from Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas:
“The governing system is broken and we can fix that. We can change that. People are not happy with us spending this much money to talk to each other about people who are not here. … People are not happy that we have a building in New York that takes millions of dollars out of our missionary operations. They are not happy, and we have known that for years. How many studies have we done? Do we need to study it again? … Let’s force change. Don’t study it. Let’s sell . We in this committee have the power to make change happen.”
I wrote last night about the hearing on the structure of the church. There were 51 resolutions on the table, each of them attempting to address the need for change. Today the Committee on Structure began the work of synthesizing all of those resolutions into something that we can address on the floor of convention. The ENS article that reporting on the structure debate has some great lines:
“Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe led off the testimony insisting that ‘the church structure as it is now is on the verge of imploding.’
‘We don’t need out-of-the-box thinking,” he said. “We need to proclaim that there is no box.’”
“Atlanta Bishop Neil Alexander warned that ‘we can’t have any idols, we can’t have any sacred cows’ while deciding how to develop ‘a new structure and a new approach to doing mission in the 21st century.’”
“Lynn Schmissrauter, chair of the East Tennessee deputation, said her diocese is ‘longing for a different, joyful, life-giving, energizing, nimble, courageous, aerodynamic structure for our church.’ But, she said, if something is tried and it fails, ‘we’re not going to get all wadded up about it.’”
So what did we do this afternoon in the midst of this call for change? We voted to direct the Executive Council to sell the Church Center at 815 Second Avenue! There is talk of moving the church staff to a more appropriate size facility, with easy travel access, and lower upkeep and maintenance costs. I wonder if we could get cities to compete for the right to host the Episcopal Church the way they compete to host the Olympics? Stay tuned because the resolution passed by the House of Deputies now goes before the House of Bishops. The book isn’t closed on this one but the movement is becoming clear. We are about to engage in some intentional change! Thanks be to God!
Yesterday I wrote about The Acts 8 Moment gathering that I attended. There is another piece of that experience that I would like to share. At the conclusion of the Bible Study, after we had had the opportunity to come to the microphone and complete the sentence, “I dream of a church….” we began to talk about next steps. What did we want to do to keep this conversation moving? There were some in the room who thought that we should nominate someone who shared our passion and dream to run for President of the House of Deputies. Others thought that we should write and propose resolutions for the convention that would help the church to become the church that we all dreamed of. As we broke up into affinity groups to continue our next steps conversations I joined a group of people brainstorming about “extra legislative” ways to keep the movement alive.
I think that what we were all experiencing last night was a longing for a spiritual re awakening in the church. We were talking about a church that was willing to open its doors, take risks, love the people who were on the “outside,” and to proclaim the Gospel boldly. That doesn’t feel like something that we can legislate. In fact, I believe that attempts to legislate the kind of movement that we were dreaming of would be antithetical to our purpose. I think that there is another way.
I think that we need to have a conversation using every channel, method, media, and opportunity available to us; a conversation that will help people to describe the church that they long to know. I think that we need to have that conversation and then let it inform the legislative process, the leadership that we elect, the decisions we make about structure, and our future together as the Body of Christ.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that we should walk away from the legislative process. It is through our participation that our voices will be heard. We need to elect leadership that is open to the kind of change that we long for and we need to push for structural changes that will free us up to do the reconciling work we are called to do. But if The Acts 8 Moment becomes politicized, if it becomes, in the words of one of the Diocese of Milwaukee’s seminarians, “an occupy General Convention” movement then we are lost before we begin. We have to do the transformative relational work first.
That is why in last nights report on day two of convention I urged people to read about The Acts 8 Moment and to begin to formulate their own response.
“I dream of a church….”
Earlier today I posted a link to a YouTube video of people responding in the moment. I hope that you will look at that video and continue to dream. This is a conversation that we need to have in our churches, in our convocations, in our dioceses, and yes, here at our General Convention because “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!”
Tomorrow we have a 4 hour legislative session on the floor of the House of Deputies. We won’t know until the morning which resolutions have cleared committee and dispatch of business. But four hours is a long time to be on the floor of convention no matter what you are talking about!
Tomorrow night there is a legislative hearing on “Resolution A049 – Authorize Blessing of Same Gender Relationships.” I will be at that hearing and will report out to you tomorrow night.