Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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)

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