Thursday, July 09, 2009

General Convention, Day 2, Thursday, July 9

Thursday, July 9 - Day Two

Early start with committee meetings at 7:00 a.m.

In Prayer Book and Liturgy, we worked to perfect a series of new "Commons" - special orders of collects, readings and proper prefaces for new observances such as Commons for Artists and Writers, Care of God's Creation, Goodness of God's Creation, Anniversary of a Disaster, Prophetic Witnesses, etc.

It is often said that sausage is delicious, but you don't want to watch it being made. We had some sausage-making moments as we worked hard to perfect these commons. We made progress, but had to quit at 9:15.

We began with our first "Mission Conversations" at 9:45. After some instruction, eight of us at our small table each told a story about ourselves and a time of choice important in our lives. We each had two minutes. Then we had five minutes of debriefing to help us understand what each of us heard.

Our Eucharist began at 11:30. Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles presided, alternating beautifully between English and Spanish.

Our meditation was by The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop began with a preamble. He first said "thank you" for our invitation to him and for our willingness to engage in conversation within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It is hard conversation, and many feel impatient, compromised, harassed, etc. It won't get easier. Secondly, he wanted to be open and self-defining about his own hopes and anxieties. He said that he hoped the Convention would not make decisions which would push the communion further apart. He said that the Communion is deeply concerned because the Anglican Communion values what the Episcopal Church can give to the rest of the Church and he hopes the bonds of relationship will be deepened. Quoting St. Paul to the Corinthians, "God knows we love you."

Continuing his meditation, +Rowan invoked a vision of the church to which we have been called. Quoting from the Gospel reading (John 15:15-17), the Archbishop said "His Word makes us his friends." God has allowed us to overhear the eternal conversation of the Son with the Father whom he calls "Abba." We are allowed within earshot of the intimacy betwen the Father and the son, an intimacy which Jesus opens to the world. It is a fact of our being in Jesus that we are in intimate union with God.

God's longing for humanity is broken open for love. There is a cost. In the divine freedom, God makes light, creates community which forms humanity. We are called forth from nothingness. Even now we stand over the abyss: sin, the nothing out of which God has called us, perpetually threatens to cause us to slip back into emptiness. Jesus faces full the strange power of nothingness. Jesus dies because we do not want to die, to die to our fantasies. Yet he, in his love, is indestructible. The Church, in Christ, looks death in the face and declares it to be overcome.

Yet we continue to collude with death. The Archbishop gave a litany of ways that we are destroying our creation, especially in the ecology and economy. But the church names death and promises life. We must give up trying to justify ourselves. We must recognize that life is not our achievement. When we accept our helplessness, "our name is spoken by God," and we are called friends.

During lunch I enjoyed some fascinating conversations led by Jenny Te Paa, a seminary dean from New Zealand and a member of the original Windsor Report panel. She was joined by a professor of history from Oxford who advises the Church of England House of Bishops. Both of them spoke of the gifts that the Episcopal Church can give to the Anglican Communion.

There is a freshness and fearlessness present in the Episcopal Church that is absent in many of the other Anglican provinces. Some of that is due to our structure, which includes empowered voices other than bishops, and due to the significant contributions of women in our church leadership. In many parts of the church, gay and lesbian Anglicans and their pastors are counting on us to stand up and speak for them, for they are often silenced and many live in life threatening circumstances.

At 2:00, a crowd that I estimated a crowd to be about 400 showed up for our committee's hearings about a series of resolutions addressing same-sex blessings and marriage.

Some of the resolutions that received comment involved changing the canons of the church to reflect some of the gender neutrality that is now present in the secular laws of several states. These resolutions would substitute the word "spouse" where the words "husband or wife" appear, and either "two adults" or "two persons" where the words "a man and a woman" appear in the church's canons. The intent would be to allow, but not require, bishops and clergy in dioceses where same-sex civil marriage or civil union is allowed to give our members access to those rites. Other resolutions would authorize the preparation of trial rites for same-sex union blessings or adapt the Prayer Book rites toward marriage equality. One proposal would allow the bishop or Ecclesiastical Authority to authorize rites for "diocesan liturgies for blessing same-gender committed relationships of enduring love, mutuality and fidelity," while protecting the conscience of any bishop or clergy." And a final resolution seeks to designate Inquiring and Discernment Parishes that would offer pastoral blessings and report back to the church an evaluation of their experience.

Some of the comments from the two hour hearing:

Speaking against the proposals, a deputy overheard a teen say, "The prophets were a bunch of straight men who said what God would not say." These blessings are contrary to the word of the prophets. To allow them would be to teach children not to trust the Word of God.

Just like the ordination of women at an earlier Convention, the presence of committed, blessed gay couples is "not longer a theory to be considered but a reality to be recognized."

From a bishop: 36 years ago, 1973, we changed our canons to allow remarriage after divorce - despite the clear teaching of scripture, a wealth of ethical tradition, and a core understanding about the meaning of the marriage. We did so out of grace, compassion and pastoral mercy for people whose marriages had died. Gay people now ask for what heterosexual persons secured for themselves years ago. We must cease to heap burdens upon others that we would not carry.

These proposals would change the earliest of scriptures, Genesis 2 which defines marriage as the union of man and woman.

A mother spoke of her child, adopted from Korea as an infant. We knew he was gay by age three, she said. When we realized, we left the Roman Catholic Church and became Episcopalian. We would not have our child grow up in an environment where he would be treated as a lesser child. He is now 22. Like any mom, I pray that he will find the love of his life, and that when that man comes along, we can celebrate the joy of his marriage in our church.

A California priest told of his parish's experience during the open window when marriage equality was allowed in their state. Their Vestry passed a resolution declaring for all couples equal access to the sacraments. He and his staff of priest performed marriages for 46 gay couples during the months it was legal in California. He said he was so humbled during the pre-marriage preparation sessions with these couples, and he recognized his own arrogance as a straight man. The shortest time any of these gay couples had already been together was eight years. They ranged from 8 to 38 years together. The couple in their 70's who had been together 38 years told him that the love between them was so big, it could only be divine.

A woman said that same-gender blessings were not accepted by a majority of the greater communion of our churches or the greater Christian communion. She fears we will experience further bleed-out.

A gay priest told how the church has always stood by him. When he recognized his sexual orientation as a teen, he came to his priest and said, "I can't take communion. I'm gay." The priest said, "So? We've known that about you for a long time." When his bishop approached him about the possibility of his having a priestly vocation, he said, "No, Bishop. I'm gay." The bishop said, "So?" He is thankful for the church's consistent support.

A 17 year old high school graduate told about how much the annual week of summer camp had meant to her. The community she experienced there was formative. Among her friends was a boy who was gay. He was accepted; he was their friend; his sexual orientation was a non-issue for them. In his suicide note, when he took his life in junior high school, he said he could no longer live in a world where he was accepted only one week in the year.

One person told of listening to the stories of African, Asian, and Latin American GLBT persons who live under the threat of beatings, exile and death. They are looking to us for support. For them it is a life and death issue.

Another woman said she is liberal, but she is worried that we are becoming a community of the fundamentalist left. We are not working to be inclusive of the right. Do we yet know theologically what is the distinction between marriage and sacred union?

A young Massachusetts woman announced to her Irish Catholic family that she and her partner of five years were getting married. The family had not previously showed much understanding or support of their relationship, but her aunts and uncles were suddenly enthusiastic about the announcement. "They may not understand my sexuality, but they understand weddings." The rites and celebrations are important.

A woman spoke of her husband of eight years who told her he was uncertain about his sexuality. They went to counseling for seven years, and finally ended their marriage. She has recently happily remarried. "I have the freedom to marry." Her husband who now identifies himself as gay does not have that freedom. She wishes for him the same rights and joy that she has.

A member of the church in Europe said that civil rights do not automatically make church rights. We need theology, especially in parts of the Anglican world that still believes that homosexuals are sinners.

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Love his law. It is God's law that same-gender relationships are wrong.

An 18 year old member of the Youth presence at General Convention said she is gay. She is her parents' only child. She wants us to hurry up and pass rites for her parents' sake and her own, so that she can be married from the church, not only buried from the church. Her father wants to walk her down the aisle.

4:30 p.m. - The House of Deputies reconvened for a Legislative session.

Chaplain Frank Wade offered the day's meditation.

In theology, we rarely have what might be called a "breakthrough." We move slowly. Not often does theology say, "This just in..." "Film at 11.."

But the High Priestly Prayer of John 17 is just such a breakthrough moment. Jesus prayed to the Father, "Make us one and you and I are one." That prayer was answered with a resounding "Yes!" Because of that response, We Are One.

It is said that when Einstein learned of the atomic bomb, he said, "This changes everything, except the way people think." When God said "yes" to Jesus' prayer, this changed everything except the way people think. We think as if unity were a goal to strive for rather than a reality.

Ubuntu. Our distinctiveness comes from our connectedness. Like gravity, it's not just a good idea; it's the law.

History is full of stories of separation. But, mark this well: Because of God's answer to this prayer, separation is the organizational experience of a theological impossibility. We are one, just as Jesus and the Father are one. The prayer has been answered, and the answer is "Yes." "Film at 11..."

After a failed attempt to work the electronic voting machines, we moved to a special order to engage in conversation about B-033, passed at the 2006 General Convention.

A bit of history. (I hope my notes are correct.)

The Windsor Report of October, 2004 asked the question, How does the Anglican Communion address the relationship between its component, autonomous parts? Three conclusions: 1. Churches should refrain from electing or consenting to the election of a bishop whose manner of life further strains relations within the communion. 2. Churches should refrain form authorizing rites for same-gender relationships. 3. Churches should refrain from intervening activities in dioceses other than their own.

The 2006 General Convention passed several resolutions, including an expression of regret for the pain caused to other members of the Communion, and a commitment to listening to other parts of the church. But when a special committee offered a resolution mandating our refraining from consent to the election of a bishop in a non-celibate same-sex relationship, it failed.

Fearing that we had made no adequate response to the Windsor Report, late in the Convention, the House of Bishops wrote and passed B033. The House of Deputies suspended the rules to consider and to pass the resolution which strongly urged the church not to elect or consent to a bishop whose manner of life might cause offense to other parts of the communion.

In Fall 2006, the Joint Standing Committee and Primates of the Anglican Consultative Council judged that the response of the Episcopal Church was an adequate response to the Windsor process. Some Bishops and Archbishops disagreed with that judgement and intervened to disagree.

At the Lambeth Conference of May 2007, the Bishop of New Hampshire was not invited.

In September 2007, the House of Bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC re-affirmed B033 and judged that the Episcopal Church had "clarified all outstanding questions."

The Archbishop of Canterbury then solicited opinions among the Anglican bishops in March 2008. There were three types of responses. 1/3 concurred that all outstanding questions had been clarified; 1/3 said the Episcopal Church had not responded adequately; 1/3 didn't respond.

In Mary 2009 the ACC reaffirmed the moratorium.

Now where are we? There was no timetable given for any moratorium. The moratorium of restraint regarding diocesan boundaries has not been observed. There was also no definition of what consensus might mean within the Communion.

The options for our church are as follows:

1. Take no action and allow the policies of B033 to continue.
2. Reaffirm B033 (there is no resolution to that effect, however)
3. Pass one of the resolutions now proposing a commitment to full inclusion.
There are three types:
1. Repeal B033 and reject its interpretation.
2. Declare a conclusion to the time of restraint and make a new statement to reaffirm our non-discriminatory policies.
3. Make a general statement about where we are today, reaffirming that all orders now have gay and lesbian members and are open to discernment by gay and lesbian members.

The House then spent 30 minutes in a process of respectful listening. Each deputy found one person who was unknown to them, and they addressed three questions:

1. What is your story with respect to B033?
2. What is our story as a church with respect to B033?
3. What is God calling us to do now?

I had an engaging conversation with a priest from Southwest Florida.

We recessed. I didn't have time to eat before our committee had hearings about other proposed additions to the church calendar.

Among the more interesting ones (to me) - Andronicus and Junia, Apostles (Romans 16:7) A faithful couple, Paul calls "my relatives and prison companions. They are notable Apostles and they were in Christ before me." Note: a woman apostle.

Thurgood Marshall. Civil Rights lawyer, supreme court justice, vestry member and deputy to General Convention.

Designate the first Sunday of Lent as Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday.

A Creation Cycle lectionary for part of the Sundays after Pentecost.

Paulii Murray, first African American female priest

John Jay, first Chief Justice; Trinitarian, founder of the American Bible Society, Warden and Vestry member. We adjourned a little before 9:00 p.m.

Day Two is over.

Tomorrow I'll be one of the Media Briefing Officers. It will be interesting to see what questions the press asks us.



At 6:46 AM , Blogger Doug said...

An interesting post on My Manner of Life tells me that you coauthored a hymn to the now out of favor green and red voting cards! What a hoot!

I thank you so much for your detailed account of one small part of convention. It makes me feel almost like I am there. Good luck with the media table!

At 8:33 AM , Blogger Bill Fulton said...

This must be exhausting. Thanks for making the effort to keep us updated on the progress of convention. I appreciate the notes you're keeping because they're so fresh and unscripted.

At 11:06 PM , Blogger Lowell said...

Yes, my 15 minutes of fame (with David Elliot of Mississippi) was "Lift High the Cards" -- performed for the Arizona Convention. No cards at this meeting. Hi tech. No work.

It helps to be an extrovert here. I get energy from being with people. It's incredibly hard for introverts.



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