The Evangelist

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What I Took Away From General Convention 2018

Between July 2 and July 14, 2018, 880 strong-willed and passionate deputies met in Austin Texas to agree on some important and sensitive issues in our Church. In reminiscing about these two weeks, one of our senior deputies (having attended 7 GC’s) described this General Convention as the best ever. Another deputy captured it under three C’s – Collegiality, Congeniality, and Committees. I would add another C – Cordial. Unlike in 2015 where the tensions were high, 2018 was friendlier with a lot of “give and take.”

Having been appointed to the legislative committee 10, dealing with Congregational and Diocesan Vitality, one of the things I learned is that all the work happens in the committees. All resolutions (this convention had over 500 resolutions) are sent to the different committees, and all the committed and passionate Christians come to those committees and testify in the open hearings. It is from these hearings that the committees propose, amend, or drop a particular resolution. To pass any resolution from the committee, it has to be voted on in both houses – the house of bishops and the house of deputies present in the committee. Unfortunately, for some reason, there are well-intended Christians who never show up in the hearings and wait to speak on the floor. These are the cause for the prolonged General Convention which is still stuck at 2 weeks, minimum.

Like any other convention, the hot buttons in this General Convention were two: The liturgical revision of the 1979 Prayer Book and, the allowing of same-gender couples to be married in their home parishes. While we decided not to revise, but memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the final resolution in one sense authorized the church to do some revision of some sort through “trial-use liturgies.” By memorializing the prayer book, the church meant that you will always have the 1979 BCP in your pews as the duly authorized prayer book of the Episcopal Church, but you can use other trial liturgies “as long as they are Trinitarian,” says Bishop Jake. In case you are wondering, the drive for the proposed liturgical revision is the need for inclusive and expansive language when addressing both humanity and divinity.

As far as allowing same-sex marriages in the local parish is concerned, in essence, the passed resolution removes the Opposing Bishops’ authority to prohibit access by same-sex couples to be married in their dioceses and local parishes; but allows them to oppose such (and teach such) as they secure a more permissive bishop to counsel parishes within their dioceses to oversee these local rites. The canons were however upheld and reaffirmed in the language of the resolution that the Rector/Priest-in-charge OR Vestry/Congregation have the right to refuse to celebrate the said rites. Likewise, in more permissive dioceses; bishops no longer have authority to restrict or give permission for parishes to restrict such rites, but with the same caveat that no Rector/Priest/Vestry or Congregation will be compelled to do so. Also, the rites for gender-neutral nuptials will remain as trial-use liturgies and will not be included in the Book of Common Prayer unless and until a new revision of the BCP is authorized.

Reading between the lines, you realize that there is some canonical confusion as to the extent of the Opposing Bishops’ response to all of this, and the local issue as to the status of vicars/mission councils as per diocesan canons. The practical interpretation is clear that the decision-making here (as of Advent this year) will shift from the Bishop/Diocese to the Clergy/Congregations (including the future path for liturgical revision) in general. In a nutshell, the resolution implies that while bishops are able to lead their dioceses with their conscience, “Their conscience is NOT their diocese!”

The highlight of the General Convention was the welcoming back of the Church of Cuba into The Episcopal Church. In addition, there was a lot of discussion on ensuring safety and honor for women in the church, the dismantling of racism, the witnessing at the Hutto Family Detention Center for the sake of detained immigrants, the rallying against gun violence and the appeal to Israel on behalf of Palestinians.

What did I take away from the General Convention? I think Deputy Sam Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia has captured it well for me in his wise counsel to any who might happen to be a deputy in the future: “offer and let go”. As Sam says, I have learned that “in our Church, no one –no matter who we are! – no one gets their own way. We offer what we have, and then we let it go. We don’t get our own way. But we do, indeed, get the Church’s Way, the greater good, the common good, the Way of Christ. The same goes for our local congregations and local communities of faith. Our most healthy communities of faith are those where people faithfully make our offerings and then let them go, for the sake of the whole Church. In the end, it is not any one person or party who “wins.” In the end, Love wins!”

Posted by Thomas Nsubuga