An Invitation! You are all invited to join your deputation to General Convention next Thursday evening, July 30th at St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brighton, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Bishop Gibbs, and the clergy and lay deputies will be there to answer your questions and share our stories in person. We’re looking forward to seeing many of you there!
Since I’ve returned from Salt Lake City, I’ve been thinking about my experience at General Convention and what a fine learning experience I had engaging in the governance of our Household. And, lest I forget, let me begin by expressing my gratitude to all of you for giving me this opportunity when you elected me to serve as a lay deputy back in our Diocesan Convention 2013! This experience at General Convention will serve as a great asset in my work with resolutions for Diocesan Council and our own Household! Thank you so much.
As is so often the case, new experiences come with a learning curve and, despite thinking I was well-prepared before I got to Salt Lake City, I quickly found I still had much to learn. Since we will be discussing the resolutions that came out of General Convention over the next three years, I decided it might help to share some of what I learned. As you know, I’ve been working with resolutions in our Diocese for the last few years so you might think that I understand exactly how our resolutions are born. Well, nope; I had a vague idea but certainly not the details. So, here goes – an explanation of the birthing of resolutions! –
Between the triennial conventions, many standing commissions, committees and task forces have been at work looking at the resolutions passed at the previous convention. They meet in-person or on-line to grapple with the tasks they have been assigned. Sometimes this work requires research and study and surveying the Household – and it always requires God’s grace and wisdom. For those of us not on committees, this work seems invisible until the group writes their reports but, for those in each working group, the work is long and often emotional and generally unpaid. Before each General Convention (GC), the committees or commissions or task forces prepare their “Blue Book Report” (this year there was no actual book; we had all the documents on IPads – great way to save our planet, our tress and money!) which explains their work in detail and proposes the initial wording of resolutions they believe appropriate. It’s part of the responsibilities of the deputies to read these reports and have an understanding of the background that went into the resolutions which will be presented.
Once the resolutions get to the Secretary of Convention’s office, they are assigned to the appropriate committee or commission for discussion and presentation at Convention. Initially, I found this confusing. For example, I was very interested in the resolutions that came from the TREC Report (Task Force for the Reimagining of the Episcopal Church) but I couldn’t find these resolutions on the calendar at first. After a bit of hunting around, I located them on the schedule for the Standing Commission on Governance and Structure. First mystery solved!
When I first received the schedule for this year’s GC, I was a bit overwhelmed! The days’ schedules began at 7:30 am and appeared to go until 9:00 pm every evening! During the first couple of days, I figured out just how best to navigate the schedule and what each of the possible sessions might include. First, there are legislative hearings that are divided up by committee or commission. Since I was following the work of TREC, I found where their hearings were to be held and went to listen. At the hearings, the committees listen to testimonies from any interested individuals on each resolution. At first, I just listened to what others had to say but then I decided that one perspective had not been addressed so I gathered up my nerve and signed up to speak to that idea. Specifically, one of the TREC resolutions suggested reducing the size of deputations from each diocese for General Convention. While seen as possibly streamlining Convention, I feared that, if this passed, it might reduce the beautiful and crucial diversity we have in the deputations, eliminating minorities and those who often don’t have a voice. Once the committees and commissions had provided adequate time for testimonies, they continued to meet to fine tune the wording of the resolutions before each resolution would be placed on the calendar for consideration by both houses of Convention. I was very impressed by the dedication of all the committee/commission members for their selfless and tireless effort to create resolutions that reflected what they discerned to be the leading of the Holy Spirit.
After the first couple of days of hearings, we had legislative sessions where each house, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, met to discuss and debate each resolution. A little background might help here. TEC has a bicameral system of governance much like the US Congress. All of the Bishops, including those retired who chose to attend, are members of the House of Bishops – about 300 in total. The House of Deputies includes both the 4 clergy and 4 lay representatives elected by each diocese – approximately 840 people. We also elect 4 alternates for both the clergy and lay in case any of the deputies need to take some time off “the floor.”
Most of the time, each House meets on its own and considers the resolutions originating from their own House. Once that group has made a final determination on the resolution, it is sent to the other House for consideration. Considering that we were working with over 300 resolutions, this could take forever! Thankfully, there is a mechanism in place to save some time. For resolutions that may not require debate or discussion (for example – expressing our thanks to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori for her years of dedicated service), a consent calendar allows each House to vote on a package of resolutions all together. If there are individuals that feel more debate is necessary on an issue on the consent calendar, he/she can gather supporting names to have that resolution removed and debated individually later on. I quickly learned that I needed to read over the consent calendar in the evening to know exactly what I’d be voting on first thing in the morning! Sleep? Oh, sleep is definitely overrated at GC!!
During the legislative sessions, some resolutions required significant discussion and sensitivity because we aren’t all in the same place on every issue. Deputies would stand to speak either for or against the resolutions or to suggest amendments or to ask for more information before a vote would be taken. This is much like the discussion that goes on at our Diocesan Convention. I was so pleased that despite the many different opinions expressed on the floor, everyone was treated with respect and courtesy.
We also had a few joint sessions where both Houses met together: an orientation meeting, the presentation of candidates for the election of the Presiding Bishop, the mission conversation and the presentation of the triennial budget. These were teaching or discussion times, not voting or debating but it was great to sit together and have the chance to hear one another’s thoughts and opinions.
The system sounds pretty complex – and it is – but it works well. We did get a lot of work done – just look at the list compiled by Margaret Wessel Walker, our First Alternate Lay Deputy, in a post she wrote for Canterbury House (edited with permission). And these are only a small taste of the work we did:
- The House of Bishops elected Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina as the next Presiding Bishop, on the first ballot (which hasn’t happened basically ever) by a landslide and the House of Deputies confirmed the election. He will be TEC’s first African American PB. He’s a fierce preacher, issuing calls to action, telling us to go out and do God’s work in the world. Here is his full sermon from the closing Eucharist at GC78. It’s amazing, and you should totally watch it.
- We authorized rites of marriage for same sex couples. Now, there were some caveats. Bishops and priests can individually choose not to perform marriages, and cannot be punished for making that choice. However, if they make that choice, they have to make reasonable provision for the couple to get an Episcopal wedding somewhere else (like, the next diocese over, or something). And there were some bishops who made a minority report expressing their displeasure, but despite that, everyone who feels called to marriage can get married in the Episcopal Church now! And the canons (basically, laws of the Church) have been changed to be gender neutral (“two persons”, not “one man and one woman”).
- Of course, marriage isn’t the only issue the LGBTQI+ community faces, and we considered two important resolutions that affect particularly trans folk. The first one asks for name changes to be made on Church documents, like baptismal records or ordinations. This resolution was sent back for more consideration and to work out the record-keeping logistics. The second, which was adopted, authorized a rite of name change, for people who want a ceremony recognizing their real name. We did one of these rites at GC78 during the Transepiscopal Eucharist, and it was really beautiful. Of course, there is still a long way to go.
- We authorized funds for internet evangelism. Now, I know that word is scary for most Episcopalians, myself included, but this isn’t about beating people over the head with the Bible or yelling on street corners. It’s about reaching people where they are, about being present on the internet, and about not being left behind by the rest of the world. I got on Twitter just for Convention, and had a great time in what we dubbed “the House of Twitter”. Actually, a lot of real conversation happened there, and tweets were quoted by deputies as they spoke on various issues. It was awesome.
- We also authorized a program of grants for local environmental work. We realized that this was something that couldn’t be the same program across the whole Church, since different parts of TEC face wildly different problems from global climate change. So the money earmarked for this program will be given to diocese and parishes with local initiatives to solve their local problems. It’s a huge step from three years ago when we were still arguing about whether climate change was a problem.
- On the same topic, we agreed to start working on divesting from fossil fuels and start investing in sustainable energy products. Something I learned this GC was that TEC has a huge investment portfolio. So this is a big deal.
- We agreed that the situation in Israel-Palestine is a problem and that we should continue praying for them. This was a disappointing outcome for me, because I was hoping for something more concrete, like BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), not against Israel itself, but against the illegal occupation of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
- We staged a march against gun violence, and kept the conference a gun free zone, which was a big deal in a city where open and concealed carry are commonplace (a friend of mine who is a professor at the university there said they have to have several police officers at potentially tense meetings, because students are often carrying guns). We passed a resolution continuing the Church’s strong support of gun control laws.
That’s the process, in a rather large nutshell. As many steps as there are, General Convention runs like a well-oiled machine because we are all focused on seeing God’s mission in the world advanced. Next time I bring a resolution to you in the blog, think back over the many hours of work and the multiple voices and hands that designed and refined the words for our consideration and action. As with any birthing process, the labor is long and often difficult and that’s why each of the resolutions deserves our best efforts!!
Hope to see you all next Thursday!
Let us pray –
Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council