Friday, July 13, 2012

Live From Indianapolis VII


Well, it’s over and we are heading home. Thanks be to God.

Looking back on General Convention as a whole, this is how I would sum it up:

Some good things happen here. A lot of good people gather for the purpose of doing good things, but the things done are not as good as the people. This legislative assembly is a piece of the Church, but it is not the main act. The main act plays out in congregations around the world – in churches large and small, in sacristies, kitchens, and fellowship halls, in hospital rooms, and homes, at food banks and in social ministries of justice and mercy. Having periodic conventions is a necessary support to all that, but the fact of the convention, the event, is not the same as the actions taken, the decisions made. Those actions and decisions are not insignificant, but their significance pales in comparison to the daily life of the Church lived in the midst of the world.

At this convention, the headline news is the approval of a provisional rite for blessing same gender relationships. Ironically, that creates a somewhat more restrictive situation in Nevada than we had before – but I think it is a good one. Until this week, acting on the basis of a Primates’ Communique, I have not formally authorized blessings but have informally assured priests they would not suffer any adverse consequences from doing them. I honestly don’t know what forms of blessing people may have been using. As of now, we have a prescribed rite and that is the one our priests will be required to use. From an Anglican perspective, it is good for us all to be on the same page.  We can keep our story straight about what we are doing. Of course, no one who opposes such blessings will be required to perform them. So for us, the practical effect of the change is subtle, but this formal authorization has an important symbolic value for the LGBT community. The importance of that symbol should not be gainsaid.

The other big issue was structural reform. Given all the paranoid accusations flying around before Convention, I was quite surprised and extremely pleased that the conversation was rational and the proposal passed unanimously in my committee, then in both houses. Regardless of how it all plays out in the future, that was good.

Will structural reform actually happen? The verdict is still out. We had several opportunities to initiate or clear the way for structural reform now. We turned down every single opportunity to open the window. The reason usually given is that we should not make changes piecemeal or incrementally, that we should entrust it all to the task force and do revolutionary things all at once in 3 years. Maybe. But in my experience, change happens incrementally and piecemeal – especially in the Episcopal Church. Deferring decisions by referring them to a not-yet-created task force may be just a way to give the appearance of change without actually doing anything. No one at this Convention had an ox gored except the three committees that are in charge of structure generally. Of the big decisions we did not make, I was actually in favor of only one of them. So I am not complaining that we did not act now. We may act more wisely and effectively in the future. But I am just noting a definite uncertainty about whether we will dare to make changes next time. If we would not do a few things now, will we really do many things then?

The overall impression I have of General Convention is that we are work very hard, excessively hard, in the belief that we are doing something important. We imitate the ways of important people in the world, people who are important because they exercise power. One of our translators noted, not of us in particular but of people in general, that we strive so hard to have a purpose – not realizing we already have a purpose. We lack repose. We lack serenity. We miss the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy each other because we are pushing so hard to make ourselves matter.

Business must be transacted. Decisions must be made. But our structure and our process, based as they are on governmental structures and processes, are not spiritually helpful. We have been confused about this ever since Constantine legalized us a good long while ago. I missed Indaba groups this time. I longed for a Circles of Trust conversation. I wanted to hear people’s stories. If we set the business in that context, as even some of our best business leadership theorists recommend, I believe we would have better decisions and we would become better people in the process.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Live From Indianapolis VI


Highlights from today:

Biggest news is that the House of Bishops followed the leadership of the House of Deputies in unanimously passing the resolution creating the independent task force on structural reform. I made an appeal to Bishop Katharine to include young adults early on in the process and she nodded reassuringly. I also made my appeal to the bishops to engage the whole church in a process of visionary prayer. The response to my appeal seemed positive. So I am hopeful that this process of renewal can be more than skin deep.

The Bishops also passed the new canon for dissolution of a bishop-diocese relationship. Needless to say, there was some anxiety around this one since we were setting up the process for our own demises. But it needed doing. At present, we can remove a bishop for misconduct through a disciplinary proceeding; but we have no way to deal with a situation where there is not a disciplinary violation but a broken relationship. The process we passed focuses on reconciliation but where that cannot be achieved, it provides for dissolution.

We discharged the resolution providing for the option of the Presiding Bishop also serving a diocese – not to reject the idea but to include it in the process of structural reform that the task force will be considering.

At lunch, I attended a delightful session with a dynamic demographic group in the Church, the NGLs – New Generation Latinos. Young adult and youth Latinos are for the most part English speaking and American born but steeped in the values and faith traditions of their parents and grandparents. They are a vital, excited, and exciting group blessed by and blessing our common life.

Yesterday over the lunch hour, I presented a workshop on liturgy, music, and preaching in small congregations. It was a small group, but that’s appropriate. Besides, small congregations are under-represented at General Convention. I recommended several helpful hints on making smallness an advantage – which it can be if we don’t try to imitate big church liturgies.

We passed the budget, though there was genuine regret about the non-funding or under-funding of important ministries.

We also passed so many other pieces of legislation, most if which will never make any real difference in the world, than my fogged brain can remember. 

Live From Indianapolis V


Yesterday there was no time or energy to write. Today there is only a little. The pace is intense. Here is what I can still remember:

The Committee on Structure unanimously passed the Resolution creating an independent task force to develop a proposal to revamp our governance structures. It includes a special gathering of representative for all dioceses to review and comment on the proposal before it is finalized. That gathering will be 25% young adults. I would prefer to have guaranteed the role of young adults on the task force but the Committee did not include it in the same resolution They did pass another Resolution, over some objection, to make the task force 33% young adults. That might yet happen. But if not, we can still urge the presiding officers to use their discretion to appoint young people to the task force or make some other special provision for young adult input early in the process. I would also have preferred stronger language on prayer, but what matters is how we implement it, not the wording in the resolution. See my previous blog. Some deputies are already on this, planning flash mob prayer events at random times and places here.

Then, even more surprisingly, the House of Deputies passed the Resolution unanimously. Of course, this does not mean we have changed anything. We have merely opened the door. But that is a big step.

We also sent on to the House a Resolution abolishing the majority of the Standing Commissions and leaving the presiding officers authority to appoint such task forces as are necessary at the time. I predict this will be considerably more controversial than the big kahuna task force resolution. It gores some people’s oxen now.

The Bishops voted 111-41-3 to authorize a provisional rite for blessing same gender relationships. To call the conversation civil would be a gross understatement. There was no parliamentary game playing. Conservatives who voted no expressed their gratitude to those who supported the resolution for making it as livable for them as possible. Progressives who voted yes did so in a spirit of humility and respect. That Resolution also passed the House of Deputies the following day.

I attended the Integrity Eucharist the night after the Bishops passed the same gender blessings resolution. The Deputies had not acted yet, but the folks at Integrity were already happier than I have ever seen them. But there has been a calm to the happiness around this resolution. It really has not been triumphal. It hasn’t been “we won!” It is more like a peaceful easy healing.

This won’t be headline news but it is going to save jobs and make mission possible in poorer dioceses and parishes. The mandate to buy health insurance from the denominational health plan has bee postponed to Dec. 31, 2015. By then, the pricing structure is supposed to have been adjusted so that the smaller dioceses will not get slammed by high premiums as we do now. To all the folks struggling to meet church budgets out there, this is a godsend.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Live From Indianapolis IV


Sunday began with a massive Eucharist and the UTO Ingathering. Major fal-da-rol.

Then it was on to the Structure Committee. The already good resolution on structural reform came back to us improved. We processed it some more, this time making formal revisions. I proposed an amendment which was adopted and I am very pleased about it. It calls for the whole Church to pray for the task force, the special gathering, and process of discernment created by the resolution.

On the surface, this may seem like religious window dressing. It is certainly less spiritually ambitious than the separate “Act 8 resolution” calling for a process that is more ascetical and less structural in approach. But I believe the word “pray” is nuclear loaded. Whether we detonate it depends entirely on the Church in each of its local incarnations.

Here’s why I believe this is crucial. Russ Crabtree (a church leadership heavyweight) says that a strategic plan is like the cerebral cortex of an organization. The organizational culture is like the reflexes. It’s what we do automatically. To the extent the strategic plan and organizational culture are in conflict, Crabtree says, the culture, the habits, the unconscious reflexes win “every time, every time.” (Yes, he repeats for emphasis.) I have seen plenty of official changes of structure crumble in the sand of an inconsistent culture.

If a strategic plan is like the cerebral cortex, the governance structures are even more so. They are how things get done officially. But what happens officially depends entirely on what gets said in the parking lot.  Governance structures are on the surface. They are supported, or not, but something deeper – the spiritual culture. The spirituality of the church is our culture. Our present cumbersome dysfunctional structure is not something someone else did to us. It is the outward and visible sign of our inner and spiritual state. If we do not, as the whole Church, engage the process of transformation deeply and widely, if this process is just  carried out on a superficial-structural level but a few hundred people, then it will all be a waste of time.

So the question is: how do we all engage in a prayerful process of discerning what the Church is called to be. We can start with the 5 Marks of Mission (if you don’t know about them, just Google the term) but that is way broad and vague. What  would that kind of mission look like on the ground -- on our ground -- in our community?

Can we prayerfully imagine alternative scenarios for the future of our congregations? Maybe we imagine dying off and closing. That is an option. Maybe we imagine bringing in a few younger people who are pretty much like us, training them to be completely like us, then handing the building on to them so that nothing changes inside the church walls – even though the world outside is different in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Or maybe we imagine something quite different. What might that be? What might God have in mind for our community? These are questions to pray into and there are ways of praying into it. Maybe we can bring in spiritual directors to help us pray with our religious imagination (a term commonly used in Jesuit circles) fully engaged.

I am excited about this resolution coming out of the structure committee, but the most exciting word in it for me is “pray.” We may pray for a vision, pray for the faith to walk into the darkness toward the light, pray for the resources we need to become the people we are called to be. I am convinced the fate of our discernment process depends on the prayers of all of our people.

After working the Resolution over a second time today, we sent it back to the drafting committee for more work. We will take it up again tomorrow and hopefully hammer this resolution, which our chair Gay Jennings calls “The Big Kahuna”, into shape so it can go to the House of Deputies on Tuesday.

In the House of Bishops we spent a long time again today in a closed session dealing with relationship matters. I cannot describe what goes on in the private sessions, but I believe I can say that it was an emotionally intense time of authentic personal sharing, that it was a graced time in which the faith of the bishops was manifest and Christ’s reconciling love-power was palpable. Once again, I was surprised and moved by the spirituality of the bishops of our Church and stunned by the Spirit’s deftness in brining light into the darkness.

In open session, we transacted a lot of business. There were two high points for Nevada given our particular mission focus these days. First, there was a resolution on human trafficking commending those who are fighting this evil and calling several resources to our attention, including resources from Anglican Women’s Empowerment (AWE), a program considered at the recent Women’s Ministries Gathering in Tonopah.

Second, there was a broader resolution on engagement with the culture outside our church walls. It particularly encouraged churches to participate in community organizing effort with programs such as IAF and PICO by name. It was satisfying to see Nevada ahead of the curve on this one. Two of our congregations (Trinity, Reno and St. Paul’s, Sparks) have already joined ACTIONN, a PICO-sponsored community organizing group. In Las Vegas, Episcopal Latino Ministries have already joined Nevadans For The Common Good, an IAF-sponsored community organizing group – and 6 of our 8 congregations in the area are seriously considering signing on in the coming year. It is good to know our efforts are endorsed by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and that we are helping to lead the way – and no, I had nothing to do with this resolution other than voting for it.

I keep encountering people I have known in different parts of the Church at different stages of my vocational life. I only wish I had time to actually talk with each of them in depth. But tonight, we had a great dinner out with the Nevada Deputies, other Nevadans here in various roles, and with Nevada alum, the Rev. Canon Britt Olson, now of Northern California. A good time was had by all.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Live From Indianapolis III


It was a jam-packed day to be exceeded only by tomorrow.

There were long legislative sessions in the House of Bishops in which we dealt with the necessary business of the church plus a lot of issues where we were just voicing our moral sentiments.

But the more interesting things happened in the Structure Committee and at the Asian lunch. Last night there seemed to have been a shift in the sentiments of the Committee. Afterward a subcommittee met late into the night to work on a resolution to substitute for the 40 or 50 or so resolutions all calling for major structural reform. When they came back this morning, they had settled in on an independent task force to create a restructuring proposal. Between meetings today, that group worked tirelessly on a draft resolution creating the task force. They presented their product tonight. It is already a thing of beauty, but we worked it over in the Committee, having a very positive reaction but also offering a number of creative suggestions. The drafting committee is at it again even now and will be working on it tomorrow. We will resume over the noon hour to and spend a couple of hours perfecting the most important resolution for the overall mission of the church in quite some time. The spirit of the committee has shifted from basic anxiety to basic excitement – with some anxiety still fluttering around. That is good. No anxiety would mean no real danger of change.

The most pleasant part of today was having lunch with Episcopal Asian Ministries – a huge gathering at P. F. Chang’s. I sat next to Bp. David Lai of Taiwan. We used to share a table in the House of Bishops. I saw Bishop Malecdon, Primate of the Philippines, and his Secretary General and Chancellor, Floyd – both of whom I knew from my visit to Manila. I saw Mimi Wu and Fred Vergara of EAM, and our own Filipino & Pacific Islander Missioner, Fr. Arsolin Almondiel, was there to introduce me to Bishop Maximo, Primate of the P.I.C, our communion partner (as in we are in full communion) in the Philippines. I met a priest named Irene from Guam, Peter Ng, and many Asians involved in ministry here.

When the Episcopal Church comes to Indiana, you notice we are here! We look like the world. We look like the family of God. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Live From Indianapolis II


The first official day of General Convention was marked by several notable moments. There was a splendid opening Eucharist – first class music and an excellent sermon by Bishop Katharine.

In the evening between legislative duties, I joined the Indigenous Theological Training Institute at a reception. It was good to see old friends and meet new ones. ITTI does vital work – unseen by most.

Then, we had the “big hearing” on structure. I was honestly surprised. 400 people attended. There has been a lot of nuttiness and paranoia on line about structural reform; but there was only one speaker who even suggested a smidgen of that. 40 people were given the chance to speak to the reform proposals. 38 passionately endorsed creating a special commission to propose transformation in governance. Several people spoke in favor of a Constitutional Convention to adopt the changes that would be proposed. The reason for the special commission is that the existing standing commissions are good at polishing the existing canons but are not set up to design a whole new system. The reason for a Constitutional Convention is that changing canons would be a roughly 9 year process and the Canons would then probably turn out to be unconstitutional.

The second day felt like a roller coaster. This morning the Structure Committee discussed what we heard last night. While some were impressed by “the overwhelming groundswell” for change; others characterized the call for a special commission as “magical thinking,” “unfaithful,” etc. and it did not sound like much was going to happen at all.

In our Friday afternoon hearings, we heard testimony on a resolution re-imagining the Presiding Bishop’s office as part time, with the PB no longer playing the role of CEO, and another moving toward a smaller unicameral convention. Both ideas seemed interesting at a minimum, perhaps promising. Then we heard from a slew of young adults wanting to serve on the special commission on restructuring. I felt some inner discomfort knowing that whether there will be such a special commission is not the sure thing they think it is. They are eager, in fact insistent, on participating in the restructuring process which I was not at all sure the existing governance structures were willing to hand over. I spent the afternoon fretting about what dashing their hopes might do to their passion for mission and ministry.

Then tonight at our committee meeting, some subterranean shift had happened. No one expressly said they had changed their mind, but tonight people were generally accepting the assumption we were going to create a group to propose adaptive change to our governance structure. I would not put any money on what the sentiments will be in the morning. But, for tonight, we appear to be headed toward some new thinking.

Along the way, I have encountered seminary classmates, a former member of the Community of Celebration (FisherFolk) with which we lived for a summer, the grandchildren of people I have buried, clergy colleagues and folks I worked with on diocesan conventions in Georgia, etc.  General Convention has a kind of This Is Your Life quality.

We have just been decompressing with the Nevada deputies. It is helpful after a day of the strange world of Convention to compare notes with people we know who have been having their own strange adventures. Comparing notes is a bit of a reality check.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Live From Indianapolis II


We got down to business this morning with a 3 hour meeting of the Structure Committee followed by what was supposed to be a 2 hour hearing in the afternoon but it turned out to be another 2 hours of meeting instead.

I am markedly impressed with the Structure Committee. It has a number of folks who are real players in the national church, including our deputy chair, Gay Jennings, who is a contender for the next President of House of Deputies. I am just getting to know her, but am so far very favorably inclined toward her leadership.

In the morning we did the basic work of setting the ground rules for our process and had a good general conversation about how to make structure serve mission. I have been a bit perplexed by the level of discomfort with this year’s reform proposal because there is no substantive change even on the table. The proposal is just to appoint a task force to study the possibility of structural reform and make a recommendation in the future – a recommendation we might like or not, enact or not – and would probably like and enact only in part, one of these days. So why the panic? I came away from today’s discussion with a better understanding. We had at least three different committees each of whom understood structure to be in their bailiwick. Now we have a proposal to create a new ad hoc task force with the clear mandate to make something happen. Even before a specific change is recommended, several groups feel displaced from their jobs. So dealing with the relationship side of this process is delicate.

We had a room full of witnesses at the “hearing” this afternoon; but it turned out only one of them wanted to speak to one of our resolutions; and it was not a hot button resolution. Since we had the time, we took on a number of resolutions which were mostly house-keeping. Even though they were of the most minor nature, we were meticulous with the wording and so managed to devote considerable time and energy to fine tuning the canons.

What we did needed doing; but I wondered if a smaller group might not have handled it better. I also did not grow personally, make deeper connections, or feel inspired. It is not the nature of the legislative process to grow the soul. Yet, I truly believe that this was a room full of people worth knowing, that if we could come together on a deeper level, the Holy Spirit might move among us. The conventioneers who were not stuck in hearings were at a baseball game. The chance of something spiritually edifying happening is far better at a baseball game than in a legislative hearing.

Coming out of the Structure Committee “hearing,” I encountered Karen Johanns, formerly of Trinity, Reno and had a great time hearing about her gritty inner city ministry in Pontiac, MI and updating her on the movings and shakings of the Silver State. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Live From Indianapolis I


The thick grey sky hangs, like a celestial woolen blanket, over a flat city holding in the dank heat. Ok, Hayden Koenig[i] could of said it better. But you get the idea. It is hot and muggy here. First question: why must we have General Convention in July when people are at the height of irritability? Why not in the very merry month of May in some pleasant romantic climate?

One more gripe: this hotel ain’t the greatest. It sure makes me miss my beloved Gold Country Inn (Elko) with the moose curtains and bedcover; Hotel Nevada (Ely)  with its variable water and neon vistas; and Mizpah Hotel (Tonopah) with its Edwardian d├ęcor and ghosts.

Nonetheless, this is the best part of Convention. Business does not begin in earnest until tomorrow. My favorite part of convention is registration, ably overseen by the credentials committee starring our own Elizabeth Tattersall. This is where we see people we have not seen in months or even years. I have seen Paul Colbert of San Joaquin, Mimi Wu of Hawaii, Lucinda Ashby of Idaho, and various bishop buds. It is a true delight to meet up with all these good Episcopalians again and to ask the mundane things – How was your flight? How are the kids? – that are as human as they are pedestrian.

But the proper nature and spirit of General Convention is already a subject for wonderment. I have been reading Russ Crabtree’s The Fly in The Ointment; Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership & The New Science II, and Peter Senge’s Presence – all of which call our present way of doing business into question. Crabtree would like to see us focus more on helping parishes do the real mission. Wheatley and Senge are looking for a more relational, less mechanical, legalistic organizational life.

So today, one of our more scholarly bishops was telling me of his problems with the language of a resolution endorsing “the Principle of Subsidiarity,” a doctrine that sounds good once you learn how to pronounce it but has taken odd double-speak twists ever since it was invented by Pope Pius IX. A woman from a Western state overheard us and butted into the conversation arguing in support of the Principle because the words mean something more sensible in her field, economics. Immediately, it was not a conversation but a debate over something few can pronounce, fewer still can spell, and has never saved anyone’s soul or fed a hungry child.

We made an abortive attempt to change the way we interact last Convention by trying “public discourse.” It may not have been well presented and it did not go well. I don’t know how to change the way we relate to each other and negotiate our business. But I long for something more like I have experienced in small group relational meetings in community organizing, in Indaba Groups where people state candidly what they have at stake and how they feel about something without trying to persuade – just express; spiritual story sharing in spiritual direction groups; or non-judgmental wondering about each other’s experience in Parker Palmer circles of trust. I just don’t know that we can have a Christian conversation within the constraints of Roberts Rules. When I go to a Ministry Developers Cohort I come away feeling like a better person. I want to feel that way when I come away from General Convention.

I did enjoy the Integrity Reception tonight. I met some new people and connected with friends. It was then on to the Province 8 Synod – a business meeting for the regional level organization of the Episcopal Church running from Utah and Arizona to Guam and Taiwan. It was a long meeting with many reports. I was grateful to hear Nevada acknowledged several times for our contributions in various ministries around the Province. I only regret I couldn’t get a word in edgewise to campaign for our own JoAnn Roberts Armistead who is running for Executive Council.


[i] Hayden Koenig, the protagonist in Mark Scweitzer’s liturgical mystery series, is a writer of pulp fiction mysteries emulating Raymond Chandler. His sentences make this one look good. The first book in this hilarious series is The Alto Wore Tweed.