Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church began somewhat tentatively today -- as planned -- with committee meetings in the morning, a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies this afternoon, deputy orientation afterwards, and then committee hearings this evening.  Our work concluded at about 7:00 p.m.

Some folks unencumbered by committee work were able to attend the minor league professional ballgame literally across the street from the convention center.  Folks I saw afterwards said the game was "hot."  Surprise, surprise, surprise.  There was a large Episcopal group that helped make the July 4 home game at Victory Park a sell-out.  As I write this, a massive fireworks display is going on outside my hotel window.

It is hard to get a 30,000 foot view of convention developments when one is deeply involved in a committee.  What is transpiring on significant subjects will become more apparent as committee meetings are held and legislation is reported to the floor of General Convention.  That will be tomorrow and the following days.

My primary attention today was on the committee on which I serve, Committee 06-Structure.  We have some 80 resolutions to discuss and act on -- easily more than twice the number of any other committee.  The Structure Committee is one of the committees located at-or-near "ground zero" of this convention, due to the significant interest in and desire to reorganize the Episcopal Church and perhaps even General Convention.  Bishop Gray has been one of the leaders in that effort and it will be interesting to see how all this develops.

I was honored to preach the homily at this morning's opening Eucharist for the Structure Committee. Despite my erroneous reporting, Bishop John Howard of the Diocese of Florida -- a good friend of the Diocese of Mississippi and especially St. Patrick's, Long Beach -- was the celebrant, and not Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota.  Bishop Smith and I serve as chaplains to the Structure Committee.

The Structure Committee is comprised of probably 25 members -- most of which are Deputies.  There are perhaps eight Bishops on the Committee.  We serve side-by-side in considering the matters which come before us.  Since all legislation from our committee goes to the House of Deputies first (and only later, if approved, to the Bishops), any negative decision by the deputy members of the committee kills a resolution -- subject, of course, to revival by the House of Deputies.

The committee spent a good bit of time this morning discussing philosophical approaches toward restructuring.  It was a very good and open discussion.  We had only scratched the surface by the end of the morning's meeting.

We held hearings on a number of largely uncontroversial resolutions during this evening's session.  However, once the committee began consideration of the various canonical revisions, conversation was lively.  There were various efforts to amend the resolutions, some of which were successful, some of which were not.  However, it appeared to me that a larger issue was being voiced indirectly by rank-and-file members of the committee.  It was the concern about the committee's need to address very directly the larger and more comprehensive issue of restructuring.  I shared with the committee that it seemed that this larger concern was like "whack-a-mole," in which the concern arises again and again, even when it is dispatched in one resolution or another.  It appears to be that the committee may have to address the issue more fully and more quickly than some leaders might have thought.

I was invited to a strategy/information session tonight, to discuss "next steps" in the restructuring debate, but I declined to attend.  I believe that as a committee member, I must stay separate of such organized -- or very loosely organized -- efforts.

It may just be my own perception -- and not reflective of reality -- but I am unsure that the leadership of the committee or the leadership of the House of Deputies recognizes the depth of feeling and support related to a significant effort to restructure the church. That vision may be ill-defined at this point, but the energy is there, I believe.

In our opening joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, more than 1,000 people were present on the floor of convention.  We heard an excellent, visionary talk by the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori.  She seemed to be "looking over the horizon" at the challenges facing the church, and embraced them in a theology or hope. I truly respect and admire her.

The ensuing talk by the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, was not quite as upbeat.  One new deputy, seated nearby, after hearing her address, said "What was that?"  It was a fair question.  Another observer said the talk sounded like something from the Saturday Night Live character, "Debby Downer."  I choose to describe it as a view "looking back," while the Presiding Bishop's view was very forward looking. Hope triumphs over despair in virtually ever instance.

The first official legislative session is tomorrow.  A full day is ahead.  Please keep us in your prayers.

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