Monday, July 9, 2012

Today was another full-day at General Convention.  My day started with a Structure Committee meeting at 7:30 a.m.  This was the meeting we have all been anticipating and working toward.  We approved an omnibus restructure study resolution which, if approved by the House  of Deputies and the House of Bishops, will launch a process of evaluating church structure, governance and funding.  The subject -- and essential approach to the subject -- was brought before convention by resolutions supporting restructuring from 45 different dioceses (including Mississippi).

The recommendation was approved unanimously by our committee -- including some 18 lay and clerical deputies and eight bishops.  It may well be debated on the floor of the House of Deputies tomorrow.

Although the resolution is subject to amendment and passage in both houses, here are the essential points:

  • The desire for restructuring is grounded in a sense pervading the church that the Holy Spirit is calling for mission and structure grounded in the Episcopal Church's "Five Marks of Mission."
  • A task force of 24 members will be appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies by September 30.
  • The group shall include members which are not in current national church governance structures.
  • The task force will function independently of church governing bodies (such as the Executive Council) and will make its report directly to the 78th Convention, to be held in Salt Lake City in 2015.
  • Local, diocesan and provincial levels of the church are encouraged to engage in discussion of how the church needs to be restructured.
  • A gathering of representatives of the dioceses -- bishops, lay deputies, clerical deputies, and persons under the age of 35 -- will be held to review recommendations made by the task force.
  • The task force is to finalize its report to the church by November 2014.
  • The task force will propose constitutional and canonical changes to the 78th General Convention.
The above is my description of what the resolution would do and should not be confused with the actual, literal wording of the resolution. And either house is free to change it.

There were other developments today, as well, both in the House of Deputies and House of Bishops (even though I know only anecdotally the actions in the House of Bishops, since I have little contact with that house).

The House of Deputies began dealing with more contentious issues today.  One matter which has complicated the circumstances today has been a level of confusion among the leaders of the house.  There have been several misunderstandings or mistakes in parliamentary rulings and procedural errors which have, occasionally, thrown the house into some level of confusion.  Happily, those generally get resolved within a reasonable time.  But they slow the house's progress.  The parliamentarian was ill and away from the house today and the substitute may not have been up-to-speed.  Hopefully, the official parliamentarian will be back on Tuesday.

The major debates today were over four resolutions dealing with two subjects:  access to the worship, programs and governance of the church and to the ordination discernment process regardless of gender identity (especially transgender individuals); and the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

The first two resolutions -- dealing with gender identity -- had passed the House of Bishops earlier.  While there was some spirited debate on the matter, church acting in previous General Conventions, had agreed to stipulate specifically several "groups" who would be welcomed within the community and counsels of the church (for example, race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, disabilities or age).  The argument was made that in order to welcome "all" (which was stated as the desire and intent by everyone who spoke), the church must be clear as to what that means.  Both resolutions -- one having to do with participation in the life and worship of the church and one having to do with the ordination discernment process -- passed by overwhelming margins (well in excess of two-thirds).

This may not seem to be a big issue, as it relates to Mississippi.  However, there are areas of the church (more urban areas) in which this is an issue.  There is a number of transgender clergy present at General Convention. They appear to be valued and dedicated leaders in their dioceses.

The other two -- having to do with the Israeli-Palestinian situation -- drew contentious debate.  This is not a new issue for General Convention.  The Convention has been vocal in its support of Palestinian Christians in the past.  I have been concerned that little attention has been paid to our debt to the Jews and Israel in some previous resolutions, but the first resolution seemed to be well-balanced and reasoned.  The second resolution -- even though an attempt to take a more moderate stance than many pro-Palestinians in the Convention liked -- walked very close to the line leading to divestment in industries and enterprises associated with Israel.  While I was comfortable and appreciative of the first resolution, I was gravely concerned with the second.

Many people know of my periodic trips to Israel.  That is a land and a situation close to my heart.

I have also been told that the House of Bishops today approved "provisional" liturgies for the blessing of same gender unions.  I have not yet seen that legislation.  I suspect my first look at it will be tomorrow, assuming it shows up on the House of Deputies' agenda.  We will likely be considering in the next couple of days.  It is interesting to hear in the conversation around General Convention how southern dioceses (Virginia and Texas, for example) are making provisions for same-sex blessings, where there is a local consensus on the matter (Even former Reagan Chief of Staff and Secretary of State James Baker has endorsed the Texas "local option" plan).

The level of angst is much less than 2003.  This Convention is less animated by sex-related issues and seems much more concerned with and energized by matters such as mission, budgeting and restructuring.  That is where the bulk of Convention's attention has been focused.

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