Friday, July 13, 2012

Once again, the every three-year cycle of the General Convntion of the Episcopal Church has been held. The Convention  met for ten days in Indianapolis, to consider hundreds of resolutions, hear reports from its constituent committees, commissions, agencies and boards, hold hearings, perfect and act on resolutions, elect its leadership and reflect on the policies and that govern Church. The General Convention is composed of the House of Bishops – with 200+ active and retired bishops, and the House of Deputies, composed of over 800 clergy and lay representatives elected from the 110 dioceses of the Church. Our General Convention is reportedly the largest democratic bicameral legislative body in existence and confirms the value of the “discernment” process – the active listening for the Holy Spirit in our democratic and sometimes “messy” democratic procedures.

Some of the matters that came before this Convention:
  • Approved trial use of a rite for the Blessing of same sex unions.
  • Adopted the budget for the triennium – see my personal comments below
  • Elected new leadership in the House of Deputies; consented to the election of election  new bishops – including our Bishop Doug; elected leaders  and several committees, commissions, agencies and boards
  • Unanimous adoption in both houses for the creation of a Task Force to look at restructuring of the Church. (See my personal comments below)
  • Adopted resolutions affecting a variety the governances and policies of the Church including is Baptism a prerequisite to receive communion and is confirmation an eligibility prerequisite to hold lay leadership positions. 
  • Focus on evangelism and Church growth to arrest the decline in membership and attendance
One of the most powerful experiences of General Convention is the corporate worship services. As the average size of our congregations continue to decline, worshiping with thousands other Episcopalians participating in our liturgy and singing/praying familiar hymns in English, Spanish and occasionally French is a reminder of the breadth of our Church.

Allow me two personal comments:

On the budget – we probably did as good a job as current circumstance allow but I am convinced that we have much work to do. If we are to truly rebuild the Church, more of our energies and resources must be directed to local dioceses and congregations. The Diocese of Western Massachusetts has taken a step in that direction. Our Diocesan Council adopted a resolution that our contributions to the churchwide programs should be no more than 15% of our net disposable income; we now contribute 19%. While support for churchwide level programs is important, some fine tuning to the balance is necessary and appropriate. The House of Bishops adopted a “mind of the House” resolution confirming that further discussion/action of this subject needs to happen. See this link:

On the matter of restructuring the Church, the time has come to take a hard look at all structures to determine whether
we have the appropriate systems, structures, and organization to carry our God’s mission for the Episcopal Church. We live in a world that is markedly different from the time when these issues were last examined. Because of much reduced size, we need nimble and flexible if we are to be faithful to our calling.

The celebration of the Eucharist ends with a dismissal:

  • Let’s go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit . . .or
  • Go in peace to love and serve the Lord . . . or
  • Let us bless the Lord
The idea is that the end of the Eucharist is really the beginning   . . . as these words are meant to suggest. Similarly, the end of General Convention is the beginning of yet another phase in the life of the Episcopal Church.  Just as the sacrament of Communion renews and strengthen us for service, I pray that the General Convention has prepared us for the days and months of renewal and service that lie ahead.

Del Glover

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Well, we're on the home stretch now in Indianapolis! There are definite signs that deputies are getting tired, but remain committed to doing their best to handle the remaining business. Even your humble respondent was too tired last night to write his blog post then, but he begs your indulgence to receive this blog for Wednesday.

Of course the big item of local news is the joint statement from our Bishop and Bishop-elect concerning same-sex blessings. There were a number of items of some significance taken up on the floor of the House of Deputies on Wednesday. One biggie was the budget. The budget development process is complex and often hurried. The budget that was passed is based on asking diocese to contribute 19% of their income (the formula is slightly more complex, but that's the gist of it). However, our diocese and a number of others have called for 15% and intend to contribute that, so the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church may well have to do some cutting during the next three years (until the next General Convention).

The Deputies also passed a resolution on "open table" (communion of the not yet baptized). This compromise resolution reaffirms baptism before Eucharist as the normative practice of the church while also recognizing the exercise of pastoral sensitivity (intentionally somewhat ambiguous). It remains to be seen what the House of Bishops will do with that resolution, but there were conservative bishops on the committee that crafted the compromise so it /may/ pass.

The Deputies also elected a Vice President of their House for the next three years, Byron Rushing of the Diocese of Massachusetts, also well-known as the Majority Whip in the Massachusetts State House.

We have a long list of resolutions before us today and the House is doing its best to organize the business to proceed effectively.

On the more whimsical side, Wednesday was "Dress like Secretary Straub" day. If you have tracked John Cheek's posts, then you know he is a flamboyant dresser, known for his bow ties and colorful jackets. A number of deputies wore real and improvised bow ties (including a twisted balloon), etc. The Official Youth Presence ended their participation at the end of the day, and were warmly thanked. They had devised a game called Bonnie Ball (Bonnie Anderson is the retiring President of the House of Deputies). One scores points for such things as wearing something strange on one's head while speaking at one of the microphones, for wearing a bow tie, and for working the words Bonnie Ball into their speech. Even the President intentionally scored a few points.

Peace and blessings to you all! Eliot Moss, Clergy Alternate

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

From Our Bishop and Bishop-elect

To: Clergy and people of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts
From:  Bishop Gordon P. Scruton and Bishop Elect Douglas J. Fisher

We have been blessed by God's presence at work in our General Convention amid the pressures of many challenges facing our church and world.

It was a great joy to experience Confirmation from the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops of our election of Doug Fisher as our next Bishop.  We are now free to proceed with his Ordination and Consecration on December 1st.  Doug and Betsy will be moving to the Diocese in the middle of September to begin their ministry among us.

At General Convention, our church authorized a provisional rite and accompanying resources for blessing same-sex relationships. As your Bishop and Bishop Elect, we will encourage parishes who chose to do so, to use this provisional rite beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, 2012. Our Church has prayed, debated and sought guidance for this decision for a number of years.  Same gender couples, committed in love, may now be blessed to enter into a life-long covenant of fidelity with one another and the Living God.

In the next several months we will consult with members of our diocese and develop details of a way forward so that clergy and congregations who choose to do so, may help couples celebrate this commitment with soulful discernment and faithful preparation.

We recognize that in most congregations there are people who have been eager for our church to provide a liturgy for same-sex blessings and also some who cannot in conscience support same-gender blessings. The resolution says that "(no person) should be coerced or penalized in any manner...(for) conscientious objection to or support for this resolution."  Our desire is to continue to respect and value the comprehensive diversity of theological perspectives that has been our character as Anglicans, recognizing that none of us and no group among us knows the full mind of God or has the definitive interpretation of Scripture. 

What was truly remarkable about the debate on this resolution in the House of Bishops was that almost all of the conservative bishops who spoke against this decision began by saying how much they appreciated the respect shown for them and their perspective in the resolution and in the process of developing the resolution.  This was a decision reached in the context of respectful, grace-filled relationships and without rancor.

In humility we seek to focus on Christ and let Christ and God's mission hold us together in our differences, as we kneel together to be nourished at God's altar week by week.  In humility we will also seek to maintain close and respectful relationships with those in the Anglican Communion and with our Ecumenical partners who differ from the direction discerned by our General Convention.  May Christ hold us all together and continue to guide us for the sake of God's mission in this generation.

Word(s) on the Floor

Among those present at Convention and offering their prayers for us are those who are members of monastic orders such as the Order of the Holy Cross, the Order of St. Helena and the Society of St. John the Evangelist, among others. As a member of the Fellowship of St. John, I was delighted to see Brothers Mark Brown, Geoffrey Tristam, and Curtis Almquist here in Indianapolis this week.

Curtis handed me a little packet of business-sized laminated cards earlier this week that I have had with me on the floor ever since. Each offers a word, e.g. "peace" or "faith" or "humility" or "joy" and then a short quote from one of the brothers on that word. And then at the bottom of the card, instructions to Pause/Breathe/Meditate/Share.  I have found these brief meditations helpful in keeping me centered and open to God's Spirit, and want to share three of these words in particular, in this context:

God loves to invite us to make journeys. Because through the journey, God teaches us, forms us, invites us to grow and change into the person God longs for us to be.
Br. Geoffrey Tristram

The prayer of thanksgiving frees us from the bondage of our own too-small worlds. It lifts us beyond ourselves and our petty preoccupations. And it does not come naturally to any of us. Rather, paradoxically, like all prayer, thanksgiving is a gift, from God, for us, waiting to be received.
Br. Kevin Hackett

Whenever we bury Jesus, he comes back to life. We can bury him in the Bible or in stained glass windows, in creeds and formulas and the heritage of our own tradition, in movies and plays and music; in our past. We can even bury him in bread and wine. And each time from each place he rises from the dead. He sheds the words and images and walks right on out into the world.
Br. Curtis Almquist     

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Long Productive Day

It has been a long productive and joy filled day.

The day started with Eucharist celebrated in Spanish. The worship at general convention has been truly uplifting - the great question at the end of services has often been - who preached and who were the musicians - unfortunately that information has not been printed in the programs. Rumor has it - it is posted somewhere, I just haven't found it yet.

There was a lot of legislation to come before us today, much of it left from yesterday.

We elected 7 members to Executive Council - the youngest a deputy from the diocese of CT, just 30 years old, Yeah for our church.

We elected a new president of the House of Deputies - Rev. Gay Jennings who will become President at end of this general convention. Tomorrow we will elect the VP.

Here are a few of the resolutions the came before the House of Deputies:

Restructure of the Church which as you can imagine generated much debate and attempts to amend the resolution. After what seemed like an endless time the vote was called and the resolution was passed.  What will happen as a result of this resolution is  a committee will be appointed consisting of a wide range of members from across the church, made up of laity, clergy and Bishops - this committee has an end time to report back to the 78th general convention in 2015.

Anglican Covenant - the resolution that was presented was to say not yet.  The resolution was overwhelmingly passed.

The Bishops joined us for an hour at the start of the afternoon session, for the presentation of the budget.  Check out the general convention web site for the full budget at:
http:\\general The budget will be voted on later this week.

The most joyous vote of the day was at the end of day the vote on Blessings of Same Sex Marriages.   There was a lot of respectful debate - back and forth in favor and against. A motion was made to split the resolution into 2; if either had been defeated it would have sent it all back to the House of Bishops - that motion was voted down and we moved on to vote on the resolution.  A move to vote by order was called - 78% yes in the lay order and 76% yes in the clergy order. Of note is that there was no cheering or clapping - respect for each other.  There were tears of joy in celebration. Thanks Be to God.

Much more work to be done - Your continued prayers are much appreciated.

United Thank Offering Grant for Kumasi, Ghana

Yesterday at the Triennial Meeting I received the "official" grant award certificate for our companion diocese Kumasi, Ghana.  Last December we submitted  a grant application on behalf of Kumasi for solar backup electricity for the Mampong Babies Home. This grant was fully funded for $17,368.00. There are a number of people who collaborated with me to write this grant and I will be writing about this in the future along with some photos from the next mission trip to Ghana in the fall.   Thanks be to God and coins in my UTO box!

How The Sausage Is Made

Some people really prefer not to know how the sausage is made. It dampens their faith. But to me, our polity as Episcopalians - while messy - is a thing to behold.

As mentioned in previous posts, this is my first General Convention. Even so, I went to college in Washington, DC and did an internship after my junior year on Capital Hill, when I still thought I'd be finding my way to a career in politics after college rather than ordained ministry. As has often been noted, there was great overlap between the founders of this nation and of the Episcopal Church so the similarities are striking. I've been a priest now for nearly twenty years. So I have some awareness of all of this coming in.

Even so, there is a steep learning curve and I assume that at least some readers of this blog remain mystified by this process. My aim here is to try to de-mystify it a bit.

At the last General Convention, in Anaheim, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (bicameral legislature) asked the Standing Commission on LIturgy and Music to undertake a study and to work on a proposed liturgy for blessing same gender relationships and then to report back to this 77th General Convention in Indianapolis. The Commission did that work and prior to this gathering met with elected lay and clergy deputies in the Provinces this past year to present the results of their work.

Even so, one doesn't arrive and vote. That report became the work of  Legislative Committee 13: Prayerbook, Liturgy, and Church Music. That Committee (like all the other committees) includes both bishops and deputies, clergy and laity. (Among them our own, Meredyth Ward.) They have held open hearings and been working on getting that resolution ready, where it can then go to first to either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies. As you probably know by now, yesterday that resolution passed overwhelmingly in the House of Bishops, i.e to approve use of these liturgies for those who wish to use them in their particular contexts. (No one is forced to use them!)

Today or tomorrow the House of Deputies will have an opportunity to debate and vote.

I have to say the process is fascinating to me, and the communications challenges and the amount of paper printed are astounding. There are glitches and people being people there are moments when it is clear that some people really do adore the sound of their own voice echoing on the floor of the House of Deputies.

Even so, I have been fascinated at the process of watching the sausage be made. Now I'm sure on some of the nuances my more experienced fellow deputies might offer "amendments" to these remarks and even corrections. ButI think on the basic contours I have it (more or less) right, and that at some level every Episcopalian ought to be aware of how this unfolds.

We are not in a denomination where the Bishops tell us what to do by fiat. We speak with many voices and the people of Western Massachusetts have as much of a voice here as bigger dioceses. (The metaphor that the House of Bishops is like the Senate and the House of Deputies like the House of Representatives is true only up to a point, because unlike the House of Representatives, we have four clergy deputies and four lay deputies from every Diocese in the Church--which give Western Mass as much of a say in how things unfold as the Diocese of Chicago, or New York, or California.)

Whatever happens, whether we rejoice or grieve over any particular piece of legislation, there is reason I think to give thanks for a process like this that gives us the opportunity to discern God's will together.

(Rich Simpson)