This past July, I had the pleasure of attending General Convention for the first time and as a lay alternate: I was able to spend time with a great group of kind, thoughtful and inquiring deputies from around our Diocese of San Diego, who love this Church and care deeply about the Church’s people. I had the opportunity to meet other deputies from around the country, putting in perspective how small a piece of the Episcopal puzzle our diocese is. And, I was able to be present for discussions and historic elections and decision-making that took concrete action towards turning into reality the dreams of a Church that more closely resembles and equitably honors the abundant diversity of God’s creation – elections and decisions that may once have seemed impossible to certain groups of folks in Episcopal Church history.
Among those decisions were the elections of Julia Ayala Harris and Rachel Taber-Hamilton as the President and Vice-President, respectively, of the House of Deputies – each of them the first women of color to be elected to those positions. I know that not everyone who reads this will understand or agree with the importance of having women of color in these centralized positions of leadership, and I honor those viewpoints. And, certainly, both Ayala Harris and Taber-Hamilton have resumes and experience that qualify them regardless of their gender and racial identities. But for myself, as one woman of color, it has been a challenge to look to leaders in centralized places of power in the Episcopal Church and not see other folks who more closely resemble myself or any of my Igorot-Filipino, brown-skinned ancestors, without sometimes receiving the message that, despite being a cradle Episcopalian, and despite having generations of relatives dedicated to the Episcopal Church since my great-great grandfather converted to the Episcopal tradition several generations ago, there was no place in leadership of the Episcopal Church for people who look like me. And in those moments of un-belonging, I would often resign myself to the idea that because there was no space for me or others who look like me, there was no point in leaning in. Having this representation of two women of color as President and Vice-President of the House of Deputies turns that old message of unbelonging on its head, and makes real the hope of what might be possible for those of us who don’t fit the historical appearance of leadership.
There were also new Resolutions passed such as A127 – Resolution for Telling the Truth about The Episcopal Church’s History with Indigenous Boarding Schools, and A125 – A Resolution Extending and Furthering the Beloved Community, establishing the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice, a voluntary association of Episcopal dioceses, parishes, organizations, and individuals dedicated to the work of becoming the Beloved Community which will provide Coalition members opportunity to organize, network, encourage and be encouraged, in their journey towards racial equity and justice. Both of these Resolutions are just two different examples of ways the 80th General Convention took actionable steps to hold space for voices that have been historically marginalized and to provide support for groups and individuals engaged in the good and challenging work of becoming the Beloved Community.
Reconciliation came not just in resolving new action steps towards collective liberation, but also, in the case of D080, revisiting an old Resolution (1988-B003) that when passed in 1988 took steps towards honoring the voices of leadership in Indigenous community but ultimately failed to have its promise fulfilled.
Resolution D080, which was passed by the House of Bishops and concurred by the House of Deputies, reaffirms the readiness of the leaders of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland to select their own Bishop. The Episcopal Church in Navajoland is an Area Mission. As an Area Mission, and in alignment with the old canons of the Episcopal Church, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland has traditionally been assigned by the House of Bishops. And, according to the Explanation of Resolution D080 as proposed by The Rev. Leon Sampson, and as endorsed by The Rev. Cathlena Plummer and Ms. GJ Gordy, despite a Resolution in 1988 at the 69th General Convention declaring its “readiness to affirm the election and consecration as Bishop, someone so called and nominated by the Episcopal Church in Navajoland,” ECN continued to have its bishops assigned by the House of Bishops. The Episcopal Church in Navajoland, despite having culture, context and community quite unlike the average diocese in the Episcopal Church, was having their Chief Pastor selected not by local leaders formed and informed by that same culture, context and community, but by a group of leaders who, while equipped with the wisdom and spiritual gifts given by God and refined by sacred experience in their own various contexts, were far removed from the nuanced realities and experience of those most directly already following the call to pastor, serve and share the Good News with the people of Navajoland. What have been the implications of this practice of the Episcopal Church, especially considering that we as an institution are currently reckoning with a legacy of colonialism that has yet to be fully uncovered both domestically and overseas?
But, thanks be to God, in the passing of Resolution D080 by the House of Bishops, with the House of Deputies concurring,The Episcopal Church in Navajoland was not only reaffirmed in its readiness to call and nominate their own bishop, but also granted the ability to create its own framework for discernment of the calling of a bishop “that reflects the values, teachings, and traditions of the Diné,” thus honoring the sacredness of traditional Navajo cultural practices, and affirming that there is room for cultural traditions diverse from those historical practices of The Episcopal Church and these different practices do not necessarily negate the holiness of the other. Furthermore, considerations were made to provide ECN with the support necessary on their journey as the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons was directed to “study and evaluate” those parts of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church that may require amendment in order to “honor the voice of the people of The Episcopal Church in Navajoland,” and to collaborate with The Episcopal Church in Navajoland. It is with great hope that I look forward to what is made possible through collaboration in the spirit of mutuality between a part of the Episcopal Church as unique as Navajoland and the pragmatic wisdom and structural know-how of the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons.
Over the course of this four-day General Convention that did much to honor the voices of people from communities who, in the large history of the Episcopal Church, were often not heard, I slowly realized just how diverse our deputation from the Diocese of San Diego actually was. Nearly half of our San Diego deputation were People of Color (exactly half if you consider only the 10 of us in the House of Deputies). Within that group of Deputies of Color were some who were born and raised in the US, and others who immigrated to this country. In our diocesan group we had a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, education and vocational experience, and even in General Convention experience, with deputies who have attended as many as 9 conventions to several first-time deputies; some of our deputies identify as LGBTQIA+; some of our deputies’ wisdom regarding the Episcopal Church was formed by experiences in Parochial Missions or in small, scrappy congregations, others have been formed by the glory and challenge of ministering in large, affluent parishes. On the last night of General Convention, as (most of) our deputation sat around a table together for dinner (minus Hanh Tran – we missed you!), one-by-one we shared our biggest takeaways of the convention, and each of our voices were given equal weight and consideration. And, I realized, this largely echoed the manner by which our deputation honored each other during the entire process of preparing for the 80th General Convention.
While our diocese is not perfect, and we still have challenges that lay ahead of us that may or may not be related to some of these Resolutions I’ve mentioned in this reflection, it is rejuvenating to remember that members from our diocese can and have found unity in our wild diversity, and that our diocesan leadership treats each voice as equally sacred. In the entire Diocese of San Diego, where an even richer, varied array of diverse voices and lenses exist throughout our region, if we continue to do the work of honoring this diversity and of coming together in collaboration and as a collective, in Christ and with Christ and through Christ – what will be impossible then?
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