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 décor 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.