We aren’t the Rotary. We aren’t a country club. We aren’t civil society. We aren’t a local government. We aren’t a Lodge or an Order or anything like that. We are the church and the church is different.
We forget that sometimes. And in many ways. When we get together to set up the altar for Sunday, we often forget to pray before and after. When we gather to discuss the state of our campus and building, we neglect the theology of how and why we gather. When we have quiet moments at home, we neglect our reading of Scripture or devotionals. This isn’t always the case. But often it is.
All of those small things we miss add up to something important.
Those small things: extemporaneous prayer, theological discovery, scripture reading: are all part of what it means to be a devoted Christian. This isn’t the stuff of personal piety. This isn’t whether or not you cross yourself or bow or genuflect. This is the basics. This is the definition of participating in faith. You can’t very well be Christian if you don’t pray, wrestle with GOD, and read the Bible. And we can’t be a Christian community if we don’t do that, either.
What separates the General Convention of the Episcopal Church from any other gathering is that nothing is done without prayer, reflection, and Scripture reading. Nothing. The Episcopal Church is unique in this. We don’t rely on Robert’s Rules of Order to create winners and losers. We don’t follow current trends or quickly dash off in any direction. We don’t follow the orders of a dictator or a self-interested board of directors. This is what we do:
- We gather every three years, with equal numbers of lay and clergy deputies in one chamber called the House of Deputies.
- We also gather all of the bishops, active and retired, into one chamber called the House of Bishops.
- And bishops and deputies serve on the various committees that gather to deal with the proposed legislation.
- Legislation is most often proposed by a diocese or standing committee of the church and has been vigorously covered in that venue before coming to General Convention.
- When the committees gather, they pray, listen, and deal with what people are saying.
- If the legislation comes out of committee, it has already been prayed for and gone through rigorous theological conversation. It then must past through both Houses to become anything.
Final vote tallies and national headlines obscure all of the work that goes into it before the vote. All of the work meant to deal with what this might mean for the church and what it might mean for each diocese, congregation, and Episcopalian.
Nothing gets a simple up or down vote. And nothing is taken lightly. It is not subject to the whim of the few or current trends. It is all prayerful and deliberate.
It is what church is supposed to look like.
You’ll find attached to this an article from the Episcopal News Service describing all of the work of General Convention. In it, you may be surprised to discover they talked about a lot of things that isn’t related to sex. We dealt with growing concerns about structure, budget, and investment. We called for more conversation about what it means to be Anglican and that we are unable to sign onto the Anglican Covenant. We said that we need to study marriage. We committed to focusing on poverty and justice when and wherever we gather. We created a means of dealing with any dysfunctional relationships between a bishop and a diocese, we dealt with issues regarding the Sudan, Cuba, women and other underrepresented groups. And much more.
As for the matters of sex, the church affirmed the work of the Standing Commission of Liturgy and Music, which was asked at the last General Convention in 2009 to gather resources from around the country to develop a rite for the blessing of same-sex unions. They approved the rite for trial use over the next three years, under the authority of each diocesan bishop. In our diocese, this will mean that during the trial period, a couple must be contributing members of the congregation, be supported by the priest and the congregation, the vestry must approve, and then the bishop must approve. Lastly, this approval does not deal with matters of marriage.
Also, General convention determined that the church guarantees full equality in all aspects of the church to transgendered individuals, including ordination.
General Convention really is different. And this General Convention was particularly so. There was much discussion over the last year about needing to restructure the church, and many prominent voices throughout the church, including the CFO spoke to this need, giving their two cents about how it could be improved. In unanimously supporting one piece of legislation that was crafted out of 90 different proposals out of committee, then unanimously supporting it out of the Houses of Deputies and Bishops, The Episcopal Church has publicly declared with one voice that much of what we’ve been doing needs to change. A task force will be created and its work will be completed by November 2014. And come July 2015 at the next General Convention, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what our church will look like for the foreseeable future. And this is something we can applaud.
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to let me know and I would gladly hear them. You may also wish to speak with a deputy from our convocation, the Rev. Tracie Loffhagen or our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley.
I have never been more proud of my church and more excited for its future.