Looking Ahead to General Convention
This summer is General Convention, the great gathering of the Episcopal Church that was once described as “part street bazaar, part family reunion, and part legislative session.”
From The Rev. Devon Anderson, Trinity, Excelsior (originally published in the Trinity newsletter):
Every three years each diocese in the Episcopal Church (TEC) sends its bishops, four elected clergy deputies, and four elected lay deputies to tackle the issues of the day, to worship together, to connect and make friends, and to together discern where, and to what, God is calling TEC to minister in the world. General Convention runs much like U.S. Congress – with two houses (House of Deputies and House of Bishops), legislation (called resolutions), legislative committees, and an omnibus budget process. There are also interest groups that testify at hearings and try to affect decision-making, and people campaigning for elected office within the church.
The 78th General Convention, held in Salt Lake City from June 23 to July 4, will be my fourth as a clergy deputy and the Minnesota deputation’s chair. Having earned a bit of seniority, I was appointed this time around by the President of the House of Deputies to chair the legislative committee on Liturgy, Prayer Book, and Music. We will consider the final version of the new Lesser Feasts & Fasts (now called “A Great Cloud of Witnesses”), new liturgies celebrating God’s creation in nature, a St. Francis Animal Blessing service, an overhaul of “The Book of Occasional Services,” and the start of a new supplemental hymnal. Our current Presiding Bishop has been calling for the creation of a new and revised Book of Common Prayer, and there may be resolutions to that effect.
I have also, for the past three years, been serving on the search committee for the next Presiding Bishop (called the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop), and have been chairing the House of Deputies campaign to raise money for Episcopal Relief and Development, celebrating its 75th year.
Three major issues General Convention will wrestle with are: 1) restructuring the church for mission, 2) considering the Episcopal Church’s understanding of marriage, and 3) selecting a new Presiding Bishop. While General Convention will consider literally hundreds of resolutions on matters ranging from staffing small congregations to the church’s engagement in Middle East peace work, these three issues will likely consume the attention of bishops and deputies.
Restructuring the Church for Mission
In early May the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life revealed what those of us who go to church already know: mainline Protestant church membership is in decline. What the report didn’t say was something that we also know: that God is not on the decline and the call to join God in the world in the work of reconciliation and healing is more urgent now than it ever was. The Task Force on Reimagining the Church (TREC) has been meeting for three years and has proposed many ideas for how the church might restructure and reorganize itself to more fully engage God’s mission in the world. As the world changes around us, the old structures of the church are no longer serving our capacity to be effective disciples, reaching out beyond our walls to serve others. Resolutions concerning structure will focus on creating new systems and scaffolding for the church in its governance and program to better equip mission in the world.
What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a marriage created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called a “marriage?” General Convention will consider these questions, and a resolution that proposes to rewrite the marriage canon.
Election of the next Presiding Bishop
Early on in General Convention the members of the House of Bishops will sequester themselves in the Episcopal Cathedral in Salt Lake City and elect the next Presiding Bishop. The candidate will be chosen from among the four bishops nominated through the search process. Nominee videos and information can be found here: www.generalconvention.org. Afterwards, the House of Deputies will need to vote whether or not to accept the bishops’ selection. The Question and Answer session before the vote will be live-streamed on the General Convention website.
The Episcopal Church is a vast network of congregations and schools, hospitals, chaplaincies, advocacy groups, dioceses, and programs. Its leadership is some of the greatest, most gifted and holy people that walk the earth. Trinity Church is not an island unto itself, but rather part of a wider constellation of gifts and knowledge and ideas and resources. General Convention is a gift given to the whole church so that we can experience a tiny bit of what we are connected to, of what we all belong to – a big, messy, creative, surprising, reverent, irreverent, innovative, faithful conglomerate of disciples trying, together, to be true and good, to live our one precious life to its fullest, and with full knowledge of the mercy and abundance of God.
Bishop Steve Charleston said it best in his “Prayer for the Church”:
God bless the church: our traveling tribe, our motley crew, caravan of the conflicted and courageous, stumbling toward paradise, the hurt and the hopeful, wounded healers, singing along the way.
Life within her tents is never easy, but life without her would be darkness beyond our imagining.
Bless the church, dear God, your quarreling brood, your stubborn flock, your love living for love, your dream of what might be. Amen.