July 11, 2012
This was a different kind of day for me. The Diocese of Milwaukee sent four Lay and four Clergy Deputies to General Convention. The Diocese also sent one Lay Alternate and one Clergy Alternate. When I got up this morning I knew I needed The Rev. Anna Doherty, Rector of Saint Aiden’s Hartford, to take my seat on the floor. I was glad that she was here to give me a chance rest.
I went to the morning session to hear the beginning of our discussion of the budget. We adopted a special rule that allowed us to sit in small groups and share our thoughts and concerns for 15 minutes. We then discussed the budget using the microphones placed around the room but with a 45-minute suspension on the ability to amend, substitute, or call the question. When the time allotted for the “Committee of the Whole” we began returned to our usual rules of order. The conversations in small groups were interesting and helpful. The fact that some dioceses are not paying the full asking to the church is a major concern for some people. Some dioceses cannot afford to pay the full 19% asking. Others seem to be making a political statement, voting with their checkbook, or simply choosing to keep the funding at home. There was a call for some accountability and a system whereby diocese might explain the circumstances around their lack of financial support for the work of the larger church.
The discussion before the larger group demonstrated the care and concern people have for this church, its ministries and programs and their commitment to good stewardship of the resources and gifts that we have. It was a very encouraging conversation… but it was still going strong at 12:45 and we suspended the debate for lunch.
Before heading off to lunch Anna Doherty and I went to the certification desk and filled out the paperwork that would allow her onto the floor for the afternoon session.
At 2:00 the rest of our deputation took their lunch, which had just arrived at the tables, stuffed it into to-go boxes and rushed across the street for the afternoon legislative session. I sat and ate with a young member of the deputation from Southern Virginia who had spoken before the house during the budget debate. I had never met him before but we had extra seats at our table and we grabbed the next party of two waiting for a table and invited them to join us. This has been a wonderful time to meet people and to learn about other parts of the church. Of course it turned out that we had several friends and acquaintances in common. We had a great conversation.
After lunch I sat in on the House of Deputies. This was the first time I had ventured down the hall and “across the aisle.” My first impression was that they are a much smaller group. We have 840, plus or minus a few, on the floor of the House f Deputies every day. There are only about 150 Bishops in their room at the convention center. The only way to conduct a conversation with a group as large as the House of Deputies is to adhere strictly to the rules of order. We are reminded often that we are not to applaud unless given leave by the President. The turn taking procedures are strictly adhered to and the conversation, most of the time, seems stiff and formal. There are exceptions of course. There are funny moments and laughter. But if we are going to accomplish the work before us, and do it with decorum and grace, and if we want to leave convention with a common understanding and interpretation of what has transpired, we need to follow the rules. Things are a little more relaxed in the House of Bishops.
Unlike the House of Deputies, which gathers every three years, the House of Bishops gathers several times a year. They all know each other pretty well. The House of Deputies sits at long straight tables neatly arranged in ranks and files on the floor of the house and go to one of eight microphones set up on the floor. The Bishops sit gathered at round tables with a microphone on each table. And raise a card when they wish to speak and the house of Bishops lacks the two “jumbo tron” screens that hang on either side of the platform on the House of Deputies. I had spent so many hours on the floor of the House of Deputies that it took me while to get oriented.
I didn’t stay long. I wasn’t there to monitor and track the legislation they were addressing. I really wanted to observe how they worked, how they related to one another, and how they function as the House of Bishops. I was delighted with what I saw. They were serious about their work. The questions asked and the points being offered were important and valuable but they were also able to laugh. At one point the Presiding Bishop had to remove her glasses and wipe tears from her eyes she was laughing so hard! Our won bishop allowed his sense of humor to show he rose to speak. It was a collegial and close knit group. It made me proud.
I returned to the House of Deputies to find that it is much harder to follow the legislative process from the visitor’s gallery that it is when you are on the floor. People are coming and going. Friends stop by to say hello and chat. And people all around you are engaged in a variety of activities: caucusing their small groups, organizing to hand out literature, searching for the volunteer who is supposed to cover the next shift… And I thought the floor of the House was a busy place! There is special seating for alternates only and I suppose I could have moved to that calmer environment. But I was so tired at that point it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. So I allowed my introvert to take shelter with a small group of seminary friends and I watched the chaos swirl around me.
By the end of the afternoon the House had passed a budget,
We still have over 60 resolutions to address. Tomorrow we have a legislative session from 8:00 am to 11:00 am. The closing Eucharist is scheduled for 11:30 to 12:45. Our final legislative session begins at 2:45 and we are scheduled to adjourn around 5:00. It will be a very busy day.
So how do you wrap up something like the General Convention? I am not sure what you would do but several members of the Milwaukee Deputation are considering doing something completely different and going to see Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter tomorrow night. Maybe when all of this is over I’ll turn my attention from Convention to movie reviews!