Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Importance of Leadership

As I have had the opportunity to watch leaders -- clergy and others -- over the last 25 years, I have observed some behaviors which lead to reliable truisms.

Those truisms may be boiled down to this simple statement: More often than not, an institution will reflect the characteristics, temperment and views of the leader.

More to the point: An anxious leader leads to an anxious organization. A conflicted leader leads to a conflicted organization. A calm leader leads to a calm organization. A non-reactive leader leads to a non-reactive organization. A thoughtful, reflective leader leads to a thoughtful, reflective organization.

You may substitute "congregation" or "vestry" for "organization," and you may substitute "rector" for "leader." Those substitutions bring the lessons home for those of us in the church.

This is not a question of intellect. It is more an issue of emotional maturity. The non-anxious, thoughtful leader manifests wisdom.

I have been amazed over the years as I have seen clergy have profound impacts on the congregations they lead and serve, for better or worse. From my earliest days in the ordained ministry, I have seen how a priest's conflicted relationship with diocesan leadership, most especially the bishop, has led to the congregation having a conflicted relationship to the diocesan leadership and the bishop. The reactiveness of the anxious leader is, from anecdotal observation, a window into other tendencies or issues in the life of that person.

An anxious leader may have a contagious effect in the organization or congregation -- especially if the congregation does not have prevailing sense of stability and maturity. That contagiousness can spread through a congregation and provoke conflict, fear and instability. That level of anxiety within a congregation leads a to sense of organizational myopia, causing the congregation to focus internally, on matters of fight or flight, rather than focusing outside of the congregation, in missional vision.

Healthy leaders -- and that includes lay persons within the congregation -- can also have an opposite effect. By virtue of their stability, maturity, long-term perspective, and sense of personal calm and well-being, the congregation may be influenced by their presence. The anxious congregation or institution will seek to sabotage the healthy response, though that is not an intentional action. Anxious individuals react instinctively, not from a reasoned, well thought-out position.

Conversely, when a leader functions from a position of calmness and maturity, he or she is free to choose a response -- one from reason, thought, and reflection, or one grounded in an emotional response. Without that internal sense of steadiness, a leader is much less likely to have the freedom to choose a non-reactive response. When the leader responds with instinctive anxiety, the anxiety is conveyed to the system, and it begins or continues to spread.

The principle is true beyond specific issues. It is a matter of leadership and not politics. Calmness leads to a calm system. Maturity leads to a mature system. Stability leads to a stable system.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Finish Line

The House of Deputies closed the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church with adjournment at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon. The Bishops adjourned a bit earlier than the Deputies.

The last day included a stream of legislation which the Bishop's had sent on to the Deputies for action. It will take me several days for all that we did to be clarified in my mind -- and also because I am having my massive convention notebook and "Blue Book" shipped back to the office.

Perhaps the most notable thing the House of Deputies did today was concur in the resolution (C-056) the House of Bishops had already passed providing for a multi-year study of issues around the blessing of same-gender relationships. The Bishops had very open and constructive discussions on the proposal, a process that could be a model for the larger church in discussing divisive issues. The end result was that many of the conservative Bishops voted for the resolution.

I must admit some consternation at visiting The Clarion Ledger website today (which I do on a routine basis throughout a usual day) and seeing the headline "Episcopal Church Approves Blessing of Same Sex Unions." Sadly, that story does a disservice both to the substance of the resolution and the very faithful process the Bishops, especially, undertook here.

I have noted before the significant inadequacy of the secular media -- and even Episcopal Life -- to deal with the nuanced and complex pastoral and theological issues reflected in these resolutions. A friend text-messaged me this afternoon asking "Have you done anything controversial on sexuality?" I texted back, "We'll have to talk. Too fine and nuanced to handle in a text message."

Our culture has become used to "sound-byte" understanding, and the work of the church and its profound wrestling with significant issues cannot be faithfully and accurately reduced to simple descriptions.

For those of you who would like to see the full text of C-056, you may access it here: Please note that the title of a resolution does not change as it moves through the process, even if the substance changes significantly.

You will recall, also, that General Convention earlier this week approved resolution D-025, which sought to address the widely varied opinions and provide a comprehensive description of the differing approaches to issues of human sexuality in the Episcopal Church. The text of that resolution is available at this site:

There were many ways D-025 was interpreted, and many of those interpretations did not reflect an understanding of what was actually approved, what was its intent, and the process from which it emerged. To address that subject proactively, the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schorri, and the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, sent a letter today to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The text of that letter may be found at this site: Much was made of his request to the General Convention and his initial response to the passage of D-025. With Archbishop Williams being a very thoughtful and reflective man, I suspect the letter will be very helpful to his understanding of what was done and what was not done.

One bit of refreshment Nora and I enjoyed with our free evening yesterday was to attend the Dodgers-Astros game last night with dear friend Marty Franks (brother of former parishioner Ellen Newsom in Starkville). Dodger Stadium is a great setting for baseball and the evening weather could not have been more conducive to a game. Alas, the Dodgers lost 3-0, despite having the same number of hits (7) as the Astros. We got to see Brandon native and MLB rookie Brent Leach pitch a bit of relief for the Dodgers late in the game. We also saw Manny Ramirez make his return to the majors after a suspension for use of foreign substances. The fans seemed ready to forgive.

I may report on other matters and issues in the days to come. Nora and I leave in the morning for our return to Mississippi. A blast of heat and humidity never looked so good.

Thank you for the honor and opportunity to be a deputy from my beloved Diocese of Mississippi.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Moving Toward Conclusion

It is approaching 11:00 a.m. on Thursday morning on the ninth -- and penultimate --legislative day of the 76th General Convention. I must admit some weariness. I would describe this as a 10-day vestry meeting on steroids.

Our deputation has worked together very well and I have appreciated everyone's presence and full participation here. We received an e-mail from alternate Ed Thurmond, who returned home last night. He offered us less-than-encouraging words of the humidity we would encounter when we return to Mississippi. Somehow I look forward to it.

The session opened this morning with a meditation and prayers by the Chaplain of the House of Deputies, the Reverend Frank Wade, retired rector of St. Alban's Church, Washington (next door to National Cathedral). This is at least the second time that Frank has served in this role -- a role he has described to me as "the best job in the church." He is quite gifted at this unique ministry.

Frank's meditation this morning was about the importance of evangelism. It was the best meditation of this convention. He tells me that the meditations will be available on-line. I have been unable to find them thus far, but when I do, I will pass them on to you. As we have debated many, many issues here in Anaheim, I thought Frank's meditation got to the heart of the matter.

You may have seen news reports of the House of Bishops' action on C-056, a resolution dealing with same-gender unions. There is widely varying reporting on the subject -- some of which is very overstated in terms of its implications. The secular media has difficulty dealing with the nuances of church polity and process.

I have not had a chance to speak with Bishop Gray about his thoughts on the much-amended version which came from the House of Bishops. The current version (which should come before the Deputies later today) may be found here:

One important caveat: The title of the resolution is listed as "Liturgies for Blessings." The resolution as currently proposed does not approve liturgies for blessing but provides for a study of the subject. The title does not change as the resolution is amended.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, those who would like to see the blessing of same gender unions clearly have the votes to move the church in that direction. The questions for consideration are how will that new majority function and how will they deal with those of different opinions? The answer to those questions will have a significant impact on future relationships within the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Will we work together or will we be polarized (much like the nation, politically) in the future?

Of course, one of the issues which Convention is attempting to address is how Bishops in the six states which allow civil unions or same-gender blessings may respond to those individuals and legal options? That is a real pastoral issue for the Bishops in those six states. The resolution says "That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church..."

The proposed resolution calls for a study of the issues by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, during the coming triennium. It also provides, "That this Convention continue to honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality..."

Our work this morning has been restricted to discussion and debate of the national budget. As I mentioned in a previous post, the budget had to be cut by $23 million over the next three years. There has been extensive discussion this morning. A number of efforts have been made to amend the budget or reappropriate funds from one line item to another. Thus far, the House of Deputies has respected the hard work of the Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (chaired by an Arkansas deputy) and rejected every effort to amend the budget.

It may be tomorrow before I get to blog again. Please keep us in your prayers.

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.
+ + +

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tuesday News

We have just completed the Tuesday morning session of the House of Deputies, which convened after legislative committee meetings at 7:30 a.m. As scripture described the progress of the disciples' boat on the stormy sea, we "are making headway painfully."

That is not to say that we are making progress out of pain or conflict, but the simple fact that more than 800 members of the House of Deputies -- each with the right to speak, raise points of personal privilege, offer amendments or motions -- makes for glacier-like progress. While I find the process stimulating and intriguing, time does seem to move slowly.

No doubt you have seen press reports on the movement of D-025, the resolution approved by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops (in slightly different forms) seeking to clarify the church's position on issues of human sexuality and ordination. The resolution has passed both houses by wide margins, but now comes back to the deputies for consideration of the amendment made by the House of Bishops. The latest version of the resolution text may be found here:

There is some historic consistency, at least from my perspective, in how this resolution is being described. In the 2000 General Convention, held in Denver, a resolution passed both houses seeking to describe the church's understanding of human sexuality and relationships at that time. That resolution, D-039, may be found here:

While that resolution prompted serious discussion and debate, in the end it passed the House of Deputies with a voice vote. There were very few dissenting voices. It was very clear, according to the resolution's proponents, that D-039 did not authorize blessing of same sex unions. It also seemed to be clear that very few objected to its final passage in the House of Deputies.

Afterwards, the chair of the legislative committee that cleared the resolution was quoted as saying, yes, the resolution does clear the way for same sex blessings. And at the same time, conservatives howled their objections to the resolution, indicating that it was utter apostasy. The contrast between the original discussion, the content of the resolution, and the interpretation after-the-fact was astounding.

When the current resolution (D-025) came up for consideration, a question was posed from the floor: "Does this resolution repeal D-033?" D-033, of course, was the resolution passed in 2006 that promised restraint by Bishops and Standing Committees when considering candidates for Bishop whose "manner of life" might be problematic for the wider church.

The response to the question regarding repeal of B-033 was ambivalent and unclear. I did not see D-025 as a repudiation of B-033, but instead as an honest reflection of the "raging ambivalence" of the Episcopal Church on these complex and controversial issues. I thought it captured "the mind of the house."

However, since the passage of B-025 by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, I have been amazed at how the meaning of the resolution has been construed. The New York Times this morning saw it as repeal of B-033 (that story may be found here: and similar reports have issued from in-house convention organs, such as Convention Daily (the story about the deputies' action from that publication may be found here: see page three of the publication).

While I believe that many in the House of Deputies saw their votes as a repudiation of B-033, many others saw the resolution of an honest, frank and well-worded description of the ambivalence of the church on these matters. Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose that is true, too, of the meaning of General Convention resolutions.

The House of Deputies received word this morning that the House of Bishops had amended D-025 and was sending it back to the committee (World Mission) for clearance of the amendments. It was assumed that would be a brief stop before the resolution was returned to the House of Deputies for what would likely be final approval. This slight delay seemed to cause the deputies great consternation. Motions were made for it to be brought to the house floor as quickly as possible and to move it ahead of other legislation, much of which has been on the calendar for days.

It struck me as odd, this anxious reaction. By the hastened effort to bring D-025 to the floor, we were seeming to say, "This particular resolution is more important than anything else this convention has to consider."

I agree D-025 is very important. It deals with a matter that is of much concern to many. Yet, I would note that the Episcopal Church faces huge challenges -- funding shortfalls on all levels, declines in membership, an aging church membership, lethargy in starting new congregations, connecting with different age and ethnic groups, among others. Why are we not facing these issues with the same urgency?

I would commend to your reading the State of the Church report (which was prepared by a committee including the Reverend Chip Davis and Canon Kathryn Weathersby McCormick): It describes fully many of the challenges we face as a church.

The Presiding Bishop has been guiding us toward focusing on mission. I hope and pray that we will soon be liberated from the grip of ancillary issues that have distracted us for too long. I do not contend that these ancillary issues are unimportant, but they are side issues. I just hope that we are soon able to get to the heart of Christian mission and ministry -- facing squarely the challenges before the church. There are serious institutional and systemic issues which we must confront in order for Christ's mission to thrive in this body.

As I write this, we are back in session for the Tuesday afternoon session. We have just taken a vote on whether or not to concur in the House of Bishop's amendments to D-025. The vote was "by orders" (which means that clergy vote as a group and lay deputies vote as a group) and we have not received the final results just yet.

Many Mississippians and ex-patriate Mississippians will gather tonight for the triennial Mississippi Night Dinner. I am told that there will be 55 of us at the Anaheim White House tonight -- including seven Bishops. It is always a good get-together of old friends.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Linda Nelson's presence here at convention. The dear friend and former Mississippian has been with us as chaplain to the deputation for the last two conventions. She is facilitating our deputation luncheons, as we meet to discuss our ideas, thoughts and reflections on daily developments.

We have also heard the sad news of the death of Eleanor Failing of Indianola, a much-beloved lay leader in the diocese. She was delightful, generous and wise presence both in her congregation and in the diocese as a whole. Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord: And let light perpetual shine upon her.

Please keep this convention in your prayers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Insight Today

This is 9:10 p.m. Sunday night, and the day is now done.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, we were having a legislative session this afternoon, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. The bulk of the floor time was consumed by consideration of D-025, the first of the resolutions relating to B-033 and similar issues. The latest version of that resolution may be found here:

The resolution was filed by Deputy Rebecca Snow from Alaska and was processed -- and fairly heavily amended -- by the Committee on World Mission. The amended version passed the House of Deputies with 3/4 majorities this afternoon. It now goes to the House of Bishops for consideration. I thought that it was a straightforward description of the situation in the Episcopal Church today.

Of course, convention is moving slowly but surely toward consideration of various "hot button" resolutions. The debate has been gracious and respectful thus far, and I am grateful for that fact.

There has been a bit of irony, though; one that has been reflected in the lack of personal insight on the parts of speakers from various perspectives. I want to be clear: This observation has applied to each end of the spectrum of these conflicted issues.

This afternoon, a speaker objecting to passage of D-025 referred to the saint whose feast day we observed yesterday -- St. Benedict of Nursia. In objecting to the resolution, the speaker cited St. Benedict's practice of "never moving on until the weakest member of the group could move along with the rest." He contended that passage of D-025 (and others like it) would leave many disaffected Episcopalians behind.

In committee hearings and in other venues, I have heard others -- who support repeal of the 2006 B-033 resolution and similar actions -- speak of the burden and the crosses they have had to bear because of B-033 and earlier actions which discriminated against the gay community.

The irony seems to be this: As arguments are offered, the advocates from each side seem to equate themselves with "the weakest" and those "who have carried the cross" and those "who have been persecuted." There appears to be a true absence of insight into the irony of their positions. The traditionalists appear to feel put-upon and persecuted, as do those who seek to bring about change in how the church values and recognizes gay and lesbian relationships.

My perspective on the gospel is somewhat perverse. It seems to be true that we, as Christians, should seek to outdo one another in showing respect and forebearance. We should be willing "to turn the other cheek." We should not so much "seek to be understood as to understand" (St. Francis' prayer). We should try to be like Simon of Cyrene, and pick up the cross and follow our Lord on the long, rough and winding path to the death of "our way" -- whatever "our way" might be.

The example of Jesus Christ is not one of willful victory, but of self-offering and sacrifice. As that wonderful Mississippi poet William Alexander Percy wrote many years ago, "The peace of God it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. But let us pray for but one thing: the marvelous peace of God." Christ never promised us victory -- except over death. The quest for victory of self and one's own perspective is not, I think, divine in its origins. The ability to bear and understand one another's pain is profoundly Christian. That is a worthy goal for all sides of the debates which began today in the House of Deputies and will continue in the days to come.

There is plenty of pain, loss, grief and alienation on all sides. That, I think, is the common ground we can share at the foot of the cross. In that, we can find our unity. In sharing that, we can find community that goes beyond the need to prevail.

I know that this church may head in some directions that may be uncomfortable for me. But when I was baptized, I was baptized not only into the resurrection -- but first, into Christ's death. If some part of me must die in the days ahead, I have a wonderful model to instruct me on how to face it.

God's peace be with you.

Convention Continues

I apologize for the delay in posting since Thursday evening. Events have not warranted much explanation and I am delighted to say that my wife, Nora, arrived here on Friday evening. I am indebted to the Reverend David Knight, our only clerical alternate to make the trip to General Convention, who sat on the floor of the House of Deputies yesterday (Saturday) while Nora and I attended the Angels-Yankees game at the nearby ballpark (The Angels waxed the Yankees, 14-8. I think seven home runs were hit during this classic non-pitchers' duel).

I am told that I did not miss much on the floor. There were ecumenical visitors who spoke during the lengthy legislative session (our longest thus far) and the national president of the ECW also spoke to the gathering. My understanding is that, besides the consent calendar (involving the quick passage of noncontroversial items), only one resolution was considered.

There has been something of a break today in the schedule. It is Sunday and, as is the tradition, the ECW United Thank Offering Ingathering took place during the morning's Eucharist. I would estimate several thousand people were present for this moving Eucharist, with the House of Bishops vested and in procession. The current Presiding Bishop was the celebrant and preacher, and co-celebrants were the immediate past two Presiding Bishops, Frank Griswold and Ed Browning. It is unusual for former PBs to be present at General Convention (I don't know if it is because they have "had enough" or if they do not attend out of respect to their successor), but I have heard that Bishop Katherine had invited them to be present.

As with previous services, but moreso this time, the music was varied and powerful. The combined musical resources of the church provide for some wonderful and eclectic musical offerings. One of the soloists today was Elizabeth von Trapp, grandaughter of George and Maria von Trapp of Sound of Music fame. Her voice is clear and beautiful. She will be the entertainment at tonight's triennial ECW Event.

I should note that two of our alternate deputies, Margaret McLarty of St. Andrew's, Jackson, and Danny Ray Meadors of St. Patrick's, Long Beach, have had prominent roles as vergers at the convention Eucharists. They have made us proud.

We have had different preachers at the services on Friday and Saturday. Bonnie Anderson, a lay person from Michigan and president of the House of Deputies, preached on Friday. Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for the Jim Lehrer Newshour on PBS, was the preacher at Saturday's service. His sermon was very, very well prepared and preached. He is a thoughtful and insightful lay preacher. It will give me a deeper appreciation of his work on PBS.

The Presiding Bishop's sermon this morning was another example of wonderful preaching by our primate to which I have become accustom. I must admit a sense of inadequacy in taking notes -- my pen will just not move fast enough. However, here is a bit of a summary:

The Gospel lesson and her primary text was Luke 10:1-9, Jesus' sending of the 70 followers out into the world as representatives of his mission. She spoke of the preparations many made for General Convention, including the "verbosians" who exchanged massive e-mails regarding GC issues and plans, and the Episcopal Church Center staff members who made detailed preparations (including two staff members who drove a truck, packed with electronics, cross country).

She mentioned missionaries of years gone by who would ship their necessities ahead to their outposts in coffins, knowing that they would not return alive. "Cultural baggage" was part of that transfer, too.

Jesus, she said, calls us to "travel light" -- to leave much behind, to share the host's table, to rely on hospitality, and to preach peace whereever we go. She posed the question to us: If we travel light and leave our baggage behind, what are we ready to receive here at General Convention?

The 70, she said, were sent "to go ahead of Jesus -- an advance team... They could not share what they had not encountered. " They proclaimed what they knew and had experienced, "the loving Good News of God in Christ."

She oserved that over the years, "the church has traveled lightly enough to take root in many cultures." She asked us: "How much structure do we need? How does culture hinder us?"

She said, "When we hold something lightly, we are a lot more likely to share it -- to give it freely and to move on."

Cognizant of the setting of General Convention and highlighting the immediate missional setting, she asked: "Can you announce peace to someone wearing mouse ears? Can you heal in Disneyland?"

She challenged us: "What welcome will you offer? What peace will you receive?

Mindful of the Eucharist, she said, "Eat what is set before you this morning, and then go out as sacrament -- as sacrament of the reign of God."

At each General Convention I have attended (this is my fourth), I have been moved by the breadth of the church I encounter. We in Mississippi hear the word "diversity" and we primarily think white and black. This is a much broader church and that breadth can be seen clearly at General Convention. The diversity that is characteristic of the Northeast, the West, the Province IX dioceses (international), and other affiliated churches is readily evident. It is delightful to see, and to see all these people sharing in the worship and the work of the church.

I also appreciate the proclamations of the Good News that I hear while at General Convention. The preaching and committee discussions always help me hear the Gospel in richer and more multi-dimensional ways -- recognizing that we need one another to hear all of God's word.

Legislative action will begin to pick up in the next couple of days. Many of the so-called "hot button" issues will be reaching the floor of the houses. Please be mindful that in order for legislative action to be final, a resolution must pass the House of Bishops and House of Deputies in the exact same form. You will likely be seeing news reports of one house taking this action or that action, but those reports may only be preliminary in their status.

I am relatively certain that some of the more controversial proposals could be easily approved by the House of Deputies. The votes are there. There is a great deal of speculation, though, that the House of Bishops may be the more conservative and constraining body of this convention. It will be interesting to see.

I am about to leave my room and go to the legislative session which begins at 3:00 pm. It is a three hour session today -- our only business today. I have a legislative committe meeting first thing in the morning and THEN I am taking the rest of the day off. Nora and I will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary tomorrow -- one of life's great blessings. I appreciate David Knight sitting for me tomorrow. I know that Nora is thankful, too -- that we are not at Camp Bratton Green, where we have observed a few anniversaries in the past!

Please keep us all in your prayers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reflections on Another Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury was our preacher at the General Convention Eucharist this morning, after he spoke at a global economic crisis forum last night. Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno (a former Oakland Raider lineman and police officer) was the celebrant.

Archbishop Williams opened his meditation by acknowledging “that everything you say as Archbishop of Canterbury is picked over for hidden meaning and code words. I assume that will be the case today.” (Please note that I have done my best to take accurate notes; however, I am fallable.)

So, he chose to get two items on the table, plainly and forthrightly: “Thank you for the invitation to be here and to your engagement with all of us.” He said that he was aware of sacrifices which had been made by people in the Episcopal Church in order to engage recent Anglican Communion processes.

He also said, “I come with hopes and anxieties… I hope decisions will not be made to push us farther apart… It is a concern because we need you.” Drawing on the Gospel lesson today (John 15:15-17), he went on to say that, “We have been spoken to by Christ and our fellowship is from him… We are friends of his… We are holy because we have been brought into a holy conversation.

“Our presence here is evidence of a humanity broken open for divine intimacy,” he said, noting that our being broken open exposes our human limitations and frailties. “Jesus dies because we don’t want to die – to ourselves and our own interests and desires.”

He said that as a result of our fear of death to self, we “collude with the death of the poor, the ravages of AIDS, economic injustice” and other manifestations of sin in the world. The church, he said, is here to name death and our fear of it, and “to promise life in Jesus Christ.

“To be holy is to share life in the face of many forms of death… Life is found in giving up the need to justify self… We are bound to each other” in new life and holy love.

Having heard Archbishop Williams speak three times now, I was moved by the wisdom and insight of his preaching. He was warmly welcomed by the convention and we were grateful to have him with us.

There was a great deal of committee work today. We began at 7:00 a.m. and concluded the first session at 9:15 a.m. After the Eucharist and a brief lunch break, we went back into committees for another two hours at 2:00 p.m. I am glad to say that the subcommittee I chair in the Ministry Committee has perfected all the resolutions which we were assigned. One involved significant amendments of Title III, Canon 9, Sections 12-20 – the portion of the ministry canons which pertain to the mediation and dissolution of a pastoral relationship. The resolution was largely drafted by former deputy and Mississippian, the Reverend Stan Runnels, now in the Diocese of West Missouri. That portion of Title III has needed amendment for some time and I am hopeful that our final result will be approved.

The House of Deputies spent an hour this afternoon in the Committee of the Whole, a non-legislative format which allowed one-on-one reflection between deputies from different dioceses concerning B-033. B-033 is the 2006 resolution which called for restraint by Bishops and Standing Committees in confirming election of Bishops whose “manner of life” might pose problems to the wider communion. We will have another hour of the Committee of the Whole on the same subject tomorrow.

The status of B-033 is clearly becoming one of the major issues on the horizon. Another will be the disposition of resolutions regarding the blessing of same sex unions. Nearly all of those resolutions have been referred to the Committee on World Mission, largely because of the communion-wide impact of those issues. It has also been speculated that the World Mission Committee was chosen because legislation emanating from it is sent to the House of Deputies first. It has been further speculated – and I think accurately so – that the House of Deputies is much more amenable to these resolutions than the House of Bishops.

It is clear to me that the dynamics of the House of Deputies have changed. There is an absence of the very conservative voices which once were present in the former leadership of dioceses such as Pittsburgh and Fort Worth. I think this will mean a less contentious house, but also a house which is less restrained by a very conservative wing. This places more pressure on the House of Bishops to maintain some sense of balance.

One observation I would offer is this: It is terribly easy to see this convention – especially from afar and through set lenses of interpretation – in a single-dimensional manner. I think that is a tendency in contemporary society – to see political figures, ethical issues, and societal trends in a dualistic manner, all good, all evil, all helpful or all destructive. That tendency toward dualism – seeing everything in black and white, without shades of gray – was identified with an early heresy in the history of the church.

What I encounter here (and at past General Conventions) is multi-dimensional, with many hues and shades. There are hundreds and hundreds (even thousands) of faithful people here who worship Jesus Christ and share in the historic faith. We say prayers together. They minister in powerful and transformative ways in their respective communities. They speak my language and others. They represent all sorts and conditions of human beings – young, old, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Native American, oriental, European; able-bodied and disabled; tall, short, heavy and slender; conservative, liberal and moderate.

Some of them have very different perspectives and opinions from mine. Some of their life-styles are contrary to my own. Several of my friends here are living in relationships outside of marriage – faithful, devoted, caring and long-term. We gather around the same altar, we say the same prayers to the Lord God we deeply love, and we share one loaf and one cup. I care for them deeply and I admire their struggle to live their faith in a meaningful way that offers hope to others. They have been patient and understanding as the church has debated the validity of their personal relationships.

I still tend to be traditional. But I cannot delude myself into believing that these issues are totally black and white. These are brothers and sisters in Christ.

I love this church and the Christ I encounter in its people and sacraments. This is my home. I am here to stay.

Thank you for the honor and opportunity to be a deputy from Mississippi. Please keep us all in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

First Legislative Day

Today was the first legislative day for the 76th General Convention. It has been a very full day and there is much yet to happen later tonight. I am currently sitting in the massive Pacific Ballroom of the Hilton Anaheim, awaiting an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Rowan Williams. He will be speaking to us in a few minutes about the global economic crisis. After this session, the committee on which I serve, Ministry, will hold hearings on a cluster of resolutions regarding funding of theological education.

Our day began with our very first legislative session of the House of Deputies at 8:00 a.m. That meeting dealt almost exclusively with organizational matters – parliamentary and canonical necessities which make the things we do in the coming days legal. It lasted only an hour, but got the convention launched.

At 9:15, we celebrated our first convention Eucharist. It was a stirring and wonderful celebration with much more than 1,000 people present. The music was a potent blend of several traditions, from the traditional African music in keeping with our convention theme, Ubuntu, to the standard and beloved hymns we sing in Mississippi congregations. The liturgy of the service would be very familiar to Mississippi Episcopalians, utilizing Eucharistic Prayer B. Bits of the service were said in Spanish, out of respect for the breadth of Hispanic participation in the convention. I found it blended well. It was a wonderful service.

The Presiding Bishop served as celebrant and preacher. Her sermon was remarkable (I have found that any one of the PBs’ sermons – Bishop Griswold’s or Bishop Katharine’s – during General Conventions would suffice as my summa theologica, if I had the erudition and insight to write them). Their quality of preaching – past and present – has been extraordinary.

The PB took as her text this morning’s Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel 36:24-26. She spoke of the power and promise of God, spoken through Ezekiel, that He would give his people a new heart. She spoke of this in the image of a heart transplant.

I cannot do justice to that very fine sermon. And even though I took copious notes, I will not transcribe them here. I will summarize them, though.

We were recognizing the Anglican Church in the Philippines at the service this morning, and their primate was present for the service. Bishop Katharine spoke of the roots of the Anglican Church in the Philippines, first given birth by the Episcopal Missionary Bishop Charles Henry Brent, sent there in 1901. The Philippine Church became an autonomous province – free of colonial roots and connections – in 1990. They have since become self-sufficient, yet in a covenant relationship with the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Katharine noted that even though different parts of the body work together; the ear is not the toe, nor the arm an eye. It is true of the Body of Christ, too. She said that when parts of the Body work together, they understand their unique gifts to the Body’s functioning, as well as their limitations. Speaking in terms of the Body of Christ, the Philippine Church could not be the Church in Haiti, but they could work to support one another.

She also observed that the strength of the Philippine Church was born in the spirit of mission which helped birth it. Charles Henry Brent, the Missionary Bishop, sent his missionaries into the hills and mountains outside of the cities. That is where the strength of the Philippine Church is found today.

The Presiding Bishop said, “Our heart will certainly turn to stone if we think our mission is to those already in our lovely pews or in the pews of other churches… The challenge is whether we will receive new life… Abundant life is not only promised, but realized by giving ourselves to a languishing world.”

She closed quietly: “Can you hear the heart? Mission… mission… mission.” There was a period of silence as the call to mission sunk into the hearts and minds of her listeners.

After the Eucharist, we moved to legislative committee meetings. I am thoroughly enjoying working with my small subcommittee as we work to perfect nine or ten specific resolutions. It is a very convivial and agreeable group. Three members of the subcommittee are people of whom I had heard in the past. It has been good to get to know and work with them.

We met as a deputation for lunch. We discussed the activities of our various committees, and those we have been following. The lunch meetings are helpful and constructive.

We had additional committee meetings from 2:00 until 4:00 this afternoon, after which came another legislative session. Most of what we have considered thus far has been routine and non-controversial. However, there were two resolutions which we adopted this afternoon which gave an insight into the future. They have to do with our funding priorities for the coming six years.

The first of those two resolutions was D-052, which set the budget priorities for the coming three years. The five major categories were the following:

Networking the members of the Body of Christ
Alleviating Poverty and Injustice
Claiming our Identity
Growing Congregations and the Next Generations of Faith
Strengthening Governance and the Foundations for Ministry

There are several additional program emphases under each of these priorities. The text of the resolution may be found at

We also looked into the future, the following triennium, 2013-2015, adopting the “Five Marks of Mission” as articulated by the Anglican Communion as the foundations for budget priorities during that time. Those five marks include the following:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

More information on that resolution may be found at:

Keep in mind that these funding priority resolutions have passed the House of Deputies only and must go before the House of Bishops. I would note that each of these passed the House of Deputies without dissent.

These details may be dry to the reader, but they (along with the preaching of the Presiding Bishop) give me hope for a future. I am optimistic that we will be freed from much of our internal bickering. That is not to minimize the seriousness of the issues we face (they are real), but this peak into future priorities portend a time of focus on broader mission and ministry.

I ask your indulgence for any mistakes in this blog. I am writing "on the run" -- trying to get these posted in a timely manner.

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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

About the Mississippi Deputation and General Convention

The Diocese of Mississippi's Deputation to the 76th General Convention is a remarkable blend of the old and the new; of the experienced and the newcomers.

Providing important leadership to this deputation will be the Right Reverend Duncan M. Gray, III, Ninth Bishop of Mississippi, and the Reverend Chip Davis, deputation chair, rector of Trinity Church, Natchez.

Each diocese is represented by four lay deputies and four clergy deputies. Each diocese also has the option to elect four lay alternates and four clergy alternates (Mississippi elects a full slate of alternates, though this year, for various reasons, three will not be serving).

In addition to Chair Davis (who has served as deputy at five General Conventions), we have other experienced deputies. In the lay order, Canon Kathryn McCormick of the diocesan staff and St. Andrew's Cathedral in Jackson, Dr. Anita P. George of Church of the Resurrection, Starkville, and Dr. Ed Sisson of St. Peter's, Oxford have all served at four conventions. Bobbie Marascalco from Holy Trinity, Vicksburg, was an alternate at the Columbus convention three years ago.

In addition to Chip in the clerical order, I have served at four conventions. Our other two clergy deputies are newcomers -- the Very Reverend Edward O'Connor, dean of St. Andrew's Cathedral in Jackson, and the Reverend Sylvia R. Czarnetzky, recently of Chapel of the Cross, Madison, and now vicar of St. John's Church, Aberdeen.

Nearly all of our alternates have convention experience. Dr. Bob Thompson from St. Andrew's, Jackson, Ed Thurmond from St. Mary's, Lexington, and Danny Ray Meadors from St. Patrick's, Long Beach, were alternates at the 75th Convention. Jack Conway from St. Philip's, Jackson, is the only new alternate in the deputation. We have only one clerical alternate attending this year and that is the Reverend David Knight of St. Patrick's, Long Beach. He served as alternate at the 2006 convention.

Several of Mississippi's deputies serve on important convention committees. Kathryn McCormick is co-chair of the Church Pension Fund Committee. Anita George is vice-chair of Education. Chip Davis serves on Prayer Book, Music and Liturgy. Ed Sisson is a member of World Mission, and I am on the Ministry Committee. All of us have prior experience on General Convention committees. First-time deputies are not usually appointed to committee and thereby have the opportunity to attend and experience a variety of committee meetings and hearings.

An excellent resource for understanding the organization, process and work of General Convention may be found at this site. A key point of this article is the role of deputy. Deputies are not sent to General Convention "charged" to vote in a particular way. They are elected because of the trust of the electing body in the individuals' wisdom, leadership, judgement and experience. The deputation which represents the Diocese of Mississippi was elected by the 181st Diocesan Council, held in Natchez. The deputation is empowered to attend General Convention and to exercise wisdom, discernment and prayerful consideration concerning the matters to come before the body.

General Convention is, first and foremost, a worshipping body of Christians. Every day includes a Convention Eucharist with a variety of preachers and celebrants. The styles of worship vary from day-to-day with the broad diversity present in this multi-nation church being represented. The music is stirring and diverse, as well. The center of our worship is always Christ's altar, on which the bread is blessed and broken and the wine is poured and shared. There is always the emphasis that we are a resurrection people called to a profound and world-changing mission.

General Convention functions like many bicameral legislative bodies, such as Congress. There is the House of Bishops, analogous to the U. S. Senate, which is populated by all Bishops -- active or resigned. Then there is the House of Deputies, much like the U. S. House of Representatives, which includes eight deputies (four lay and four ordained) from each of roughly 110 jurisdictions or dioceses, spanning mort than 20 countries served by The Episcopal Church. When in session, more than 800 deputies are on the floor of House of Deputies.

Each house has a presiding officer. The Presiding Bishop serves as president of the House of Bishops. The current Presiding Bishop is the Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schorri. The President of the House of Deputies is Bonnie Anderson, a lay person from the Diocese of Michigan. Both presiding officers were elected by their respective chambers during the 2006 gathering in Columbus.

The Convention is much like a legislature. Before a resolution is approved by General Convention, it must be reviewed and recommended by one of the convention committees (there are about 25 of them) and it must be approved in the exact same form by both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. If it is not approved in the same form by both houses, it is not considered adopted by the General Convention.

Reducing the legislation to simple "sound bites" is almost always impossible. The complexity of the resolutions or canonical proposals is most frequently complex and nuanced, with the inclusion or exclusion of a single word making the proposal either acceptable or unacceptable. The secular media are not equipped with time, space or expertise to deal with these complicated matters. (In fact, the then-New York Times reporter who covered the House of Bishop's meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in New Orleans in 2007 so misinterpreted that meeting that I wrote her to challenge her understanding of events.)

So, as we enter the period of the 76th General Convention, I would encourage you to check a variety of sources for your understanding and interpretation of events and actions. I would recommend you visit websites which might be counter to your own leanings; that way you get a sense of different perspectives. There is an old saying that I refer to from time-to-time: "If it seems too good or too bad to be true, then it is probably not true."

I will hope to write reports on a daily basis -- reports which I would make available via this blog. However, the pace of General Convention is daunting. We frequently begin with committee meetings at 7:00 a.m. and may not conclude until after hearings at 10:00 p.m. A level of exhaustion may set in, prompting periodic "writer's block."

Please keep General Convention and the deputation from Mississippi in your prayers.

A Little Biography to Establish Context

I have been ordained for a little over 22 years. I am pretty-much a life-long Mississippian, having ventured out of this diocese only briefly to serve on staff at a congregation in Tennessee.

My roots are deep in Mississippi. Both my maternal and paternal sides have lived in Mississippi for multiple generations. I was reared Methodist and grew up in a combination of Columbia, Greenwood and Meridian. I value my Methodist roots. I was educated at the University of Mississippi (with degrees in political science and journalism) and was in private business in Jackson for nine years before attending seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee.

Since graduation and ordination, I have served congregations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Nashville (briefly), and Starkville. I have served as Canon to the Ordinary to the Bishops of Mississippi since May 2001. The 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church will be the fourth I have attended. I attended the 73rd Convention in Denver as an alternate, and participated in the 74th in Minneapolis and the 75th in Columbus, Ohio as a deputy.

Nora and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary while at General Convention. We are the parents of two adult children.

Faith and the church have been central foci in my life, from my days of attending Sunday School at First Methodist Church in Columbia, all the way to this moment. My faith has shaped, molded and grounded my life. A central tenet in my understanding of God's work is existential redemption -- that God works through the most difficult experiences to transform and renew life. This is seen most dramatically in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is also seen in myriad ways in faith history. We experience those times as "little Easters" -- God bringing life out of difficult circumstances.