Here Comes General Convention!

Here Comes General Convention!

(from the outside looking in)

by Pastor Jocelynn Hughes

General Convention begins in Indianapolis on July 4th. This is a big event that happens every three years when representatives from the entire Episcopal Church gather for about two weeks to make decisions about the life and governance of our denomination. Like the US government, we have two houses of representatives: the House of Bishops (Bishops) and the House of Deputies (clergy and laity from each Diocese). There are committees that hold hearings on resolutions and decide what will proceed to the “floor” for a vote. It’s not a coincidence that our polity so closely mirrors our national government, since the two were being formed at the same time and with many of the same people involved. In fact, one of the many issues up for discussion and debate this year is whether this format – a bicameral system and two week long process – is the best, most efficient, most cost effective way to make decisions in the church. Since the national church is facing shrinking resources, this is a crucial question to be asking right now, and we will have to see what decisions, if any, are made about that.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been to General Convention. I’m a little intimidated by it because politics is really not my bag. This year I’ve been drawn into the pre-Convention wrangling more than ever before because I moved into the role of Provincial Coordinator for Campus Ministry in Province VIII. A lot of people are not necessarily aware that there’s a structure in between dioceses and the national church called Provinces. Dioceses are grouped into regions, and we are part of Province VIII, which includes the Western US, Alaska, Hawaii, and Taiwan. The Province includes ministry networks that seek to foster greater education and collaboration regionally for specific ministries. So, for example, our Campus Ministry Network hosts an annual conference each year for college students called “Prov.” This conference has grown even more important in recent years as dioceses have cut funding for campus ministry. For students who attend college campuses where there is no Episcopal presence, Prov gives them a chance to gather with other Episcopalian students once a year (you can read about Prov 2012 here). And it allows us to bring together students from places like Alaska and Hawaii so that we can experience being connected in faith, fellowship, and friendship through this Episcopal Church.

Unfortunately, we are in a time period in which young adults are largely absent from our pews, and so these ministries – campus ministry and other young adult programs like the Episcopal Service Corps – are more important than ever before because they provide some of the few remaining points of entry and contact for the young adult population. If they go away then what will remain?

This question has become all the more pressing in the past few months. In early 2012, the Executive Council (the governing body of the national church in between General Conventions) released their proposed budget for 2013-2015. Many of us were stunned to see that the funding at the national level for all “formation ministries” including children, youth, young adults, campus ministry and adults was cut by 90%. It was approximately a $3 million loss in funding. Other ministries likewise received large cuts, however, some received increases including the staff in certain offices. The blog-o-sphere lit up and there has been much discussion in cyber space about all of this (I blogged about it here. Other good blogs are this one by Tom Ferguson, this one by the Rev. Susan Snook, and this one by the Rev Megan Castellan). The rationale provided for this cut to formation is that it is ministry that is better done on the local level. Which may be true, but the problem is in the fact that the funding for these ministries at the local level is also difficult to come by, and so it seemed as though the Church was literally turning its back on the very populations who we so desperately need to be reaching out to: children, youth, and young adults.

My colleagues and I agreed we needed to try to stop this defunding, but how? The Campus Chaplains in Province VIII launched a petition (you can sign it here).

Then the Presiding Bishop released an alternative budget which restores the formation funding and adds about $1 million for young adult service and mission programs. This seems to be a step in the right direction. But will it pass? Only one budget will be sent to the floor for a vote – which one will it be?

There are other important matters in front of Convention including the Anglican Covenant (which many believe is now a non-issue), and the ongoing questions around approving rites for same sex blessings. There are resolutions that will call on Congress to support or not support certain things. Resolutions on “open communion” (aka communion regardless of baptism) are also up for discussion. And of course, there are the proposals for “restructuring the church.” There is much to keep our eyes, ears, and prayers on for this General Convention. I hope you will hold our deputies and Bishop in your prayers. These are important matters they have to wrestle with over the next few weeks. I believe this could be a true turning point in the life of our Church: it is a moment where we can step forward courageously and confidently in the spirit of mission and the Gospel, or we can decide to maintain the status quo, which will unfortunately steer us into a much more short-sided, questionable future. My prayer is that they will go with the later.

Prayer for General Convention

Almighty and everlasting Father, you have given the Holy
Spirit to abide with us for ever: Bless, we pray, with his grace
and presence, the bishops and the other clergy and the laity
here (or now, or soon to be) assembled in your Name, that
your Church, being preserved in true faith and godly
discipline, may fulfill all the mind of him who loved it and
gave himself for it, your Son Jesus Christ our Savior; who
lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP p. 255)

PS You can follow much of the proceedings online! There is a live Resolution Tracker, the Episcopal Church Office of Communications is presenting a live Media Hub, the deputies from our diocese have a blog (available here), and Director of Communication Keri Lopez will provide occasional news announcements.

PPS To learn more about The Belfry click here or visit our Facebook page, to learn more about LEVN click here or visit the LEVN Facebook page.

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Thea Mangels wrote:
http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/07/04/alternative-template-will-guide-budget-work-at-general-convention/ - PB&F announced today that they will be using the 5 Marks of Mission budget as their template in budgeting...

Wed, July 4, 2012 @ 2:21 PM

2. +Barry Beisner wrote:
Thank you for your good words, and for your prayers! FYI my resolution on Israeli-Palestinian peace comes up for Committee discussion this afternoon; prayers for that, too, please.

Blessings,
+B

Fri, July 6, 2012 @ 7:48 AM

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