General Convention: A Unique Glimpse

General Convention: A Unique Glimpse

by Anne Clarke, Lifelong Christian Formation Coordinator; Lay Deputy Alternate78th General Convention

While I figured it would be an interesting and unique glimpse into part of the life of the Church, I was not sure what to expect from my time at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City. Most of what I had absorbed about past conventions was from major news stories, and perhaps a blog post that was cynically arguing a point or even proclaiming that the whole thing was a waste of time. I have always been proud to be part of a church that has a democratic process, and I was grateful for the chance to see it in action, to make connections with interesting people, and maybe to learn about some interesting programs or movements. But I didn’t think that it would feel all that much like church, particularly the parts of church that I love, that feed my faith and connect me to God.

I dealt with some of this skepticism by making a list of things I thought I would like to see and experience, like browsing books and curricula in the exhibit hall, meeting with people from former churches and with future colleagues, and seeing the House of Bishops in action. On the second day, I decided to check one of these things off my list and go to a committee hearing. There were about 20 committees in charge of making recommendations about all the resolutions that people had been proposing, covering everything from canon law to world mission to marriage liturgies. Soon after I sat down in the audience of my first hearing, a woman got up to the microphone and began to talk about what the Church had meant to her as a young indigenous woman, and she talked about her brother and how the program for which she was advocating could have helped him. The room was set up to be cold and factual; everyone had to use microphones and follow a strictly defined process in order to speak. The 20 or so committee members were far away from each other and the speaker, with large tables in between them, in a big, convention-center-beige room. I would have been scared to testify about something mundane, let alone to tell a personal story about my family’s experience to this group of strangers.

Regardless of these impersonal surroundings, this woman, and many others, stood up to tell their stories. These stories were about what the Church had meant to a family who emigrated from El Salvador; about the importance that a name change liturgy held for someone in the midst of a gender transition; about going back to work two weeks after giving birth because of a bad policy; about how the Church could help sexual assault victims feel safer in their communities; about why there are still so few women bishops; and many other very personal stories. And then, after almost every one of these stories, committee members would thank people for what they had said and then gently ask questions, and later discuss how to incorporate these stories into their actions. How much money was the right amount to spend? What about the program was most important to people? Is it something that a national or a local church could handle better? Could we make this language stronger, or wider, so that it could help more people? I was not prepared to see it, but the kindness, the curiosity, and the faithfulness of all those doing this work was impossible to miss. It was not glamorous, but there was something holy about it. And this work and learning was multiplied, in a way, by being able to observe the variety of ways in which our diocesan community did this difficult work, from security volunteers to committee chairs.

The experience was not all beautiful. In the full House of Deputies, it often got boring, waiting for the details of parliamentary procedure to work themselves out. There was one deputy who just sat by a microphone and waited until he was allowed to make a motion to end (the sometimes very long) debate; he was everyone’s favorite deputy. There are definitely ways to structure this process so that it is less oppositional and more friendly to the work that we all are trying to figure out how to do together. And I could have done without the many overpriced salads that I purchased but did not have time to eat. But, all in all, it actually did remind me of why I love the Church, and why I stick with it.

There is a lot of boring, complicated and difficult work that we do because we are committed to each other and to our mission. There are moments of transcendent beauty, in art and music and worship, and moments when it is the mundane things that are beautiful. There are moments when we can even talk about difficult things like the pain of racism in our past and present, the complexity of evangelism in the 21st century and the persistence of intractable conflicts. We learn more slowly than we should, and then sometimes we surprise ourselves with how far we have come. We see the results of faithful work and of undeserved grace. Where two or three (or 3,000) are gathered, God will be in the midst of them.

 

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