Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Convention Begins

Preliminaries to the 76th General Convention began today (Tuesday) with the initial meetings of legislative committees, a joint gathering of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, and an orientation session for the 800-member House of Deputies. All of this is under way at the Convention Center in Anaheim, California.

The setting is quite beautiful on the lushly-landscaped boulevards of Anaheim, draped with rows of palm trees trees and banana plants. The temperatures are a welcome respite from the heat I left in Mississippi. The weather has been pleasant and there has been a steady breeze from the Pacific Ocean some 20 miles away. The Convention Center is directly across the street from Disneyland, which I first visited some 44 years ago. The tale of that trip (with 50 other boys from Meridian) is a story unto itself. Being here does bring out those memories.

I would note for the curious that I have seen no effect of the Michael Jackson events, save local coverage (to go along with the national coverage) on the news. There are things for which to be thankful...

It has been good to see many friends from around the church, including fellow deployment officers from various dioceses, expatriate Mississippians, and others I have encountered during 22 years of ordained ministry. This triennial gathering is a chance to renew those friendships.

As I noted on a previous post, I serve on the Ministry Committee for this convention. This is my second convention on that committee. There are 38 members, including nine Bishops and 29 deputies. This is known as a "cognate" committee because the committee is comprised of both bishops and deputies (keep in mind that the House of Deputies is comprised of four clergy and four lay persons from each diocese). So, the deputies on the Ministry Committee are split between lay and ordained persons. Since we are a "cognate" committee, we vote separately as bishops and deputies on matters that come before us. I am happy to say there is a number of long-time friends of mine on the Ministry Committee. It's good to see them again.

There are four subcommittees of the Ministry Committee: Theological Formation; Canonical Revisions; Multicultural Affairs; and "Other." I have been asked to serve as convener of the Canonical Revision Subcommittee. Theological Formation will review legislation regarding seminary education, the General Board of Examining Chaplains (who preside over the GOEs), and funding of theological education (including high levels of seminarian debt). Multicultural Affairs will deal with legislation pertaining to ministry development across cultural lines (recognizing that much of the church is dealing with a wide variety of cultural settings for ministry, graphically evident here in Southern California). The "Other" Subcommittee (on which I served three years ago) is studying a rich variety of issues, including (but certainly not limited to) a few resolutions seeking to negate the impact of B-033, passed on the last day of the 75th General Convention in Columbus, Ohio in 2006. I should note that most of resolutions relating to B-033 have been referred to the World Mission Committee. B-033, of course, called on bishops with jurisdiction (diocesan bishops) and Standing Committees to exercise restraint in confirming the elections of bishops whose "manner of life" might be controversial to the wider church. There has been much discussion about what action, if any, the General Convention will take as a follow-up to B-033.

We are having legislative hearings tonight (in just 30 minutes). Many committees are having such public hearings. (I regret to say I had to pass-up free tickets to the Angels-Rangers game tonight because of those hearings). Every resolution considered by a committee, before being acted on, must first be subject to a public hearing. Efforts are made to get resolutions considered "low hanging fruit" (i.e., noncontroversial) or with canonical or budgetary implications, out of committees quickly. The noncontroversial resolutions can then be placed on the "consent calendar" for quick action. Those resolutions having canonical or constitutional implications must go from our committee to the Committee on Canons or the Committee on the Constitution. Those with budgetary impact must be sent to Program, Budget and Finance -- the most hard-working of committees at convention. It is that committee' responsibility to bring budgetary order out of the myriad resolutions proposed and approved by convention.

Keep in mind the fact that any resolution must pass both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops in the exact same form. Otherwise, it is null and void. In the days ahead, you may see reports that this or that resolution has been approved. Be skeptical -- check to be certain that it has passed both houses in the same form.

The opening joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies went well today. The Presiding Bishop offered, I thought, very constructive and conciliatory comments during her opening presentation. I continue to be impressed by her. She referenced her January visit to Mississippi by commenting on how connected and related people in Mississippi are (a fact that truly impressed her during her trip to the Magnolia State). The President of the House of Deputies -- Bonnie Anderson of Michigan -- offered her own comments of welcome, too. She reminded us that the Church, itself, does not have a mission; instead, God's mission has a Church.

The orientation session for the House of Deputies was light-hearted and helpful. With 42 percent of the deputies being new to General Convention, there was a mock/role-play presentation of how the House handles its business. I thought it conveyed the basic functioning of the House well.

It is good to see Bishop Gray again. We have had virtually no contact with him over the last 100 days, since he has been on sabbatical. He seems rested and looks tanned. We are glad to have him among us again.

Chip Davis is providing excellent leadership for the deputation; keeping us focused on the work before us while helping to build community in the deputation. Chip is one of five nominees for election to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church -- basically the vestry of the national church. His wife, Cathy, is being a great help and support to the group.

Kathryn McCormick is also providing great hospitality to the entire group through her organization and management of our hospitality/meeting suite. We meet there as a deputation caucus at noon each day and share social time and relaxation there after the conclusion of afternoon business. Spouses and ECW triennial representatives join us in the late afternoon. Then, it is off to legislative meetings and hearings until 9:00 p.m. or so. The process begins anew at 7:00 a.m. the next morning.

Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow when we will have our first official legislative session in the morning. We will also have our first daily Eucharist tomorrow (as convention begins officially) with the Presiding Bishop as preacher and celebrant. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, meets with us in tomorrow evening. As I noted in one of my earlier posts, the central focus of Convention is not the legislation -- it is our worship as a community of faithful Christians. The worship services here are always moving. The quality of preacing is remarkable.

Other members of the deputation are contributing to the overall quality of Mississippi's delegation -- Edward O'Connor, Bobbie Marascalco, Anita George, Ed Sisson, Sylvia Czarnetzky, Danny Meadors, Jack Conway, and Margaret McLarty. We're looking forward to the arrival of alternates David Knight and Ed Thurmond.

Please keep the Mississippi Deputation and he General Convention in your prayers.

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