All the gavels came down at General Convention in Austin, Texas on Friday afternoon, July 13th. The House of Deputies was out by noon. The House of Bishops was released for lunch, asked to come back at 2:30, and when we did we were quickly adjourned. Marti and I, having come from Austin, remained for a few days more to soak up our old friends and places. We arrived home late Sunday evening.
Now, General Convention 2018 is in the record books as they say. Now, we reflect on what we did and decide what it all means. Here are some of the most notable things I think happened. Some will agree and some won’t so I claim these only for myself.
(You can find any resolutions discussed in the Virtual Binder from Convention)
#metoo-If not in legislation, and there was certainly that in this area, most definitely in worship, and in the ubiquitous air of convention this was perhaps the most apparent theme. The Service of Healing that began convention was powerful, sobering, controversial, difficult, and set the tone. In the House of Bishops, during some of our closed sessions, some of the most meaningful discussion, reflection, challenge, and healing that I have experienced in our House took place. There was the purple stole protest on one of the days and this was, rightly, simply at the forefront of all that this convention was about. The greatest takeaway from all of that, is the huge amount of work yet to do.
Prayer Book Revision-This went the way I wanted it to go. I did not speak to the original resolution, as it came to us from the House of Deputies, which called for a decade long work of actually producing a new prayer book, however I was prepared to. Having several versions of what I am about to reveal below, which would have been my remarks, already having been said I chose not to speak. Here is what I had prepared to say:
I want to express my concern that in a time when we made some pretty good strides in this last trienniium toward doing things in a different way, by changing our governance and our structures, we are somewhat now proving that an anxious system will often turn in on itself. Not knowing what to do about what is going on all around us, we focus inward. I am worried about prayer book reform being a large and expensive distraction to the work of the Jesus Movement and in creating work to distract us from a world that is truly imperiled right now.
At the same time I am all for thoughtful, scholarly, revision and innovation. I just think doing it this way, is the old way. Why not find ways to revise, and innovate that do not require a book.
My only point is, can we not think this through in a way that separates the need to produce a book, and the the need right now to do thoughtful, scholarly revision and innovation. I think they can be, and in fact, are separate things.
I believe we would do better with revision that can be easily and more readily shared, can evolve with the generations, and will not leave our church with the very same dilemma we think we find ourselves in now, several generations from now, where we have to change a book, rework a book, carve the correct words in the concrete of a book, in order to continue the mission we are called to.
I am concerned about the economics, but I will be clear I am not fearful. I just think this is actually a symptom of a larger concern that we cannot seem to work our minds and hearts out of the idea, that we can only do this very important work, work I fully support, of bringing the language of the people, more closely and intimately into our prayers, than by creating a book, and one that at the pace of our planet may well be obsolete by the time it is finally published.
As it stands I would vote against this resolution. I would urge us to think about ways to revise and reform our prayers, to give permission, to give space, without the need for the arduous self
absorbed task of creating a new prayer book.
As it was, this basic sentiment won the day in the House of Bishops. A group of bishops crafted a substitute resolution which you can find in the Virtual Binder under A068. This was passed without amendment the next day in the House of Bishops, then sent back to the House of Deputies, where it was also passed. I am very satisfied with it as it stands. I believe we will see revision and permission come from this, the two things I think are most needed, and they can come quicker. If they will remains to be seen. Some have argued that our words are our theology, and similar things. I do not believe this takes away from that at all. It will be interesting to see how this works in reality but I do think this approach more closely aligns with the world we live in and the Church we now steward.
Same Sex Marriage– This was also a mixed bag. While a pastoral solution was found so that any Episcopalian could be married in their home parish even if their bishop disagrees theologically, the convention did not go as far as adopting the liturgy as part of the Prayer Book, however, I believe, in light of the prayer book revision resolution above, this is only a matter of time. You can see a good article about all of this here
Palestine/Israel-Always a hot button discussion, and although the outcome was much the same, a shift was seen and apparent at this convention. Several resolutions did get through, including one that does call for a human rights screen on investments in the Episcopal Church, and it should be made clear, those funds overseen by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. It “encourages” all Episcopalians to do the same. The most ardent divestment (BDS) resolution passed the House of Deputies by 75% but was defeated in the House of Bishops by a 60-40 margin. This is more or less what has happened to such resolutions over the years but the margin is lessening. You can read about all of this in this article
As I said, others may point to issues that were not mentioned above. Those mentioned above mirror the questions, concerns, and the comments I have received since returning.
I spent most of my time on Program, Budget, and Finance Committee which is the group tasked with presenting a budget to convention. It is worth noting that we passed a balanced budget which does not raid our investments unduly as some budgets have in the past. I believe it is responsible and responsive to the current needs and wishes of the church.
In the end I would say it was a peaceful and civil convention. There were legislative sessions but some of the best times were the listening session conversations which included both Houses together and in Olympia we included all those who were visiting from Olympia as well. These all majored on the three focus areas of our Presiding Bishop and of our budget, Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism, and Creation Care.