SALT LAKE CITY — The Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention is considering several groundbreaking resolutions, including amending the marriage canons to include language for same-sex couples and overhauling the church’s bicameral structure.
The potential for big changes brought out two big names on Thursday night.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected to that post in the Episcopal Church, addressed the church’s Committee on Governance and Structure. Its members include Bishop Sean Rowe and the Rev. Adam Trambley, both of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
And at another site, retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church, addressed the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage. Its members include attorney Jim Steadman, chancellor of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Cathedral of St. Paul.
The presiding bishop’s presence riveted the packed committee room where deputies and bishops had been debating whether to change the Episcopal Church’s high-level operations. Jefferts Schori, who is retiring at this convention after serving one nine-year term, spoke of a presiding bishop’s need for strong executive powers.
Jefferts Schori displayed humility and good humor. Everyone in the room stood when she walked to the microphone stand, and she gave a sheepish grin as she told everyone to sit down. And when everyone stood up as she left, she waved her arm with a smile, signaling to everyone, once again, to please sit down.
The presiding bishop’s appearance at a committee hearing was unusual, and underscored the importance of the governance issues. Gene Robinson’s appearance at the marriage hearing reflected that issue’s significance as well.
Robinson’s election as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 sent the Episcopal Church into turmoil. He spoke Thursday night of that period, and how the Episcopal Church survived it.
Robinson said the Episcopal Church could wait no longer to amend the marriage canons with gender-neutral language. The church, he said, has for years supported gay rights and allowed same-sex blessings. He said American culture now is pushing for even more change. Most of the country fully accepts gay marriage, Robinson said, and so should the Episcopal Church.
“I think it is time,” he told the committee.
Robinson, like Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke from experience.