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

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