Welcome! I will be using this blog to post my observations and reflections on General Convention 2006.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

It is finished! And now our work begins.

The House of Deputies completed its work (or as much of it as we could) at 6:00 this evening and we are now making our way back home to our parishes and dioceses.

At today's Eucharist, Presiding Bishop Griswold presided and Presiding Bishop-Elect Jefferts Schori preached. We then convened in an extraordinary joint session of the two houses to hear Bishop Griswold plea for a resolution from both houses to refrain from ordaining to the episcopate any priest "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." He said that The Episcopal Church needs to give a "clear perception" to our Anglican partners that we have listened to them and are desirous of continuing our conversation with them. Bishop Griswold called on us to show humility and restraint, to step back in order to move forward, to refrain from demanding either our own way or separation. PB25 asked us to give PB26 what she would need to sit with the other Primates. Before the bishops left our hall, Bishop Mathes asked us as the San Diego deputation to support the Griswold resolution when it came from the House of Bishops.

For the rest of the morning, we struggled through some remaining elections and important legislation while we waited for Resolution B-033 to come to us. Shortly after noon, it arrived, unchanged from the Presiding Bishop's original. After about a half hour of heated debate, the Presiding Bishop-elect, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori requested to come to our House to speak. She, too, pled for passage of B-033 without amendment. A few minutes after one o'clock, a vote by orders was taken, passing in both Lay (72-32) and Clerical (75-34) orders.

After lunch, we rushed to complete the most important of the many pieces of legislation before us, particularly those already passed by the House of Bishops. We passed resolutions dealing with children, international concerns, sexual misconduct, "restorative justice" for slavery, a missionary initiative in Louisiana, and interim Eucharistic sharing with the United Methodist Church, among many others.

This is my final post of General Convention. I return to Palm Desert on Thursday and will be present after each service this weekend to discuss the Convention with the people of St. Margaret's.

At the Eucharist on Tuesday morning, House of Deputies President George Werner was the preacher. His sermon was brief and filled with hope for this Church as we find our voice as a renewed witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

I had decided to take the morning off, so swapped my deputy badge with Fr. David Montzingo. I then returned to the hotel to review a pastoral letter being prepared by Bishop Mathes. In it he will call the Diocese of San Diego to focus on evangelism and mission as we move ahead together.

I had lunch with Bishop Ohls of Northwest Texas, a man I had first known as the rector of a parish adjacent to the Air Force Academy when I was first attached there in 1995. I then returned to the House for an afternoon … and evening … of debate. As it turned out, the morning session had been bogged down in procedural matters, accomplishing only one ballot for the Executive Council, and completing the 15 minutes allotted for debate on resolution A161.

The first item for us in the afternoon session was the vote by orders on A161, which I described in yesterday’s post. The debate had revealed a pretty deep division in the House, and the final vote was to defeat the resolution. Attempts later in the afternoon to reconsider the matter failed. We then turned to the question of consent to the ordination and consecration of the Rev. Canon Barry Beisner as bishop of Northern California. The Deputies agreed with the Bishops to grant the consent. The last big piece of legislation of the afternoon was to pass the budget for the next triennium, which was done without amendment.

After dinner, we reconvened for our third session of the day, taking up three important pieces of legislation in two hours: commitment to the “Interdependence of the Anglican Communion”; encouragement of the “Anglican Communion Development Process”; and the adoption of a major revision of Title III of the Canons of the Church dealing with the ordained ministry. We finally adjourned for the day at 9:15.

On Wednesday, the final day of the Convention, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has called us to an extraordinary joint session immediately following the Eucharist. Indications are that he will stress the need for us to adopt the resolutions called for by the Windsor Report and proposed in the report of the Special Commission. It seems to me that such action is vital if Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is to be welcomed as a cooperative member of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

Whatever we do today, we will be adjourning by 6:00 p.m. Keep us in your prayers. You are in mine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

This is my second post on Tuesday morning, and contains some thoughts I've been putting down for several days. I share it with you in the hopes that our post-Convention dialog can be enhanced ...

In an age (and a Church) often marked by rancorous debate between the left and the right on any issue, we may wonder whatever happened to the middle. Sometimes those of us who consider ourselves moderates are ducking down to keep from being hit by the projectiles fired from one side at the other. Sometimes we’re trying to let calmer times come when we can reason together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What is a moderate? I’ve been pondering that for a long time and have no definitive answers. Perhaps that is because moderates don’t have any answers; perhaps it is because we know that whatever answers we give are only temporary, that the next interchange in the dialog of faith will likely lead to another answer, another question, another answer, etc. So, as I’ve pondered my own inner life, here are some “bullets” (in no particular order except for the first one) that might open up the dialog with this moderate …

Moderate Positions, Commitments, and Characteristics (according to Father Bob)
  • Jesus Christ is Lord – everything else is commentary
  • Belief in a Trinitarian God
  • Commitment to the Nicene Creed
  • Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation
  • The Book of Common Prayer (and its teachings)
  • Adherence to the Constitutions and Canons of the Episcopal Church
  • More comfortable with questions than with answers
  • Listen carefully for where other people are in their faith journeys
  • Listen carefully for other people’s passions
  • Respond to the deep spiritual yearnings of people, not to their initial verbalization
  • The primary qualification for participation in the Church is that the individual is a sinner
  • Everyone who comes to the Church is led there by Christ
  • When people come to the Church we have to explore why … the gifts the Church has that they need to bring them closer to a saving relationship with Christ, and the gifts they bring that the Church needs to enlarge the our understanding of Christ
  • God is large – a lot larger than any of us can comprehend
  • We are to plumb the depths and riches of Christ
  • God is a God of variety; the Church should reflect that variety
  • Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: He acts with us in the Church; He acts without us outside the Church
  • Walls are not a particularly good thing
  • I don’t agree with everyone else (I don’t even agree with myself sometimes), but that doesn’t make either of us wrong (or right, for that matter).

If we all must agree on everything, isn’t that the building of a new “Tower of Babel”? In the Bible story, unity of language and purpose led to pride, with the people patting themselves on the back for being so smart. In turn, God decided to destroy the tower and to confuse our language in order to keep us mindful that only God creates anything of lasting significance. Differences remind us that God is Lord – not you, me, theologians, or doctrines. Dumb ideas, even heretical ones, won’t destroy us, our faith, or Our Lord. But ideas do lead us to ask more questions, seek more answers, and plumb anew the depths of Christ Jesus.

One of the blessings of being at General Convention is seeing and hearing the wide variety of passions, points of view, languages, and hopes of Episcopalians from around our Church, and of Christians from around the world. We may appear confused and confusing; but in our weakness, Christ is made strong.

If all this is muddy, then I’m in good company with St. Paul, who saw “in a mirror darkly,” but who had the confident faith that all would become clear in Jesus.

Monday began with the daily Eucharist. Music today was led by Elisabeth Von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria. What a wonderful voice God gave her! She sang several pieces as we were gathering; and the service ended with Edelweiss.

As we began the legislative day, the first session included the introduction of our ecumenical and interfaith visitors. After they departed, a bit of a chill came over the House when the chair of the deputation from the Diocese of Fort Worth announced that their diocese would be appealing for "alternative primatial oversight." Fort Worth is one of the few dioceses that does not ordain women, and the election of Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is unacceptable to them. The House responded with quiet, a sign of sadness and respect for their continued witness among us.

We then considered and passed a proposal to limit debate on items not related to the Windsor Report to no more than 15 minutes; and the President appointed our House's members to a Conference Committee to work with the House of Bishops to resolve any differences between bills in our two houses. Our final act of the morning was to pass special rules for the debate on the Windsor resolutions, giving us an hour for each of them.

After lunch, we met in joint session with the Bishops to hear the presentation of the triennium budget and heard a report from Bishop Gray (Mississippi) and Bishop Johnson (Louisiana) on a capital campaign, Darkness Into Day, to assist with the rebuilding of our churches in the devastated areas of the Gulf coast.

We then turned to several resolutions before moving to deal with the Windsor legislation. The first, A160 Substitute passed with a minor amendment. In that one we apologized for straining the bonds of affection with our Anglican partners and failing to give proper weight to their concerns. We began the debate on A161, calling for a moratorium on ordaining partnered gay priests to the episcopate and on developing rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. As we reconvene this morning, we will be considering amendments to the resolution. We have 15 minutes remaining in that debate. For full texts of the resolutions, check the ENS releases. I don't bring all my paperwork back to the hotel with me every night, and I'm still nursing my first cup of coffee. We recessed for the evening about 7:30 last evening.

I had dinner last evening with two first-time deputies from Arizona, one of whom is the 20-year-old son of the other associate priest who served with me at St. Barnabas. On the way back to the hotel, I received a call from the Desert Sun, then met with the deputation from San Diego until about 10:00.

We now begin the final two days of deliberations. We are now so far behind that I expect us to have to meet late tonight, or allow some non-critical resolutions to die without debate. I expect Dispatch of Business will assess various resolutions and move the most important to the front of the line. Windsor and the budget, plus legislation that the Bishops have passed first are likely to be done today. We also still need to deal with a motion to consent to the ordination of the bishop-elect for Northern California. Because he has been divorced twice and married three times, there may be some hesitancy to agree to his ordination.

Keep us in your prayers. You are in mine.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sunday was a very big day in the life of the Church, with the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, bishop of Nevada to be the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. But before I report the details, as St. Paul tells us, let us take things decently and in order.

The day began with the Eucharist, with current Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold presiding and preaching. Today was Rite I with Dixieland Jazz music. That was an interesting combo, but I think I prefer the Side Street Strutters. But then, the band had flown in from Houston, arrived at some horrible early morning hour sans luggage and instruments. The convention staff had to rouse a music store owner out of bed to rent the necessary equipment, and the band members were taken to Wal-Mart early in the morning to get some clothes and toothpaste. They did a really nice job on five hours sleep and with rented instruments. That was wonderful testimony to the dedication of everyone involved.

Immediately following the Eucharist, the Bishops of the Church retired to Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square to begin their balloting for the 26th Presiding Bishop. As HOD President Werner reminds us often, we don't do business the way the world does it. There was no caucusing, no election posters, no campaigning ... just prayer and voting.

A mile away, the Deputies tried to wade through our fairly long agenda for the day, making a good bit of progress, but sometimes crawling through procedural debates and seemingly minor amendments. As lunch time approached, we were notified that the Bishops had completed three ballots with no election.

After lunch, we continued with our agenda. Delegated Pastoral Oversight passed overwhelmingly; the worship resources Enhancing Our Worship was encouraged for us, including on Sundays; a wonderful new service for Renewal of Ministry with the Welcoming of a New Rector passed; we also added some fine resources and additional rites following death; we passed a resolution of pastoral concern for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families; and we passed a resolution encourage the appointment and nomination of young persons ages 16-30 to serve in leadership, including vestries.

Finally word came from Trinity Church that the Bishops had elected a new Presiding Bishop. The Committee on the Consecration of Bishops was given the sealed envelope and convened quickly to prepare a resolution of concurrence. Only when they returned did we learn who had been elected. After nearly a half-hour of supportive comments from members of the House (only two deputies spoke against), we finally took a vote by orders. After fifteen minutes or so, the results were announced: Lay Order -- yes, 93 / no, 8 / divided, 7; Clerical Order -- 94/10/4. Finally, the two Bishops who had brought us the results were able to return to Trinity Church to report our concurrence, and the Bishops were then released from their confinement to return to the convention center. When PB-95 escorted PB-96 into the House of Deputies a little while later, the House erupted into prolonged applause. Bishop Schori addressed us briefly, then returned to the House of Bishops to continue their deliberations on other matters, as we returned to our agenda.

The election of a woman as the Presiding Bishop has prompted both celebration and wonder. The usual question is being asked, "how will this play in...?" I will be surprised if her election results in much controversy, and I am confident that Bishop Jefferts Schori will focus us all on mission and ministry.

One thing I noticed, there were no sad faces among the youth. The kids here were all very excited. "How cool! We've got a woman PB," they were saying. "This will play well among young people, especially for those who think of the church as woefully square and old-mannish.

At the end of the day, I attended the dinner for my seminary, The School of Theology of The University of the South. Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama (the runner-up for PB) is the Chancellor of the University, and both he and his wife were most gracious, even relieved, that they would be remaining in Birmingham.

Today, we begin the final three days of legislation and remain about 1/2 day behind the schedule. Optional night sessions are looking like the "option" may be removed as we will be considering more "Windsor" legislation today.

We return to table discussions at the Eucharist today, so join us in mediation and prayer. Here are the questions to ponder today and tomorrow:
  • June 19: How has God been particularly generous to you recently? How is your gratitude reflected in your love for and service to others?
  • June 20: How is your yearning for peace advanced by taking counsel together?

Keep us all in your prayers, adding now prayers for Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

This morning as I prepare for the Eucharist, I've been pondering the nature of unity in Christ and the reconciliation of the Church in the name of Christ. Jack Danforth's closing remarks the other evening said a lot to us in our work here in Columbus:

"Figure out a way to hold this together. I don't have any specific solutions, but put whatever you do in the context of the higher calling of the ministry of reconciliation. Put that first and let everything else fall into place. If you can't resolve every difference, try to make the start at resolving some. Agree to disagree if that's necessary, and if you succeed in shifting the emphasis of this church to the ministry of reconciliation and closing the differences that separate you, you will deliver a powerful message that will spread well beyond the Episcopal Church, and it's a message for our little corner of Christianity that will be heard all over the world. It is the message that we have heard: the call to the ministry of reconciliation, and we are answering that call."

As I was praying, a poem I memorized long ago as a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School came to mind. It speaks to my puzzlement about the seeming love we have for building walls around us.

Mending Wall … Robert Frost
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,One on a side.
It comes to little more:He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

As Robert Frost suggests, good fences don't really make good neighbors. Our Lord does not love the walls we build between ourselves. My prayer today is that he will send the "frozen-ground-swell" under them and topple them down. Apples and pines really don't threaten each other, and the walls separate only the people who own the trees. Good neighbors, good brothers and sisters in Christ, are made by loving one another in the Name of the One who loves us first.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Again today, the House of Deputies moved quickly through mostly routine business. The day began a good bit later than normal, with Holy Eucharist at 10:00. It was nice to sleep late and spend a leisurely morning. The Eucharist today was highlighted with the UTO ingathering.

I had lunch with two of my daughter's classmates from seminary, one a deputy from West Tennessee and the other a deputy from Western Louisiana. After that we had some time to go through the exhibit hall, chat with old friends, and buy anything we couldn't do without. The legislative session convened at 2:30 in a joint session with the House of Bishops for the formal placing in nominations of candidates for Presiding Bishop. The committee's nominees were introduced first, then the floor was opened for the three "petition" candidates to be placed in nomination. After that, the bishops left for their own chambers and the deputies began our business day.

While we got some resolutions and legislation done, today was taken up with nominations for various boards, election of a vice-president of the House (Brian Pryor, an old friend of Father Dan Rondeau was elected), introductions of the priests who have been approved for ordination as bishops, a visit from the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and a tribute to retiring House of Deputies President George Werner. Following dinner, there was a farewell tribute to retiring Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

On Sunday afternoon, the bishops will gather in Trinity Church on Capitol Square to elect the next Presiding Bishop.

We moved ahead well on Friday and with little controversy. The deputies are now comfortable with the voting machines, and fewer procedural questions are getting raised with the President and the Parliamentarian.

The big legislation from the Evangelism Committee passed the House of Deputies with only one challenge to the funding process. The Church Planting Initiative, as it is called, directs the Church Center Staff and the Executive Council to work with dioceses to identify potential sites for new church plants and to prepare for a major gifts campaign to be conducted in the next triennium. The funding ($475,000 per year) is to come from a .2% draw from endowments in order to invest in this effort to grow the church. That will "raise" our draw from 5.0 to 5.2 percent each year for the next three. The Program, Budget and Finance Committee had proposed to reduce our draw from 5.5% to 5.0%, but this action, if the House of Bishops concurs with us, will slow that reduction in a little less drastic way.

Last evening, about twenty members from the Diocese of San Diego met for dinner, including Fr. Cory Randall, retired rector of St. Peter's in Del Mar.

The Evangelism Committee completed its work yesterday, so I am having a leisurely morning. The Eucharist today begins at 10:00 and will feature the UTO ingathering. Representatives from each of our dioceses will come forward to hand their contributions to the Presiding Bishop. After that, it's back to work.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

On day three, the snail rose from the dead. We started to get the hang of the flow of legislation and were able to get through quite a bit of work, catching up to where we should have been at the end of day two. The paper ballot we had to do to elect the twelve trustees of the Church Pension Fund went quickly, and one ballot was all we needed to get it done.

The Evangelism Committee picked up a couple of resolutions referred by other committees, dealt with then quickly this morning, and will hold hearings on them tomorrow (Friday) morning.

In the afternoon session, we gave consent to the ordination and consecration of five newly elected bishops, and referred them to the House of Bishops for concurrence.

After supper, I returned to the worship hall to hear Father (Senator) Jack Danforth, a seasonal member of St. Margaret's, address the convention on the subject of reconciliation. I have gotten to know him and Sally over the last few years, and was very pleased with his remarks and his challenge to us to focus everything we do around that main subject.

As I mentioned earlier, there are flags on the dais for every nation that is part of The Episcopal Church. With sixteen flags there now, it is clear we aren't exactly a US-only church. In addition to the Stars and Stripes, we have the flags of Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Taiwan, and Venezuela, plus the host nations for the American Churches in Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy)... all with dioceses of The Episcopal Church. Of course, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also fly the American flag.

As with every day, be sure to check the national web site for detailed news of our actions. And continue us in your daily prayers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The House of Deputies moved at the pace of a dead snail today. Our most important action was to have been the election of twelve trustees of the Church Pension Fund. Alas, the electronic voting devices defied the comprehension of about 90 of our deputies; so the House voted to revert to a paper ballot tomorrow. Groan.

But if that's the worst it gets, this will be a very good convention. So, I'll focus on some things that went very right today. The Evangelism Committee sent two resolutions out for action by the full house. The first one is to do the necessary work to conduct a Church-wide capital campaign after 2009 to fund a church planting initiative. This will be the first such effort on the national level since Venture In Mission in the late 1970s. The second is to organize and conduct a missionary effort in Louisiana in the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina last year. Bishop Gray of Mississippi told me that the Gulf Coast continues to lose population as initial returnees give up hope of rebuilding and move on. However, in three to five years, a new population will likely return to the area seeking the same pleasant life that was known there before 2005.

The Daily Eucharist today was mostly in Spanish; and it was gratifying to me to be able to understand a good deal of it. We are seated in tables of ten, similar to 2003, made up of deputies, bishops, delegates to the ECW Convention, and others. Following the sermon we discuss a question about our lives in Christ. If you would like to join with us, consider the questions in your own daily lives:
  • Yesterday - Consider your personal experience of ministry in daily life.
  • Today - What gifts has God given you that strengthen you for service and help you become more effective in your daily ministries?
  • June 14 - How do you share the gift of your faith through worship and in your daily life and work?
  • June 15 - How does the Holy Spirit both guard and guide you as you pursue an active ministry to others at home, at work, and at school?
  • June 16 - How have you experienced people sharing the Spirit's gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and faith?

We will not have table discussions on the weekend. I'll give you next week's questions later.

My overall impression of the last few days has been one of optimistic confidence of the call of Jesus Christ to this Episcopal Church to engage in the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. While there is some concern around our response to the Windsor Report and the report of the Special Commission, as well as with our continuing relationships with our Anglican partners, there is also a lot of passion around mission and ministry. As I pondered the hard work ahead, it occurred to me that I have always gotten over every "mad" I've ever had; but I have never gotten over a "love." I trust that each of us and the Church in which we find life in Christ will get over our "mad" and get on with our "love".