Archive for July, 2012

GCIndy#7

July 11, 2012

Pretty peaceful next-to-last day of General Convention 2012.  The South Carolina deputation and its bishop, Mark Lawrence, left early in a kind of protest but (so far) are not threatening to leave the Church.

The House of Bishops concurred with the Deputies on the budget for the Triennium and also with the resolution setting up a process for a special Task Force and large gathering during the next three years to consult widely and make suggestions for the restructure of the adminisration and governance of The Episcopal Church at our next Convention.

I made a plea on the floor of the House of Bishops for deacons’ voices to be heard and included in this whole restructure process. Not an easy thing given how often they are overlooked in the councils of the Church. At least the House heard the concern. Now, we will need to follow up with the new President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop of make sure it happens!

We finished our work early in the House of Bishops and left the Deputies hard at work. We’ll meet tomorrow morning for our final work and a concluding Eucharist.

All in all, not bad work.

 

GCIndy#6

July 11, 2012

Fears of a “meltdown” here at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church seem today largely unfounded. As I indicated in an earlier post, I have often been amazed that this somewhat unwieldy body of lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons seems to find a way for common sense and the Holy Spirit to bring us back from the brink time and time again over the years.

At this point, it looks as though we will not only have overwhelmingly passed provisional liturgies for the blessing of same sex unions and made a rational, careful response to the proposal for an Anglican Covenant which will keep us at the table, but will pass a sensible (for now) budget for the next triennium, vote to relocate but not sell the Church Center headquarter in New York, establish a special task force and process for listening to the church and bringing to the next General Convention specific plans for restructure of our administration and governance. Not bad for eight days in the smoldering heat of an Indianapolis summer!

Had a lovely dinner with the Chicago deputation last night at which we included the provisional bishop and deputies from the continuing Diocese of Quincy in anticipation of the day when we will one day be reunited as one diocese of The Episcopal Church. From there, we went to a reception for Seabury/Bexely seminary. It was a packed room of energetic and supportive people for this new experiment in seminary education. President Roger Ferlo and deans Ellen Wondra and Tom Ferguson have their work cut out for them, but I sense a lot of support and enthusiasm for the project.

One more full day of legislation and then we’ll see how much work we will have to complete on Thursday before heading out of here. Hope no important issues get left untended to because of the press of legislation and the shortened time frame of this Convention. Nonetheless, we are all ready to be about done here!

GCIndy#5

July 10, 2012

As expected, the House of Bishops overwhelming approved the provisional (trial, experimental) use of liturgies for the blessing of same sex unions at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church yesterday. What was perhaps not so expected was the civil, even tender, tone of the “debate” on that resolution.

This was due in perhaps equal measure to three factors: 1) the decades long work we have done to build community and civility in the House; 2) the careful work of Bp. Tom Ely and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Church Music who have produced these rites and the legislative committee which drafted the resolution and; 3) (it must be said) the departure, over the last five or six years, of breakaway bishops who have consistently lowered the tone of civility in the House for decades.

Now, just as those of us on the progressive side of this issue were granted permission for “gracious pastoral response” in our dioceses before these liturgies were available, now some space has been granted for those bishps and dioceses who, in good conscience, cannot move in this direction. In fact, our theological diversity was “honored” in one of the resolution’s clauses.

This will put gay and lesbian people who live in such dioceses and yet would desire to have their unions blessed in the same kind of painful position women were in years ago when certain bishops and dioceses refused to move forward with the ordination of women. This is sad, but perhaps unavoidable, at this stage in our “evolution” on this matter. Perhaps neighboring bishops and dioceses can provide some pastoral assistance in the immediate years ahead for these folks.

Now, the resolution goes to the House of Deputies for certain approval there. The hope is that the Deputies will not amend the resolution which would send it back to the House of Bishops and risk losing the whole matter in the press of legislation in these final days of Convention.

With this major issue well on the way to completion, we now await the report from the Committee on the Structure of the Church and, of course, the budget coming out of Program, Budget, and Finance. These matters, and perhaps some lively debate on two resolutions on the Middle East, will keep our last few days in Indianapolis interesting!

GCIndy#4

July 9, 2012

There is no question but that the “glue” which holds The Episcopal Church together is The Holy Eucharist. Well, Jesus holds us together but it is the experience of him in the broken bread and the cup of blessing which are the outward and visible signs of this inward and spiritual grace. No where is this more clearly seen than at General Convention.

We can argue and even fight, we can be short sighted and petty, we can become so self absorbed as to almost disappear within ourselves, but when we gather for Eucharist we are truly one Body in the one Spirit. This is not some superficial, can’t-we-just-all-get-along-for-an-hour-or-so, but a genuine ministry of reconciliation among us. It is why I believe we will get through these trying times (not only in Convention, but in the days and years to come) in better shape than some of our ecumenical partners who do not have this same commonality of sacramental communion celebrated together in “the beauty of holiness.”

Over the weekend, we have seen two amazing expressions of this. On Saturday the Eucharist was celebrated with steel drums, gospel singing and a rousing sermon on “those crazy Christians” by arguably our finest preacher, Michael Currey, Bishop of North Carolina. It is not only the energy of his proclamation, borne of the African American church experience, but his artful handling of the biblical texts and the masterful construction of his message. A comparison with Dr. Martin Luther King would not be over-reaching.

The Sunday Liturgy was simply splendid. Much more traditional in character (but with some blended elements of both classical and contemporary songs and chant) it featured an amazing choir, great congregational singing, and a fine sermon by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Watching thousands of people receive the Sacrament with such devotion and joy was more than inspiring.

My thanks go out to all the lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons who have worked so hard to prepare the liturgies, lead us in experiencing them, and “cleaning up after us” long after we have departed for our legislative work.

Including my hard-working wife — Deacon Susanne Watson Epting — who has coordinated the scheduling and coaching of deacon-participants, worked with other “floor managers” to facilitate the flow of worship, and composed or edited the Prayers of the People written fresh each day to bring the concerns of our minds and hearts into the Presence of God in intercession and thanksgiving.

Thank God for the gift of Eucharist!

GCIndy#3…continued

July 7, 2012

For reasons unknown to me, WordPress deleted the final paragraphs of my post on GCIndy#3. So here they are:

In between the rather frustrating legislative moments a mentioned in the earlier post, we had a fine Liturgy with a sermon by House of Deputies’ Presiding Bonnie Anderson. I then testified on behalf of a Diocese of Chicago sponsored resolution on peace in the Middle East. The legislative committee on Internation Concerns has a half dozen or so resolutions which they must consider and probably will conflate into something most all of us can support.

My concern is that the final product will not be strong enough in articulating the plight of our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters in this stalemated “peace process”. However, we will most surely re-assert our support for a two-state solution, a return to the 1967 borders, and decry Israeli settlements which continue to be constructed to change the “facts on the ground” on what was traditionally seen as Palestinian land.

The House of Bishops then spent some time in private conversation requested by the provisional bishops of Quincy and Ft. Worth about just what The Episcopal Church means by being a “hierarchical church.” This is prompted by court cases seeking to reclaim church properties occupied by breakaway, so-called “Anglican” churches. Everyone agrees that while “individuals may leave the Episcopal Church, congregations and dioceses may not.” But the whole question of diocesan autonomy and what power the “national church” with its Presiding Bishop, Constitution and Canons have over diocesan bishops and their own Conventions is more complex than it at first appears. We will continue the discussion this afternoon, but likely not resolve this issue at this Convention.

In the meantime, the House of Deputies authorized the Executive Council to see our Church Center headquarters (815 Second Avenue) in New York and look for a more suitable location. It will be interesting to see if the bishops will agree to abandon this East coast, establishment icon and really look to do something different.

I think we might!

More later…

GCIndy#3

July 7, 2012

Rather trying, at least for me, second day Convention yesterday. We spent the morning in the House of Bishops trying to restructure the church and/or craft a budget, one resolution at a time by voting down resolutions with funding attached rather than referring them to Program, Budget and Finance for their consideration. And we ended the day with a confusing use of the “Consent Calendar” which prompted me to remind the House that this calendar is only to be used for “non controversial resolutions” and is to be voted on en masse. If one wishes to debate a resolution, one only needs to find two other bishops to have it removed from the Consent Calendar. Why do we have to re-learn our rules of the House at every Convention?

I

GCIndy#2

July 5, 2012

Well, partway through “official day one” of our 77th General Convention. The mood is a mixture of some anxiety, but strangely “low energy” at this point. I’m not sure how to sort that all out right now, and maybe I’m just projecting! Basically, the two Houses have gotten organized and are beginning to do some legislation. The Legislative Committees are where the action is now and are hard at work.

Jeff Lee is on the Liturgy and Music committee and they are, of  course, always busy. Especially this time with rites for same gender unions, some new daily offices, and various and sundry changes to Holy Women, Holy Men. I was asked to attend the Ecumenical Relations committee to help redirect a potentially harmful resolution asking for a new dialogue between us and the ELCA to iron out some neuralgic issues between us concerning the diaconate and lay presidency in the ELCA.

I think they will re-direct it to the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee which is the body already set up to deal with these issues. That will not raise Lutheran concerns that we are trying to “remake them in our own image” but still allow us to discuss important issues together. The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA — Mark Hanson — helpfully addressed the committee on this matter.

He and the President of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church “concelebrated” with our Presiding Bishop in the opening Eucharist thereby helping us to celebrate our two most recent full communion relationships. We celebrated Walter Raushenbush and two other 19th century social activists in the Liturgy today, thereby allowing Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach a fine sermon about our call to help build the Kingdom of God in the here and now…on earth as it is in heaven…and our role in this Convention is trying to make that happen in our midst and in the world.

So, we’re launched and basically in good spirits. (Unlike our sisters and brothers in the Presbyterian Church who, we understand, are in the process of tearing each other apart in their Convention over Middle East policy, same gender unions, and the inevitable issues of budget and restructure. Their Vice Moderator actually resigned yesterday over it all! We need to keep them in our prayers…as we rely on theirs.)

More anon…

 

GCIndy#1

July 3, 2012

So, last day at home before heading out to the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church meeting in Indianapolis. Susanne has already driven down as she has some major responsibilities as Executive Director of the Association of Episcopal Deacons (formerly knows as NAAD).

She coordinates the scheduling  and orientation of deacons serving in the daily liturgies at Convention as well as collaborating on the writing of daily Prayers of the People for each Eucharist. Since she rarely gets recognition, or even thanks, for those responsibilities, I’d at least like to give her a shout-out here.

I have my usual mixed feelings about Convention. As an introvert “off the chart” it is an exhausting experience for me to be with all the folks pretty much 24/7. On the other hand, it is a wonderful family reunion and important issues are decided which effect our life together as Episcopalians. And it’s an honor to be a part of those deliberations and decisions.

Major issues this time: making some sense of the budget fiasco we’ve created; approving liturgies for the blessing of same gender unions; seemingly endless discussions on restructuring of our church’s governance and staffing structures; wrestling with how, and if, we should continue implementation of a church-wide denominational health insurance plan; new statements on Israel/Palestine; and a couple of ecumenical resolutions I’m particualrly interested in because of my past role as ecumenical officer for The Episcopal Church.

I have often dreaded General Conventions, concerned about some kind of ‘melt down,’ but have usually come away reassured about the faithfulness and common sense of such a large legislative body. These are good people who care about God’s church and God’s world and who give hugely of their time and efforts to provide leadership and direction for this community.

Can the structures be improved? Certainly. Do we need to make significant changes in order to respond to the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Absolutely. Are we — under God’s grace — up to the task? I think so.

We’ll appreciate your prayers and support.

(I’ll be blogging regularly, if not daily, if I think I have anything constructive to say!)