Aftermath Of The Marriage Resolutions
The strong majority vote of the Bishops to allow same gender marriages was followed the next day by a similar strong majority concurring vote of the Deputies. This landmark action was inevitably followed by the social media reactions attacking the decision from both left and right. The right of course calls it a betrayal of traditional church teachings. The frustration from the left is that dissenting bishops were not mandated to authorize the rites but to otherwise “provide access” to the marriage rites as dissenting bishops were required to do for women’s ordination.
The social media reaction is not news because it was, as I said, inevitable. The news is how the Church is handling the aftermath. The conservative dissenting bishops issued a statement objecting to the action. But this time, they advised the House of Bishops in advance of what they were doing and why they were doing it. They assured us of their continuing fidelity to the Episcopal Church. This came following the earlier debate on the marriage resolutions in which the dissenting bishops had expressed their appreciation to the Marriage Task Force for proposing a canon that allowed them to continue their ministry without violating their consciences. In a word, they treated the majority with Christian consideration.
The House of Bishops responded by unanimously passing a resolution, Communion Across Difference:
We the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church wish to express
our love and appreciation for our colleagues who identify as
Communion Partners and those who have affinity with (their)
position (in) their “Communion Partners Salt Lake City Statement” . . . . We give particular thanks for the steadfast witness of our colleagues in the Communion Partners. We value and rely on their commitment to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. . . . We affirm that they are an indispensible part of the House of Bishops . . . . Our church needs their witness . . . .The equanimity, generosity, and graciousness with which the
Communion Partners have shared their views on Christian
Marriage and remain in relationship is a model for us and for
the lay and ordained leaders in our dioceses to follow.
We thank God that in the fullness of the Holy Trinity
we can and must remain together as the Body of Christ . . . . .
Canon Catherine defines wisdom as doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. I feel in my bones, this time we got it right.
The Gospel As Budget
Both houses passed the budget today. It was a brave budget in that it committed to reducing the percentage of its income each diocese was required to pay, but nonetheless predicted an increase in giving from the dioceses. We stepped out in faith that more dioceses would begin working toward paying their share of the costs of the wider Church. We made paying the assessment mandatory. The penalties are not harsh. So we are relying on dioceses to fulfill their obligation now that we have made it an obligation. This is a matter of faith in God and faith in each other.
The budget also allocated several million dollars for new church plants and revitalizing congregations that have declined. Evangelism was the main part of the mission to surge to the top in this budget, fitting with the priorities of our new Presiding Bishop-elect.
One mission priority, at the top of my list, was originally given no funding whatsoever in this triennium’s budget – The Episcopal Network for Stewardship. However, the Deputies amended the budget to provide TENS with a $150,000 grant for the coming three years and the Bishops concurred.
By the time the budget reached the Bishops, we were exhausted and emotionally worn down by arduous processing of the restructuring canons and resolutions. So when we saw the budget, our exhaustion manifested as fear and a sense of scarcity. We misunderstood things to make the budget seem scarier than it was. We also seemed to be nervous about evangelism. But several Bishops spoke up about having the courage of our convictions. Then the budget passed with overwhelming approval.
We had already passed the bureaucracy-trimming resolution cutting the Standing Commissions from 75 to 2. I was pleasantly surprised by that decision, as I thought we would turf guard to protect our own pet projects. But we got past that human tendency and simplified the Church considerably.
The area I thought would be the real bone of contention was lines of authority in the Church staff. Having the Presiding Bishop manage the staff, just as a Diocesan Bishop manages a diocesan staff or a rector manages a parish staff, made obvious sense. But there is some serious anti-bishop sentiment that focuses especially on this point so I did not think we were likely to see this longstanding squabble resolved. But lo and behold the House of Deputies not only passed a sane and sober resolution, they improved it. I think that caught the bishops off guard, so we found one small point where the Presiding Bishop’s authority over the staff was infringed upon and we fretted over it, in my view, to excess. But after sleeping on it last night, we came back this morning, having regained our sanity, and overwhelmingly passed the resolution. The Deputies extended an olive branch, which once the bishops got their minds around it, we accepted gratefully.
There was another extremely complex resolution that set the rate of assessment at 15% phased in over six years, made it mandatory, and set consequences but mixed those provisions in with all sorts of other things, like merging dioceses, establishing dioceses, funding the Presiding Bishops and President of the House of Deputies’ offices, etc. etc. etc. It was like reality, good and evil intertwined into a tapestry of regulatory befuddlement. In the end, we defeated part of the resolution in a way that just left things as they are for the time being, realizing they may need to be improved down the road. But we passed the necessary parts of the Resolution make the assessment mandatory, to begin the reduction toward 15%, and provide flexibility to allow dioceses to adjust.
This has been a different convention. We are younger and more creative than before. 66% of the Deputies were either first or second timers. In previous conventions first and second timers have made up fewer than 45% of the Deputies. We had an Official Youth Presence, an unofficial youth presence, and lots of young adults. At the Eucharist yesterday, I sat with a young adult from Georgia. I had known her when she was a toddler. Now she’s a sophomore at University of Georgia. The whole thing had quite a different feel.
When the Church met in Phoenix for General Convention, 1991, the issues weren’t that divisive. Gene Robinson would not be elected for over a decade. Same gender marriage was not on the agenda. But the disputes in the House of Bishops were so intense that security had to be called in to prevent violence. Compare that to the considerate gesture of the Community Partners and the Communion Across Difference resolution of the entire House of Bishops.
Previous Presiding Bishop elections have been marked by ideological divisions. There were always petition candidates. Some were just nominated by admirers but others were thrown in to increase the discord. This time there were no such candidates and we elected our first African American Presiding Bishop by a landslide vote on the first ballot.
The bridges built between the Deputies and the Bishops bring us together to get on with the mission. All in all, we have so much to celebrate from this Convention, it will take us months to absorb it and years to live into it.