Highlights of the 77th General Convention – July 2012

The Five Marks of Mission, held in common with our sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion, guided our actions at the Episcopal Church’s 77th General Convention, as we sought ways to fulfill Jesus’ Gospel imperatives. The Five Marks of Mission are:

  • 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

On this short page, It’s impossible to cover all of the actions of the convention, let alone its enthusiastic and Christ-centered spirit. So we’ll hit some of the highlights.

Almost one-quarter of resolutions submitted to convention addressed structural reform to make us better able to respond to those marks. C095, a distillation of a number of proposals, calls for a task force to begin re-imagining structure and governance of The Episcopal Church (TEC). Culminating at least 40 years of conversation, D016 affirms “the will of the convention” to move TEC’s headquarters from Manhattan to an alternative location more accessible to a broader spectrum of Episcopalians. These were two of several resolutions we considered that reflected Deputies’ interest in a less centralized, more flexible, and evolving structure—the 20th century’s “big business” model is not the one we want to bring into the heart of the 21st century. (Deputy Paul Lebens-Englund [paull@spokanediocese.org] served on the Structure committee.

The budget we adopted in A005 is based on a 19 percent asking from each Diocese (but recognizes that some Dioceses cannot or will not give the full amount. For the 2013-2015 triennium, the $111.5 million budget provides more than $57 million toward the church’s mission and ministries, much to be awarded as block grants to Dioceses, faith communities, and congregations enabling them to fulfill Gospel mandates at the most local level. 

Both the push toward restructuring, and adoption of a more local-centric budget are expressive of the growing perception that one size does not fit all—we need to engage the ministries to which we are called in our own places: what works in New York may not work in Memphis. What works in Spokane may not work in Omak.

The majority of the Deputies and Bishops (usually no fewer than 70 or 75 percent) passed resolutions to give us direction in our ministries—local, continental, global—consistent with the Five Marks of Mission. They included resolutions that:

  • Commit the church to “teaching, preaching, organizing, advocating, and building mutually transformative relationships” with those who are poor—and to “focus our hearts and the mission of our congregations and dioceses on reducing poverty and increasing economic and racial justice” (A135). It calls for every meeting in the church to include time for prayer and reflection on how the work we do engages these issues. This commitment reflects our continuing affirmation of the Millennium Development Goals;
  • Call for the Church to make a moral commitment to health care for all by actively supporting health care reform in the U.S., and urges U.S. congregations to take a lead in educating members and the larger community in this issue (A040);
  • Support the DREAM act (D067) and just enforcement of immigration laws (D059);
  • Convene a task force to study the issues of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and for Episcopalians to become educated on the topic (A013);
  • Affirm positive investment toward a sound economy in the Palestinian territories (B019), and call for support of the Diocese of Jerusalem’s Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza (B017).

For a list of 40 other enacted resolutions addressing national and international concerns, click here. For 22 other adopted social justice resolutions, click here.

We affirmed our commitment to continued participation in the Anglican Communion (D008), in part by demonstrating our desire to stay at the table in conversation re: the Anglican Covenant by neither affirming nor rejecting the Covenant outright (B005). (Deputy Pia Longinotti [pia_irene@hotmail.com] served on the World Mission Committee.)

Continuing work begun in 1976, GC added gender expression and identity to canons that prevent discrimination: one affirms transgendered persons’ equal place in church life, worship and governance (D019), and the other makes clear that the discernment process toward ordination is open to transgendered persons (D002).

Continuing work begun more than 30 years ago, we authorized a provisional rite for blessing same-gender unions (A049). Clergy must have their bishop’s permission to use the rite. Because the rite is a work in progress, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) will continue its review. Clergy can decline to preside at a blessing liturgy, and there are no sanctions for lack of support of the Resolution. (Later in the year, Bishop Waggoner will describe how the Resolution will be implemented in our Diocese.) The SCLM’s work since 2009 made it clear that TEC needs to undertake an in-depth and prayerful study of its understanding of the theology of marriage—we resolved that a task force will be convened to this end (A050).

In other liturgical matters we:

  • Authorized continued trial use of Holy Women, Holy Men (A051);
  • Affirmed continuing development of rites in “Honoring God in Creation” (A053);
  • Authorized “Rites and Prayers for the Care of Beloved Animals (to be available electronically), including material for Animal Blessing services (A054);
  • Authorized continued use, with the bishop’s permission, of the Enriching Our Worship series of BCP supplemental material (A057);
  • Affirmed the ecclesiology and theology of the 1979 BCP by describing Baptism as the “ancient and normative” rite that precedes admission to Holy Communion (C029).

In other resolutions we resolved:

  • To give the church three more years to comply with lay-clergy health insurance parity (B026) (Bill Ellis [bellis@stjohns-cathedral.org] served on the Church Pension Fund committee);
  • To amend the canons to provide a mechanism for addressing disagreement in the bishop-diocesan pastoral relationship (B021);
  • To affirm the compatibility of Christian faith and science (A136).

For a full list of resolutions acted on at the 77th General Convention, click here. In addition to those named above the Diocese’s Deputation included lay members Ken Beck (who served on the Dispatch Committee), Colin Haffner, Mary Beth Jorgenson and Lena Lopez-Schindler (alt.); and clergy members Robin Biffle, Kristi Phillip (alt.), and Gretchen Rehberg.

Also meeting was the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) Triennial, including women from throughout TEC. Emphasizing prayer, mission, food, sustainability, and hospitality, the women acknowledged they are key in making mission happen in the church. Mary Kay Ferrell was named new Provincial chair for the Church Periodical Club. She and Evita Krislock look forward to the ECW Provincial meeting (2013) hosted by our Diocese. ECW’s work continues locally, beginning on October 19 at the Women In Ministry luncheon at St. Stephen’s in Spokane.

(The deputation is deeply grateful to Deputy Robin Biffle for compiling this summary.)

Variety of Gifts, Same Spirit

Collaboration, cooperation, “ask, and you shall receive.”
These are the strongest impressions I retain from General Convention.

My primary tasks on our Dispatch of Business committee were ensuring that messages from the House of Bishops were promptly delivered through the Dispatch liaison to the appropriate committee, and planning and drafting special orders of business or debate, plus helping with other duties as needed.

From the hundreds of volunteers who pay their own expenses just to be part of it, to Deputies who share their work with each other, to the presiding officers, from the first day to the last, there is an overwhelming sense of interdependence, that anyone will need help from someone else several times a day. That can be scary. But there is also an immediate and undeniable sense of confidence that help, when needed, will always be there. So it’s not scary at all.

Everyone relies on everyone else. And it feels great!
Thanks be to God!


A Look Back at Some of What We Did

One of the significant, but little noted, developments at General Convention 2012 was the debate over the implementation of the Church-wide health and pension plans. The 2009 Convention mandated that every diocese provide equivalent health care insurance for all employees working 1,500 hours a year or more, and it required as well that pension plans for lay employees be implemented. The deadline for full participation was set at January 1, 2013. The reason for this was simple, some parishes and dioceses were unwilling to do this, for economic reasons, as long as it was voluntary. Since the 2009 mandate, the results have been encouraging; 94% of all dioceses now participate in the church-wide health insurance program, and 89% participate in the pension fund.
Nevertheless there were concerns expressed by folks not yet participating, or not yet fully participating. The biggest concern about the pension plan came from those Episcopal Schools who had not yet implemented the program for their full time employees. Some of these were large schools with many employees; full implementation by the proposed deadline would cost upwards of $500,000 dollars per year in increased costs, too much to remain viable. The committee on the Church Pension Fund listened sympathetically to these concerns, and agreed to extend the deadline, with the proviso that these schools would implement a specified plan over a five year period, enabling them to come into compliance gradually and without undue hardship. The people representing the concerns of these schools were quite happy with the result, and two of them argued in favor of the resolution on the floor of convention. The result was easy passage of the five year extension for pension plans.
The health care debate was more difficult for three reasons. First, it is far more expensive than pensions, second, even in those dioceses and parishes that offer health care for lay employees there is sometimes a disparity between what the lay and clergy employees get. Often, for example, the clergy employee will get full family coverage, while the lay employee would get employee only coverage. And third, there are huge disparities in premium costs between different markets. So, there were three issues in one to face: first, coverage for everyone, second, parity – the same kind of coverage – for everyone. And third, disparity in premium costs. In the committee hearings it was noted that in spite of these difficulties 94% of our dioceses are participating, and moreover, the rates that the Episcopal Church Medical Trust can offer are highly competitive with rates charged by other plans precisely because increased participation has made the pool far larger the past three years, and lowered the rate increase in premium costs significantly. Nevertheless, the committee forwarded to the floor a resolution granting a three year extension on full implementation of the plan, providing those dioceses and parishes that have not reached parity between clergy and lay the opportunity to bring that about by January 1, 2015. After some debate on the floor, the motion passed handily. But here we must note what parity means. Parity means the same kind of coverage for everyone. In dioceses that require full family coverage for clergy, they must also offer full family coverage for laity. In dioceses that allow parishes to offer employee only coverage for clergy, they may continue to offer employee only coverage for laity. In practice this will mean that some clergy are going to be giving up some benefits as more dioceses move to allowing employee only coverage for clergy, which won’t make clergy happy, but will be more just than the current system.

Bill Ellis
Clergy Deputy to 2012 General Convention
Member of the Committee on the Church Pension Fund

The Big Day (Part Three of Three)

Another Big Resolve for the House of Deputies is one that won’t make many headlines in the secular media. We voted to begin the process of restructuring the governing bodies of The Episcopal Church. The sense of the House, as I hear it, is this is a beginning step in our walk toward a larger vision. The resolution begins, “This General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:

  • Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  • Respond to human need by loving service
  • Seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”

(These are the Five Marks of Mission TEC has adopted as our articulation of our ministries in Christ.)

The Structure Committee (of which Paul Lebens-Englund is a member) received more than 50 proposed resolutions and heard testimony from more than 60 people in their discernment process, which led to the resolution we considered (C095).

Perhaps the most wonderful moment thus far in the House occurred when President Bonnie Anderson called for the vote. There was a resounding “Aye” at her call for those in favor, and absolute silence when she call for “no” votes. Absolute. Silence. It was broken only by the audible intake of breath of, I think, all thousand or so people in the room. It brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps up and down my arms.

The other day we resolved to sell the “larger church” headquarters in Manhattan. To service the debt on the building (much of which was incurred when we had to undertake a massive asbestos abatement) costs $11 million per year. It is the hope of many that the new HQ will be more centrally located—and where the cost of real estate is not so dear. Some of the locations I’ve heard mentioned include suburban St. Louis/Kansas City; Dallas/Fort Worth; and Chicago.

We also resolved that the Presiding Bishop may continue to serve as a Diocesan Bishop after election—the sense being that the position may be restructured more in line with that of the larger communion where almost all primates retain their sees upon election/appointment. Much of the work of the Presiding Bishop would be apportioned among others.

And finally, although we’ve not acted on it yet—we’ve received a copy of the proposed budget. This document—as well as the resolves I mentioned above—all reflect our commitment to the Five Marks of Mission.

There’s been note taken of the vocal input of “The Official Youth Presence” and the comments of a number of the deputies drawn from the Young Adult population of our congregations. But they don’t have a corner on the market of innovative suggestions; there’s a groundswell—regardless of age—for a significant change to “business as usual” in TEC.

To this end, a populist movement has sprung up at this convention: the Acts 8 movement, to remind us to focus on the business of discipleship rather than on the busy-ness of the church. It was started in the blogosphere by a 30-something, a 40-something, and a 50-something–and has now taken incarnational legs!

(Acts 8 is about the disciples preaching the good news and baptizing….)

Buzzwords at the convention include “nimble,” “flexible,” “robust,” and “vital” as applied to everything from our governance to our congregational missions. There is an articulated sensibility here that except for the grace of God and our redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ, one size does NOT fit all. We are united at the table and in our sense of service in Jesus’ name, but how that looks on the ground will vary from congregation to congregation, community to community. The larger church recognizes that and rather than attempt to implement churchwide mission and formation programing, the proposal in the budget is to offer block grants in various ministry areas. These grants comprise the largest single slice of the budget pie before us—33%.

So there you have it—a bit about three of the Big Resolutions the House of Deputies has considered. I commend to you the live stream if you have time and opportunity—it’s really the best way to get a feel for this place and these people: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/gc2012/.

A way out West there is a name…

We are called Province VIII. We are Province VIII, the largest geographic province in the Episcopal Church as it includes the west coast, Hawaii, Alaska and Taiwan. Rich with diversity, full of challenges, and blessed with many gifts it is always good to gather. This morning the Episcopal Church Women of Province VIII gathered to share a meal together and take the first steps on a path that will take us to the next General Convention in Salt Lake, 2015.

Just as babies need human touch to survive, we need ‘face time’ in order to more than survive, we want to thrive! This is what happens when we take the time to spend with each other, to listen and learn. At times we are students and other times we are the teachers, both occur when we gather together. With the challenges of money and logistics, we figure out a way to move forward and it is good.

This morning Gretchen, MaryKay and I attended the provincial breakfast meeting. Many good ideas and energy about moving forward. The exciting news is that the next ‘Prov VIII’ gathering of women will be in our Diocese in 2013! How exciting and what a gift to all of us to host this event. Plans will be shared at the Women’s Luncheon (all women invited) Friday of Diocesan Convention. Hang on as this promises to be an amazing path on our Journey.

The Big Day (Part Two of Three)

First, in re: the GC’s decision on authorization of provisional use of a same-gender blessing rite and resources (A049) which I wrote about last evening: you can see them for yourself on pages 191-281 in The Blue Book at http://www.generalconvention.org/.

Now, to another Big Thing we did yesterday: the HoD affirmed The Episcopal Church’s desire to continue as a members of the Anglican Communion (D008) “in its diversity within community as autonomous churches in relationship…in service to God’s mission.” Receiving particular commendation in the process of strengthening the bonds of mutual affection that unite us is the Indaba listening practice (more at
www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/continuingindaba and www.continuingindaba.com).

(And remember you can find every resolution by clicking on the “English, current” PDF link on the GC page referenced in the first paragraph.)

After that passage we took up the matter of the Anglican Covenant (B005), and affirmed our on-going commitment to the Anglican Covenant Process. While cast in some more conservative corners of the blogosphere as a rejection of the Anglican Covenant—this was not.

We had the option of doing that, but after hearing testimony, the Committee on World Mission (of which our own Pia is a member) substituted a resolution. This resolution affirmed that as a “pastoral response” we would not take action on the covenant at this Convention. As one deputy put it, we heeded the words of Henri Nouwen, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” We’ve agreed to observe and to continue the conversation. Another deputy encouraged us to “resist the tendency to purity,” and live instead in a place “more ragged and interesting”—and we’ve done just that.

This was a particularly interesting experience for me because based on all my reading before GC, I came here with a commitment to vote against the Anglican Covenant (www.anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/final/text.cfm). However, employing the Indaba process referenced in our earlier Anglican Communion resolution, I listened, I opened my ears to others’ experiences and was persuaded that this is the better course. Apparently my sister and brother deputies were likewise persuaded because it passed with a simple voice vote.

More on “Part Three” of the Big Day later …. The third Big Thing we did doesn’t appear to the secular media to be Big News, but for The Episcopal Church, it surely is.

Check in this evening…. It’s now 6 am here and time for my morning jog along the White River. The photo below is one I snapped yesterday on my return trip. It’s the promenade along the river by the Indianapolis zoo. Those are big blocks of Indiana limestone stacked as the zoo’s perimeter wall. Quite lovely.

A Big Day (Part one of three!)

So, first, let me say what a wonderful day this has been. The Holy Spirit is on the loose! There were moments when we were of a single mind, and more when the diversity of our experience and understanding came to the fore.

As you likely have heard from other media, the House of Deputies late this afternoon, concurred with the House of Bishops and authorized provisional use of liturgy for “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” and related pastoral and educational resources for congregational use. The provision is that the use requires permission of the bishop. Enactment begins in Advent 2012. The Bishop may also give permission for adaptation of the rite “to meet the needs of members of this church.”

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music—the body which compiled the rite and resources at the direction of the last General Convention—is to continue, during the next triennium, to explore the theology of the rite. In a related resolution we passed yesterday, we concurred with the House of Bishops in agreeing to create a task force on the study of marriage.

A provision in the resolution provides that no member of this church, lay or ordained, should act against his/her conscience in response to the resolution, and will not be penalized for that response: a bishop who chooses not to permit use in her/his Diocese doesn’t have to; a priest who will not bless same-gender relationships does not have to.

You can see a copy of the resolution at http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions?by=number&id=A049.

The day’s work was slowed because of problems with translations. The expansion of the Episcopal Church into Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, means that more of our deputies are Spanish speaking. There is a translation team, but they’ve been working overtime and still fall behind.

After our session, I grabbed a to-go salad in the hotel restaurant, dropped it off in my room and went to “A Lament Over the Doctrine of Discovery,” a gathering for readings, stories, and prayers “in acknowledgment of and response to the tragic consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery.” The event opened with haunting flute music. Two of our bishops with indigenous roots offered prayers: Carol Gallagher (Cherokee) and Michael Smith (Potawatomi). Quite moving–and the liturgy is a model for use among any indigenous people.

Now I’m back and am ready for bed. More tomorrow on our work (today) on the Anglican Covenant, and on the beginning of restructuring the church’s governance: the beginning of re-imagining what “church” is.

We did a LOT today.

I leave you with a bit of the William Countryman poem that Pia posted last night—a piece that seems to reflect the House of Deputies and our work: “There is no hearing/ of your voice that does not transform./ And no single hearing/ that transforms once and for all.”


Catching Up

The workload at this convention is astounding – and I’m not even on one of the legislative committees that meet before breakfast and after worship and during lunch and after the sessions and in the evening. Others have commented on the role of parliamentary procedure – although sometimes frustrating, it’s reassuring to realize that with each motion, amendment, point of inquiry, and ruling we are moving relatively gracefully through complex legislation, in a process that honors all voices and brings us to a well-documented end point. Despite the formality, it’s not at all stuffy – the presiding officers work well with each other and kid each other as everyone’s tiredness causes tongues to twist. There is laughter and prayer, honor and instruction, coaching and continual progress toward finalizing language and completing action.

We’ve posted comments about the rich diversity of the deputations. Periodically throughout the day, President Bonnie Anderson introduces special honored guests to the House. These have included the National Altar Guild members who prepare the huge worship space for Eucharist every day, a variety of leadership groups of teens and young adults, and international visitors from all over the globe. The most touching of these moments was the introduction of several Sudanese Episcopalians who have survived decades of war and genocide – with the strong support of dioceses and individuals in our church – and are here in Indianapolis on the first anniversary of the South Sudan’s independence.

I cannot even imagine getting ready to go to church at St. Luke’s every Sunday wondering if the building will be standing when I arrive at the corner of 5th and Wallace, or if I will be able to worship without the fear of automatic weapons greeting me as I leave the church. It is so easy – at least for me – to take what we have for granted, and to forget that for centuries people have been persecuted and killed for how they worship, for what they look like, and simply for who they are. What is more mind boggling is that this is still true – that human life, the life breathed into us by the Holy Spirit, can be and is today snuffed out so easily in the name of…….what?

I wish you could all be here. The faces and hearts and voices of our Episcopal Church are truly brave and beautiful.

A Voice in the Static

It’s not my day to blog, but I wanted to share something anyway.  I bought a book by L. William Countryman this week at the Exhibit Hall called Love Songs & Reproaches. (I know.  You’re shocked that an English teacher bought a book!)  It has a poem in it that is really speaking to me about General Convention, and church governance, and really churches in general, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Fair warning: you are about to read poetry, something that gets my students shaking in their boots. :)

A Voice in the Static, by L. William Countryman

Your words are hard to decipher,/ your voice, submerged in the static/ of chattering minds and hearts,/ is hard to hear—/ above all, for us the pious,/ trying so hard to listen!/ Jesus was never more of a problem/ than for us who knew God best,/ who read the scriptures and taught/ the rest to know their sins./ The more confidence, the more static./ Better to confess, with Solomon,/ that, finally, we do not know./ Confessing our ignorance, we make room/ for friendship, we affirm beyond our understanding.

When Jesus brought good news,/ he said, “Turn and believe.”/ What does it take to believe/ good news? Turning away from despair,/ from fear and foreboding, surrender/ of self-confidence, the opening of the hand/ to receive goodness, the triumph/ of thanksgiving over dread.

Grace/ can only come as surprise./ And when grace comes, it confuses/ all our accounts.  All that time/ spent with the double-entry columns/ of our merits and our sins—all/ swept away.  All that deliberation,/ the slow building of confident theologies—/ all shattered.  Yet, not all wasted./ Lying among the fragments,/ we find, like Paul, the neglected/ words that could have pointed us/ toward the forgotten possibility,/ to a knowledge of you that admits/ we do not know, to a heart/ willing to accept surprise.

Turn and believe the good news./ Your good news does not amend our knowledge of you./ It upends it, till every element of it,/ shaken loose in free fall,/ rearrange itself to form/ a picture we recognize and yet/ could not have drawn before.

Turn and believe. There is no hearing/ of your voice that does not transform./ And no single hearing/ that transforms once and for all./ Always some static remains,/blurring the voice we hear. / Grace, even when we have known it/ many times before,/ will still find ways to surprise./ Its music penetrates the gabble/ and we are astonished and we are changed.


Lots of hard work today

Today was a day chock full of resolutions which demanded our time and close attention.  Three which were of special note included a resolution on peace in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and support for the Diocese of Jerusalem; creation of a task force for the study of marriage; and a resolution to include gender identity and expression in the non-discrimination canons.  These resolutions generated a great deal of discussion, but what I am continually impressed by is the level of respect that is shown by all members of the House of Deputies to each other.  People can respectfully disagree with one another, listen carefully to what others are saying, pray and sing songs of praise together, and work to hear God’s will in the deliberation of the House.  While the work was long, it was also Spirit filled.

We also heard this morning from the newly elected President of the ECW – the National Episcopal Church Women, and for the first time ever the ECW elected an ordained woman, a deacon, to serve at President.  She is from the Diocese of Oregon, from Eugene, (and at this point in time I forget her name, sorry!).

We also heard nominations for President of the House of Deputies.  We will be electing both a President and Vice-President this year, and it has been interesting to think about what we are seeking in these positions.  All three candidates for President are experienced and well respected deputies, and I think any of them would do a fine job, so it is a hard call between them – which is truly a delightful thing to be able to say about an election!

Again a long but fulfilling day.  Blessings to all back in the diocese.

Gretchen +