Sunday Eucharist

Sunday worship at General Convention never fails to renew my joy at being a Christian in the Episcopal Church. Some highlights:

  1. The long line of our bishops in procession, demonstrating the breadth and diversity of the church, as well as its ancient origin in the apostles.

  2. Behind the cross, the first person in procession, ahead of all the bishops, is a lone mother carrying her child. No one can say that we are not a pro-family church.

  3. The reading of 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 was assigned to a man with a strong stutter. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” His reading was met with a round of applause.

  4. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s sermon on the woman bleeding for twelve years, making parallel to a Mother church bleeding membership for twelve years. By reaching out in faith to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe, his divine grace will make us rise and walk again.

  5. Singing “I am the bread of life” with 1,000+ people, many of whom waved their arms in the air at the refrain: “I will raise them up, I will raise them up, I will raise them up on the last day.” This congregation is not God’s frozen-chosen!

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Pro-family
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Pastores dabo vobis: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart.”

March against Gun Violence

Sunday morning hundreds of Episcopalians processed throughout the streets of Salt Lake City preaching and praying for an end to gun violence. We chanted a haunting rendition of Psalm 130 the whole way: “Out of the deep, O Lord / unto thee I cry. / Consider well the prayer of my longing soul.” The song blended with the chanting of Kyrie, eleison (Lord, have mercy).

Bishop Hayashi spoke his story of being shot in the abdomen by a criminal. Police officers, clergy and mothers gave moving testimony that I am still reflecting on.

The folks from NH wore matching Jonathan Daniels t-shirts, as he becomes a patron saint of gun violence victims. We were cursed at along the way once. People shielded their eyes from the sun with their hands, using a gesture that appeared to say, “Don’t shoot.”

Later this morning is the great Sunday Eucharist and then legislation in the afternoon. Provincial Caucuses this evening.

General Convention: Day 3

Yesterday was day 3 and it was a full one! I came back to my room after 9pm having not had dinner. So, I’m catching up on the blogging now. To answer a few questions about Salt Lake City quickly:

  1. The hotel does not have a full bar in it, but the hotel restaurant does serve alcohol. A number of deputies are avoiding alcohol while they are here, wearing “No Thank You” buttons from Episcopal Recovery Ministries.
  2. The Marriott chain is owned by a Mormon family. So, there is a Book of Mormon in the nightstand. The coffee maker is hidden from view in the closet, so it’s not evidently here by default. There is, however, a Starbucks on the ground level.
  3. The entire city is built around the Temple. All major streets are numbered from their proximity and direction (N, S, E, W) from it. I haven’t totally cracked the code, but it’s a handy way to navigate, like the Streets and Avenues of Manhattan.

Yesterday, my Committee finished its business. We will only reconvene if a resolution is later referred to us by the House, but otherwise we are done. I helped draft a substitute resolution on inter-faith and ecumenical understanding that we are happy with. It falls short of mandated canonical change, but I think is a strong and helpful document.

The Committee did see a small amount of church power politics, which surprised me. One resolution (A070) asked that the Presiding Bishop and the PHOD jointly appoint members to inter-church and inter-faith dialogue groups. Currently only the PB does this. When discussed the bishops immediately objected, saying that this job belongs uniquely to the bishop who is the chief ecumenical officer in his or her diocese. Once the bishops objected to sharing power, the deputies dug in and fought back. For a committee that had worked so smoothly together, I was surprised. The end result: the PB still appoints but must consult with the PHOD.Bible at the podium

We took a break for morning worship. The Eucharists here are incredible–worshiping with 1,000 people is a feeling like no other. The music is always very fine and I like the way that the PB leads worship. Also: they can serve communion to one thousand people in the amount of time it takes me to commune 75. It is a well-planned, highly-efficient operation.

Then we moved into the House of Deputies. Today was the first official day of business. As the House convenes we always have an open Bible present, as a sign of our dependence on the Word of God. It is open to a verse chosen by the President, this time Philippians 4:4-7.

We took votes to elect officers and approve the Rules of Order. Mostly procedural, some substance, but necessary to do.

Now that Committee 15 is on hiatus, I could go to other committees to listen and speak. So, I went to Committee 8 (Social Justice and United States Policy) to testify in support of New Hampshire’s resolution on abolishing the death penalty (D025). My testimony was simply to tell the story of repeal efforts in NH and that, while we haven’t won the day yet, we are confident it will come soon. So, this resolution represents methods that are working and should be taken to dioceses across the denomination.

Also at that hearing were a number of folks from the Official Youth Presence. Each of these teenagers had prepared testimony on this and the other resolutions the committee was hearing. They were great! Most of them were well-thought and more on-point than the adults. If they are the future of the church, then God is leaving us in good hands.

We had one more legislative session in the afternoon. Our table is in the middle of the room, so you can see how far we are from the podium. Just imagine that there are folks twice as far from us at the back!HOD Floor

After all the rules-stuff, we took our first official vote (A302). I’m pleased that the first official act of the House was to send a letter of condolence and solidarity to Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. The committees and dispatch groups worked hard to fast-track this so that the resolution could arrive in time to be read at the memorial service taking place on Friday.

Finally, I attended a hearing on Structure with Canon Kevin Nicholas. We arrived a little late, having met up for a deputation caucus to catch up with the other NH folks. We had to stand in the back since the room was packed.

When we arrived the committee was asking questions from the Presiding Bishop (barely pictured below). She was fielding questions mostly about clearing up lines of authority and responsibility of the Executive Council but also taking questions about who she is accountable to as PB and what processes are there to make formal complaint about her leadership. No softball questions here!

IMG_1666The open hearing then began. The Structure committee heard input on several topics, including:

  • reducing the size of Executive Council from 40 to about 20
  • reducing the size of General Convention from 880-ish to some other number
  • elimination of formal Provinces (groups of dioceses) in favor of looser cooperative networks

The speakers are diverse: bishops, seminary deans and lay folk who came on their own dime to speak. Their opinions are also just as diverse.

Lots to participate in and lots that can make a real difference in the church and its impact in the world. I’ll keep you posted about Friday’s happenings soon.

 

General Convention: Day 2

The Breakfast of DeputiesLast night was the first meeting of Committee 15 (Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations). There are 25 people on the committee, about five bishops, ten clergy and ten laypeople. Folks are from across the country and one serves an Episcopal congregation located in Germany. We made introductions and got right to business. Our first job was to review the list of resolutions that are sent to us. Each resolution gets a hearing and we’ll start that at 7pm tonight.

There are several resolutions and memorial letters encouraging us to create a system for training clergy and lay leaders in inter-faith knowledge. Too many church leaders speak, preach or teach without an adequate understanding of the other religions they are talking about. In Biblical terms, this is “bearing false witness.” So, why not require training on this, as we do on anti-racism and Safe Church (abuse awareness).

We will need to consolidate each of the resolutions into one, formally submit it, hold a hearing and send it on to the House for debate. I volunteered to help. The subcommittee meets at 7am!

Black lives matterAs for today, the deputies are all here and meeting in the House. There’s about 875 of us all in all, so it’s a big House. Coincidentally the NH deputation is seated at the same table at the Texas deputation, so I’m with friends and family here. Each deputation’s table has a pole with their name on it and we’ve decorated ours with a stuffed moose, Courtney’s knitted vine and a “Black Lives Matter” sign, which many deputations have also put up.

 

We got opening remarks from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori (PB) and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings (PHOD). The PB likened General Convention to NASA’s Mission Control, providing support to the heroic astronauts in space (parishioners). The PHOD pointed out that of the 875 deputies, 398 are first-timers. So, 46% of the House is completely fresh, an all-time high for us.

Knit vine at our deputation table
Knit vine and voting machines

After the speeches, we had a long orientation session. The Convention is saturated with technology this time, from iPads to voting machines and RFID tags for everyone. When you rise to speak, you insert you card and the Chair sees your name and deputation instantly and can keep tabs on the correct order that people got up in. Hopefully, this will speed up deliberation by reducing confusion about the priority of motions and simply “who got there first.”

After the orientation we had a lunch break. I had volunteered to meet with some committee compatriots to go over that resolution on multi-faith knowledge. We drafted something up and will bring it to committee tonight so it can be “ripped to shreds,” as one of our veteran deputies put it. This is how the sausage gets made, folks.

As for now, the House is hearing from each of the candidates for the Presiding Bishop election to happen on Saturday. Later, a short break and then evening hearings and events. Then, even later, my face hits a pillow.

 

General Convention: Day 1

I’ve just arrived in Salt Lake City for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I am one of the four clergy deputies from New Hampshire. For the next 12 days we will worship and pray, meet and talk, vote and plan about God’s purpose for our denomination.

Salt Lake City is also the home of the Mormon Temple and it’s not far from our convention center. At the end of June, young Mormons come here at the conclusion of their mission time. Our airplane was full of Episcopal priests in collars and young men in white shirts, dark ties and name tags. Different faiths but the same hope to share God’s good news with others.

SLC Airport
Homecoming for Mormon missionaries at the SLC Airport

Coming down the escalator, the baggage claim was packed with families welcoming home their missionaries. Balloons, banners, cheering and crying were everywhere. I have a sense of “holy envy” that every church be able to value its young adults this much.

After settling in, I picked up my credentials to vote. For the first time, this General Convention will be near-paperless. I was issued an iPad with a “virtual binder” full of resolutions. I also got a “voting card” with an RFID chip on it. They’ll tell me how it all works tomorrow. There is also an app with worship bulletins, seating charts, schedules, maps and everything else you could want to navigate.

The Salt Palace convention center is enormous and takes time to walk around. So, I searched out the House of Deputies and found the New Hampshire seats. We are seated almost randomly around and this year we share a table with the diocese of Texas. Right now the room is quiet and cool but tomorrow it’ll be a hotbed of deputies.

Meeting Room 15
Committee 15 meeting room

I also hunted down the room for my Committee (#15: Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations). It’s a long, winding hike to get so I’ll be getting my exercise this week. In half an hour we have our first Committee meeting, mostly introductions and orientation. Then: dinner.

The real business starts tomorrow!