Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday the 13th -- A Pretty Lucky Day!

8:00 am. Austin Convention Center. 

We were scheduled for two Legislative Sessions today. 8:00 - 1:00 and 2:30 - 6:30. Yikes! Doesn't that sound like a long, long day?

And then we got started. And we got moving! Where yesterday we endured countless parliamentary motions and extended debate, today all motions were kept to a minimum. It was almost as if everyone were ready to get done and head home. And why not? Most of us had been here 11 days -- or more!

Early on resolution B012 came back to us. This was the resolution entitled "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church." The House of Bishops accepted the resolution largely as passed by the Deputies, adding only a single amendment that clarified an important matter. As the resolution authorizes liturgies for trial use, a vote by orders was required. Each deputation has up to 4 lay and 4 clergy. A majority vote in each of the two orders is recorded as either "yes" or "no." If there's a tie, then the vote is recorded as "divided," which is functionally the same as a "no" vote. Then you tally votes by deputation and by order, either lay or clergy.

Here's the final total on "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church."

That's about as wide a margin as you could get!

As it turns out, by working a bit later than planned in the morning session, we completed all our work by about 1:40 pm!

Some closing reflections from a third-time deputy.

The Ft. Worth Deputation posted a "Top Ten" list from Convention on Facebook. The first three resolutions they discuss are:

  1. Marriage for all (B012)
  2. A plan for revision of the Book of Common Prayer (A068)
  3. Authorization of an expansive language version of Holy Eucharist Rite II (D078)

The committee on which I had the privilege to serve worked on all three. I am amazed that I had a front-row seat to such changes, participating in their discussion and sharing in such important work.

And yet these changes do not change everything. The availability of marriage rites for all couples seeking marriage does not impose such an inclusive view on all; it merely makes it available to all. And I think that's the right, good, and even Godly thing to do. Baptism is the rite by which and through which we celebrate becoming part of the family of God. Yet some of our baptized members have been consigned to lesser status solely because of their sexuality. No more; now all baptized Episcopalians can share in all the sacraments of our church.

Prayer Book revision may be for some a source of anxiety. Yet the House of Bishops added an important element to the resolution authorizing a revision process: The Book of the Common Prayer 1979 is "memorialized" as a Prayer Book for the Church. That means that even as we work through a process of considering anew how we worship God all who wish to continue using the "new" Prayer Book of the last four decades may continue to do so.

In other words, in the best of our expansive, Episcopal way we charted a course that reaches for the future while never forgetting or past -- or thinking that embracing one requires abandoning the other.

I am excited and energized by our work here. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to remind us: we are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement. I believe our branch is stronger and our church will bear good fruit in the days and years following General Convention 2018.

May God continue to bless us all with faith, courage, and strength.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday, July 12 -- Have I really been here 10 days? (It only feels like 20!)

This morning I had one last 7:30 am Committee 13 during which we discharged the remaining resolutions assigned to us. In every case, the subject matter had already been addressed in alternative resolutions.

At 9:00 am we began the first of two long legislative sessions, lasting until about 6:00 pm with just over an hour for lunch.

The big news: we adopted a budget of just under $134 million. We also spent a great deal of time considering a number of resolutions regarding Israel and Palestine (I believe it was six in total). While the House of Deputies was hardly unanimous in our votes, Israel's policies regarding Palestinians was soundly criticized. While it seems to me that much of the criticism may well be justified, there was little acknowledgment of the dangers, risks, and threats Israel also faces.

In liturgical developments, we're going to get a new "Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018" for trial use as well as a version of the Rite II Eucharist (including Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D) rendered in more expansive language for trial use. Based heavily on the 1979 text, this option seems to strike a pretty good balance between the traditional cadence and rhythm of the '79 BCP and language that at times seems to try a little too hard to be gender-neutral. We'll see what happens with this tomorrow in the House of Bishops which has not yet considered it.

During the day the House of Deputies was joined by our Deputy Pigeon. After over a week with us, I'm sure by now he's an Episco-pigeon. If only we could get the bird baptized surely we could then find a bishop for his confirmation!

After a dinner break we gathered for the closing Eucharist. Tomorrow: the home stretch!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday, July 11 -- the longest day yet!


Today began with a Committee 13 (see above) hearing on A068 on Prayer Book revision. We considered and praised the substitute sent back from the House of Bishops. Many bishops collaborated on improving what the House of Deputies had sent them, retaining most of what our version asked for while providing a deeper and broader foundation for the work to come. We then took care of a few other matters before taking a group picture. Tomorrow should be our final meeting. It has been a profound pleasure and deep privilege to serve alongside these wonderful deputies and articulate bishops as we shared in holy work.

We had three -- yes, THREE -- legislative sessions, starting at 10:30 am, 3:45 pm, and 7:30 pm. Oh, and we spent an hour receiving and discussing a report on the proposed budget for the coming three years.

The highlight of the day was the resolution welcoming the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba back into The Episcopal Church after an absence of over 50 years. Our approval was instant, loud, and unanimous. Bishop Griselda of Cuba then addressed and thanked the House of Deputies. I did not expect to be so moved by this act of reconciliation, restoration, and healing.

Oh, and with minimal debate, the Bishop's version of A068 passed in the House of Deputies on a voice vote with an obvious and substantial margin between the "ayes" and the "nays".

Our evening session, known on Twitter as "GCAfterDark" seemed at first to be a colossal and slow parliamentary waste of time. Glad I had my iPad with me though, to be honest, I could have played the same games in the comfort of my hotel room!

And then we suddenly started passing substantial legislation on care for the deaf and disabled in the church, on Sudan church and civil, and on carbon offsets to protect the environment. A good day to a long day, ending at 9:30.

Ten hours from now? Back to work! Only two more legislative days to go...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday, July 10 -- An imperfect process, and Gary plays tourist

Another day, another Committee 13 meeting. We started by hearing testimony on A227, "Communion Across Difference." This was the resolution we took pretty much wholesale from the original version of B012 regarding expanded marriage rites. This new resolution calls for the establishment of a task force of diverse members and requiring a 50/50 split between those who hold to a more traditional view and those with a more progressive view. Only six showed up at 7:30 to testify, but all of our witnesses commended our continuing need to talk to each other and to ensure there remains a place for "the theological minority" in The Episcopal Church. Our committee approved the resolution and it now goes to the House of Deputies for consideration.

We then revisited A086, "Authorize Rites to Bless Relationships." Two members of the committee (both lawyers) noted fatal defects which we discussed at length and have yet to resolve fully. This resolution was offered as a pastoral response to couples who cannot or should not legally marry yet wish to have the church's blessing on their relationship. At least one of the bishops noted that not every pastoral need requires an answer in the canons of the church. 

In the morning -- and again following the afternoon legislative session -- we discussed the path of A068, regarding Prayer Book revision, through the House of Bishops. Today the HOB debated the resolve and adopted (nearly unanimously, I'm told) a substitute. So, now it will return to the House of Deputies to be considered in its new form. Along the way, it looks like a committee of both bishops and deputies will be appointed to craft a measure that can (I hope) pass both houses. We'll see!

We also had our third and final TEConversation with speakers (and more) to inspire to consider us to consider our responsibility and opportunities for us to be better stewards of God's creation. 

In the afternoon I played tourist. This included a little time at the hotel pool as well as a visit to the Texas Capitol. This is an impressive building! To the left is a view of the etched glass seen in many of the office doors. Every you look you see the familiar five-pointed Texas star. And I do mean everywhere! From light fixtures to door knobs to chair backs to the floor there are what seem light thousands of stars. And, of course, I couldn't resist taking a picture looking straight up in the rotunda.

Finally, I had dinner with Mary Beth and Jean, two members of the West Tennessee deputation. Too bad this photo isn't from tonight! It's actually from two nights ago, and I forgot it was still in the camera. I include this because I liked the way the light refracted through the glass of port onto the white tablecloth.

Monday, July 9 -- A rather short report

7:30 am -- Committee 13 Meeting in which we spent time considering and amending a trial liturgy that offers expansive language while retaining much of the familiar cadence of Rite II Eucharistic Prayers. 

Great moments along the way: Chair Sam Candler (House of Deputies) asked, "Are we striking 'Jesus'?" While we all knew he was thinking about an editorial choice, his sentence still offered a moment of levity as we imagined the headline if Sam's comment were taken out of context. 

A few minutes later, Bishop Brian Thom stood and proclaimed, "All hail the Oxford comma!" I guess you had to be there. Still, this demonstrates the level of care the members of our committee bring to the work of considering and perfecting resolutions brought to us. In this case, our committee secretary had asked about the placement of a single comma in some amended text.

We also considered and approved A086 to authorize rites to bless long-term relationships for those rare situations in which couples cannot legally marry. These instances would include cases where marriage would cause financial hardship (as in older couples drawing social security benefits) or in cases where one of the partners wishes to avoid unwanted attention from immigration. We'll see how this is received in the House of Bishops.

10:30 am -- the first Legislative Session of the day, during which our amended version of B012 regarding the use and availability of marriage rites for ALL in The Episcopal Church debated. Various amendments, none too substantive, were offered. A vote by orders was requested, and the resolution passed by a large margin. Now we'll what happens when this goes to the House of Bishops.

1:15 pm -- the second Legislative Session began with our chaplain calling all 800+ of us to the platform to lay hands on each other and share in a moment of prayer and song.

One resolution drew the most attention. D019 calls for possible divestment in companies whose work supports Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. While hotly debated (with some deputies noting that the report seemed one-sided in favor of Palestine and against Israel), the resolution passed.

We did other work, of course, including hearing a spirited address from one of the young people attending General Convention as part of the Youth Presence.

5:15 pm -- Holy Eucharist. Great message. Dirge-like and loooong hymn at the conclusion. Odd way to conclude a celebration.

7:30 pm -- Dinner with members of the deputation. Nothing like last night's indulgence, but tasty all the same. And such good friends!

9:30 pm -- Ended the day with two friends from seminary, chatting until way too late.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Sunday, July 8 -- A slow start and a late end

This morning I slept in a bit and attended worship at the Convention Center. One of the cool opportunities at General Convention is to help in distributing either the bread or wine of communion. All you have to do is show up a bit early. That's been nearly impossible given our deputation's location towards the front of the hall in which the House of Deputies meets; by the time we get out of our session and headed to worship, all available slots to serve have been claimed. Not this morning! I arrived in time to be allowed the privilege of sharing the Bread of Communion at one of the stations.

Several hundred -- perhaps as many as 1,000 -- folks took buses and private vehicles to gather for a prayer service at the Hutto Immigration Detainment Facility, about 45 minutes outside of Austin, in response to the recent concerns about the treatment of immigrant families at our southern border. I did not attend, in part because I failed to reserve a seat on the bus in time. But also because I was really quite ready for a bit of quiet time.

To allow time for the visit to the Hutto facility, our only legislative session today didn't begin until 3:15, though it lasted until 7:00 pm. For the most part, we spent our time on various elections which required as many as four ballots each to elect the number needed to fill the various offices. This was, at best, a tedious process, one that inspired me to post the following image on Facebook:

We also began debate on B012, the resolution designed both to allow universal access to the marriage sacrament as well as provide room for those in The Episcopal Church unable to approve same-sex marriage. I expect we'll finish debate and considering amendments tomorrow morning.

Every Convention Bishop Johnson invites the deputation from West Tennessee to a special dinner at a really nice restaurant. We had a fabulous food and warm conversation. And now it's midnight, and my committee meeting at 7:30 is going to come awfully soon. Good night!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Saturday, July 7 -- BCP, BBQ, and Bats

Enough of getting up before dawn! This was the view from my hotel room as I was getting ready today.

Another early morning with Committee 13. (Thanks to Chuck McMillen for the above photo.) We started at 7:30 with a hearing to receive testimony regarding resolution D078, which offers an expansive language version of the Holy Eucharist, Rite II. We heard a lot of people speak in favor, though we've not yet discussed this in our committee. While the idea of having an expansive language liturgy has merits, I'm actually a bit on the fence on this liturgy. There are good reasons both to approve and to reject this proposal. I'm looking forward to our conversation. (And if it weren't already past 11 pm, I'd probably write more on this. Maybe later!)

We approved a resolution calling for much better translations of the BCP into Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole. We also amended a second resolution asking the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to provide a process to provide further translations of other needed liturgical resources.

Speaking of liturgy, once we resumed our Legislative Session in the House of Deputies debate continued on A068, the resolution approving a process that will lead to a revised Prayer Book. After a few amendments and more than a few folks rising "for a point of order or to make a parliamentary inquiry," we observed a moment of silence, the chaplain offered a prayer, and we voted.

We voted by orders, which simply means that within each deputation the lay people and clergy each voted separately. A tie vote by any order within a deputation is counted as "divided" which is essentially a "no" vote. This is about as complicated as it sounds, but the short version is that the resolution was adopted by the House of Deputies. Now it moves to the House of Bishops for consideration. Even if they also adopt, I expect they will also offer an amendment of two, meaning we on that Committee 13 and the House of Deputies will get to revisit A068.

After lunch we the second of three TEConversations, this one on evangelism. We heard from some dynamic speakers, saw an intriguing video, heard a great band with a good message, and had conversations with our deputation and our bishop.

The afternoon ended with an Episcopal Revival at the Palmer Center with rocking music and a rousing sermon from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. This was followed by dinner (including a bit of good Texas BBQ) and more great music.

I left a bit early to walk back the hotel via the bridge on Congress, from which bats emerge every day shortly after sundown. Given the hour, the light is dim and the bats are a bit blurry. Still, it was pretty cool to see this.

Friday the 13th -- A Pretty Lucky Day!

8:00 am. Austin Convention Center.  We were scheduled for two Legislative Sessions today. 8:00 - 1:00 and 2:30 - 6:30. Yikes! Doesn't ...