Monday, July 6, 2009

The Episcopal Church General Convention convenes this week

Beginning tomorrow (Tuesday), the Episcopal Church will convene the 76th General Convention, the once-every-three years gathering that legislates policy for our denomination and a great deal more. 

An estimated 10,000 people, including dignitaries like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will descend upon the Anaheim Convention Center (near Disneyland) in Southern California. The convention will last two weeks, and will spark a great deal of information, misinformation, commentary and news reports.

I will blog daily on the events of General Convention, doing my best to keep abreast of developments from a host of sources. Various delegations (called "deputations") will be blogging, along with bishops and various interest groups. I will monitor all this so you don't have to. That said, you probably should bookmark a special website set up by the Diocese of Virginia deputation for their daily reports and insights. You can find it by clicking the site called: CENTER AISLE.

Lori and I will be at Shrine Mont this coming weekend for our annual parish retreat, and then we will head to Anaheim for the closing days of the convention. We will blog from there once we arrive.

Before all this gets rolling, here are a few basic facts you need to know:

* There are 110 dioceses represented at General Convention, including 16 dioceses from outside the United States that are associated with The Episcopal Church. 

* The General Convention is our highest legislative body, and it is structured as a bicameral legislature. The House of Bishops (functioning like the Senate) has 200 bishops. The House of Deputies (as the name implies, like the House of Representatives) has approximately 1,500 voting lay and clergy deputies and alternates. The deputies are elected at diocese conventions (or "council" as it is called in Virginia), usually two years before each General Convention. 

* Most of the work is done in legislative committees, and General Convention sometimes seems to have more committees than the Congress. Much of the legislation will be reported to the floor of convention in the second week (when we are there), which usually makes the second week more exciting than the first.

* Voting in the House of Bishops is straightforward: One vote per bishop, majority rules.

* Voting in the House of Deputies is harder to follow. Each diocese has eight deputies: four clergy and four lay. The diocese deputation casts a single vote for or against each piece of legislation. For a deputation to cast an affirmative vote, three of the four clergy and three of four lay deputies must vote "yes." In other words, it takes at least six of the eight to cast an affirmative vote for that diocese to vote "yes," making it easier to defeat a bill than pass it. 

* Most deputations bring a few alternates so that each diocese is fully represented at all times while deputies take a break off the legislative floor. Paul Brockman from St. Paul's is an alternate representing Virginia and will no doubt have voting time on the floor. 


At least three related issues will dominate the news reports, and you can also bet other news stories will come as well. The three headline issues involve our church's approach to the inclusion of gays and lesbians, and our relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The House of Deputies will be holding an unusual "Hearing of the Whole" on July 9-10 to consider rescinding "B033," which is the title given to a resolution approved in 2006 that declared a moratorium on ordaining any new bishops who are non-celibate gays (this in response to the reaction against New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson). 

That resolution has sparked a great deal of lobbying to retain or repeal it. After the hearing of the entire house, the Committee on World Missions will make a recommendation to the House.

There are also several resolutions asking the church to develop ceremonies for gay marriages or same-sex blessings. Such resolutions in the past have been generally viewed more favorably in the House of Deputies but defeated in the House of Bishops. Readers of this blog from Northern California should note that Bishop Barry Beisner introduced a resolution advocating same-sex blessings recommended by his diocesan convention in 2007.

Also watch for reaction to a private meeting Archbishop Rowan will hold with eight leading advocates for the inclusion of gays and lesbians. Those slated to be in the meeting include Integrity founder Louie Crew of New Jersey and my friend Michael Barlowe of San Francisco. That the archbishop even agreed to the meeting has already sparked a great deal of screed by those who are attempting to form an rival Anglican province in the United States.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Rowan has asked the convention to study and comment on a proposed Anglican Covenant between each of the 38 national provinces of the Anglican Communion. The General Convention is not being asked to vote on it, which is probably a blessing because it will allow the conversation to come with less pressure. Watch for buzz words like "the Ridley Cambridge Draft" -- it all has to do with the proposed covenant.

Those are the hot topics, but there will be much more going on. Watch for resolutions not as newsworthy but which will have a far reaching impact on how we fulfill our mission in our communities and in the world. Look for resolutions on economics, global warming and foreign missions.

And, as always, those at convention will worship together each morning and in various other gatherings. The convention hall will be filled with exhibits, and we will bring you photos and observations of all of it and the spectacle once we arrive. Stay tuned to this space throughout the week. 

Cartoon by Paul Walker; "Unbuntu" emblem of General Convention by Paul Fromberg.

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