July 10, 2012
So much to say… So little time…
The only way to deal with everything that happened at the 77th General Convention today is to take them chronologically from the opening of the legislative session this morning.
The first big items to hit the floor today were resolutions D008 and B005, responding to the Anglican Covenant.
It is amazing to me how invested we all are in what is happening here. When I recognized that these resolutions were before us I got a real adrenaline rush. I texted Dorota Pruski, the Seminarian from our Diocese who has been following these resolutions through committee to make sure that she was in the house. She responded that she was in the visitor’s gallery behind us and that she was “nervous.” So was I! The first couple of speakers made it clear how critical these resolutions are.
The Rev. Tobias Haller, Deputy from the Diocese of New York, told us that the Continuing Indaba process, is the lifeblood and breath of the Anglican Communion. According the Anglican Communion web site “Continuing Indaba a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.” Deputy Cole from the Diocese of Colorado said, “We don’t need a piece of paper to be in relationship with one another. We need to be in relationship with one another and the Continuing Indaba Process puts us in relationship.” Affirming our commitment to the Anglican Communion keeps us part of the conversation and keeps us in relationship with one another.
The first resolution, D008 Affirm Anglican Communion Participation, passed pretty easily. Resolution B005 Ongoing Commitment to the Anglican Covenant Process was going to be a different story. There were articles published last night that decried this resolution as contrary to the will of the House. People had overwhelmingly expressed a desire to vote with a resounding “no” on the Anglican Covenant. This resolution called for us to not vote on adopting the covenant at all.
In the end one of the members of the Committee that produced the resolution said it perfectly. “This resolution is not about our wants but about the needs of the church. What we need is a way to be in dialog, not to satisfy our need for winners and losers.” He went on to say “There are many people who would like to say ‘no’ to the Covenant, and to say it with a vivid hand gesture. But that would not be helpful. That is not what we need.” There was no pressure on us to vote one way or the other. With so many of our partners in the Anglican Communion having rejected the Covenant it is not going to be a decisive factor in the life of the Anglican Communion anyway. Why respond to our Communion Partners with a vivid hand gesture when there is so little at stake for us?
Dorota and I breathed a sigh of relief and shared our pride in our church when Resolution D008 passed!
Next up… The election of the next President of the House of Deputies!
Coming into convention there were two clear candidates. Martha Alexander, a Trustee of the Church Pension Fund and N.C. states legislator, and The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, former Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Ohio, staff member of the church wellness group Credo, and former member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council. Both are well established members of the larger church and would seem to have all of the credentials necessary for leading the House of Deputies.
In the days since The Acts 8 Movement first broke here at General Convention another candidate came to the fore. The Rev. Canon Frank Logue of the Diocese of Georgia accepted calls for his nomination and announced his willingness to stand for election just a few days ago.
In the end The Rev. Gail Jennings won the election but I was struck by the numbers that were reported to us. Gail Jennings received 426 votes. Martha Alexander received 140. Frank Logue received 266! In my mind the number of votes cast for a last minute candidate who “ran” on a platform of change says a lot about the mind of the church and the reality that the status quo is no longer acceptable!
After lunch we did something that I have been wishing for since the second day of convention. Last night my good friend the Rev. Gary Manning of Trinity Wauwatosa, who is here working for Living Compass in the Exhibition Hall, asked me what I found the most exciting about convention. I told him that I was surprised how little interaction the House of Deputies has with the House of Bishops. It is almost like we are locked in parallel processes and we only communicate with one another through official messages, duly reported and logged in our convention binders. I told Gary that I wished we could have more dialog.
Well this afternoon the Bishops all came into the House of Deputies and sat with us in plenary session for a presentation of the budget by Program, Budget and Finance. Before the legislative session resumed there were photo ops, people milling around and chatting, greeting one another, looking for people to take the camera and record the moment. It was wonderful. At the conclusion of the presentation of the budget the Presiding Bishop said that she hope we would find a way to bring the two houses together more often at future conventions. And then, echoing the call of the Acts 8 Moment she asked us, “What is it that you dream for this church in the coming years and what gift or art do you have to offer to that dream?” It was another in a long list of wonderful moments at General Convention!
So what about the budget? There was a power point presentation. There was a narrative description. And there was a handout, 15 pages long. I can give you some basic facts and numbers and then, since I haven’t had a moment to look closely at the budget myself, I will give you some links to other people’s thoughts and commentary.
The “asking” of each diocese for the coming triennium is still 19%
Between the Diocesan Asking and the draw from our endowments (a total of 5.8%), and some rental income from the property at 815 we will generate $111,500,000.
The budget, as presented has a surplus of $30,000.
The budget uses the model offered by the Presiding Bishop and is built around the five marks of mission.
Money has been restored for Lifelong Christian Formation and for the Episcopal Youth Event.
There is money for “block grants” to fund Mission Enterprise Zones and Church Planting.
There is a one time allocation of funds to establish a Development Office.
The General Board of Examining Chaplains (the folks who write, manage, and grade the General Ordination Exams) has been funded as has The College of Bishops (training and formation for newly elected Bishops).
There is $200,000 in the budget for “restructuring the church.”
The budget also imposes some cuts in staff at the Church Office. The Budget requires the elimination of 12 staff positions, or 10.75 fte.
I will write more about the implications of the budget as we have a chance to study it together.
Next up… Resolution C095 Structural Reform.
With all of the talk about change…
With at least 51 resolutions offering ideas and process…
With about 840 deputies on the floor of the House of Deputies…
How were we going to make sense of this?
We did it by voting unanimously!
After a period of discussion we sat quietly as the President of the House of Deputies said, “All in favor say ‘Yes.’” There was a resounding response.
We waited for the other shoe to drop. “All opposed say ‘no.’”
Silence! The President’s eyebrows, visible on the “jumbo tron” went up. She looked around the room. A smile began to cross her face and you could feel the energy grow! She stood up, raised her hands inviting all of us to stand and then we clapped, cheered, hugged, and sang!
The Committee on structure had written new words to the hymn Come thou font of every blessing. The final repeating lines of each stanza were, “Sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and grace.” I am getting goose bumps even now! The committee on structure promised to publish the rest of the words and I will send them along as soon as I have them. There are some videos on face book but the audio quality isn’t good enough to catch all of the words. I hope that we got some good video footage because I would love to give you a sense of the Spirit that filled the house at this magical moment!
Here is some commentary on the resolution on structure:
Earlier in the day we had passed a resolution setting a time certain to begin work on Resolution A049 Authorization to Bless Same Gender Relationships. We finished the work on the resolution on structure at 4:48. We took up A049 at 5:00. Right on schedule!
I think that the arguments on both sides of this issue have been well rehearsed. We have been working this conversation pretty intensely in the last several months and I wrote about the debate in the House of Bishops yesterday. But there was one new wrinkle today and it was of our own making. If the Anglican Communion is so important to us, if the Continuing Indaba process is so crucial, if we really want to stay at the table, why would we approve this resolution and stir the pot all over again? Earlier today we passed D008 and B005 telling our brothers and sisters around the world that we value them and want to stay at the table, in conversation, in communion. Why then would we take this action and risk rupturing those relationships?
You can see that this is a good question and it makes you stop and think. Are we being hypocritical if we authorize the use of these blessing rites? I think that the key to this question is what is at stake for us as we address both the covenant and the blessing rites.
I stated earlier that there was little at stake for us in a vote on the Anglican Covenant. So many of the other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England where it “originated” have already rejected it that our vote doesn’t really matter. The Covenant not be a major factor in the life of the Anglican Communion whether we vote yes or no. It would make a difference to us at home if we voted yes. There are parts of the covenant that would likely force us to change our polity. But choosing not to vote and to affirm our commitment to the communion and to the Continuing Idaba process leaves us in a place to be in conversation.
I believe that there is a lot at stake for us in our decisions around the blessing of same-gender relationships. As I have said before I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading us into all truth. Not a new truth but a deeper and better understanding of the truth that was revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The incarnational evidence that we have experienced in the lives and partnerships of the LGBT people in our midst has called us to reexamine our understanding of scripture and we have seen that our tradition, our interpretation of our holy texts has been wrong. There is a lot at stake here!
We have been working these issues since General Convention since 1976. Our brothers and sisters in Christ, right here in our churches, in our pews, kneeling beside as at the rail… they have been waiting, longing, hurting for this moment. In our refusal to acknowledge God’s light in their lives and in their unions with one another we have done them unspeakable harm. In forcing people to hide the truth about themselves, in shaming them about the way that they are made, in asking them to wait until we get it right and it is comfortable for us to acknowledge the manifestation of God that we see in them we have wounded one another and we have wounded ourselves in a way that I believe is indefensible. There is a lot at stake here!
So what do we say to our brothers and sisters around the world? What have we said to them today?
I believe that we have told them that they are deeply important to us. We have told them we believe that we are diminished when we are alienated one from another and that we want to be at the table in communion with them. I believe that we have also told them that our LGBT brothers and sisters are important to us as well, that when one of us is diminished we are all diminished and that we are working very hard to love one another in the ways that God loves us. In a world that seems increasingly hostile to any colors but black and white we have offered, in love, the best we know how, a response that is nuanced, honest, and grounded in love.
The discussion on the floor of the house was difficult. When you have 840 people wanting to be heard, working through something this sensitive and charged, it is difficult to stay focused and calm. Dorota and I were texting back and forth, wishing that we could move to a calmer place as we worked through the legislative wrangling in the closing minutes of debate. Then one of my seminary classmates, The Rev. Phil Dinwiddie, Deputy from the Diocese of Michigan, rose for a Point of Personal Privilege. “Madam President, is it too soon to pray?”
The laughter that filled the room broke the tension. The President called the chaplain to the podium and we all took a moment to remind ourselves why we were there. Then a vote by orders was conducted. A few more housekeeping items were discharged, and we prayed again. President Anderson then announced the results of the vote for resolution A049 and adjourned the house.
In the Lay order the resolution passed by 78%. In the Clergy order it passed by 76%.
It has been a long day!