Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Spring House of Bishops, Day 1

  • Breakfast at 8:00.
  • Morning Prayer at 9:00, with a retreat meditation delivered by Bishop Lloyd Allen (Honduras).
  • Free time in silence (with a designation talking area for extroverts). I took the opportunity to take a long walk through the piney woods and sandy soil beauty of Camp Allen.
  • Lunch at 11:30.
  • 1:00--"check in" at our assigned tables. (We have the same table mates for three years, re-shuffling after each General Convention).
  • Presentation from the Task Force for the Study of Marriage, a group mandated by General Convention 2012 and populated by the presiding officers of each house. I cannot see how anyone can deny that it is heavily stacked. It includes prominent LGBT activists, and not one member who approaches marriage from a traditionalist perspective. Not one. Despite discussions and feedback such as we participated in today, I don't think there's any doubt that the eventual outcome will be proposed legislation that will redefine marriage in the Episcopal Church to remove the "one man / one woman" norm. How precisely they will get to that objective remains to be seen. There was some mention from the task force of changing language in the Prayer Book. In my table group, I tried to make the point that this is a slippery slope on many levels. Since the Episcopal Church was founded in 1789, we have had four versions of the Book of Common Prayer, including the present 1979 edition. Each one has been a thorough revision, markedly different from its predecessor. We have never simply tweaked and tinkered with the Prayer Book in a piecemeal fashion. This tradition was slightly altered a dozen years ago when we (temporarily, supposedly) suspended language in the Ordinal in order to proceed with our full communion agreement with the Lutherans. Then, over the last two General Conventions, we actually did follow the process of Prayer Book revision in order to bring the lectionary for Holy Week in line with the Revised Common Lectionary. Yet, I've heard no one begin to speak of the new "2012 Prayer Book." But the camel's nose is under the tent, and I suspect (fear?) that, if we amend the language of the marriage rite to accommodate same-sex weddings, we will continue down that same path for other purposes, and the de facto liturgical anarchy we currently enjoy across the church will only be compounded. Of course, this is to say nothing of the inherent enormity of changing the marriage liturgy for the intended purpose, which would be a theological, sacramental, ecumenical, and pastoral train wreck.
  • After a break, we heard from TREC, the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. This, too, is a creation of the last General Convention. They are only 24 people, the scope of their task is impossible to comprehend, and their work is seriously underfunded. Yet, they are striving valiantly. The two most salient items on the discussion agenda today were, What does the national church have to do that cannot be done at a more local level? and How should the office of Presiding Bishop relate to the governance structure of the church? Re the latter, my personal opinion, for a number of reasons, is that the Presiding Bishop should retain his or her diocese upon election to the primacy, with responsibility for day to day operations at any centralized church office falling to a General Secretary. My sense is that opinion on this was very divided, with some table groups favoring it in the plenary reports, and others opposing it. As the to larger question about subsidiarity, I have some hope for a future that would be less juridical and more informal, less centralized and more networked. But there a lot of oxen lined up to be gored in such a move, and the inertia of the status quo should not be underestimated. The trick will be how to reduce the ability of various stakeholders to propose resolutions to General Convention. My own idea is that standing committees, commissions, agencies, and boards should be forbidden from creating their own work--that is, proposing resolutions that ask General Convention to ask them to do something. We'll see how that one flies.
  • At 4:30 we gathered upstairs in All Saints Chapel for Eucharist, commemorating the lesser feast of Thomas Cranmer. (This is according to the trial use Holy Women, Holy Men calendar; in the still official calendar of the church, today commemorates Thomas Ken). The Presiding Bishop celebrated and preached.
  • After dinner we gathered back in our plenary meeting room for the customary event styled "Fireside Chat." We heard from the Bishop of Venezuela about the recently tense and dangerous political and social situation in his country, from the Bishop of the Dominican Republic on the emerging issue of multi-generation Dominicans of Haitian descent being deprived of their citizenship, from the Bishop of Indianapolis on the disintegration of the social fabric in South Sudan, and handful of other items.


Anonymous said...

Prayers for your time there.
We now have a new mutual acquaintance in +M.G-R., with whom we agree re: in-house PB. Inertia of fear of unraveling might be confronted with "if we got ourselves into it, we can certainly get ourselves out of it."
Liked your "Drowned..." article; would rather have that (shades of Hagia Sophia) than a swimming pool anyday.

Tom Ferguson said...

Bishop Dan, the preface to the ordinal was not suspended "(temporarily, supposedly)". It was suspended for one instance only for one group of persons only -- that those non-episcopally ordained Lutheran clergy would be grandfathered in as of January 1, 2001 and eligible to serve in the Episcopal Church. The ELCA adopted bishops in historic succession and all subsequent clergy have to be episcopally ordained. Any who are not are not eligible for service in the Episcopal Church. Not sure I agree with considering this piecemeal Prayer Book revision (which is a concern I wholeheartedly share BTW!!), but rather the fact that some elements of the Prayer Book have canonical and constitutional force. Convention voted on the suspension because the preface functions in terms of governance, determining who may or may not serve in the church, and was accompanied by Constitutional changes.

Tom said...

In preparation for the revisions of 1892 and 1928 there were a number of small changes approved prior to the final revision. and in 1944 there was a thorough revision of the Daily Office Lectionary - like the recent RCL revision of the 1979 edition.

But a change in the definition of marriage adopted in 2015 and 2018 would be a significant doctrinal change.

Unknown said...

I recall the appointment of the “same-sex marriage group” at the 2012 convention, and the designation of unilateral LGBT activists as members. But I was under the (perhaps mistaken) understanding that the group was charged to attempt to find or discover a theology or teaching in support of same-sex marriage. Under that circumstance, it seemed completely reasonable to appoint only sexual activists to the committee. Why would you send anyone off on a snipe hunt if he or she knew there was no snipe? If there is any possible basis or thesis in Christian theology in support of SSM, wouldn’t this be the group to discover it? If there is none, who better to tell us?

So, was there any effort to describe a Biblical (or other faith-based) teaching in support of homosexual marriage? Did the group find what they were looking for? Or are they still looking?

A quick read through the marriage ceremony makes clear that swapping out man/woman for blank/blank is only the first change. Numerous prayers, charges, teachings, and readings will be inappropriate or downright embarrassing. If we need to make the marriage ceremony “gender neutral,” then we will need to do a wholesale revision of the rite – or draft an alternative rite. Dick Mitchell

Nick Porter said...

That's the funny part about this whole marriage task force, no matter how hard they try, you can't get away from husband/wife imagery in the scriptures no matter how hard you try. I hope their experiment fails miserably. It should have never taken place to start with.