Thursday, July 16, 2015

After the Fire

I should say at the outset that I cannot predict the future.  It is folly to think I can – or that anyone can.  In each arena of life, there are too many moving parts.  If we delude ourselves, we think that we can manage a few of those variables.  But we really can’t.  The vast majority of factors is out of our control and beyond our ability to see. 

The future of the Episcopal Church is like that.  We are a small boat in a vast sea of change.  Societal and cultural waves are rocking our little boat, as they are with all the other ecclesial craft on the turbulent sea.  Some are much larger than us, but none can control or even foresee the events which await us over the horizon. 

We do what we do on a wing and a prayer.  We make our decisions in hope.  That is what the 78th Convention of the Episcopal Church did in Salt Lake City.  The Convention made decisions which it hoped would move the church constructively into the future.  Some celebrate that course.  Some grieve it.  But none of us knows for sure what awaits us.

It is with that caveat that I offer the following hopeful metaphor.

After General Convention, Nora and I traveled to Yellowstone National Park.  It is a place of breathtaking scenery.  The vistas there are beyond description.  It would have been impossible for me to prepare myself for what I encountered there.  It should be on each person’s bucket list.

As we made our initial drive into that massive park (more than 3,000 square miles), I was struck by one element of the landscape.  Most of the trees we saw were very young.  The forest canopy which I had anticipated was largely not present.  The trunks of older trees were lying on the forest floor – like matchsticks thrown across a flat surface.  I observed this phenomenon for miles and miles as we drove into the park.

Then it occurred to me.  I recalled that Yellowstone had experienced devastating forest fires some years before.  I remembered seeing the news coverage of the massive firestorm.  The images of fire surrounding the Old Faithful Inn came to mind. I realized I was seeing the lingering effects of that blaze.

I could not recall precisely when that fire occurred.  The older I get, the faster time seems to pass.  In younger days, I could place all events within a specific context – how the events related to high school graduation, or a specific Ole Miss football game, or maybe a pivotal election (I was a political geek).  However, I could not place the time of the great Yellowstone fire.

Then I saw a marker, commemorating that epochal event.  The year was 1989 – much farther back than I would have guessed.  By that reference, though, I was able to place those young trees in context.

I saw more information on the fire.  While we tourists might view the fire as a terribly disruptive and destructive event, conservationists and the park rangers see the fire as a renewal of the forest.  In the blaze, much of the overgrown forest floor is consumed. Dry wood and brush are burned. Old, dying trees go up in smoke. The forest is scoured by the flames.

Something interesting happens in the fire, though.  The burning trees cast their seeds to the wind.  The wind scatters those seeds and, along with them, the beginning of a renewed forest is born.  The conservationists see naturally-occurring forest fires as a means for the land’s renewal.

Like the Phoenix, the renewed forest arises out of the ashes.  Like Christ, the forest comes from the silence of the tomb.  New life emerges from the old.

There was an additional element that Nora and I saw.  As we traveled around the park (we spent four nights there, at three different lodges), we saw a mixed multitude of people there.  The visitors and workers there were apparently of all colors, races, ethnic origins, shapes, sizes, and any other variable you might envision.  There were Anglos, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Germans, Russians – lots of variety in the people around the park.  There were so many languages and accents that I heard, I lost track.

It occurred to me that all of this – the forest, the scenery, the wildlife, the visitors, the staff – had all emerged through the experience of the fire.  No doubt it was a searing and frightening experience.  I suspect people wondered about the viability and future of Yellowstone – whether she would ever regain her lost glory.

Indeed she has.  The park is certainly different now.  No doubt about that. She is still emerging from the flames, the smoke, and the ashes.  Yet she is drawing people from near and far, and she has a compelling beauty to share with all who enter her four gates.  She has much to share.

Yellowstone seemed to me to be a metaphor for the Episcopal Church.  We too have been through the fires which have raged around us.  The fires go back at least to the 1960s, when the church began to wrestle with its sense of call to ministries of social justice.  Those fires flamed in the years following, with the decision on the ordination of women and prayer book revision.  In recent years, the flames have centered on diminishing membership, the prophetic voice of the church, and the church’s understanding of the appropriate sacramental response to people in same gender relationships.  Serving as an overlay to all this is the significantly altered role of the Episcopal Church – from its historic place as a powerful,  almost-established church to its place now largely on the fringes of culture.

We may have more flames yet to come. But if we are faithful, if we tend the soil of our hearts and spirits, if we are true to our call from God, we too will emerge from the ashes, blossoming with new life.

Perhaps, also, we will be like the renewed Yellowstone.  We will draw a mixed multitude of people – persons of many races, perspectives, opinions, needs, and views. There is room for all.

The future is unsure.  That is certain. But this is a vision of what may be.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Moving Day" at General Convention

Wednesday was “moving day” as one General Convention staff member described it – using the metaphor of Friday in a PGA tournament for the convention’s action on major items.  Those two major issues were structure and marriage.

Much of my focus at this General Convention has been on structure.  I was appointed to General Convention Committee 5 – Governance and Structure, and much of my time and energy (and frustration) have been connected with that committee.  I will be happy to share more of that subject’s action in a few moments.

The marriage subject has been less of a focus for me, other than having read the report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which was issued earlier this year.  It was that report which served as the foundation for the legislation which the Convention has approved.

I was on the floor Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning for the debate on structure.  I was not on the floor Thursday afternoon for the debate on the marriage resolutions.  I can speak with some knowledge and authority on the former, and not much on the latter.

I know that the hot topic for many people is the General Convention action on marriage.  General Convention has extended the use of "I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing", which was passed by the 77th General Convention for use in jurisdictions, with the approval of the Bishop of that diocese. Another version of that rite, but for use in a marriage, was one of three trial rites approved Wednesday. The other two changes affect the language of the two marriage rites currently in the Book of Common Prayer, making them gender neutral.

Trial rites are a first step towards prayer book revision but will not necessarily be what is in a new prayer book. I also understand that Title I, Canon 18, was amended to make various changes, with much of the focus being on replacing "man and woman" or "husband and wife" with "two parties" or "the couple" (this is the same language used in the new trial rites). My understanding is that this terminology is actually what was in the canons many years ago.

There are, of course, strong feeling on both sides of this matter.  I am certain that I am taking a very complex matter and reducing it to just a couple of paragraphs.  But that is what I am prepared to do at this time.  I strongly suspect there will be continuing conversations and insights in this matter.

I would note, however, that Bishops continue to have the authority to either allow or not allow marriages of same gender couples in their jurisdictions; that the church’s involvement must conform to civil law and canons; and that clergy continue to have the right to decline to officiate at any marriage (a right that has been in place for many, many years).  I know that such provisions do not satisfy anyone.

Having read a few blogs in the last few hours, I see that one of the main objections to General Convention action is that convention amended canons to make the change, rather than beginning the process to amend the Constitution, which is the usual manner for changing the Book of Common Prayer. (A constitutional amendment requires approval of the change by two successive General Conventions.)  I believe I am correct in noting that the canonical amendment route (requiring only one year) was the same process and the same focus of the stated objection when the ordination of women was approved.

The Reverend David Knight, a member of the Mississippi deputation, served on the Task Force for the Study of Marriage, and would be an appropriate person to contact with questions about this subject. 

No one should be surprised by this decision.  The Episcopal Church has shown a gradual inclination toward moving in this direction for many years.

Now, to structure.  In my previous blog posting (Can a Zebra Change its Own Stripes?), I shared my frustration with the process of considering, deliberating, and drafting resolutions by this committee.  After having offered my concerns and becoming more and more frustrated with the process, I had stopped attending committee meetings.

One of my primary concerns had to do with the section of one resolution which allowed the Executive Council (the “vestry” of the Episcopal Church) to “direct” the Presiding Bishop to dismiss any of the three top officials of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the formal name of the Episcopal Church).  That would have included the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Chief Legal Officer.  There is no parallel ability of vestries, standing committees, or executive committees to force similar action in congregations or diocesan structures.  I believed that such a canon would have impinged on the freedom of the Presiding Bishop to choose and keep staff.

My effort to amend that section was defeated in committee – and overwhelmingly.  However, it was with a great sense of relief that, when the resolution came to the floor of the House of Deputies on Wednesday, that provision was removed from the resolution, in a formal vote on the floor.

While we considered the various structure resolutions, we agreed to keep Executive Council the same size (42 members!), but we reduced the number of Standing Commissions (interim bodies created by the canons and in perpetual existence) from 14 to two.  In this action, General Convention indicated that it wishes to reduce the bureaucracy of the upper levels of the Church.

I would note that I still stand behind my belief – stated in yesterday’s blog – that the renewal, revitalization, and reenergizing of the Church will come, not from the upper levels, but from congregations, dioceses, provinces, and voluntary associations within the Church.

Over the last few months and the course of this convention, I have come to a broader awareness of the call of the Church and my place in it.  More on that later…

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can a Zebra Change its Own Stripes?

I have a new appreciation for why it is difficult for an institution to reform itself.

I also have realized anew why it will be the “lower” levels of the church that will renew, reform, and reenergize this sacred body.

Throughout this General Convention, I have served on Committee 5 – Governance & Structure.  The work of that committee has been very demanding, with meetings each morning and each evening.  Some of those meetings were specially-called meetings, conflicting with other scheduled events and obligations.  That work continues but, sadly and reluctantly, I have removed myself from its deliberations.

There are good and gifted people of well-meaning intentions on the committee.  Many of them are very wise and know the structure and its many nuances very well.  Some are leaders in the church today.

But therein lays the problem.  I reached my limit after two-hours of meeting last night (again, a specially-called meeting, not on the schedule).  We had met for nearly four hours that morning, going to great lengths to hammer-out the essential principals of a comprehensive resolution.  A drafting group was to devise a resolution which the committee could approve that night.

However, last night we slowly – but not methodically – went through the lengthy resolution.  After two hours with no breaks, we were less than one-fifth of the way through the resolution.  Less than one-fifth of the committee was deeply immersed in wordsmithing the resolution – going sentence-by-sentence through the lengthy resolution, debating, discussing ad nauseum the legal fine points of words or phrases.

Some 30 members of the committee were sitting quietly as five members attempted to put a very fine point on each sentence.  

One thing I have learned in my 28 years of ordination is that two of the most precious resources we have are time and energy.  The work of this committee was not good stewardship of either the time or energy of its members.  But, I should say, I could be wrong. That is my perspective.

I had watched, since the beginning of convention, how the committee had squandered precious time and failed to reach decisions on important matters on which it was expected to act. Time began to get away.

I was honored to be appointed to the Governance & Structure Committee by the Reverend Dr. Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies.  President Jennings appointed many gifted members to this committee, and I suspect she felt good – and maybe still does –about her appointments.  However, we were not good stewards of the task before us.

Two things occur to me:

·         The task presented to the Committee on Governance & Structure was a daunting and maybe impossible one.  We were expected to take the intricate work of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church – done over three years of intense focus – and the massive structure of the Episcopal Church, and then redesign it in just a few days.  This was with a committee – bishops and deputies – of 45 people.

·         The structure of General Convention – with its many interests, motives and voices – is not well-suited to reimagine itself.  The many canons, rules of order, personalities, and other variables make this undertaking impossible.  It cannot streamline itself.  It cannot make itself more efficient.  Unless there is a change of heart, or it is willing to let go of some sacred idols. Nothing will happen until that time comes.

The report of the committee is set for a special order of business at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon.  No doubt, there will be lengthy and detailed resolutions offered.  I suspect, though, that the floor of General Convention will become another wordsmithing exercise and that whatever ultimately emerges from the bicameral legislative process will remind us of the futility of an institution reimagining itself.

The genuine, transformative renewal of the church will come from congregations, dioceses, and provinces.  To think that it can come from anywhere else, especially the top-down, is folly.

More later.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Making Headway Painfully

There is a portion of Old Testament scripture which illustrates my sense of the 78th General Convention.  It is found in 1 Kings, Chapter 18, and relates the experience of the prophet Elijah running ahead of Ahab’s chariots to Jezreel, as the chariots’ wheels bogged down in the mud of the valley.

My perception is not that of Elijah.  It is the sense of being with Ahab’s chariots.  We are bogged down and moving very slowly.  One of my frequent references in such situations – where progress is very slow – is to the story from Mark 6:48, in which the disciples are depicted as making headway painfully during a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

I would apologize for not posting to my blog last night.  It is a discipline that I try to keep. It helps me recollect and integrate the many things that happen during the day.  However, we had a specially-called meeting of my committee (the Committee on Governance and Structure) last night, preventing me from attending the Mississippi dinner that is always a highlight of General Convention.  My committee convened at 7:30 last night evening and, after much discussion, we ended our meeting close to 10:00 p.m.  It was not until after that meeting that I was able to have dinner and, by that time, I was “fried” and unable to write a blog.  My apologies.

Today I am writing on the floor of General Convention, during a four-hour afternoon session of the House of Deputies.  My committee began meeting again at 7:30 this morning, and we worked right through the Convention Eucharist, ending our deliberations just before an 11:00 a.m. legislative session, the first full session of the day.

This committee is one of the most important of this convention. We are tasked with considering, hearing, and acting on more than 40 resolutions – many of which emerged from the three year work of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church.  That task force produced a comprehensive report which suggested numerous changes in the upper reaches of the Episcopal Church.  The committee has worked mightily to address these many topics, but we have been moving through this daunting task with a ponderous pace.

We are struggling to get key resolutions on the floor in time for them to be acted on by the House of Deputies, so that they may then be sent to the House of Bishops.  It is anticipated that the Bishops will amend whatever the House of Deputies passes, necessitating reconsideration by the deputies.  General Convention has only four days remaining, so time if of the essence.

To that end, the House of Deputies this afternoon scheduled a special order of business to consider many of these key matters at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday (tomorrow).  That time frame may allow sending the resolutions back-and-forth to the House of Bishops.  While I have some minor objections to the resolutions as they will be presented to the House of Deputies, they will be largely constructive.  However, they will fall far short of the recommendations made by the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church.

The real work of reimagining and reenergizing the Episcopal Church will be done mostly on the local, diocesan, and provincial levels – and in those synergistic, collaborative efforts that usually emerge in voluntary, self-selected relationships.  It is, in my opinion, a bottom-up process of reimagining that will be most transformative and meaningful, and not a top-down process.

It is my understanding that the Bishops have been in discussion today on the subject of marriage.  I do not know the results of their deliberations at this time.  However, the House of Deputies this afternoon approved A-037, a resolution extending the life, membership, and functioning of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.  It has already been approved by the House of Bishops, so the House of Deputies’ action was concurrence.  The resolution is now official action of the General Convention and will prompt additional study on the subject of marriage. (I would note that the Reverend David Knight, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of Mississippi, has served on that task force during the past triennium.)

The House of Deputies also approved, and sent to the House of Bishops, resolution D-044, proposed by the entire deputation from the Diocese of Mississippi.  The resolution calls for the Confederate Battle Flag to not be displayed in the future in public, governmental, or church settings.  The resolution is grounded in our testimony and witness to Jesus Christ and his reconciling love; our baptismal vow to “respect the dignity of every human being”; and in the Episcopal Church’s fourth Mark of Mission (“transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation”).

I am very sorry to report that Bobbie Marascalco, a lay member of the Mississippi deputation, had to return prematurely to her home in Vicksburg due to the murder of a good friend, Sharon Wilson.  Bobbie was joined in her return trip to Vicksburg by her rector, the Reverend Beth Palmer, also a member of the Mississippi deputation.  We are keeping them in our prayers.

I suspect that there will be more news on marriage and structure in the next few days.  I will do my best to keep you posted in a timely way.

Please keep the General Convention and the Mississippi Deputation in your prayers.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Monumental Election

The big news today at General Convention, of course, was the resounding election of the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry of North Carolina as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Curry’s election was stunning in its quickness.  He was elected on the first ballot from among four very gifted and capable nominees.  He received 70 percent of the votes, with the totals being 121 for him; 21 votes for Bishop Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida; 19 votes for Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio; and 13 votes for Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut.

 The results were relayed to the House of Deputies – though not disclosed – and were immediately referred to the Committee on the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop.  The committee met with representatives of the House of Bishops who disclosed the results and responded to procedural questions.  The committee came to the full House of Deputies and made a motion that Bishop Curry be confirmed as the duly-elected 27th Presiding Bishop.  The House of Deputies confirmed the election by a vote of 800 to 12, an affirmative vote more than of 98 percent.

Shortly thereafter, the newly-elected Primate was escorted to the well of the House of Deputies by incumbent Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, his family, and the deputation from North Carolina.  There he received a thunderous ovation and shared his enthusiasm for the church’s embrace of proclaiming the gospel in a changing society.  Bishop Curry has repeatedly described the work and institution of the church as being essentially part of “the Jesus movement.”  Bishop Curry is a well-known preacher and evangelist.

Bishop Curry was the speaker at Mississippi’s annual clergy conference a few years ago, and was supported in that conference by the late Horace Boyer, the moving force behind the hymnal supplement, Lift Every Voice and Sing II.  He is the first Bishop from Province IV (the southeastern-most 20 dioceses) elected since John Maury Allin, Bishop of Mississippi, in 1973.  It should be noted that the top two vote-getters in the election this year were from Province IV.

I have been taking today off from the floor of General Convention, though I attended my legislative committee meeting early this morning.  I have been awaiting my wife, Nora, and her arrival from Jackson.  She flies into Salt Lake City tonight.  The Reverend David Knight, an alternate deputy from Mississippi, has been graciously sitting on the floor for me today.  He also got to participate in the momentous celebration of the election of the new Presiding Bishop today.

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog posting, General Convention will begin picking up steam on Monday, after we celebrate the Lord’s Day with the ECW’s UTO Ingathering Eucharist tomorrow.

Please keep the General Convention and the Mississippi Deputation in your prayers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Delaying Gratification

Scott Peck wrote four decades ago that a sign of emotional health is an ability to delay gratification.  We are getting to practice that truth at Salt Lake City.

As I mentioned in my blog posting last night, General Convention is like a steam locomotive – the internal parts are working hard, functioning as they should, but the locomotive takes a while to get up to speed.  Committees are still working.  The legislative calendar is beginning to gain weight.  But, as was the case with the disciples on the sea in the midst of the storm, “we are making headway painfully.”

But we get to the big item tomorrow.  Late tomorrow morning (early afternoon in Mississippi), the House of Bishops will cloister themselves away and begin taking ballots for the election of the new Presiding Bishop.  The four nominees’ names were officially placed in nomination at a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies today.  The four official nominees are Bishops Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio; Michael Curry of North Carolina; Ian Douglas of Connecticut; and Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida.  There were no additional nominees after the official list was released on May 1.

The Bishops will cast ballots until a nominee receives a majority of ballots of all Bishops voting.  Bishops eligible to vote include Diocesan, Coadjutors, Suffragans, Assisting, and resigned/retired Bishops – i.e., all Bishops present for the election.

Once a nominee receives a majority of the Bishops’ votes, the results are reported to the House of Deputies.  There, the House of Deputies will consider the results of the election and will likely confirm the results.  If, however, the results are not confirmed, then the House of Bishops will continue to cast ballots. That is very unlikely.

The new Presiding Bishop will be serving a nine-year term (You may recall that Bishop John Allin from Mississippi, the 23rd Presiding Bishop, served a 12-year term.  The length of the term has been reduced to nine years).  The installation of the new Presiding Bishop will take place in early November.

After the new Presiding Bishop is elected, General Convention will turn toward its other, more routine duties.  Legislative committees will continue to issue reports to the floor.  The legislative stride will be hit beginning on Monday, as both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies begin grappling with a backlog of resolutions.

Among the topics that will be dealt with next week are resolutions from  the report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, (If you have not already done so, I would suggest that read the statement issued by Bishop Seage today after the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage at and the report of the marriage task force, found at  There will also be resolutions and legislation from the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church (The task force’s report may be found here:

The secular press may be reporting from today’s action that the House of Deputies killed a resolution creating a Special Task Force on Evangelism.  That action may seem baffling to some folks, given the decline in church membership.  However, it should be noted that the Committee on Governance and Structure (of which I am a member) is reviewing the need for all Continuing Commissions, Agencies, and Boards.  The church bureaucracy has grown exponentially over the years, and the committee is reviewing the authorization and need for all bodies.

You are encouraged to look for “context” to convention decisions, separate of the secular press.  Some of the blogs which you have available to you are excellent sources for such context.

At any rate, the pace will pick up on Saturday, will slow down on Sunday (the Lord’s Day), and will sprint toward the finish on Friday.

Please keep the General Convention and the Mississippi Deputation in your prayers.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Locomotive Begins to Move

I have thought about an appropriate image for the status of General Convention at this stage.  It occurs to me a fitting analogy would be that of a steam locomotive.  While some of the internal mechanisms are functioning (and generating energy), the locomotive itself takes a while to gain steam and speed.  That seems to be an accurate metaphor for General Convention. 

Committees are functioning; holding hearings and considering resolutions.  The list of resolutions coming from the legislative committees will expand considerably over the next two or three days, and the work of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops will grow quickly.  Throw into that mix the fact that we will be focusing on the election of the 27th Presiding Bishop in the next two days. 

Today was fairly inconsequential, save the Convention Eucharist, which was held this morning.  The Presiding Bishop was the preacher and celebrant.  It was wonderful to worship – observing the Nativity of John the Baptist – with 2,000 fellow Episcopalians.   

I cannot speak to what the House of Bishops did today; you would need to consult Bishop Seage’s blog on that matter.  However, the House of Deputies spent the afternoon largely discussing the revised Rules of Order, significantly rewritten from previous conventions.  We ultimately approved those Rules of Order without any amendments from the floor, but it was not a simple process.  The only other official legislative action we took was approving a letter of condolence to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in light of the tragic events there last week. 

Tomorrow (Friday) will feature a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, at which the names of the four candidates for Presiding Bishop will be placed in nomination.  Those four candidates include the following Bishops:  Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio; Michael Curry of North Carolina; Ian Douglas of Connecticut; and Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida.  After the nominations, the remainder of the joint session will be spent in a discussion of the proposals revolving around the restructuring of the Episcopal Church. 

But that is tomorrow.  Tonight, the Governance and Structure Committee (of which I am a member) spent 105 minutes hearing testimony, concerning various proposals before the committee.  Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Presiding Bishop-nominee Ian Douglas were among the witnesses.  Some of the testimony had to do with the structuring of the Episcopal Church Center staff.  Some had to do with Continuing Commissions, Agencies, and Boards.  Other testimony focused on the proposed transformation of General Convention into a unicameral body, as opposed to the current bicameral legislative body. 

The testimony the committee heard tonight was substantive and, I suspect, will be very helpful to the Governance and Structure Committee as we move toward grappling with some 40 resolutions before it.  Some of those resolutions conflict with one another, and the committee will need to discern a path forward. 

The committee meets again at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.  We will begin making recommendations on resolutions to be sent to the floor. 

The election of the new Presiding Bishop will take place during the late morning and early afternoon of Saturday.  Once the Bishops have chosen a Presiding Bishop, it will be the responsibility of the House of Deputies to ratify (or not) the election. 

Please keep the General Convention and the Mississippi Deputation in your prayers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Orientation and Introductions

The focus of much of the 78th General Convention today was on orientation and the introduction of the four nominees for Presiding Bishop – the election for which will be Saturday.

Legislative committees met early this morning, with my subcommittee (Subcommittee 1 of the Governance and Structure Committee) paying close attention to the resolutions restructuring the General Convention and Continuing Commissions, Agencies and Boards (interim bodies which continue to work outside of General Convention).  There was little consensus in the subcommittee, and our hope was for much meaningful testimony at tonight’s hearings on those issues.

The General Convention came together for the first time as a joint session, at which we heard Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings make their opening comments.  That session – about an hour in length – preceded the two houses going into separate orientation sessions.  It was in this orientation that we were briefed on the high technology which will be used for voting and dissemination of information at this Convention.

The Mississippi Deputation met for lunch –as is our practice – to discuss issues coming before committees and General Convention.  It was in this meeting that we began discussing the idea of submitting a resolution discouraging the display of the Confederate Battle Flag in public, governmental, and church arenas.  Two deputies offered to draft the resolution.

This afternoon, there was another joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies.  The session provided a public forum for the four nominees for Presiding Bishop – Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio; Michael Curry of North Carolina; Ian Douglas of Connecticut; and Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida.  The two-and-a-half hour session included videos by the nominees, statements by the nominees, and responses to multiple questions from Deputies and Bishops.

The Mississippi Deputation met again at 5:00 p.m., and finalized a draft of the proposed Confederate Battle Flag resolution.  The entire deputation – Deputies and Alternates – agreed to sponsor the resolution.  It will be submitted tomorrow, with the deadline for submission of resolutions being at 5:00 p.m.

Tonight was set aside for various hearings.  My committee heard testimony – of marginal use – on the subject of restructuring General Convention and Continuing Commissions, Agencies and Boards.  There seemed to be a failure to communicate the hearing’s schedule, and so there was a significant absence of informed testimony.  The committee agreed to hear testimony on the same resolutions at a later meeting.

With all the technology we are using at this Convention, some breakdown in communication is to be expected.  That appears to be the case this evening.

I am told there was a large turnout for hearings on the Task Force for the Study of Marriage tonight.  I do not have first-hand information on that hearing, so I cannot write about what was said there.  I will, I am sure, have ample opportunity to comment on that legislation in the days ahead.

We have learned late tonight of the untimely death of David Jones, husband of Peggy Jones, Bishop Seage’s assistant.  Our hearts go out to Peggy and her family.  They are in our prayers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Analogy That Falls Short

The 78th General Convention began to get under way in Salt Lake City today.  Legislative committees held their initial meetings and began taking steps toward affirming, amending, or rejecting various resolutions coming before them.  These resolutions may adopt positions of the Episcopal Church, amend canons, or amend the constitution. The first two types of resolutions require action of only one General Convention, while a constitutional amendment requires the approval of two General Conventions.

Literally hundreds of resolutions will be reviewed by the 22 legislative committees.  My legislative committee – Governance and Structure – already has 40 resolutions before it.  That is three days before the deadline for submission of all resolutions.  So, more are to be expected!

A primer of General Convention procedure might be helpful.  I will also add an editorial comment.

It has been noted that the General Convention, which has its roots in 1789, is similar in structure to the Congress of the United States.  There are two houses, the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.  The House of Deputies (analogous to the House of Representatives) actually predates the House of Bishops (analogous to the Senate), because the original General Convention came before there were Bishops in the American Church.

The House of Deputies is comprised of one-half laity and one-half clergy.  Each diocese is allowed four lay deputies and four clergy deputies (whether priests or deacons).  There are 110 jurisdictions in the Episcopal Church, making the House of Deputies’ membership 880 at full participation.  Dioceses and jurisdictions (a jurisdiction would be exemplified a non-geographic entity, such as Navajoland) are also allowed to elect four lay and four clergy alternates.  Mississippi elects a full slate of deputies and alternates for each General Convention, though not all dioceses or jurisdictions do so.

The House of Bishops is populated by all Bishops in the Episcopal Church, no matter their status.  Diocesan Bishops, Bishops Coadjutor, Bishops Suffragan, Assisting Bishops, and resigned (the preferred term instead of retired) Bishops all have voice and vote in the House of Bishops.  All Bishops present on Saturday will be eligible to vote in the election of the new Presiding Bishop.

Resolutions which are to be considered by General Convention first face the scrutiny of the legislative committees.  Different resolutions go to different committees, depending on the subject matter.  When those resolutions are acted on by their legislative committees, they are placed on the agenda for either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies (the house of first consideration depends on which committee they come from; some go to the House of Bishops first, some got to the House of Deputies).

The resolution is then considered by the house of original action. When a resolution is approved by the house of original action, it must then go to the other house for action (Resolutions approved by the Deputies goes to the Bishops and vice-versa).  The other house may approve the resolution as passed by the other house, amend the resolution, or vote to kill the resolution.  If it is approved as passed by the other house, it is considered adopted by Convention.  If it is amended, it must go back to the originating house for consideration of the amendments.

In order for a resolution to be adopted by General Convention, it must be approved by both houses in the same form. Otherwise, it is not adopted – no matter how far it gets, without agreement.

There are various rules of the House of Deputies which make enactment more complex, such as voting by orders, or voting by roll call, or a recorded vote by orders.  That is going a bit into the weeds.

My editorial comment: This model does mimic the United States Congress.  That appeals to some and not to others. However, the analogy to the United States Government ends there.  It ends there because there is no “balance of power” or “checks and balances.” 

There is no Executive Branch or Judicial Branch which serve as a counterbalance to General Convention.  Our polity has not provided such a balance.  That leaves many issues of enforcement and interpretation up in their air.  How will the resolutions be enforced?  Who will enforce them? How will they be interpreted? Who will interpret them? 

Valid questions which need to be addressed. 

Issues which will be on the forefront of this General Convention: 

The election of the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
The report of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage and associated resolutions
The report of the Task Force for the Reimagining of the Episcopal Church and associated resolutions

More tomorrow.  Please keep the General Convention and the Mississippi Deputation in your prayers.    

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Day Before: The 78th General Convention

The work of the 78th General Convention begins tomorrow (Tuesday), as registration takes place, deputies are certified, and convention legislative committees begin their work.  The convention hits full-stride on Wednesday with the Presiding Bishop and President of the House Deputies making presentations to a combined meeting of the two houses – the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.  Orientation follows their addresses to convention. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the four nominees for Presiding Bishop will be officially presented to a joint session.  Those nominees include Thomas Breidenthal, Bishop of Southern Ohio; Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina; Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut; and Dabney Smith, Bishop of Southwest Florida.  The election of the next Presiding Bishop will be on Saturday, June 27.  Many observers expect Michael Curry to be elected. 

Each day’s schedule typically begins with legislative committees meeting early in the morning, followed by a Convention Eucharist.  Once the convention gets to its regular schedule, the Eucharist is followed by legislative sessions in the morning and afternoon, with evenings reserved largely for additional committee meetings. 

The Mississippi deputation meets each day over lunch to discuss developments in committees and the two houses. 

The Diocese of Mississippi is represented by the following deputies and alternates: 

Clergy Deputies

The Reverend Canon David Johnson, Diocesan Staff
The Reverend Paul Stephens, All Saints’, Tupelo
The Reverend Elizabeth Wheatley-Jones, All Saints’, Grenada
The Reverend Betsy Baumgarten, St. Patrick’s, Long Beach

Lay Deputies

Canon Kathryn Weathersby McCormick, Diocesan Staff and St. Andrew’s, Jackson
Dr. Anita P. George, Resurrection, Starkville
Dr. Ed Sisson, St. Peter’s, Oxford
Margaret McLarty, St. Andrew’s, Jackson

Clergy Alternates

The Reverend Margaret Ayers, St. James’, Port Gibson
The Reverend Ann Benton Fraser, St. Paul’s, Corinth
The Reverend Beth Palmer, Holy Trinity, Vicksburg
The Reverend David Knight, St. Paul’s, Delray Beach, Florida (canonically resident in Mississippi)

Lay Alternates

Lee Davis Thames, Esq., Holy Trinity, Vicksburg
Bobbie Marascalco, Holy Trinity, Vicksburg
Alice Perry, St. James’, Jackson
Danny Ray Meadors, St. Patrick’s, Long Beach

Bishop Seage, of course, is a member of the House of Bishops.

Several deputies serve on convention legislative committees.  The appointments include the following:

Kathryn McCormick, Pension Fund
David Johnson, Governance and Structure
Anita George, Social Justice & United States Policy
Ed Sisson, World Mission

Bishop Seage serves on the Dispatch of Business Committee.

Lee Davis Thames is serving as an advisor to the Social Justice & International Policy Committee.

David Knight served on the interim Task Force on the Study of Marriage – a group which is making significant recommendations to General Convention.

Bishop Duncan Gray, III, now serving in the Diocese of Louisiana, served on the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop.

Anita George is a member of the church’s Executive Council, the “vestry” of the Episcopal Church.

Kathryn McCormick serves as a Trustee of the Church Pension Fund.

Several members of the deputation are posting blogs or to their Twitter feeds.  They include the following:

Bishop Seage              Twitter           @rtrevdeadhead        

David Johnson           Blog      

Betsy Baumgarten     Blog      
David Knight             Twitter            @itinerantpriest

Ann Phelps                Blog      
Ann is a lay person from St. Andrew’s Cathedral who will be attending General Convention, but is not a deputy or alternate.

I hope to post to this blog each evening. Please keep the convention in your prayers.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Reason for Skepticism on the Sawdust (or Catfish) Trail

Years of observation of the political system have made me very skeptical of overt religiosity by political leaders – or anyone for that fact.  Excessive outward piety is a sign of a potential fraud, opportunist, or huckster.  Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry seared that skepticism into my spirit.

Having observed political leaders, sometimes close-at-hand, has informed and reinforced that skepticism.  I remember all-too-well Richard Nixon’s close and manipulative relationship with the iconic Billy Graham (once even borrowing a 20-spot from Graham to place in the offering plate at Graham’s crusade in Knoxville, Tennessee).  The tapes of Graham’s conversations with Nixon in the Oval Office were not flattering to either of the men, and Graham has appropriately apologized for his part in those conversations.

Other, more graphic, tapes show how cynical Nixon’s use of the great evangelist was.

We have seen over the years the use and manipulation of the political system by those who would wear their piety outwardly and prominently.  We do not have to go back very far in Mississippi’s history to see how we have been led down the primrose path by politicians who said one thing publicly and acted another way in private.  In fact, some of the evidence is very recent.

Oliver Wentzell, the late, long-time owner of a Mobile seafood restaurant which bears his name, supposedly ran for sheriff of Mobile County, Alabama.  He is reputed to have said, “I’ll stand for whatever the public will fall for.”  If that story is not true, it still bears a lot of truth.

I have watched – in my travels up and down Highway 49 – as a spectacularly tall metal cross has been erected adjacent to an all-you-can-eat catfish restaurant (What is one of the seven deadly sins?).  It is like others I have seen elsewhere – like at the Interstate 55 Winona exit.  I find it to be gaudy and a bit pretentious, but it was the dedication ceremony of that cross which really raised questions for me.

The Clarion-Ledger’s account of that dedication may be found here: I was struck by several quotations from that story.  Here are a few:

Governor Phil Bryant: "Ladies and gentlemen the old rugged cross stands here today, a bright shining emblem of the salvation that has been eternal and with God's blessing it will remain so."

U. S. Congressman Gregg Harper: "As the souls that are driving by right now, I dare say that there are more who do not know Jesus Christ than do know Jesus Christ and we need to remember to pray for those. And, I think this cross is an incredible reminder of the love that we have.”

Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves was there, too, but apparently not as quotable.

Perhaps most telling were some of the comments from the restaurant’s owner:  "Ain't it an awesome thing… that we have a governor, a lieutenant governor and congressman that still stand on the values that this country was founded over 200 years ago on?"

"If everybody was like this, this country wouldn't be going to hell like it is. Period. I'm not going to sugar coat it," he said.

I am reminded of the questions and controversy which arose after some similar, ill-advised comments by then-Senator Trent Lott, at the birthday of then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see comments above).

I thought another quotation was interesting, as well – also from the owner: "You're gonna get people coming against you of course, your atheists, your critics, they're out there. But, when you take a stand for Christ, he'll take a stand for you," he said.

I am aware of what Jesus said about practicing piety in public.  I am aware of his castigation of those who wore their religion very prominently and publicly. I am aware of his concern for the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the least of these. 

Questions I would pose to Congressman Harper, who spoke those words, and to those who listened:  What does it mean to know Christ?  How can we ascertain that those who embrace this tall, outward symbol in Florence, Mississippi are more faithful than those who find it a bit tacky and the political leaders’ words to prompt skepticism?

I am conscious of the facts that we live in a state which has the lowest level of education of any state, the lowest per capita income, and the highest level of obesity. Our political system is still energized by the third rail of politics (race) and, largely because of that residual animus, our Legislature has refused to enact expansions of Medicaid – which would help those about whom Jesus was most concerned.

I am a Christian.  I am proud to be one.  My life has been touched – repeatedly – and transformed by the presence of the living Christ moving in my life.  But I refuse to join this bandwagon. Call me what you will. The life I find compelling is not one of prideful piety, but the one of quiet, generous, humble, and gracious faith.

Howard K. Smith, the longtime ABC newscaster, said one time, “When someone says they’re just a country lawyer, you better check for your wallet.”  The same could be applied in this case.

 + + +

A great column on this subject may be found at the following link: