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.