Friday, July 17, 2009

Reflections from General Convention #3

We are coming into the home stretch of this General Convention. We finish late Friday afternoon. Today a balanced budget for The Episcopal Church was passed in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. There were no amendments to the budget, although some were proposed in the House of Deputies. There was virtually no discussion on the budget in the House of Bishops. It was a moment of legislative whiplash which, I suppose, reflected the feeling of futility that nothing could be changed. The lack of debate also honored the extraordinary work of the Program, Budget and Finance Committee that had the onerous task of balancing the budget that at one point was $24 million dollars in deficit. Many cuts were made, which means that lots of departments across the church have been reduced; and many staff jobs have been eliminated. There is a lot of hurt and loss to all of this -- and I don't think any of us really know the implication and impact of this yet.

"Mission" is our Presiding Bishop's echoing metaphor. She describes mission as the heartbeat of the church. She invited -- no, she challenged, us to hear the mission heartbeat in our bodies and souls. It will be more imperative than ever to respond to this challenge with deeper commitment -- given that there are fewer financial resources to carry it out. Thus the Episcopal Church mirrors the experience of the dioceses -- which is, to be sure, also the experience of congregations.

Yesterday, the House of Bishops passed a resolution that said a whole array of things -- but mainly was focused on same-gender blessings and offering generous pastoral sensitivity for dioceses that perform them. The original amendment was almost brought to a vote the day before, but several bishops who were in the minority of the two-to-one vote the day before that (on affirming GLBT people for all levels of ministry) stood up to say that they felt marginalized and vulnerable. The legislative process was abandoned for the rest of the day -- and a group of self organized bishops agreed to meet informally in order to try and move things forward.

This was the hardest moment of Convention for me. It turned out that it was the hardest moment of Convention for the 26 bishops who met that night and early the next morning -- and for 26 different reasons. I felt that there was a movement afoot to scrub the decision of full inclusion; others said that the church was moving too fast for them. We expressed our thoughts and feelings in an Indaba-like atmosphere (which we had learned at the Lambeth Conference a year before). As the discussion progressed, we decided to move beyond creating a process of winners and losers, and instead to intentionally come up with a statement that included the ideas and feelings of as many as possible. We wanted to build a tent that was high and wide enough for as many as possible to gather underneath.

The resulting resolution (which five of us wrote) reflected the diversity of perspectives. When presented on the floor of the House of Bishops, there were more amendments -- and amendments to the amendments; but they were, for the most part, attempts to better articulate what we were about rather than efforts to discredit or distort.

The final resolution passed by a three to one margin. It recognized our diversity. Instead of trying to restrict dioceses -- the intent of the resolution was to trust the integrity and practice of bishops in their respective jurisdictions.

I think it was an important step forward.

Your deputation will be coming home tomorrow -- and over the weekend. Many of us from General Convention will be present next Thursday, July 23 -- from 10am-12 noon,and 7pm to 9pm,at St. Agnes Church, 65 Union Avenue, Little Falls, to tell our stories of Convention and to entertain your questions and hear your concerns. Each session will essentially be the same -- and anyone who wishes to is invited to come.

Mark Beckwith

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections from General Convention #2

We are moving forward. Not as quickly as some of us would like, but it seems that more people are coming in the movement forward, and with less rancor. Yesterday afternoon the House of Deputies overwhelmingly passed a resolution that moved the church beyond B033 to allow full inclusion.

The several resolves that were presented affirm both the rights and privileges of gay and lesbian people, as well as expressing commitment to our participation in the Anglican Communion.
This resolution sends a strong message to the House of Bishops, which by all accounts seems to be more cautious than the House of Deputies. I have been working with the Chicago Consultation, which is a group of bishops, clergy and laypeople who are working to advance full inclusion at all levels of ministry. We are continually living in the tension between what we want and what we think we can get through legislation.

I am involved in many conversations about tactics and strategy. There is a level of organization and communication that is very helpful - and a level of mutual respect that seems to be sustaining us all. We seem to be moving forward - not quickly enough for my soul, but I am consoled somewhat by the fact that more people are coming along.

There are a number of bishops here from various parts of the Anglican Communion, including 13 primates. We are learning a lot from each other. At the Integrity Eucharist on Friday evening, the Primate of South Korea told me he was amazed to see so many gay and lesbian clergy join Gene Robinson at the altar for the final blessing. I would guess that at least 100 clergy came forward. It was an Incarnational moment, and clearly transforming for one bishop who had never had such an exposure before.

The pace is gruelling, the legislative work is hard - but the gifts are many. Interspersed between committee meetings and legislative sessions - and all the other claims on our time, are sessions on public narrative. Led by Marshall Ganz of Harvard's Kennedy School, we are learning to tell the essence of our our own story - and connect the story of self with the story of us and the story of now. We have been coaching each other in telling about our passion, and where that passion comes from. We are doing this in diocesan groups. The exercise has not only brought us together, but has - for me anyway, revealed yet again how our stories generate deeper understanding and community. We are discovering that public narrative is an important tool for organizing - and for evangelism.

Blessings on you all.

Mark M. Beckwith

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections from General Convention #1

There are lots of things that can be said of General Convention - that it is part county fair, part family reunion and part House of Representatives. That it is the largest bi-cameral legislative body in the world - with 120 or so bishops in one house and 800 deputies (half clergy and half lay) in the other. There are about 7,000 of us in all - with alternates, delegates to the Women's Triennial, visitors, exhibitors, spouses and partners, staff volunteers and international guests - filling up two hotels which flank the Convention Center located two blocks from Disneyland. Our youth delegation arrived this afternoon, which by my count adds up to nearly 50 people here from the Diocese of Newark.

I continue to be grateful, and humbled, to be among leaders in our diocese who -- through their commitment, wisdom, skill - and sheer doggedness, have shaped the mission and trajectory of the Episcopal Church. It is an amazing crew of people.

There is a lot going on. Keeping track of it all is more than one person can do. So we have been meeting during the few moments when the schedule allows; to share what we are seeing and hearing - and to help each other better understand the details and dynamics of legislation, information sessions and public narrative (more on that in a subsequent posting).

So far, the temperature seems to have cooled down on the hot-button issue of sexuality. At committee hearings - and at one very large open forum, most of those who have testified have been supportive of same-gender blessings and display an openness to gay and lesbian clergy serving in the episcopate. No votes have been taken yet in either house, but this all feels very different from 2000, my first convention, when resistance to full inclusion was angry, if not hostile.

So far, after two days of Convention, there seems to be more concern about money or, more accurately, the lack of it. There are wonderful proposals for various ministries, but fewer funds to support them. Yesterday, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, made a very compelling presentation on the crisis in the global economy. In fact, he argued that our crisis is not economic, but is rather a crisis of truthfulness. He made the rather bold assertion that we have been lying to each other in several destructive ways:

- that truth telling has broken down in our financial world to the degree that we have increasingly tolerated anti-relational practices;
- that we have lied to ourselves about limitless growth in a limited world;
- that we have lied to ourselves about our relation to each other as human beings.

He challenged us to engage in truth telling, which is a practice and a gift that the church can offer the world. And he challenged us to lead - not from a model of economics, but a model of trust.

There is a lot to ponder and pray about - which will be important as we prepare to make some significant decisions for what it means to be the church.