Bishop’s Reflections on the 80th General Convention
The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is normally a giant spectacle – a gathering of thousands every three years, complete with inspiring worship, multiple gatherings of every possible interest group, and a vast exhibit hall offering many products and services. This year’s version in Baltimore, which just concluded, was a smaller, quieter, more cautious convention. It was shortened from eight days to four; people who didn’t have a specific role supporting the legislative function of Convention were asked to stay home; there was no exhibit hall and no outside gatherings; and attendees were asked to mask at all times. Despite all the precautions (including daily Covid testing), over two dozen deputies and bishops tested positive during the gathering, and other infections may arise as people return home.
Nevertheless, the Spirit was present, and the Convention made some important decisions. This is my fifth Convention – three as a deputy, one as a volunteer, and now my first as a bishop. Convention operates in two houses – the House of Bishops, in which all living bishops have seat, voice, and vote, and the House of Deputies, composed of four clergy and four lay deputies from each diocese (plus one alternate in each order). Our Diocese of San Diego deputies and alternates were Rachel Ambasing, Polly Getz, Butch Glosson, Jen Jow, Gwynn Lynch, Colin Mathewson, Lilia Mendoza, Brenda Sol, Hanh Tran, and Hannah Wilder. Like the US Congress, the two houses must agree on legislation for it to become final. We thank the deputies for all their work and for taking time away from home to do this important ministry for the church!
Here are my reflections about the most important decisions made by this Convention (not in order of importance):
- We essentially redefined the Book of Common Prayer. In Resolution A059, which passed after hours of discussion and amendments in both houses, we passed a first reading of a constitutional amendment, which will need to pass the next convention in identical format to become final. This resolution redefines the Book of Common Prayer as “those liturgical forms and other texts authorized by General Convention” that have passed two successive Conventions in identical format. The change means that for the first time, the Book of Common Prayer will not be only a book, but will include other liturgies not included in the physical 1979 Book of Common Prayer. This means that same-sex marriage, which is currently available as a trial rite, is in line to start the process toward full prayer book status at the next convention in 2024, and may reach that status by 2027. Many will rejoice over this change, including me. Others will find this process very challenging.
- We issued a Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on climate change. It offers theological grounding for our commitment to protecting God’s creation, and I urge you to read it in full. In addition, we passed a number of other resolutions for Creation Care, committing our church to take significant steps to reduce energy use and care for our environment.
- We passed resolutions on Racial Justice and established an Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice, allocating significant funding for this group, which would explore ways of healing our racial divisions. I hope to commit our diocese as an integral member of this coalition. Our issues on the west coast are very different from the issues on the east coast, many of which were highlighted at this convention, but we too have a history (and a present) of racial division and injustice to reckon with. Our host bishop, Bishop Eugene Sutton of Baltimore, challenged us in a powerful Sunday sermon to break down the walls that separate us from each other.
- After the House of Deputies heard heartbreaking testimony about the issue of indigenous boarding schools, which took native children from their parents and forcibly relocated them to schools to integrate them into mainstream culture, the convention allocated a significant amount of money to explore the Episcopal Church’s history and involvement in the boarding school system. Many such schools were operated by Christian denominations, and the harm inflicted on children, families, and native cultures was immense.
- We gave the Diocese of Navajoland permission to choose their next bishop in a different way that might not involve competitive speeches or voting, but rather a discernment process that is appropriate for Navajo culture. The current bishop, Bishop David Bailey, has spent his episcopate raising up native leaders for ordination, so there are currently four Navajo priests eligible for election. The diocese is preparing for Bishop Bailey’s retirement and for a new process to discern his successor.
- We approved the reunion of the Diocese of Texas and the Episcopal Church in North Texas. Like California, Texas has had six dioceses, all of which were originally part of the Diocese of Texas. The Diocese of Texas has recently, until this Convention, covered an area around Austin, Houston, and Tyler. The Diocese of North Texas is the area that was previously the Diocese of Fort Worth, which was riven by schism when a previous bishop and many clergy and lay people departed the Episcopal Church over sexuality issues, and joined the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). The weakened Episcopal diocese lost most of its church properties last year after prolonged legal struggles and heartbreak, and was renamed the Episcopal Church in North Texas. The strong and wealthy Diocese of Texas has now welcomed the refugee Episcopalians home, and will support them in re-establishing a strong and vibrant Episcopal presence around Fort Worth. Thanks be to God.
- Hundreds of us took part in a march against gun violence, after a shooting right outside the convention center took the life of a man who got in an altercation in traffic. With singing, prayers, and inspiring speeches from our Presiding Bishop, the Bishop of Maryland, and others, we prayed for God to end this scourge of gun violence that has taken so many lives, and pledged to take action to oppose it.
- In similar vein, we offered prayers and support for our siblings in the Diocese of Alabama, after a recent shooting in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills took the lives of three parishioners. Many eyes filled with tears as Bishop Glenda Curry talked about how St. Stephen’s has and will respond to the violence with love.
- The House of Deputies elected a new president to succeed The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who is stepping down after three terms. Julia Ayala Harris was elected to succeed her, a choice I am enthusiastic about. I worked with Julia in the Diocese of Oklahoma and on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, and can verify that she is an excellent choice. She is the first Latina woman to lead the House of Deputies. She challenged the church to new mission in a wonderful sermon on the last day of Convention.
- We did the dry-sounding but exceeding important work of allocating our money by passing a budget, not without some controversy. Despite protests about the amount spent on governance and administration, the budget does make a significant allocation of funds towards Racial Justice. We also created a new budget process that, although it sounds like the driest of administrative bureaucracy, will certainly streamline a process that has been convoluted and difficult.
The shortened convention proved to be possible, despite dire predictions that we would not get our work done. We lost a great deal by not worshiping together (but rather separately in our two houses) and not seeing the great multitudes of people who normally attend. In my opinion, we didn’t devote enough attention to the gospel call to proclaim Christ’s love to all, and I hope future Conventions will focus more passionately on the need to take strong action to grow and transform our churches to reach new people.
Yet Episcopalians at this Convention found ways to come together around mission, justice, and a direction for the future. We celebrated our unity in Christ and our hope for the future by connecting with new and old friends and colleagues in ministry. We heard challenges to proclaim the gospel of God’s love and to ask hard questions about our own history and the way we operate today. I believe that the Episcopal Church is on the brink of discovering new directions and new ways to reach the diversity of people in our communities. And I feel something happening in the church that makes me believe that the next Convention will be a turning point in helping us discover where God is leading the Episcopal Church.
Category: #Bishop's Blog, #Convention
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