My General Convention Wrap-Up

This article originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on July 16, 2018. 

I have just returned from The Episcopal Church’s 79th General Convention in Austin, TX. While much happened in the almost two weeks I was there, I wanted to share a few highlights. (For a fairly comprehensive set of articles and news reports about what happened day by day at convention, go to Episcopal News Service or the House of Deputies news. Total church nerds interested in seeing what happened to particular resolutions, the budget, or other legislative items can look at the General Convention virtual binder.)

1. The Way of Love.  In his sermon at our opening Eucharist, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry introduced the Way of Love.  This seven-step path offers a rule of life that helps us walk in love as disciples of Jesus Christ. The seven step: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest are all designed to develop our capacity to walk along our own way of love.

 


2. #churchtoo. Two important activities happened during convention to make the church a safer place for everyone, especially for women and others who frequently experience abuse, harassment, and discrimination.  First, the bishops held a listening session embedded in a liturgy.  They solicited stories of abuse, harassment, and discrimination from a wide variety of people. A number of those powerful stories were read aloud.  Second, the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitationbrought together more than 50 women who addressed issues of theology and language, structural equity, clergy discipline and training, truth and reconciliation, and social justice for women through a series of concrete resolutions designed to make the church a safer, more equal, and more just place for all people.  Many of these resolutions were enacted by convention. (Church nerd alert! If you want to see the final disposition of the committee’s resolutions, I’ve noted it at the bottom of this post.)

3. Texas Revival. On Saturday night we were treated to a Texas style revival. The Presiding Bishop preached, a couple thousand people showed up, and at the end of the service people were invited to go to numerous prayers stations surrounding the auditorium.  The sense of the Holy Spirit showing up was palpable.  One person in our deputation told us afterwards that there was a row of people behind her who had come to hear the “Royal Wedding” preacher.  When the invitation to prayer came, she heard them talking about wanting to go for prayer, but not knowing how and not feeling like they were really allowed.  So she turned around and offered to pray with them right there, an invitation they gratefully accepted.  They prayed, among other things, to accept Jesus into their lives that night. 

4. Prayer Service at Hutto Detention Center.  Austin isn’t particularly close to the border, but a half-hour ride from Austin is the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which holds women who are trying to immigrate into the United States.  The Center’s residents includes women separated from their children and families, and it has a history of incidents of abuse by guards. The Reverend Megan Castellan and others organized a noonday prayer service at a ball field adjacent to the detention center.  Readings and prayers were offered in English and Spanish, and Bishop Curry preached. Afterwards a letter was received from women inside the Center saying that they watched until the last buses departed, grateful to know that they were not alone. (To support the ongoing work with women at the Hutto center, go to grassrootsleadership.org.)     

5. Budget. We passed a budget. Among other noteworthy items is $3 million to continue the work of church planting and evangelism begun three years ago.  This work has proven effective, and we expect even more fruit as we increase our investment in this area.

6. Prayer Book and Liturgy. Much discussion going into Convention centered around proposals for beginning work on a new prayer book. In the end, in substitute resolution A068, Convention decided not to begin that work immediately, but to create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR – pronounced “tafel-puber”?).  This task force will look at and propose structural ways for the church to be more adaptive in its future worship life to a wide variety of needs. At the same time, diocese are encouraged to create liturgical commissions that will experiment and create liturgical texts appropriate to their circumstances as resources for the church going forward. Convention also said that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will continue to be used going forward and that any liturgical revisions will adhere to our Anglican tradition and the Baptismal and Eucharistic theology of our current prayer book. Importantly, we also allocated funds for new, dynamic-equivalence translations of the Prayer Book and other resources into Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole.  In a separate resolution, inclusive and expansive alternatives for Prayers A, B, and D in Rite II were adopted.  (For more on this Convention decision, see Derek Olsen’s post.)

7. Same-sex blessing and marriage rites.  Rites for same-sex marriage have now been authorized for use throughout the church, with provisions even in dioceses where bishops have previously forbidden their use. 

8. The Pigeon. OK, @gc79pigeon was not a particularly important outcome of Convention, but it did provide some needed comic relief along the way.  Thanks to the Reverends David Sibley and David Simmons for their sense of humor and good work

Given all the hard work by so many people on so many issues, I am sure I have missed more than one important Convention item.  Thanks to everyone behind the scenes who made Convention happen this year, and kept the work of the church moving ahead for another triennium!



Final status of Special Task Force resolutions (for details on the resolutions, go to the virtual binder, click the resolutions button, and type in the resolution number):
   Adopted: A178; B011 as amended; C041 as amended; D016 substitute; D017; D021 as amended; D031 as amended; D032 as amended; D087; D037 substitute; D046 as amended; D045 as amended; A284; D076 substitute; D067 as amended; D034; D023 as amended; D025 substitute.

   Take no further action: D020 (merged with D016); D026 (replaced with A284); D075 (partly included in D076); D080 (unofficially headed to interim body); D099 (duplicates D040); D022

   Referred to interim body: D033, D073; unofficially D080; D100

   Rejected: D035

The Rev. Dr. Adam Trambley is rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

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.”