Convention wrap-up: Re-envisioning church for the 21st century

By Matthew Davies | July 12, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] General Convention has called on the Episcopal Church to re-imagine its structure, taken historic steps towards full inclusion, endorsed positive investment in the Palestinian Territories, and reaffirmed its commitment to building Anglican Communion relationships while saying it is unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant.

Based on the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, the budget for the Episcopal Church in the 2013-2015 triennium was adopted unanimously by the 77th General Convention July 11.

The budget, available here, is balanced at $111,516,032, compared to $111,808,350 for the current triennium, and comes with a small surplus of $30,000.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and outgoing President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson addressed the media at a closing news conference July 12.

At this convention, “you have seen the Episcopal Church not only of the future, but of today, in the presence of young adults, a more significant number than we’ve seen in a long time, people of many nations and tribes and language traditions,” said Jefferts Schori, noting that more than 40 international guests attended convention. “The Episcopal Church is healthy, it’s becoming healthier, and it’s poised for an even more significant impact on the world around us. There’s no stopping us. Watch out world. We’re coming.”

Anderson, who now steps down as House of Deputies president, said it has been a great convention and that the deputies, 44 percent of whom were new, were extremely well prepared.

General Convention, which met July 5-12 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, is composed of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which includes clergy and laity.

Structural reform

Of the almost 400 resolutions submitted to General Convention more than 90 related to structural reform. Most of those resolutions were similar in nature and it was the work of the structure committee at convention to consider the legislation and make its recommendations to the house.

Applause and cheers erupted July 11 as Resolution C095, which calls for creation of a task force to re-imagine the workings of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century, sailed unanimously through the House of Bishops. A day earlier, deputies also had passed the resolution unanimously.

The legislation creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Its work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.

Full story.

Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer for the Episcopal Church, praised the work of both the structure committee and convention.

“My hope has always been that we would begin to have a conversation and the church embraced that. The conversation became a movement of hope for the future of the church.”

He added that the people of Episcopal Church have realized – and the institutional is getting it – “that we are standing on the brink of an unprecedented moment; have seen it as opportunity rather than threat.”

Full story.

The spending portion of the budget for the next triennium is allocated according to the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission, and the categories of administration and governance. 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 budget assumes $73.5 million in commitments from the church’s dioceses, nearly $4 million less than that in the current triennium. That total is based on keeping at 19 percent the amount that the church asks dioceses to contribute annually to the church-wide budget.

Same-gender blessings

In a historic move, convention authorized provisional use of a rite for blessing same-gender unions. “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” rite will be available for use starting Dec. 2 (the first Sunday of Advent), but clergy will need the permission of their bishop under the terms of the resolution.

The resolution calls on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music “to conduct a review process over the next triennium, making clear that this is a work in progress,” the Rev. Ruth Meyers, deputy of the Diocese of Chicago, told the deputies. She chaired the conventionPrayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee’s subcommittee on blessings and the SCLM.

The resolution directs the SCLM to include “diverse theological perspectives in the further development of the theological resource” and to invite responses from throughout the church as well as from the Anglican Communion and the church’s ecumenical partners.

The resolution states that, under existing canons, clergy can decline to preside at a blessing liturgy and says that no one “should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities” for objecting to or supporting the 77th General Convention’s action on blessings.

Full story.

Gender identity, expression

Two resolutions passed by convention offer support for the transgender community by adding gender expression and identity to two canons that prevent discrimination. One makes clear that the ordination discernment process is open to them, and another guarantees their equal place in the life, worship and governance of the church.

Full story.

Following action on same-gender blessings and transgender rights, the majority of the Diocese of South Carolina’s deputies left the General Convention July 11 because, in the words of its remaining clergy deputy, the gathering had passed resolutions that violate the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

However, that deputy, the Very Rev. John B. Burwell, told Episcopal News Service, “We are not leaving the Episcopal Church.”

Positive investment

Convention overwhelmingly supported a resolution on positive investment in the Palestinian Territories. But the bishops agreed to postpone indefinitely a conversation on corporate engagement.

Resolution B019 affirms positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories. It also calls on the church to support “the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian study on peace with justice in the Middle East,” and produce an annotated bibliography of resources.

Resolution C060, which called on the church to engage “in corporate social responsibility by more vigorous and public corporate engagement with companies in the church’s investment portfolio that contribute to the infrastructure of the Occupation,” was tabled after Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania called for the conversation to be postponed indefinitely. The deputies had passed that resolution on July 9, but it would have required the bishops’ consent.

Full story.

Anglican Covenant, Continuing Indaba

Convention also affirmed its commitment to building relationships across the Anglican Communion, especially through the Continuing Indaba program, and to decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant.

After considering eight resolutions, the General Convention’s committee on world mission recommended adoption of two resolutions on Anglican Communion relationships and theAnglican Covenant, a document that initially had been intended as a way to bind Anglicans globally across cultural and theological differences.

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, chair of the World Mission Committee, told ENS following the vote that the resolutions are “a genuine pastoral response because we are not of one mind, and to push a decision at this time would cause hurt and alienation in our church on both sides and instead we chose to stay in the conversation.”

Full story.

The Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio was elected to serve as the next president of the House of Deputies and Byron Rushing of Massachusetts as the next vice president. Each will serve a three-year term beginning at the end of General Convention.

Other legislation that convention passed includes:

Sudan
Resolution A019, re-affirming advocacy support for peace in Sudan. (Full story)

Release of Cuban prisoners
Resolution A021 (http://www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions?by=number&id=a021), calling for the release of all in Cuban prisons for religious activities or peaceful advocacy of political change in the Republic of Cuba; and to support advocacy efforts for the humane treatment and pastoral care of four Cuban nationals convicted of spying for the government of the Republic of Cuba, who are serving prison sentences in United States.

Ecumenism
Resolution A036, which commends the 11-year relationship of full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and asks the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee to address areas where Episcopal and Lutheran practices differ, especially around the matter of who can preside at Holy Communion and the role of deacons.

Studying marriage
Resolution A050, authorizing a task force to study marriage. It calls for creation of a 12-member task force to study marriage, including needs for pastoral responses by clergy for same-sex couples in states where civil marriage is legal, as well as issues “raised by changing societal and cultural norms and legal structures.”

Prayer Book
Resolution A059, revising the Holy Week readings in the Prayer Book to correspond with those in the Revised Common Lectionary;

Poverty and justice
Resolution A135, a compilation of several other resolutions that responds to issues of poverty and injustice. It commits the church over the next three years to “teaching, preaching, organizing, advocating, and building mutually transformative relationships with those who are poor to focus our hearts and the mission of our congregations and dioceses on reducing poverty and increasing economic and racial justice.” It also calls for every meeting that takes place in the church to include time for prayer and reflection “on how our work engages issues of poverty and economic and racial justice networks” in order to “cultivate mindfulness about poverty in our communities and world.” Full story.

Monitoring women, other underrepresented groups
Resolution A144, requiring the tracking of the ratio of women to men in bishop election processes, along with racial and ethnic minorities, and encouraging dioceses to strive for greater diversity in candidates.

Support for Gaza hospital
Resolution B017, calling on the church to support the Diocese of Jerusalem’s Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza with fundraising and advocacy after the United Nations Relief and Works Agency cut its financial aid, slashing the hospital’s budget nearly in half.

Reconciliation or dissolution of an Episcopal relationship
Resolution B021, which amends the canons to provide a mechanism for addressing disagreement in the pastoral relationship between a diocese and its bishop.

Denominational Health Plan
Resolution B026, to give dioceses and parishes an additional three years to meet the requirement that they provide parity in health insurance cost-sharing between lay and clergy employees. That deadline now is extended until Dec. 31, 2015. Dioceses and parishes still must offer health insurance to employees through the Church Medical Trust by the end of 2012. It also calls the Medical Trust to continue to explore “more equitable sharing of health care premium costs.”

Access to Holy Baptism, Holy Communion
Resolution C029, affirming the Episcopal Church’s teaching that Baptism is the norm for those who wish to receive Holy Communion.

Relocating Episcopal Church Center
Resolution D016, to approve a move away from, but did not authorize the sale of, the Episcopal Church Center headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York. (Full story)

Establish development office
Resolution D025, establishing a Development Office for the Episcopal Church to solicit major gifts and other resources.

Pilot Student Loan Program
Resolution D049, which calls for creating a pilot student loan fund for seminarians who agree to exercise three years of ministry in under-served areas of the Episcopal Church.

Dialogue with Mormon Church
Resolution D081, directing the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations to initiate dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the Mormon Church “for the interreligious purposes of friendship, goodwill, mutual understanding” and in anticipation of the 78th General Convention to be held in Salt Lake City in 2015.

For a full list of resolutions acted on at the 77th General Convention, click here.

– Matthew Davies is editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.

Deputy at Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth