Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Work Continues

We are in the Wednesday afternoon session of the House of Deputies, considering the second major resolution proposed by the Committee on the Church Pension Fund -- a committee chaired by Canon Kathryn Weathersby McCormick. The first resolution, A-177, establishes a churchwide denominational health plan, which is aimed at providing more affordable healthcare to a broader group of participants. A-177 passed by an overwhelming margin and the text may be found here:

The second resolution from the CPF Committee (A-138), pertaining to mandatory lay pensions, has just passed overwhelmingly. The text may be found here:

The House of Bishops and House of Deputies are now meeting in joint session to hear the budget proposal for the triennium from the Standing Commission on Program, Budget and Finance. We were told at the outset of convention that the national budget would have to be trimmed by $24 million over the next three years. Folks are bracing themselves for a spartan budget.

As you have probably read either in blogs or the secular media, D-025 has received final approval of the General Convention. The text of that resolution may be found here:

The Deputies concurred with the Bishop's amendments yesterday by a sizable margin. That passage, as you might imagine, is being interpretted in many ways. Some see it as repudiation of the 2006 resolution B-033 while others (myself included) see it as an honest description of state of the Episcopal Church regarding issues of human sexuality. It mandates no action by the church and may or may not cause problems in the broader communion. Much of how we see many things depends on the perspective from which we come.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, those seeking to amend the church's teaching and practices regarding human sexuality, especially as they relate to ordination to the Episcopate and blessing of same gender unions, have the votes in the House of Deputies to pass any legislation they wish. So, it is likely that any resolution which liberalizes current church practices would pass the House of Deputies.

The House of Bishops is a bit more of a mystery. They were working on a resolution providing for same gender blessings during a meeting yesterday when they decided to postpone action until a small, informal working group of Bishops could work on a compromise that might be more agreeable to a wider group.

My sense is that the House of Bishops perceived that a strong majority among its members was unwittingly steamrolling a more conservative but faithful minority. So, they stepped back from the edge and began having intentional conversations about reasonable and perhaps non-legislative solutions. I have heard from a friend in the House of Bishops (not Bishop Gray, I might add) that a compromise resolution may be proposed this afternoon in the House of Bishops. We would hope to hear some word soon. One of the issues they are seeking to address appropriate pastoral responses in the six states where either civil unions or same gender marriages are allowed by law.

It is clear to me that the dynamics of General Convention have changed. With the departure of traditional deputations and bishops from Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and other bastions of traditionalism, the "center" of the church has moved. I would note, though, that there is less overt animosity and open conflict in this year's gathering. Debate and discussion -- on the floor and in committee --have largely been respectful. That does not minimize the very divergent perspectives that come to the table here. Differences and varying emphases are real. But there is also a very real sense of communion shared by the widely varied participants.
The Episcopal Church has a history of being able to hold divergent views within its embrace. Many of us came to the Episcopal Church because of the graciousness of its theology. We came because we were able to encounter and worship God in a community which was much more expansive than communities of faith we had previously experienced. That reality has not changed.
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We had our triennial Mississippi Night banquet last night and it was a delight. Some 55 Mississippians, ex patriates and friends were present. Seven Bishops attended, including Bishop Gray, Bishop Marble (now serving in the Diocese of North Carolina), Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia, Bishop Joe Burnett of Nebraska, Bishop Julio Murray of Panama, Bishop Victory Scantlebury of Chicago, and Bishop Lloyd Allen of Honduras.

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