General Convention 1
Please forgive me for any spelling or grammar errors below, it has been a very long two days, and I thought it would be better to publish this as soon as possible rather than wait till it was perfect.
Yesterday we arrived in Salt Lake city, a land of Mormons, soaring mountains, heat stroke, and, surprisingly, authentic Tiffany stained glass windows from the 1800’s. Leaving our sister diocese ( the Diocese of New Jersey) behind at Newark International AirPort, due to a petty dispute about the validity of a printed vs. digital receipt, we braved hunger, heat, and jet lag in search of the Convention. We touched down in Salt Lake city around midd-afternoon and headed to the convention center, stoping briefly to drop our bags at the hotel. We then spent the next 3 hours in the House of Deputies. The structure of the convention is reasonably simple, There are two houses, The House of Bishops and The House of Deputies. Each house debates matters that are important to the church, for instance, changes to the prayer book, budgetary cuts, and the nature of marriage. These matters are first discusses in small comities of experts, then are sent to the houses for debate, if the committee comes up with an amendment they send it to the house to be voted on, or changed. The house will most often vote to send the issue back to committee for further review. We began in The House of Deputies, who were discussing where the 2021 convention should be held, a deputy from Minnesota was adamant that only Dioceses who gave more than the required 19% of their income to the church should be considered. this would cut the majority of the dioceses out of the running, leaving Missouri, Michigan, and conveniently Minnesota. However the rules are changing, next year dioceses will only be asked to give 15% of their income to the church, and so the question became do we follow the rules that will be in place during the next convention, or the rules that are in place now. The issue was sent back to committee for further discussion.
The next morning we went to the committee meeting for Constitutions and Cannons. Constitution and Canons is committee that meets very early in the morning and discusses the laws of the church, and specifically how we punish those who break them. The issue on the table today, requests for admission(when clergy are asked for information i connection with a possible misdemeanor). When we arrived Deputy Hutcheston had proposed an amendment to the current system of request. However it is quickly sent back to small committee for further consideration. The chair of the committee notably said that, “if this were to be discussed on the floor anymore it would go down like the Titanic”
On to proposed Amendment 138, which was Bishops may be allowed 30 days to amend their statements after being requested. Which is passed unanimously. We then moved on to A 143, which is to do with the suspension of clergy who have abandoned the church, the issue that was taken up on the floor is over the difference of “If it is reported to the standing committee of the diocese in which a priest or deacon has abandoned the church… ” and “may have abandoned the church…” it was hastily requested to be postponed and sent back to the commute for further discussion, however most of the deputies were resolute, and so it became a matter for further discussion on the floor. The house was divided. One side adamant that “may have” is a more accurate and grammatically correct term, the other believed that the “has” is not only already used in the cannons but that “may have” does not make the matter serious enough, in other words it frames the report not as an allegation but rather as a suspicion, and might undermine the abandonment when it is sent to a standing committee. The question was really do we state that when in doubt a clergy member has abandoned the church or are they innocent until proven guilty. Some members even called for stronger more certain language. but the “may haves” carry the vote, and the change is made.
We were onto the discussion of amendment 810 (which deals with ministry in the armed forces) as soon of course, as the delegates found the email that was sent out about it. After much hassle, the notes from the small committee were found, only to show that all but one of the amendments proposed by the general committee are “out of order”. The one that is possible, section B11, is currently out of order, pending a constitutional amendment. It was recommend that the language of that section become more general when possible, to provide some disconnect between the constitution and cannons, the Delegate’s view being that “now we don’t have to change the Cannons every time they change a tittle in the Constitution, let us save the fancy language for the Cannons, whoever wrote them must have been a native german speaker”. In the amendment it states that “ The House of Bishops may elect a Bishop (formerly sufferagen) who under the direction of the Presiding Bishop, shall be in charge of those persons who serve as chaplains in the armed forces of the United States or such other agencies as seen fit by” the point of discrepancy begins here, between the “the united states government” and “the cannons”. The question being, who decides what constitutes the army, for instance chaplains who serve in veteran hospitals in the United States are not considered under the subject of the Sufferagen, but Chaplains serving in veteran hospitals over seas are subject to the Sufferagen. So who do we let decide which section of our armed forces fall under the sufferagens jurisdiction? The state governments? the federal government? or the Cannons themselves? The Cannons is chosen and the amendment caries unanimously. The committee is released.
The morning Eucharist was beautiful, including the Hym The Churches Foundation. The sermon was given by a guest Bishop from Armenia, who was not only passionate but eloquent in describing how, and I paraphrase here, as children of god we, unlike the birds of the air and the beast of the fields, as children of god we have no home but the kingdom of heaven.
After the Eucharist we sat in on the meeting of The House Deputies who were processing a report created by the comities that took place the previous afternoon. The committee on credentials reported that the number of votes required for a simple majority is 422, and for a 2/3 majority is562. 109 dioceses are represented in the lay and clergy orders, in the lay/ clergy order a simple majority is 55 votes, a 2/3 majority is 53 lay votes 73 clergy votes.The Chair of the house informed us that in response to a request form information she is happy to tell us that the most common last name for a deputy is Johnson, that we have more deputes under 30 than an convention ever, 51% of the house of male, and that 77% of the house is caucasian, 9% black, 7% hispanic, 3% asian, 3% native population, 1% mixed race. So far 340 resolutions have been filed for address and , 70 have been addressed by the 5th day of 10. The Parliamentarian reminded the house of the new calendar that has been put into place, replacing the Daily and Supplementary calendar with the Priority calendar, which simply merges the two, so that there is a single list of issues to be considered. He also sends a friendly, if slightly desperate requests for people to tweet him with questions. Deputy Cole from the Diocese of Colorado used an abundance of SAT words to apologize for taking time for a personal privilege, she then thanked the Chair for her work in the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. The Chair reminded her to keep it brief but was obviously flattered by the presentation of gifts and subsequent applause.
We then moved on to the agenda, the first matter before the house was the acknowledgment of Dr. Gregory Straw as the former Secretary of General Convention. During his speech we were treated to a second Titanic comparison, this time with a long algology about barnacles and rivets, heavily advising us to “scrape barnacles to our hearts content, but keep the rivets in place” meaning that we must do away with the unnecessary to move forward, but we cannot undo the structure.
We move on to the resumption of the general order of lay persons for the executive council. The Chair reminded the deputes that their votes are mandatory and the ballets begin to be filed out. This lasted for about an hour
Then we broke for lunch.
After lunch we are again reminded of the numbers that are needed to pass amendments by simple and two thirds majority. The Deputy from Missouri got up to thank the committee for its dedication to antiracist measures. The next matter before the house was nominations for vice president of the house of deputies. The first and only nomination was for Deputy Viron Rushing from Massachusetts the election took place and the motion passes unanimously. And after a well earned round of applause and some equally well deserved flattery we moved on to the introduction of Mr. Mark J Duffy, an archivist of the Episcopal Church. Mr Duffy complimented the house on having “humor if not humility”, he then proceeded to give a short history of the board of archives, and their new digitization, he tried to exit after wishing the House of Deputies a happy 230th birthday but is called back to be commended by the Chair. The next order of business was the legislative calendar, report #14 on Formation and Education for Ministry Resolution #D004, Deputy Carter presented the report, the committee wished to create a task force to study the Episcopal Elections Process. Their argument for it is that the complex election structure needs a consistent skill set for consultants as diversity and technology grow, and that the current demographic of the house of bishops is held back by inherent biases, which keep “female bishops and bishops of color” form being elected. The opposition claimed that it is immoral to legislate how a diocese votes to elect a Bishop, it also added that this is just a disgruntled effort of those who’s candidate did not win the most recent election. A deputy from Massachusetts moved to amend the amendment by deleting the 5th paragraph, which gives the general convention power that was formerly given to the diocese, and reduces the diversity in the process, he stated that he also believes that the language in this paragraph says that what you vote will be what other diocese vote. A deputy from West Massachusetts counters that Diocese are already are required to vote in a certain. The amendment to the amendment fails. A motion was proposed to end debate and vote immediately on the original amendment, the motion carried, the vote for the amendment was successful. And so we will now have a task force to determine how to Diversify our House of Bishops and modernize our election process.
The next item was report #5 on Liturgy, Prayer book, and Church Music A056 (which proposes a new section of “holy men an holy women” in the prayer book, not all of whom are baptized christians) which was backed by a Deputy from California on the grounds that it is a progressive way to view sainthood. It was opposed by the deputy from Ohio on the grounds that it would fundamentally change our understanding of sainthood ad holiness. The debate is holiness; is it given by god or is it earned? For example, someone who does good work but is not baptized, can we put them into the calendar? A deputy from Maine tried to calm everyone down by playing “we can read the Bible many ways” card. This calmed no one down, and the debates continued until our group left for the House of Bishops.
When we arrived at the House of Bishops, they were forgiving a Bishop for saying an inappropriate comment during a discussion on social media in meetings. The House of bishops is very hard to follow, because they all know each other and so they never say hardly ever say their name or their diocese. The house were discussing A054 part 2 paragraph 15, which we are told has been amended many times. Not supringinly, it is o the topic of gay marriage,and specificallyy the new liturgy that will be used in services to marry gay couples. The amendment requires that Bishops “make provisions” to marry gay couples in their Dioceses. The first question was what does the phrase “make provision for the avilibitly of these liturgies” mean? Does it mean, find resources form with the diocese or outside the diocese? The answer given was,simply and confusingly, yes. The next Bishop from table 9 had a concern on the doctrine of marriage, specially that we are weakening it by adding new liturgy that could theoretically be used by heterosexual couples. The response was from Bishop Ely, who stated clearly that the proposed liturgy is only for same sex couples, heterosexual couples are not relevant to this liturgy. The two opposing Bishops headed away to discuss this in private, and a Bishop from table 5 stated his support of the enforcement of only homosexual couples using this liturgy. Bishop Field from west Missouri, sated that because the amendment discussed has been declared in the cannons, there is no reason vote. This was ignored. The next concern for the resolution was from North Carolina, “are these measures going to coerce diocese to preform these special same sex marriages”. The Bishop from Washington re-endorsed the resolution and Bishop Lee from Virginia emphasized that support for the resolution protects clergy who disagree with their bishop but does not protect them if they disagree with their bishop. The bishop from table 1o clarifies “provision” , she says that formerly when this happened in the past the priest would find another diocese to preform the union in and that worked very well. A bishop from Honduras expressed his dislike for the Spanish translation and agreed to help the next translators, the presiding bishop thanked him in Spanish, there was brief laughter. The Bishop from Pittsburgh found himself surprised by his own support of the resolution, and disputed the “common knowledge” that this has been in discussion for 40 years, calling it a battle for the church, he added that he is excited to begin the conversation but his vote is not an endorsement for gay marriage. A motion was made to end debate, it carried and the resolution it self carried. We moved onto Ao36 which came to the house “almost completely intact by the task force”. it removes the words “man and woman” and replaces it with “the couple”, the committee found no conflicts in the Cannon. John Smiley briefly sated he was opposed to the report, before remembering that he was its author, getting the second laugh of the afternoon. Bishop Love ( you will see why the is ironic in a moment) from Albany expresses his exasperation with the entire conversation and then quoted Mark’s famous man and Woman quote to the great discomfort of the majority of the committee, the crowd bristled as he asked his “brothers and sisters” if they loved god enough not to engage in sexual intimacy with their same sex partners. A Bishop form table 7 rose and quickly posed a seemingly simple language amendment and the tension cooled somewhat. Of course life is never that simple, and quickly we were thrust into the debate of how churchy we should make our church, one argument being, if you wish to get married in the Episcopal Church then you should be invested in the scripture, the other side reminding us that other partners who are non religious should be included. It is then requested to be amended, by adding language to include adopted children in the liturgy. Another amendment to the amendment is requested delating marriage for holy matrimony on the grounds that it’s “just cleaner”. The Bishop from the Dominican Republic re-iterated Bishops Love’s concerns only this time in Spanish. The tension returned, only this time in Spanish. And we returned to the issue of matrimony vs. marriage. Stephan Miller from Milwaukee did not think that by changing matrimony to marriage we get marriage equality. Waldo from South Carolina reminded us that the word marriage is used in the Book of Common Prayer. Mark Buchanan moved to vote immediately, it fails, and we returned to the original amendment. We had to leave the debate early, which continued, with no end in sight.