The Episcopal Church did a number of things, both silly and serious at its 77th General convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, from July 5 through July 12, 2012.
The House of Deputies did some silly things:
The amount of time devoted to debating whether science is compatible with religion before adopting A136 affirming compatibility;
The defeat of D063 requesting congregations to declare churches to be a Gun Free Zone, thus affirming the right of all to bring guns into church;
The time spent defining the house rules regarding the nature of the youth presence, D045;
It took a reconsideration of A061 already adopted for the House of Deputies to decline authorization of versions of the Bible with erroneous translations from the original Greek. The resolution was ultimately referred to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and music for further review. Nevertheless, D021 authorized liturgical use of the Contemporary English Version (2005) the Contemporary English Version Global (2005), and the Common English Bible (2011). The Message was rejected as a paraphrase rather than an exact translation, appropriate for teaching, but not for liturgical use.
On the other hand the Convention did some very serious things with remarkable unity.A number are related to structure:
In the area of Church Structure the Convention was confronted with the options of no action, a Constitutional Convention, or a special task force to report to report to the next General Convention. The Convention chose the latter, the House of Deputies acting unanimously to adopt C095. In the hearing on restructuring, Malcolm Mackenzie and I both spoke to the Northern California resolution favoring the adopted task force approach.
In B013 Convention also eliminated the canon prohibiting the Presiding Bishop from continuing to serve as a Diocesan Bishop;
A related action calls for moving the Church Center away from downtown New York City, D016. The House of Deputies authorized the sale of building; however, the House of Bishops eliminated the provision. A sale would relieve the budgetary drag of vacant rental space on servicing the $34 million debt, but it is at the price of selling real estate at the bottom of the market;
As well as acting unanimously on restructuring, the Convention acted unanimously (A005) to adopt budget for the next triennium based on the Five Marks of Mission and also on the same 19% asking as the budget for the current triennium. The five marks are:
-To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
-To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
-To respond to human need by loving service
-To seek to transform unjust structures of society
-To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
The most significant actions concern gender related matters:
In A049 the Convention authorized provisional use of a rite for blessing same gender relationships, called for continued review and report by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, but also protected any clergy who declined to preside in the liturgy from any coercion or any manner of penalty;
A newly amended canon forbids excluding any person from membership by reason of gender expression or gender identification, D019. A companion resolution, D002 which provides a similar guarantee to the discernment process was also adopted;
Convention created a task force to study marriage, A050. In the House of Deputies there was spirited debate over a direction to consult with married couples, single adults, and those in other lifelong committed relationships, as well as with other churches in the Anglican Communion and TEC’s ecumenical partners, and a proposal to limit the task force’s focus to traditional marriage.
Also referred for interim study was a proposal to amend the canons to define marriage as being between two people rather than between a man and a woman, D091;
In the area of liturgy, the Convention took a number of actions in addition to its action on Blessings:
It authorized continued trial use of Holy Women, Holy Men while calling upon the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to continue revisions during the 2013-2015 triennium, A051;
The Convention approved rites and prayers for the care of beloved animals, A054, including a rite for the death of a beloved animal and prayers when animals are adopted, itt, or lost or missing, B009;
Open Communion was soundly rejected, C029.
In some areas the conventions was careful to express a moderate view, rejecting polarizing proposals from both right and left.
A particular example is the resolution regarding peace in the Holy Land drafted and proposed by Bishop Beisner, B019.
Other examples are the resolutions neither rejecting nor adopting the Anglican Covenant. The Convention adopted D005, which declined to take a position on the Covenant as a pastoral response because we are not all of one mind. It also adopted D008, which calls or a deepening involvement with communion ministries and networks, using where applicable the Continuing Indaba process for conversations across differences;
The Convention authorized changes in the Book of Common Prayer to conform to the Revised Common Lectionary, A059, but also authorized continued use of the 1979 lectionary with the local bishop’s permission.
General Convention took serious action in the area of clergy discipline:
With only a whisper of opposition it adopted a technical cleanup of Title IV, the 2009 revision of clergy discipline based on safety, truth telling, healing, and reconciliation in place of an adversary system based upon the criminal provisions of the Military Code of Justice, A033. This resolution uses local option to satisfy push-back objections that do not go to the heart of the system.
Although the new Title IV balances accountability, the victim’s interest, and the Respondent’s interest so as to protect clergy from the crazies, protect vulnerable victims, and cut through patterns of denial on the part of all, it was subject to substantial policy push-back. These issues were referred to the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons for hearing from the parties and a report to the next General Convention, C049. Included are issues concerning:
-Timing and content of Notice to Respondents
-Confidentiality and the duty to report
-The role of bishops in the courts
-The use of skilled mediators
-Statute of limitations for the failure to report
-The waiting period for remission after abandonment or renunciation.
The referral also included some constitutional objections that have been raised indirectly. These objections lack merit but need to be dealt with seriously and directly. Directly means a determination by General Convention (which is the ultimate court of TEC for such matters) after thorough vetting during the next triennium.
The first objection is that TEC is a mere confederation of independent dioceses and has no power to impose a disciplinary system upon dioceses. General Convention has rejected that view of its polity since at least 1901.
The second objection is that the Constitution prevents General Convention from adopting canons giving any role to the presiding bishop in disciplinary matters. This objection is negated by an express constitutional provision delegating the General convention the authority to set the role of the presiding bishop.
The Convention considered but declined to downgrade confirmation as being inconsistent with the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer. Deputies rejected A041 on the last day. It would have substituted for confirmation completion of a course of instruction mandated upon every congregation as a qualification for leadership in TEC. On the last day the Deputies failed to adopt Resolution A043, which would have removed the requirement that deputies to General Convention be confirmed. They referred the resolution to the Standing Commission on Ministry Development.
Although there was intense debate on many matters, the great bulk passed by a wide majority. Opposition to almost all of the proposals came from the Dioceses of South Carolina, Albany, Quincy, and Springfield, with strident support from Dallas to oppose matters of economic or environmental justice.
For me the most poignant points of the Convention were the testimonies to Convention of two fellow members of the Committee on Canons. One is a Spanish surnamed 28 year old female priest whose physical appearance gives no hint of being Hispanic. She was part of my subcommittee and serves as a campus minister in Arizona. She carries her passport with her at all times because she had been stopped four times within the month preceding Convention in Maricopa County for a mechanical violation, forced to prove her citizenship, and then released with no citation because the inspection failed to find any mechanical violation.
The second testimony was that of the Secretary of the Committee who managed the flow of paper and was one of the most articulate speakers on Title IV and economic justice issues on the Convention floor. She is an attorney and volunteer Municipal Judge but has been unemployed for the last three years.