These are the observations from Tuesday and Wednesday of General Convention.
On Tuesday the Presiding Bishop Addressed the House of Deputies on the subject of Mission. She explained each of the “marks of mission to the house, then for each one she played a video which summarized what the Episcopal church as a whole thinks of each mark, and finally she called for small group discussions on each mark. I recorded the marks, news of the church, and questions, so that our congregation can, hopefully, discuss them together.
The are 5 Marks of mission,
Mark 1-To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
The new missionary is not someone who goes far away but one who stays in their own community, they cannot simply become part of voluntourism.
2-To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
It is more useful to explore faith than to press for confirmation of belief.
Mark 3- To respond to human need by loving service.
Out-reach is valuable and important but only if the connections formed are lasting and substantial.
Mark 4-To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
We must stand against injustice even if it is present in organizations that are close to us and the church, we must also “build the church from the inside”.
Mark 5-To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
Climate change is a major threat to God’s kingdom, and we must address it.
1)how are we proclaiming the good news of the different demographic groups?
2) ho do our current diocesan structures enhance or impede our proclamation?
1) How can we strengthen newcomer incorporation, retention and recruitment, and recruitment?
2) How can we help make bishop visitation even more affective?
3)how are we doing in our ministry with youth, with college chaplains, with young adults?
1) how can we better communicate the projects and programs that are occurring on the ground throughout the diocese?
2) what is the relationship between outreach and evangelism?
1) how can we help strengthen the prophetic role of the congregation?
2) where is the reconciliation need in our diocese? how can we help it happen?
1) what are the biggest ecological challenges where you live
2) how can people see Jesus in our work of caring for the earth?
The social justice committee is another that meets very early in the morning, but it was well worth missing breakfast (not that I thought that at the time). As supposed to Constitution and Cannons, The House of the Deputies, and the House of Bishops these people were just so happy. There was a genuine and surprising feeling of hope in the room, which was surprising as Social Justice is allot like the getting up to go to work with a very bad hangover, sure we need to do it, we al know that, we have to get up and turn off the alarm, but its so easy to lie in for five more minutes, and then ten and twenty and on and on. And yet these intrepid Delegates and Bishops sailed through amendment after amendment with so little discussion that i couldn’t discern what most of them were about. Until we hit a roadblock. The Diocese of Puerto Rico has asked for the churches support of their call to release Oscar Lopez Rivera,who was a supporter of the FALN and in the early 70’s was part of a “terrorist attack” that resulted in fatalities, some of them U.S citizens. The sub committee reported that it had realized that the support for his release was “not so much Puerto Rican but from minorities within Puerto Rico”, they recommended that the resolution read “the 78th general convention supports the efforts of the Puerto rican diocese” rather than language that commits the church to take explicit stand in the matter. Another concern that is brought up is the culprits lack of repentance, after 40 years the man maintains his sense of riotousness, and this was a point of great moral struggle for many of the clergy on the committee. On the one hand 40 years is a very long time to spend in prison for conspiracy, and it is a much longer sentence than his fellow conspirators (he did get extra time for trying to escape), on the other hand he is not only responsible for loss of life, but shows no repentance. After a few very awkward moments several committee members came forward and confessed that they didn’t actually know who Oscar Rivera was. After the situation is explained they moved to reject the motion altogether, which passes, meaning the church will take no stand, it will proverbially putt its’ fingers in its’ ears and ignore the whole thing, which though I hate to admit it, might be the least damaging thing to be done at this point.
The final resolution, we were told, is focused on racism, and is tiled “Using education community dialog and internal audit to respond to racism in our diocese”. One committee member, who went a bit off topic, expressed her concern that the title of their committee is not accurate, as they deal with diocese outside of the United States, she was responded to by a deputy who says, brilliantly, “the Episcopal church has never had clean lines”. We move back to the resolution at hand, which begins with a disclaimer which basically says “we get it, lots of people don’t want to talk about this, but we have to so those people can suck it up and get it over with now”. The resolution itself is excellent, it prompts action in local communities, interfaith dialogue, expanded youth ministry, advance in technology and most importantly the disclaimer at the begging, the admittance that this will not be easy, its going to take time, patience, and faith, but like it or not, we can’t ignore this, we keep letting the alarm be set to snooze, we have to open our eyes to the problem, get up, and try to fix it. The resolution is passed unanimously, and we take the first step towards a better, more awake world.
The house of Deputies, my favorite source of figurative langue lately, began with resolution A004, and spent so long talking about tit that i actually had time to copy it down in full, (These canonical changes would implement TREC’s proposals to reduce the size and enhance the effectiveness of the Executive Council while retaining the Council’s balance of Orders and Provincial representation and promoting a constructive framework for shared decision-making. Adoption of these changes would result in a more nimble and accountable governing structure to undergird the mission of the Church between General Conventions). This amendment would re-structure the executive council, and by restructure I mean make smaller. The Deputy from North Carolina was opposed, believing the resolution had “no imagination”,and used a pleasing little simile, saying “its like we’ve brought in our car for a full over haul and then we only changed the oil and the tires, its not enough, its just not enough, he failed to mention what would be enough, perhaps new breaks? Deputy James spoke in favor, she admitted that while the resolution is not perfect it is the necessary first step, and that it is better to begin than to wait till we find perfection, too bad Emily Dickinson wasn’t there to argue the point. A deputy rose to propose an amendment to his profiled amendment, the char ruefully admitted that he could do that, but her tone suggested that she would rather he not. His newly amended amendment proposed that the executive council be even further reduced in the power that they had been given by the resolution.
As the time went on I was more and more sure that I was witnessing the Episcopal version of a Cue de ta. Deputy King from east Tennessee shamed us all for even trying to amend the document, calling those on the committee “rockstar saints”, she claimed that there are 844 people in the house which means there are “844 man hours to work” at this point a woman behind me said not very quietly “people hours, thank you” and everything was somehow better. Deputy Wood from New York motions to end debate, the motion carries. The vote by voice for the amendment was unclear, and when the chair called for the “Nays” the house rose in uproar so she quickly passed it onto the voting officer, and seemingly loosing confidence called for electronic votes to be cast form then on, and we saw why when it turned out the I’s in fact had the vote and the amendment passes, much to the horror of those on the executive council.
Another amendment was proposed, this time to cut the councils size in half, this is supposedly meant to encourage candidates of diverse back rounds to stand for the executive council but its not at all clear how. The deputy used lovely camping analogy, “I’m new to camping but even i know that when you go the woods you want the flexibility of a tent not the stiffness of the RV, lets pitch a tent”, which in my opinion almost surpassed the oil change analogy, almost.
A deputy who, awkwardly, happened to be on executive council, got up to adamantly tell us that the executive council “DOSE NOT just have tea parties”, the just being the best part of that defense, and that this would cut an already too strained work force. The amendment failed by around 500 people, RVs 1 tents 0. The House then voted to suspend the rules and allow more time for debate, which failed, the assumption being time seems to equal opportunity for apologies, which is I for one think is a shame. The House continued to vote by electronic ballot rather than by voice, which while cleaner was much more time consuming. Resolution A004 was finally voted for and carried with 79% of the vote and was adopted. Members of the executive council quietly excused themselves for a quiet moment of prayer and possibly a valium or two.
The next order of business is A006 report #14, which I was also able to record (This proposal eliminates several Standing Commissions, and instead retains only a Standing Commission on Theology, Liturgy, and Music; and a Standing Commission on Governance and Structure. It charges the presiding officers of a unicameral convention, in consultation with Executive Council, to appoint any other interim committees and task forces that may be necessary to carry out the work of the General Convention or address other important church-wide priorities. This proposal will help the church-wide structures to develop a sharper focus on top priorities as identified by General Convention, reduce redundancy in the church-wide structures, align human and financial resources most closely with stated priorities, and build in a higher degree of accountability for the work of interim bodies.). The first deputy spoke against by quoting corinthians at length and seemingly from memory, then claiming that a task force is a place where “ideas go to die”, both of which raised many eyebrows. A sweet looking elderly female deputy from the Virgin Islands took the microphone and proceeded to completely decimate the poor Government and Structure committee, she moved to refer back to the committee as disappointed with them as she was. Some of her more generous comments included “This committee threw out the baby with the bath water” and “they had no sense of rationality in creating this resolution, none whatsoever”, it was vicious. McMan from Pittsburgh spoke against her motion, defending the resolution in a tone which could only be described as a mix of offense and fear, and honestly who blames him? Colorado spoke in favor of referring, speaking very clearly and very slowly, in a tone that suggests she doesn’t actually believe the other deputies could understand what she was saying, quite remnant of a pet owner after their dog has torn up a cushion. She called the deputy from Pittsburgh her brother in christ in the same tone, which prompted a few derisive snorts, one of which, I am ashamed to say might have some from me. A motion was made to end debate which passed, with much grumbling from the house. The motion to refer was voted for and the voting secretary reminded the deputation from Chicago to “keep their hands in an appropriate position” which left my fellow audience and I members both highly amused and slightly worried. The motion failed. We returned to the original resolution and an amendment was proposed to create “a standing commission on mission”, I thought the Deputy who proposes this was as charming as her ideas, but the Deputies did not seem to see it that way. Many deputies got up to speak to the issue. The first was from springfield, who respected the morals behind the amendment but seemed to think it wasn’t worth the time, and would have rather just vote yes or no to the original resolution. The deputy of New Jersey in her own fully correct words “echoes the previous speaker”. The deputy form Dallas joined the “respect but not support” club, which was gaining members at a concerning rate. Finally Vermont spoke in favor, telling the house that we can not be an inwardly focused church and that if we create a task force rather than a standing commission, they will only report to the executive committee and not to the House. Vermont, a member of the executive council, spoke against the amendment, and re-assured us that the executive council will definitely definitely report everything to the House, his tone implying that, that would have been an easier task about ten minuets ago. The vote for the amendment failed, and we returned to the original resolution. The vote for the intact resolution went to the floor and passed.
After lunch, we began with the budget. during which the Committee on budget got up and reported that next year they will be reducing the giving requirement (from 19% to 15%) and will put more money into social justice and mission. We are reminded of the five marks of mission . The giving fro the dioceses makes up 62% of the church’s income, the new change is to insure that all diocese will participate and this would see an immediate 1500 dollars of saving for the diocese that currently give the full 19%.
Other income sores include investment (this year expected to be 5% return, well below the usual 8.3% return.). They have reduced expenditures by 75,000. They are certain that income related to federal programing is solid. the first expenditure that will be expanded is for the Racial Justice grant. There are several types of grant, long term/sustainability (mostly relief grants), block grants(restoration and land), new initiative grant (mission/justice work), and grants that serve to create new church communities. New expenses are going to be for new technology, expanded youth programs, and social justice. Most dioceses will see cuts in funding to support these programs. The budget office said that they hoped that by next year there will be 2 million dollars left over to create an annual fund; there is a bout of derisive laughter on the floor. The budget committee for some reason unknown to the rest of us decided to use a metaphor about darts saying “we cannot throw darts at each other on the ground”,and then provided no alternative space for dart throwing, much to my personal disappointment.
Deputy Johnson from Massachusetts asked for insight on how the mission enterprise money can be accessed and used, he was assured that the system will be “user friendly”. Deputy Bell expressed her interest in local college funding, the committee said that they had heard mixed emotions on wether or not the colleges wanted to be funded by grants or by other means, and that they had eventually settled on grants. The next deputy had concerns on the increase of rent, the committee claimed that this increase is exclusively for those who carry leases. There was a concern on the floor that all funding for HIV and aids had been cut, to which the committee responded that they have moved that section of funding under “application to executive council”. The Deputy form Florida thanked the committee for their generous giving to the social justice project, but she wondered what will mean to be “under the jurisdiction of presiding officers”(if they will only clergy) and how much lay involvement there will be in controlling the funds. The committee said that they wish to be flexible but can only do so much with budgetary constraints and the need for regular reporting and auditing. The next deputy was from New Hampshire who while he was in his late 60’’s at least schooled the committee on funding for youth. The presiding bishops reminded the house that “we are approaching the end of time”, which after 2 hours of budgetary discussion certainly felt true, and my youth deputation is carted off to go stare at some mormons.