Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Updates on Convention Decisions

As we get to the final few days of General Convention, the legislative process has reached a new stage.  Legislation has made it through committee hearings and discussions.  On some important issues, substitute resolutions that better express the subtlety of thought and diversity of opinion within the Convention have been put forward.  Opportunities to make decisions are now coming before the convention.  Each resolution starts with either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies, before moving to the other house for concurrence. (Think about the eighth grade civics charts you once studied to learn how legislation moves through the US Senate and House of Representatives.)   Both houses have to pass an item for it to be approved by General Convention.

A few major items were decided at convention today, and others are taking shape.  Here’s a summary of some of the significant legislation before us.

Anglican Covenant
The House of Deputies took up the issue of the Anglican Covenant.  Three years ago, this issue seemed likely to be a major decision at this Convention.  Recently, however, other Anglican Provinces have rejected the Anglican Covenant, including the Church of England.  Instead of either adopting or rejecting the Covenant in its current form, two resolutions passed the House of Deputies.  The first emphasizes our commitment to the Anglican Communion and to a deeper involvement with Communion networks and ministries.  The second recognizes a wide variety of opinions and ecclesiological positions in the Episcopal Church and pastorally declines to take a position on the covenant at this time.  Later this afternoon, the House of Bishops agreed.

Sexuality Issues
The House of Bishops has adopted the provisional use of a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships.  This resolution means that the Episcopal Church would have an authorized liturgy that can be used under the direction of the Diocesan Bishop to provide a blessing for same-sex unions.  This resolution does not approve a rite for same-sex marriage, and, as a trial rite, there will be a request for feedback over the next three years to see how this goes.  The House of Bishops also added gender expression and gender identity to the list of things that we do not discriminate against.  After navigating a morass of parliamentary questions, the House of Deputies also approved the rite of same sex blessings early this evening.

After some significant discussion, both houses of convention affirmed positive investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure.  The same resolution re-affirmed the Episcopal Church’s commitment to a two-state solution.  The House of Bishops did not approve a separate resolution encouraging corporate public engagement and asking for information about products made in “illegal Israeli settlements”.  The issue of divestment likely came up in committee, but was not referred out to the floor.  

Dozens of resolutions were submitted recommending various types of changes in the structures of the Episcopal Church.  Many were based on the “Sauls Resolution” that recommended a special commission be set up to consider a comprehensive church restructuring.  The Structure Committee, after an enormous amount of hard work, unanimously put forward a resolution calling for a Task Force to provide a set of recommendations for the next General Convention to help us re-imagine how the Episcopal Church can be best structured to engage our mission.  This Task Force would have no more than 24 members, be independent of church governing structures outside of General Convention, and convene a special gathering of people throughout the church, including those under 35.   This Task Force is likely the best opportunity we have to recreate a church that is nimble, efficient, cost-effective, and responsive to local opportunities for mission and ministry.  The House of Deputies passed it, seemingly unanimously, and then broke into applause and song in the feel-good moment of convention. 

Program, Budget and Finance presented their draft budget.   The budget is organized around the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion.  These marks are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. 
 Some important elements of the budget proposal include:
  • A 19% asking from dioceses.
  • $1 million for starting new congregations.
  • $1 million for mission enterprise zones.
  • 0.7% of the budget to support Millennium Development Goals through Episcopal Relief and Development’s NetsforLife Inspiration Fund.
  • A one-time investment of $4.1 million to set up an effective development office.
  • Continued funding for the Office of Pastoral Development and the College for Bishops.
  • A reduction of approximately 12 church center staff positions (10.75 FTE’s), some of which are currently vacant.
  • A block grant to cover expenses for various committees, commissions, agencies and boards, with specific funding to be determined by Executive Council, rather than specifying the exact amount for each 

The President of the House of Deputies
This morning, the House of Deputies elected a President for the next three years.  The Rev. Gay Jennings was elected over Martha Alexander and the Rev. Frank Logue.  Gay is an experienced deputy, part of the current President’s Council of Advice, and the chair of this convention’s structure committee.  She most recently worked for CREDO, an organization dedicated to clergy vocational, spiritual, physical and financial wellness. 

An interesting aspect of this election was the nomination of Frank Logue.  A Diocesan Canon in the Diocese of Georgia, he is a successful church planter who is quite comfortable with modern technology.  He discerned his call to stand for election during the convention after many people, especially younger deputies, were looking for an alternative candidate.  His nomination was discussed extensively on Twitter feeds, blogs and other social media.  However, many deputies not proficient in social media were entirely unaware of his candidacy until his nomination from the floor.  His 266 votes out of a total of 832 was a strong showing for a candidate without the literature, buttons and other campaigning common at General Convention.  He is already an important leader in our church, and I hope that we will find more and more ways to take advantage of his many gifts.

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