Friday, July 17, 2009

General Convention, Last Day, July 17

General Convention, Friday, July 17 – The Final Day

Legislative Committee meetings are through, except for an occasional quick called meeting to respond to any changes that the bishops might make to our committee's bills. The committee has to vote on any changes before referring them to the floor for the deputies consideration whether or not to concur.

I am a Media Briefing Officer this morning. I'll "Meet the Press" at 8:15.

Not so many reporters here today. Each of the briefers reviewed what we thought were highlights of the convention. Finished a few minutes early.

9:00 a.m. Legislative Session

Chaplain Frank Wade's opening meditation today:

It is appropriate that this final day of General Convention is the feast of William White. In 1782, seeing what he thought we would need as new structures for this emerging church, he wrote "The Case of the Episcopal Church Considered." In that document, White planted the seeds that would create what would become the Anglican Communion, the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, and this institution, the General Convention. Every element of the church's polity was embodied by White's genius.

His vision fits the Gospel story and the vision of the Kingdom of God – from that first Convention in 1785 through this the 76th time of meeting.

In the creation story of Genesis, God spent the first six days establishing the natural order, which runs solely on God's energy.

After a Sabbath rest, God developed the moral universe. Unlike the physical universe, the moral universe runs on hybrid energy – divine action and human reaction. It has been our struggle since then to make God's energy and human energy compatible. In human history, that does not always go well.

William White was a revolutionary – a revolutionary in support of the founding of the nation and a revolutionary in the founding of this church. White dared to imagine God's energy passing through deacons, priests and laity, and not just bishops, and he helped create this House of Deputies, giving it equal power with the House of Bishops. That is not a universal characteristic in our communion.

We've been trying to prove William White's thesis. We've been trying to connect God's energy with ours, to dance with the Spirit, to follow Jesus. We've been trying to exercise hybrid energy.

Did we do it? Did we combine God's energy with ours in a morally satisfying way? Did we apply God's energy to decisions made and not made, to our stewardship of money and resources. Did we do it? Did we get our energy from God?

How would William White answer? How would you answer? How would God answer?

Yes, and yes, and yes.

Our special order of business this final morning is to deal with the substitute amendment that the bishops passed about same-gender blessings.

C056 –
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United State and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological, and liturgical resources and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion, and be it further

Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further

Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort.

This will be a vote by orders.

Some notes from the debate: (we took turns between pro and con)

A young woman said, "My mother is a lesbian." She said that she is an Episcopalian because this church welcomed her family.

This is a day of shame. The earlier legislation was ambiguous. This isn't.

A priest talking very fast listed members of his congregation that this affects – many gay couples in leadership, parents of gay children, etc.

Ian Douglas who has been intimately involved in our Anglican Communion conversations recognized the pain and complication that this resolution will provoke in the Communion, and he nevertheless urged its passage.

A deputy quoted George Will about the Episcopal Church's "trying to be more and more inclusive with fewer and fewer people."

The bishops have crafted a theological and pastoral plan – gently crafted. It is supported by liberal, middle and some conservative bishops, and passed by a 2/3rd majority.

This is the nail in the coffin for compliance with Windsor.

This will kill evangelism. I'll lose half of my congregation.

This will energize evangelism, especially among youth and young adults who aren't hung up about these issues.

Both sides invoked Ubuntu community. The "for's" with an eye for inclusion of all the baptized; the "against's" with an eye for our relationships in the Anglican Communion.

A priest from Sacramento said his phone rang off the wall when California opened marriage to gay couples. "Can you bless my relationship?" "I had to answer, 'No.'" He said there were tears, and much hurt. Many were people who had given up on church and now wished to return. Many won't be back. Yet, last November his church attendance grew by 75.

My comments on the floor(based on the essay I wrote the other day): "As Lyndon Johnson worked to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he heard dire warnings – If you pass this you will spilt the party; you will alienate the southern half of our communion; you'll be thrown out of office. Today we look back at the decision in 1964, and we know they chose well. Be proud today to vote for this gentle, balanced resolution which extends the reach of compassion, equality, justice and above all, love. It's all about love. Choose love. One day you can look back on this day and be proud that you were here."

I noticed the dramatic contrasts tended to be defined by diocesan boundaries. Not so regional as might be imagined. Sometimes dioceses sharing borders voted opposite one another. Each diocese tends to have a spirituality.

Virginia likes to characterize itself as the broad middle. Their daily publication "The Center Aisle" endorsed both of the resolutions dealing with issues of sexuality, saying, "what the convention did is to reaffirm that the ordination process is under the control of local bishops and dioceses, while stressing that access to that process is open to all baptized persons. The Convention also invited local churches and dioceses (as well as churches elsewhere in the communion) to collect liturgical and theological resources regarding same-gender blessings."

Today's editorial in the "Center Aisle" asserts, "The bonds between our Church and Canterbury are still strong. ...Discussions will continue. Compromises will be struck. Bonds of affection will be strengthened. The focus on the foundational beliefs that unite us will return. The Church, in all its glorious messiness, will move forward."

Although the vote results were not announced before the lunch break, I'll post them here at the end of our conversation.

Reminder about a Vote by Orders – each diocese has 4 clergy and 4 lay deputies. We vote in each house, with each diocese getting one vote in the clergy order and one vote in the lay order. A tie vote 2-2, is divided and counts as a "no." Any resolution must have a majority of dioceses vote "yes" in both the clergy and lay order. (I repeat, it is a very conservative voting mechanism, requiring something much larger than a simple majority.)

Arkansas Voted "Yes" in both clergy and lay order.

Vote by Orders of C056 – Blessing of Same-Gender blessings
Needed to pass: Lay - 55; Clergy 55

Vote: Lay – 78 yes // 23 no // 7 divided (counts as "no") – 72% of dioceses voted "yes"
Clergy - 74 yes // 27 no // 7 divided – 68.5% of dioceses voted "yes"
The motion carried by more than a 2/3rds vote in both orders.


Break for Eucharist and Lunch

The Presiding Bishop presided, praying in French through most of the service.

Notes from her sermon:
We've heard lots of words. Words about policy, our missionary heartbeat, and solidarity. Some of us have had to eat our words. We have all eaten the sacramental Word, so our work can be closer to the Word.

We heard the reading of Jeremiah's call. Like Jeremiah, we have enacted words to build up and plant – supporting ministries of compassion around the world; we have plucked up and pulled down structures of injustice, and we have acted in opposition to racism and discrimination. Some of our words have been reconciling; we have crafted words to draw in, not to leave out.

William White, whose feast we celebrate today, lived in a time of conflict between northern and southern Anglicans, motivated largely by the fear of monarchical power exercised by kings and bishops. The conflict in White's day is not too dissimilar to some of the conflict today in the Anglican communion between those who seek more centralized authority and those who prefer more local focus. Our budget for this church now becomes less centralized and sends impetus for mission more to local initiatives. We ask, how do our structures serve God's mission? The collect for William White commends him as a man of patience and of reconciling temper.

We need a reconciling temper that holds the polarities together. It is interesting to note that White changed his mind over time on some significant issues. He models for us "both-and" thinking, so central to our identity. We recognize that most polarities are false choices, as if we could choose between justice and mercy or between inclusion and orthodoxy. The both/and tension is what Jesus invites us into.

Jesus draws near to Peter to ask him, "Do you love me more than these?" What are these lesser loves? Disciples? Fish? Fishing? All of these go into the background. In this Convention, are we more in love with being right or with Jesus? Tend the sheep. All the sheep, not just the flock in front of us. We are called to share the shepherd's work.

Go home and help this work this week to become food. Take this work home and interpret it. Bring digestible food home. It must be digestible if it is to be eaten. Will you love Jesus more in the telling? Digestible attractive food is Good News. If we bring home anger and feed others with it, we will produce indigestion. Healthy sheep avoid noxious weeds. Let us be led into good pasture. Let the Word be our substance. How does the Word become hope? The word of peace and healing to the world.

Become what you eat. Tend all of God's sheep.

2:00 – Afternoon session

We passed a first reading for a feast for Thurgood Marshall

We passed the series of new commons that the Prayer Book and Liturgy Committee worked so hard on.

We authorized a Sunday in Lent for recognizing and supporting Episcopal Relief and Development.

We changed the canons so that episcopal elections 120 days prior to General Convention will no longer go to General Convention for consent but will follow the same procedure as all other elections.

We endorsed the "80-cent-solution" – if each Episcopalian gave 80 cents per year we could double our number of missionaries.

We passed a resolution to have a process for the members of the House of Deputies to indicate that they either are tithing or are firmly committed to tithing within five years.

We passed a resolution responding to the Archbishop of Canterbury's presentation about the world wide economic crisis. It commends the Bishops' March 2009 "Pastoral Letter" and seeks to devise a teaching resource. It also commends the 2010 Trinity Institute publication "Building an Ethical Economy."

The Bishops amended a canon change that deputies sent. Our deputies committee recommended that we not concur with the change. There were reservations from conservative and liberal voices with what the bishops did, which was to take all particular protections out of the canons and say simply, "All baptized persons shall have full access to the discernment process..." Some objected that this would be poorly received in the Anglican Communion. Others said classes of people who have experienced discrimination need particular protection. The deputies voted not to concur, so the canon reverts to its current language: "No person shall be denied access or have his or her discernment process terminated because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons."

We are just about finished, but House of Bishops have one matter they want us to receive from them. The Bishops voted to defer the resolution about the Defense of Marriage Act to the Executive Committee of the Church. Our house resoundingly concurred. I think there was a good feeling about this as a compromise, so that the church doesn't speak with a singular voice about an issue which we have various opinions about. The earlier House of Deputies vote speaks in one way to the issue, but the Executive Committee can offer a more nuanced approach.

As we closed, the President of the House invoked William White again, and his strange idea of including the voices of all people in the polity of the church – laity, clergy and bishops – the ministry of all the baptized. We find our work and identity grounded in the baptismal covenant.

She reminded us that we are all still deputies as we leave, until replaced. Today's paper left at the door of each hotel room had a large headline: "What's Our Next Step?" (The newspaper story was about space exploration.) She posed that question to us. We are to meet with our deputation and make a report about the Convention to our dioceses. We are to go home and do mission – start something or strengthen something.

It's time to end chapter 76 in the book of the life of General Convention. We have breathed the air that has been in our neighbors' lungs. We have lived Ubuntu.

A final announcement from the secretary told us that we had received a total of 419 resolutions; we completed work on 361 resolutions; the 95 incomplete resolutions which had been perfected by their committees will now be referred by the secretary to one of the standing committees.

We closed with many expressions of thanksgiving, including to those senior deputies who will voluntarily step down from service with this convention.

We adjourned at 4:55 p.m.

(I've got a follow-up email posting some resolutions that I think are of particular interest but that I haven't commented on earlier.)

Thanks for following my reports. It's been an honor to serve.



At 6:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lowell, thanks again!


At 6:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Lane, that is.)

At 6:55 PM , Anonymous Mike and Amie Armstrong said...


Thank you so much for all of your daily blogs...we have really appreciated hearing your thoughts, and having an insider clarify the reports coming out in the media. We especially appreciate the extra time it's taken you to do all of this, on top of your "official" duties. We have felt so blessed to call ourselves Episcopalians, and even more so after these past two weeks. Truly the Church has a heart and a place for everyone.

At 9:41 AM , Blogger Max Thorn said...


Thanks for doing this blog. Its insights and insider reports have been helpful in helping me get a feel for what is really happening at the convention. Thanks for being consistent and thorough with your posts. Your blogs have played an instrumental part in including the Episcopal church in my search for a new church home. Thanks.

At 7:19 AM , Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks Joseph, Mike & Amie, and Max,

Once again I left General Convention with a deep thankfulness for the Episcopal Church and such gladness to be part of this faithful and messy people.



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