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.