Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Ninth Legislative Day

At every General Convention there's always the specter of a last minute crunch of legislation that keeps both Houses working right to the 6:30 adjournment deadline, with minor resolutions just falling through the cracks and major resolutions getting voted on by bishops and deputies with exhausted bodies and fried brains. In times past, huge revisions to Title IV and the Denominational Health Plan were victims of that phenomenon. Such was not the case this year, and and think a large contributor to that saner conclusion to the convention is the unprecedented electronic connectivity between both Houses, with the Secretariat as the hub. The "transfer time" is minimized to almost zero.

So here are some of the highlights (and a few non-highlights) of what we did:

  • Ratified the House of Deputies of Church Pension Group trustees.
  • Endorsed a petition to have a leader in the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia to be removed from the no-fly list.
  • Adopted a resolution to begin the process of revising the Hymnal 1982. As I argued in committee, I think this is a bad idea, of for no other reason than that Church Publishing just completed an exhaustive survey the results of which clearly indicate that now is not the time. My cogent and rational plea fell on deaf ears.
  • Considered a resolution that would allow dioceses and parishes to opt out of the the Denominational Health Plan if they can find more affordable coverage elsewhere. This is a political hot potato, because the cost of health care varies widely by region of the country, and some dioceses in areas where costs are lower, and have a demographic base that skews younger, are indeed paying significantly more than they would if they went outside the plan. But, of course, making the plan optional would collapse the whole thing for everybody. It's all a matter of whose ox is being gored. Right now, the Diocese of Springfield benefits from the way it all shakes out. I am not without empathy for those who are adversely affected, but I'm glad the resolution was rejected.
  • We then passed a long series of courtesy resolutions--i.e. expressing thanks or extending greetings. The objects of these resolutions included the Presiding Bishop's chancellor (I must admit, I sat through the standing ovation on that one), those who organized the liturgies, those who worked on TREC, the Official Youth Presence, the diocese and state of Utah, Salt Lake City, the Mormon church, the United Thank Offering, and the senior living bishop of the Episcopal Church, Richard Millard, who was Bishop Suffragan of California in the 1960s and 70s, and who will turn 101 later this year.
  • A resolution designed to address the rare and unfortunate situation when two bishops in the same diocese are in conflict with one another.
  • A resolution that commissions are study group on the subject of Confirmation as it relates to Christian Formation. It is complex, and has a price tag of over $40,000. I spoke against it and voted against it, but it passed. TEC is woefully confused about the subject of Confirmation, and this study group will only be looking at a small piece of the larger puzzle. It's also not the sort of thing that merits the expenditure of churchwide funds.
  • Passed a slam-dunk resolution opposing violence against women. Who would be in favor of violence against women?
  • Passed a resolution encouraging dioceses and parishes to establish parental leave policies for employees who have welcomed a new family member.
  • Passed a resolution streamlining the process for clergy who have been removed & released from ordained ministry in TEC to return to such ministry to do so with less administrative folderol.
  • We finished our available work early (as you can see from the low urgency of some of these resolutions, which are the kind of thing I wish we could eliminate entirely), and broke for lunch 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
  • When we returned from lunch, as you might imagine on this last day of convention, the Committee on Dispatch moved to place a whole busload of items onto the consent calendar. The consent calendar has been spiffed up this convention. Committee chairs were instructed that it is the default presumption for any resolution, unless the committee votes to remove it. Deputies and Bishops are given a fair chance to remove them, but it requires a certain level of vigilant attentiveness. And the Presiding Bishop gives us a generous amount of time to look them over--by title, at any rate--when a batch is announced. Still, I suspect that items slip through the net that somebody later wishes they would have had a chance to discuss. My own quandary is that there are invariably some things on any given consent calendar that I would like to support, and others that I would like to vote against, but don't feel sufficiently passionate about to pull them of the calendar and speak against them. So I usually abstain.
  • We passed a revised canon that streamlines things for my friend Jay Magness, the Bishop for Federal Ministries (Armed Forces, VA, Prisons).
  • Considered two resolutions that refine and tweak the Title IV Canons. These provoked extensive discussion, but we adopted them in the end.
  • Passed a courtesy resolution commending the Marriage Task Force. I voted No. Their work was tragically shoddy.
  • As a matter of policy, I generally vote No--or at least abstain--on any resolution addressing public policy, whether of the U.S, or another country. But, once in a blue moon, there is an instance of such manifest injustice that I join the throng. The policy of the government of the Dominican Republic that has effectively rendered stateless hundreds of thousand of ethnic Haitians who has lived in the DR for multiple generations is an example. I voted for the resolution condemning this policy.
  • Mine was one of the few No votes on a resolution that creates a task force to study the the idea of a unicameral General Convention. 
  • More consent calendar machinations.
  • Passed a resolution urging the seminaries to collaborate with one another. (This came out of TREC.)
  • Considered and rejected a resolution that would have permitted bishops to delegate to parish clergy their responsibility for licensing Eucharistic Ministers, Eucharistic Visitors, Worship Leaders, and Pastoral Leaders. The voice vote was pretty decisive.
  • Another Title IV-tweaking resolution. Passed.
  • Considered and passed a resolution urging adjacent dioceses to collaborate with one another and, when appropriate, consider merger. I opposed it. This is the kind of thing that should happen organically, not as a response to pressure from on high.
  • Adopted on first reading a constitutional amendment allowing the two Houses to voluntarily debate and vote on resolutions while sitting in joint session. This is currently forbidden. This makes possible baby steps toward a unicameral convention.
  • We heard a report from a Conference Committee on the vexing budget development resolution, the sticking point of which is a stipend for the PHOD. The Deputies put it in, the Bishops took it out, the Deputies put it back in, the Conference Committee recommended punting to a special task force. We concurred with that resolution and moved on.
  • Presiding Bishop-elect Curry proposed the novel but not illegal notion of having two Vice-Presidents of the House of Bishops, and went on to nominate Dean Wolfe (the incumbent) and Mary Gray-Reeves. The House complied with his request and elected them both.
  • We went on to elect Diane Bruce, currently Assistant Secretary, to succeed the outgoing secretary Ken Price. Bishop Bruce then went on to name Allen Shin as the new Assistant Secretary.
  • There was a resolution of courtesy thanking and commending the Presiding Bishop for her term of service.
  • As our last legislative act, we concurred with the House of Deputies in making a canonical way for TEC clergy who are called to positions in other Anglican provinces to simply have their credentials transferred in an orderly manner, rather than continuing with the awkward process of requiring them to renounce their orders in TEC first.
  • The chaplains prayed, and we were free at last, around 6pm.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

On behalf of us surviving conservative and middle-of-the-road Episcopalians, thank you so much for your faithfulness and steady reporting on what must have been a difficult General Convention, and best wishes for you and your diocese as you sort through the trial rites. Dick M