The serious influx of Episcopalians and Anglicans into Columbus, Ohio, for the General Convention has begun. Many of us arrived on Trinity Sunday, a day set a part to remember the rather complex and sometimes messy reality of the Christians’ sort of monotheism: We believe in one God, but known in three persons, etc.
It is a fine day to begin the complex and sometimes messy workings of General Convention, in which we know the church is one, but experience many churches.
The various legislative committees have begun their work. It is their job it is to weave together some of the messiness into a hopefully meaningful expression of the mind of the Episcopal Church. But as with the effort to express the mind of the Church about the Trinity, the project of being the Church in General Convention assembled, with some sort of collective voice, is alternately numbingly difficult and experientially simple.
The problem is that we are both one church and many churches: one church as a whole, but with each person bringing their own sense of that one church into the mix. Sometimes it is difficult to meld the many different churches as experienced into the One.
If you want to see residual signs of those many experienced churches, go to the General Convention Exhibit Hall. There they are, those many churches, and sub-sets of many churches. And there, on Trinity Sunday afternoon, the people gathered. There I was able to both schmooze and check the pulse of the emerging Convention, living I suppose into a bit of Lenard Cohen’s song, Democracy:
“It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”
The Hall is indeed a cradle of the best and the worse: There are the exhibits of the stalwart proclamations of mission around the world, done by dioceses, mission agencies, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, religious orders, entrepreneurial Christian businesses, etc. There are the stalls of various issues groups, networks and councils. There too were the booksellers, the vestment makers, the insurance brokers, the sellers of charms and beads, icons and educational materials. And unwittingly, for those who think the Episcopal Church in involved in “fudge,” there is a seller (as in past Conventions) of , you guessed it, fudge. Whatever did not have simply to do with the work of money exchange had a lot to do with church as experienced within church.
It is now Monday, and the General Convention begins to take up in committees the work on the resolutions. It is a slow wind up for the pitch. Legislative Committees are meeting, but until there are postings of the notification of legislative work to be done, most of the Committees can’t do much. The Special Committee, which will handle the bulk of the resolutions on the Windsor Report and its recommendations, is at work and will have a larger open hearing later in the week. Much of the attention is directed to their work, but of course much of the real work of Convention sits with Program, Budget and Finance and its considerations of the allocation of financial resources. Some of that will signal the extent to which the Episcopal Church remains committed to the Anglican Communion. All of that later.
On Trinity Sunday it was possible to wander around and ask just what people thought is going on.
On the matter of the Presiding Bishop election: Who will it be? No one knows. How long will it take to elect? No one knows. There seems to be some sentiment that perhaps it is simply time to let thinking too much about this one go.
There are seven nominations in hand, and the House of Bishops has said they will accept no one for active consideration whose names have not already been announce. That does not prevent a deputy or bishop from literally nominating from the floor on Saturday, so there might be a flurry of activity there, but I doubt it.
The seven go to the House of Bishops and someone will get elected, hopefully on the first day. Nothing says it can’t take longer or that the bishops can’t come back for more nominations. Still, the best bet is one day and no request for more names.
Given the realities of our life in the Episcopal Church, where we have a number of women bishops, it is completely reasonable that we have a woman candidate for Presiding Bishop. What is regrettable and unreasonable is that there are some who argue that she can’t be elected because she is a woman. That kind of thinking is the worse sort of sexist nonsense.
There is some concern about the Anglican Communion reaction if we elect a woman as primate. It doesn’t help that the Church of England is in an uproar over the business of electing women bishops. However, we do have women bishops, we have made the leap, and no office that may be held by a bishop of this church can be denied a person on the basis of such matters of indifference. Others in the Anglican Communion may still be fighting this one, but about the Episcopal Church on this one issue, we can say,
“It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.”
The hope is that the electing bishops will get beyond all concerns about gender and that they will vote for whatever candidate is believed to be both called to this office and has the wherewithal to actually do it.
On the resolutions related to the Windsor Report: The stirrings and mutterings are many, but some things stand out on this first day:
- As was said at the Integrity meeting Sunday night, it is unfair to put the future of the Anglican Communion on the back of Gay and Lesbian members of this church. So in that sense, the Windsor Report which claims to be about communion has become the instrument of blame regarding brokenness and the Lesbian and Gay community is asked to bear the burden. But brokenness is much greater than, and in longer duration than, the matters that take up so much of our time these days. There is an unfairness to the whole thing and an unwillingness to face the reality in the face: namely, that the Episcopal Church has indeed a spiritual thirst, one met in change that has not been easy either for its friends worldwide or for itself. But we drink from deep wells.
- The wish that the Episcopal Church, by way of the General Convention, will repent is being received very poorly, and unless some new language is put forward, resolutions calling for repentance will be defeated on the floor, if not before in committee. The repentance card has been overplayed. In a deeper sense, however, most people here acknowledge that repentance is a core Christian behavior. But there remains the question, repentance for what? And if there is other language that can be used, what is it?
- Around the whole of the Windsor Report materials, there seems to be a sense of exhaustion – that we have about talked out all the options, opinions, theologies, ect, and that we need to do what we can to perfect or dismiss the various resolutions, vote them up or down, and simply get on with being the church we are.
- The stirrings around are that there is a strongly felt desire to continue as part of the Anglican Communion but that it is not the only reality to be dealt with. In the end the bishops and deputies are called to vote on the matters at hand and the rest of the Anglican Communion will do as they will.
Well, as I write it is Monday morning, a new day. Off to Convention. I always feel honored to be here as a member of the Delaware deputation. Over the years this Deputation has been solid, responsible and faithful in its work. It will be the same here.