Monday, July 06, 2015

Oh ... this too

In yesterday's General Convention recap, in addition to setting aside the issue of marriage, which I will deal with before long, I neglected to mention the whole issue of CWOB (communion without baptism).

You may recall that, in 2012, the Deputies voted to adopt a resolution that faintly praised the traditional position that baptism must precede communion, but also included some verbal wiggle room that would have been interpreted as passive permission for the practice to continue and spread. The Bishops, however, rejected the entire resolution on a resounding voice vote. But, like the Hydra of ancient Greek mythology--a serpentine creature with multiple heads, and the ability to grow two more when one was cut off--CWOB won't go away quietly.

There were multiple resolutions on the subject this time around, and some passionate testimony in support of them before the committee on which I served. In the end, we moved along (against my vote) one that called for a special task force to study the issue and report back to the 79th General Convention. On a very close vote--77 Yes and 79 No--the House of Bishops rejected the resolution, and it died on the spot. At least one bishop who voted in favor is a known opponent of the practice, but argued that the matter isn't going to just go away, so way may as well have an organized conversation. Others offered the rejoinder that we ought not to abdicate our teaching authority as bishops by submitting to the hegemony of a task force. On the following day, there was a motion to reconsider, but this time a two-thirds majority was required, and it fell far short.

We will, of course, have to face this again. And after that, probably yet again. In the midst of all the strategizing and apocalyptic drama around marriage, it has not occurred to me until now to say that, from a pure theological and ecclesiological perspective, maintaining sacramental discipline around Baptism and the Eucharist is actually more important, more fundamental. It strikes closer to the heart of Catholic order and ecclesial identity. It doesn't have the cultural pizazz that marriage does, but it's quietly huge. Were we to flip on that issue, we would have incontrovertibly surrendered any claim--already compromised by prior actions--to be a co-steward with others of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of the creeds.

As William Shatner used to say when hawking Priceline, "This is big. Really big."

Sunday, July 05, 2015

General Convention Postscript

Back at home now, the miasma of General Convention seems surreal, like a bad dream. But I'm fairly convinced that it did actually happen. It seems appropriate to pass along a few parting thoughts.

The real surprise concerns the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. Most people probably expected--I certainly did--that A Great Cloud of Witnesses would be adopted as the reincarnation of Holy Women, Holy Men, and continue on the glide path toward officially and finally succeeding Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Thanks to some attentive work by a handful of Deputies, GCW has been merely "made available," and will be published as a catechetical resource that may, by local option, be used liturgically, and not a liturgical document in its own right. The upshot of this is that, at least for the next triennium, Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2006) remains the official liturgical calendar that coordinates with the Book of Common Prayer. The SCLM's remit to revise LF&F has been executed, only they failed to do so. Of course, one can only speculate what they will do with this morass, given everything else that's on their plate (planning for revising BCP79 and Hymnal82, as well as the Book of Occasional Services). A whole list of names--pretty much every angel, archangel, and individual member of the company of heaven, and doubtless a few who may not even be there yet--have been forwarded to the SCLM's inbox with instructions to vet them against revised criteria that no longer pretend to pertain to a sanctoral calendar. So, the ones that survive the screening will be added to ... what? GCW? LF&F? Something we don't have yet? It's confusing.

Speaking of BCP revision, I have to admit that I didn't see that one coming. Yes, the Presiding Bishop has been calling for it, but my assumption was that most were politely applauding while inwardly rolling their eyes and sighing, "Not in my lifetime, please." I was wrong. There is obviously a critical mass of support for the idea. It rolled through committee and the HOB with only token opposition (mine!). I'm given to understand that there was some significant pushback in the HOD, but not enough to derail it. The driving force, of course, is the desire to cleanse the Prayer Book of masculine pronouns for God, and words like "Lord" and "Kingdom" that are redolent of masculinity. This is a subject on which I have an opinion or two, and will probably develop those thoughts in this venue as time goes on. But, for now, let me go on record that I hope the powers-that-be will give consideration to the Church of England model. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is, for the most part, used only by cathedrals and collegiate chapels for Choral Evensong. In most places, the recently published collections that make up Common Worship constitute what is actually used. Yet, BCP1662 enjoys privileged status as the official liturgical formulary of the Church. I'll be honest: I would not trust a new Book of Common Prayer that the Episcopal Church would write in this day and age. But I would be a great deal less anxious about the prospect of liturgical revision if all the new stuff were going into its own silo--available to be used, either wholly or selectively--while BCP79 remains the official liturgical formulary of the Episcopal Church. I can anticipate the argument that this would violate the principal of "common prayer," That's a nice idea, but the only time it actually inured was in the Roman Church between the Council of Trent and Vatican II. Despite Cranmer's proleptic ideal, it has always been more of an aspiration than a reality in Anglicanism, and is even now only a chimera in the Episcopal Church. For the sake of unity, we will need to up our tolerance for institutionalized liturgical diversity.

We did some fairly extensive work around structure. Not as extensive as some may have hoped, no doubt, but nonetheless significant. The elimination of all standing commissions, save for Constitution & Canons and Liturgy & Music, is for us, a pretty bold move. Personally, I would have liked to put the SCLM on the chopping block as well. They need to be reined in from their proven propensity to create their own work by proposing resolutions to General Convention that tell them to do stuff. I tried to fix that canonically during floor debate, but my amendment didn't make it though the sausage maker. I plan to give it another try in 2018. But what we accomplished will all be for nought if we are not vigilant. You can chop bureaucratic infrastructure back in a fashion that seems refreshingly merciless, but it has an inexorable tendency to come back like kudzu in a southern forest or blackberries on an Oregon roadside. I can't say that I'm sanguine about our collective resolve to keep our shears sharp and at the ready.

Finally, we elected a new Presiding Bishop. I like Michael Curry. He's already been immensely helpful to the Diocese of Springfield. A couple of years ago I had an airport food court conversation with him about an unusual sort of vacancy in the diocese, and he pointed me in a direction that led eventually to a very fine priest who is now with us and doing a great job. I'm excited about Bishop Curry's heart for evangelism and the ease with which he talks about Jesus. Those will both be immensely refreshing changes in what we hear from our Primate and chief public face. I am with him about 95% of the way, and I hope he and I have the opportunity sometime to converse about the other 5%, about which I wrote here last September. I shall endeavor to pray for him daily.

Just so you know, I'm not intentionally neglecting the Big Kahuna--marriage. But I need to say something pastorally within my own diocese before opining more broadly. That's a work in progress. I will get to it, probably within the next couple of weeks.

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.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Eighth Legislative Day

No more committee work, so the day consisted of the "short" legislative session (11:15-1:00) and the "long" legislative session (2:15-6:00).

Here are the highlights:

  • We extricated ourselves from the quagmire in which yesterday's session ended. Apparently, the Presiding Bishop-elect weighed in, and the "hard core" backed down. We concurred with the resolution in the form in which the HOD sent it to us, with the three key DFMS staff positions joint appointments by the PB and the PHOD.
  • We concurred with an amendment to the Title IV (clergy discipline) canons that mandate bishops to refer to the Intake Officer any instances of a potential Title IV violation that they witness (changing language from may to shall). The Bishop of Milwaukee reminded the House that this would, technically, require to bishop to invoke the disciplinary process against a deacon who adds the double Alleluias to the dismissal outside of Eastertide. He is absolutely correct. But no bishop would actually do that, so it forces us to take a cafeteria approach to canonical observance. It occurs to me that what we lack in Title IV is any sort of ranking or speciation of potential offenses. Breaking a BCP rubric is of the same order as serial sexual predation. Secular law at least distinguishes between misdemeanors and felonies. In Title IV,  everything is a felony.
  • We concurred with a canonical change allowing two contiguous dioceses to vote to merge even when one of them is without a bishop. This is a good idea, since, when one diocese is between bishops, it is actually a lot easier to consider union with another. We'll be seeing a good bit of this in the years to come, I suspect.
  • We considered another quite long resolution from Governance & Structure, detailing the process of budget formation. We got hung up in procedure around the question of making (for the first time) the President of the House of Deputies a paid position. After some painful writhing, we sent it back to the bishops on the committee to straighten it out and come back to it later in the afternoon.
  • We considered a resolution calling for divestment by TEC in any stock equities that profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Hardly anyone spoke in favor of it, and it was resoundingly rejected on a voice vote.
  • The Communion Partners, via Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota, presented our minority report on the two marriage resolutions that convention has passed. It was received quite graciously. Then we broke for lunch.
  • The long afternoon segment began with an executive session. If you want a hint of what we talked about, pay attention to the next bullet point.
  • Back in open session, Bishop Rob Skirving of East Carolina, representing a small group of collaborators, presented a response to the CP minority report (Salt Lake City Statement) and moved it as a mind-of-the-House resolution. It carried unanimously, and the Communion Partners are grateful for the charity expressed therein.
  • Bishop Tom Ely of Vermont, speaking for the Special Committee on Marriage, shared a "clarification" document explaining what new rites will be available when and what situations each is intended for
  • We came back to the matter that had vexed us before lunch. It vexed us again, and was re-ferred to the working group.
  • We considered the proposed budget (already passed by the HOD) for the 2016-2018 triennium. After lengthy discussion abound mind-numbing but important issues like the rate of drawn-down in endowment funds (5.5% is planned, which is considered "imprudent" by most standards), the matter carried. I voted No--first, because the Diocese of Springfield contributes well under what is asked of us (for reasons that began as principled but have morphed into practical), so it would be hypocritical of me to vote Yes, and also because most of the programs the budget covers are matters that I believe should be taken up by the dioceses, and not at the churchwide level.
  • Back to the vexing issue. This time we slogged out way to the end of it, removed stipend for the PHOD, and sent it back to the HOD. This becomes a game of chicken, with time running out, and we will see tomorrow how they respond. It's like a game of hot potato--the House that has it when time runs out will be blamed for the the failure of a major piece of the restructuring puzzle.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Seventh Legislative Day

Committee work is finally finished. We discharged a batch of resolutions that were redundant--i.e. their substance already acted on in a prior resolution. We approved one that calls for a plan for revising the Hymnal 1982. This is ill-advised, and I voted against it. Church Publishing just spent a bunch of time and money surveying the stakeholders (clergy and musicians) on this, and concluded that there was not a critical mass of interest in a revision at this time. Plus, I can't begin to imagine how large a volume would have to be the accommodate all the musical variety that people would call for. It's best, in my opinion, to coordinate and make available a variety of downloadable resources. We're past the era of printed hymnals.

The other major item was a proposal to allow local worshiping communities to use the so-called "Rite 3" form for celebrating the Eucharist (pp. 400-405 in the BCP) to be used even at the principal liturgy on Sundays. The rubrics are clear that this is not the intent. I am not without some sympathy with the intent of this resolution. Some "non-standard" worshiping communities may find it useful. But I'm also concerned about a slow slide toward de jure liturgical anarchy (we already have it de facto). Here's where my memory fails me, I'm embarrassed to say. I know we amended the resolution to require that bishops pre-approve the text of any 'homegrown' eucharistic prayer (a rather stringent requirement that precludes extemporization). But I honestly do not recall, as I write during the evening, how we finally disposed of the matter, and the General Convention website doesn't seem to have caught up yet. Oh well. It's late in convention and my brain is fried.

The 11:15-1:00 legislative session is also a bit of blur. To the best of my recollection, we rolled through the consent calendar, and a handful of non-controversial resolutions, and then ran out of work (i.e. the legislative pipeline dried up) around noon. So we bumped out scheduled afternoon executive session into this time, and barred the doors after kicking everybody out. As always when this happens, our focus was on relations within the House, and not substantive legislative concerns.

The long PM session was scheduled for 2:15-6:15, and we used every bit of it, and then some. This included a bit of drama early on, as there was a motion to reconsider yesterday's vote to reject the resolution that would have created a special task force to study the practice of offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized. It failed by a very narrow margin yesterday. But a motion to reconsider requires a two-thirds majority, and it was not sustained.

To my gratification, we adopted, on first reading, the constitutional amendment passed in committee yesterday that I had a hand in authoring, and sent it to the HOD. (By the way, "sending" now happens pretty instantaneously in this very "connected" and relatively paperless convention. This greatly streamlines the flow of work, and lessens the "don't-amend-it-or-it-will-die" crunch in these final days. Lessens, but not eliminates.)

Eventually we got down to the mammoth proposals from TREC (Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) as processed through the convention Committee on Structure. The first one slashes all the standing commission, save two: Constitution & Canons, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music. I would personally like the SCLM on the chopping block as well, but figured I wouldn't get far by proposing that. Instead, I proposed an amendment that I thought got to the heart of  most of my problems with the SCLM: "No standing commission or task force may propose any resolution to General Convention that would have the effect of creating work for itself during the ensuing triennium." I think it was beginning to get lets, but suddenly it was shot down by a bishop whom many revere as a sort of process expert. I don't think he really understood what my amendment was getting at, but his voice is powerful, so my proposal went down in flames. The resolution eventually passed handily. I voted in the affirmative.

The second major component of structural reform had to do with the Executive Council (as the body that prosecutes General Convention's agenda during the three-year interim) and its relationship with the Presiding Bishop and the staff of the DFMS (i.e. "national church"). It got really tense, as there was a rift between the bishops who had served on the committee over whether the Presiding Bishop should have the authority to appoint two key staff members in consultation with the President of the House of Deputies, or whether they must be joint appointments. The form already passed by the House of Deputies makes them joint appointments, but there was a great deal--a very great deal--of passion on the part of all but one of the bishop committee members that it should be the PB's prerogative to fill those positions without approval from the PHOD. We got mired down in procedural motions, and finally voted to sleep on it, and take it up again tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what emerges in the meantime. The anxiety, of course, is over the possibility of the whole thing collapsing if we get into a standoff between the two Houses of convention.

The Sixth Legislative Day

The morning meeting of Committee 11 devoted most of its time to hearings on resolutions concerning things that have already been considered in resolutions we've already acted on, and which will probably be placed in the special legislative limbo called "Discharge--already acted on." Yet, the rules require that a hearing be held for every resolution. So we listened to yet more witnesses advocating for making licit the practice of offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized, and for making sure that any revision of the Book of Common Prayer studiously avoid using pronouns for God, or actually use feminine pronouns as well as the traditional masculine ones. (See here for some of my thoughts on that issue.)

Over the last twenty minutes or so of our time, we finally got to a resolution that I'd been waiting to offer an amendment on. It was proposed by the SCLM, and amends the article of the constitution that makes provision for the authorization of liturgical materials, certainly including the Prayer Book, but other materials as well. Certain items such as Enriching Our Worship ("inclusive" language versions of the Eucharist and other services) are actually, by some lines of reasoning, extra-constitutional, even though widely used. The proposed constitutional amendment creates a more clearly licit silo into which materials that parallel services that are in the Prayer Book can be placed, without either having to be formally "trial use" (and therefore configured toward some future Prayer Book revision) or re-authorized every triennium. My amendment to the amendment just makes this even clearer, and, more to the point, clearly places it all under the direction, and subject to the permission, of the diocesan bishop. My amendment carried, and so did the original motion. A small victory.

In place of the usual 11:15-1:00 legislative session, there was a joint session held in the chamber of the House of Deputies for a "conversation" around the Five Marks of Mission. We watched a series of short videos--one on each "mark"--and were then bidden to hold table discussions on questions that were supplied. Mercifully, they let us do this by deputation, without having to "mix and match" the way we did with the conversation on structure. I, at least, enjoyed talking with out eight Deputies about how we are engaging mission in the Diocese of Springfield. Just one further word, and a link, on mission: By the lights of church tradition, mission is primarily--yea, nearly exclusively--evangelistic--i.e. pertaining to the first two of the five "marks." The others are ancillary, serving the purpose of evangelization. Our job is not to bring in the Kingdom of God, build a "just society," or fulfill God's "dream." See here for more of my thinking.

We were scheduled for a five hour afternoon legislative session (yes, you read that right). But, the way the system works, once we've worked through whatever the committees and the House of Deputies have sent us, there's nothing more to do. So we were finished by 5:00, which was a welcome development, though it probably means that we will be all the more jammed tomorrow or Thursday or Friday. In any case, we began our afternoon session, once again, in executive session. The rules allow me to be only very vague about what we discussed. Suffice it to say that it had nothing to do with the actual business before the convention--i.e. any resolutions. It concerned matters that are peculiar to our life together as bishops.

When we did open the doors and get down to business, we finally got the "greener churches" resolution sorted out and put to bed, though it took some time. We discussed, and, in the end, I believe, concurred without amendment to two resolutions concerning church planting and congregational revitalization, as well as one concerning the ongoing struggle with societal racism. For the most part, any discussion was financially motivated. I voted No, not because I have any issue with any of the resolutions in their substance, but merely as a matter of policy when there is an impact on the budget. My diocese is a very minimal giver to the programs of the DFMS (a complicated matter), so it would be hypocritical to vote to expend funds to which Springfield does not materially contribute. But, beyond that, I am wary of any initiative sponsored at a churchwide level. This is the sort of thing that ought to be done by the dioceses.

The other big matter concerned, yet again, communion without baptism. It's one that came out of Committee 11 already truncated, in that it only called for a task force to study the issue. But debate was lively, and, in the end, it failed by a narrow margin: 72 to 77. Mine was among the Nay votes. The House of Bishops dealt with this pretty overwhelmingly only three years ago, and there can't be that much that has changed since then.