And on the 7th Day, the Budget Was Presented…

With committees beginning to conclude their work so it can be brought to the attention of the House of Deputies, this 8th consecutive General Convention has been the most moving for me – from the listening session on #MeToo to riding on one of 19 filled buses to the T Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, TX for a prayer service for the women detained there.  We were welcomed by the mayor-elect, and yes it was hot, 86 degrees under cloudless skies, but every drop of perspiration was worth it.  I was told that some detainees wept, others applauded and still others slid pieces of white paper up and down the windows as a message that they could hear and see us. We were loud and loving.  All this occurred after attending the Bishops Against Gun Violence rally in the park across from the Austin Hilton and hearing from the parents about the Parkland High School shooting whose daughter was one of the 17 killed. Sunday was filled with what, as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, God had planned for us that day. That was Day 4.

But my day is the 7th day, July 11, and it wasn’t a day of rest. Our legislative calendar is backed up, which led to an evening session and a couple long days ahead before the 79th General Convention adjourns on Friday. After the morning legislative session and a lunch break, a joint session of both houses gathered in the House of Deputies for the presentation of the budget for the next triennium as presented by PB&F – Program, Budget & Finance.

The budget presentation is always interesting – a case of limited resources and much need. Today’s presentation was no exception.  The joint session saw the assessment rate for dioceses reduced from 18% to 15% and the exemption was also reduced from $150K to $140K. Exemption reduction was done so ‘additional money could be found’. Questions were asked and answered seemingly to the satisfaction of those asking and the joint session ended.

The budget is always one of the main events of the convention but perhaps not today. Today’s main event that brought the House to its feet was the passage of Resolution A238 calling for the reinstatement of the Diocese of Cuba! Five decades of absence ended with the unanimous passage of this resolution.  The applause lasted for several minutes as their bishop and deputation were escorted to the front and greeted with shouts of ‘Welcome Home’ and ended with the doxology in wonderful harmony. It was powerful and emotional for many of us and that’s all I have to say about that.  Looking forward to coming home…

Blessings to all of you from Austin.

Anne Bardol is a member of Holy Cross, North East and a lay deputy to General Convention. 

Greetings from Austin on Day 6: July 10, 2018

Many thoughts as I traveled at 7:30 this morning on my scooter 8 blocks to my last committee meeting… a beautiful, warm day with little traffic… friendly folks along the way.

I was a “newbie” on the Committee for Christian Formation & Discipleship but was welcomed by others who had served several times. We had met 10 times and worked to send along several resolutions for consideration to the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

The days have been full with legislative sessions and other activities. The work is challenging and rewarding. The time has flown by. I’ve learned a lot about diversity and discrimination in our church, as well as much about the good work being done with reconciliation, caring for creation, and evangelism.

We have heard testimonies in committee hearings and legislative sessions that were painful and difficult to hear… but also extraordinary stories of grace, courage, bravery and determination.

Worship services are beautiful and bring us back to center. The Texas Night Revival was fabulous. I hope perhaps some of you have listened to the Presiding Bishops’s sermons on the internet. (Editor’s note: PB Curry’s sermons are available here in the Video Highlights section.)

The Bishops’ Anti-Gun Rally and our trip to Hutto Women’s Detention Center on Sunday were eye-opening and heartbreaking. Indeed, time is up! We need to speak up and work to correct wrongs we see being done. As Christians we are called to seek justice, safety, respect and dignity for all people… that includes food, drinkable water and shelter…. together we can do this and more, WITH GOD’S HELP.

You’ve heard me say before that General Convention is an amazing experience… I truly wish all of our Diocese could be here to feel the energy. The Church is struggling, but it is also alive and exciting, blessed with strong leadership, and full of people determined to be part of the Episcopal branch of the Loving, Liberating, Life-Giving Jesus Movement!

Looking forward to seeing y’all soon!

Kaycee Reib is Senior Warden of St. John’s, Franklin, and a lay deputy to General Convention. 

Passionately Sharing Truth – General Convention Day 3

Greetings from Austin!

As a first time deputy to General Convention, this experience has been a whirlwind so far for me. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I’ve heard about General Convention throughout my life. I am grateful to be able to experience this gathering at this time. I have also been blessed by being an officer on a committee (Assistant Secretary for Congregation and Diocesan Vitality). This experience has been eye-opening in terms of the workings of polity and how things are created. It’s amazing how detail oriented arguments are in every part of the process of creation of legislation. I am a detail oriented person and this goes even beyond my normal detail oriented specifications. Today, the House of Deputies voted to start the process for revision on the Book of Common Prayer. Next, this resolution for revision goes to the House of Bishops in order to be approved or rejected by the bishops of the church. No matter what, the process of revision of the BCP is a long one, spanning many years.

I want to offer you a slightly different kind of reflection about what is going on here at General Convention in this poem I have composed.

Over head the descending star
Light patterns on the ceiling
Breaking up monotony
All these meetings
People speaking
Arguing in logically fallacious ways
Yet passionately sharing truth
A changing church
A dying church
A church in the midst of active resurrection
Not quite sure where the future lies
We thought we were rising stars.
We want to be superstars
yet, we are descending
Changing
Moving in the world
accepting our new position like glass stars
Hanging in suspension
Between the earth and the heavens
Lights which show the way
Breakable yet strong together
Environment changes subconscious
We know we must hang together
So many stalactites
Creating new patterns in the world
Steps on Jacob’s ladder
Where angels move with great intention
Back and forth
For the gateway to heaven has been demolished
In the overwhelming flood of love
What stars hang in our future
What stars meet the road ahead
We must reflect the light before us
We are the light of love today.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge at St. John’s, Franklin, and a first time deputy to General Convention. 

The Case Against Revision

Reprinted from the House of Deputies News

As a parish priest, I see a need for Common Prayer revision, but I am strongly opposed to Book of Common Prayer revision. Lest you imagine I am preparing to found the 1979 BCP Society, let me explain.

Certainly, parts of the Book of Common Prayer need to be revised and refreshed. From marriage liturgies that no longer reflect our current usage to limited options for gender-neutral or expanded language for God, our prayer book occasionally makes it clear that our church is in a different place than we were in the 1970’s (for which we can mostly be grateful). Many of the proposals at the General Convention for BCP revisions deal with important issues that our liturgical life will need to address to move forward.

At the same time, I desperately want to see revision that allows us to expand our resources without requiring a brand new Book of Common Prayer.  I say this practically. My church probably has about four hundred 1979 BCPs in our building. On an average week, less than twenty of them get opened, and they are almost never touched on Sunday morning. Everything the congregation needs for our public worship services is in a bulletin. We’ve found that visitors are more likely to return if they can use a bulletin instead of a BCP and a hymnal and a bulletin.  As a quick glance of the pages shows, even when we did use a couple hundred BCPs every week, mostly we used the same pages over and over again.

I have found, surprisingly, that I don’t even use my own BCP very often. I use apps for the daily office. When I go to the hospital, I have found that my phone contains the BCP, the Bible, and any hymns I might want to sing or play. I would also note that most of the BCPs I own currently have the wrong lectionary in them, so I have to use the internet or another resource to find the Sunday readings.

What I hope does not happen is that over the next six years we create the 2024 Book of Common Prayer that requires my congregation either to spend thousands of dollars on physical books that will never be used (and that we will want to change three years after they are published), or to have only the “old” prayer book in our pews. Our current prayer books are very helpful to find a collect before a meeting or to go into the chapel and read compline with the youth group. I also am not hearing any great outcry to remove significant pieces of the prayer book. Is anyone really suggesting we eliminate Rite I, for example, or forbid a couple from using the current marriage rite? Instead of focusing on what is in our printed books, which is cutting edge technology from 1550, let’s make the needed changes in our liturgical life in preparation for whatever the right technology will be for 2050.

Instead of a new book, we need new resources and a canonically appropriate avenue to authorize them for the whole church. At this convention, I would like to see the first reading of a constitutional amendment that creates such a process. Instead of new print publications, we need the capacity to create the resources that the church needs on an ongoing basis. Such a process will also be the easiest way to continue to offer the church’s liturgical resources in an increasing variety of languages (Spanish and French are only the beginning of the translations we currently need, and if our evangelism efforts are successful we will need translations in ten years into languages we have not even started to consider.).

I hope also that as we develop new resources, they are free to download in easily accessible formats for the entire church to use. Our pension fund does not need profits from our liturgical resources to keep retired clergy from poverty, and using an authorized Eucharistic prayer should not require an extra hour of work on the part of the parish staff.

I know that there are many reasons to look at the revision of our Book of Common Prayer. Focusing on the needs of our church’s congregational liturgical and prayer life, however, leads me to strongly support common prayer revision without revising the book.

The Rev. Adam Trambley, a deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is co-author of “Acts to Action: The New Testament’s guide to Evangelism and Mission.”

Episcopal Church needs to look for #MeToo in the details

This op-ed piece originally appeared at the Religion News Service, July 3, 2018

(RNS) — Anyone who follows the news from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which begins this week (July 5) in Austin, Texas, might hear about the more than 20 resolutions put forward by an all-female special committee on sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation that will come before the convention.

All of these resolutions are important, though some will make the eyes of even a church nerd glaze over. But the devil is in the details, and we need to get him out of there.

If we pass these resolutions, however, it is essential that we not sit back and say we’ve done what the moment — and the gospel — demands.  

The Episcopal Church has much work to do to ensure the fair treatment of women at every institutional level, from the local parish to the highest positions of power. Even though sexual abuse is the most urgent matter, and should thus be given priority, the problems go far deeper and cut to the heart of how the church treats women.

Biases, both conscious and unconscious, still conspire to push female church employees into lower-paying or part-time positions more frequently than their male counterparts. That means they advance more slowly into leadership, earn less money than men —as much as 11 cents on the dollar less over the course of a career — and retire with smaller pensions.

To work against these biases we need to keep a close eye on disparities in pay. We need to strengthen the internal church laws that prohibit discriminatory hiring practices, continue the collection of compensation data and establish anti-sexism training in seminaries. These measures are included in the committee’s resolutions and are all worthy of support.

Closing the pay gap will require a commitment on the part of bishops to make pay parity a priority. Nine years ago, I instituted a system in my diocese in which I meet with the leaders of a congregation in need of a priest and determine the compensation appropriate to the position before the parish determines which candidates to consider. It is not a perfect solution, because it sometimes results in offering candidates with differing experience the same pay, yet that is a small price to get closer to pay parity.

I don’t suggest that the convention spend all of its time examining pay scales and other personnel matters. We will once again be debating same-sex marriage and deciding whether to revise our Book of Common Prayer. We also will rally against gun violence and the inhumane treatment of refugees.

But the #MeToo movement demands our attention, and we need to make sure that everyone, but especially women, can feel safe in the Episcopal Church. The legislation to be offered at convention that most inspires me calls for the creation of a “Task Force for Women, Truth, and Reconciliation for the purpose of helping the Church engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms by those in power in the Church … ”

In 2010, I learned that one of my predecessors as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania had sexually abused numerous pre-pubescent girls at the diocesan summer camp 30 years earlier. The months that followed were an education both in the depths of human sinfulness and the profound difficulty churches have in dealing with their own failings.

It takes only brief exposure to people who work on these issues to learn that there is deep dissatisfaction among victims and their advocates over the way the church has handled complaints of abuse, especially against bishops. I hope creating this task force will be the first step to ensuring that complaints of assault and abuse are handled sensitively and confidentially, but also that the interest of powerful perpetrators are not protected at the expense of victims and that we do not put the reputation of the church before the demands of justice.

As with our failures in the human resources realm, we need to address these issues at a detailed level. We need to support a resolution that would create an alternative path for reporting abuse or harassment when circumstances within victims’ home dioceses might give them pause about pursuing a complaint. We should extend the statute of limitations to report abuse or harassment for three years, so that previously unreported cases can be heard under this new system. We should vote to protect whistleblowers who report instances of abuse or harassment but are not complainants or witnesses themselves.

These kinds of procedural revisions are essential to building trust in our disciplinary processes. As the gospel leads us to believe, they are small steps that are necessary and significant if we want to create a safer and fairer church.

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem, PA.