The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu in his Presidential Address to the Church of England Synod said this:
“Gracious magnanimity is the quality of the person who knows that regulations are not the last word and knows when not to apply the letter of the law. A church meeting may site with the book of practice and procedure on the table in front of it and take every one of its decisions in strict accordance with the law of the Church; but there are times when the Christian treatment of some situation demands that the book of practice and procedure should not be regarded as the last word.
God of mercy! Didn't the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church need this! A Convention which was full of life, fun and joy in the Lord, with uplifting worship and Bible studies. A Convention which clearly demonstrated that the Episcopal Church is committed to mission, to the Anglican Communion, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury. A Church that takes the Millennium Development Goals seriously. Poverty, world peace, HIV/AIDS, the living wage, young people, equality for all, are at the top of the agenda.
And yet in spite of the hard work of the Legislative Committee, and its numerous hearings, the Convention failed to meet the precise request of Windsor. It left too much room for doubt and didn't stop the rumour and impression of doing 'our own thing'.
Nine days at the Convention taught me that this rumour and impression unfairly tarnishes all Episcopalians with a kind of arrogance which the present US administration displays through many of its actions. But it's true to say that Oneness in thought and life is trumped by so-called democratic processes and thereby weakens the Church's oneness and witness in Christ.
The Legislative Committee took the recommendations and invitation of the Windsor Report seriously. But the Convention's legislative processes – modelled on the House of Representatives and the Senate, and acting like them – are not fit for the purpose of engendering good conversation (which comes from the same root word in Latin as conversion) and in the end they fell short. As Don Curran, a delegate from Central Florida said: "We have been asked to build a bridge. The bridge is one thousand feet long. If the bridge is only 950 feet long, it does not work. It's useless."
It is impossible to be graciously-magnanimous when the book of practice and procedures is regarded as the last word.”
The Rev. Tony Clavier has posted an important essay on the Archbishop’s comments concerning General Convention. It makes a good read. I don’t agree with all of it, but as usual Fr. Clavier raises important questions.
I second his question at the close, “dare we bring the winds of change to our hallowed structure?” I certainly hope so.
The Archbishop after congratulating the General Convention for being “full of life,” soundly criticized it, saying, “the Convention failed to meet the precise request of Windsor.”
The precise request of Windsor. This was not about having a ‘conversation’ with Windsor, or its writers, or the communion. All of those are met in the wide variety of ways in which The Episcopal Church has indeed engaged the Windsor Report. We have consistently affirmed our desire to continue in conversation with other parts of the Communion on matters having to do with our common life. The report of the Special Commission and before it the response to the ACC, “To Set Our Hope on Christ,” and a wide range of conversations within the Episcopal Church prior to General Convention all attest to the attention paid to the Windsor Report and the conversations about its meaning (only some of which I grant were “graciously-magnanimous.”)
The fact that the Archbishop is so exact in his wording here, “the precise request of Windsor” indicates that far from wanting a graciously magnanimous response, he wanted a response that met prior expectations.
And what were these expectations? Not that we would have conversation (and he is right that the General Convention legislative process does not lend itself to conversation) but that we would by resolution do precisely what Windsor asked (oh, sorry, requested.)
When it was discovered that we would not be able to do that, the charge got laid on “the book of practice and procedures.” I presume he doesn’t believe the same problem exists in the Church of England Synod at which he spoke. The problem at General Convention was not that the book of practice and procedures doomed the possibility of conversation, but that at least one of the resolutions (A161) brought forward by the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion was simply untenable, and the bishop’s resolution B033 on that last day was pressed without real possibilities for in depth consideration.
The problem, at its core, was that the Special Committee brought the matter of A161 (which included parts of the original A162) to the floor so late, having tried to perfect them in committee, that no wiggle room was left. Having voted this sorry resolution down, there was almost no where else to go. I believe the Special Committee worked hard and in good faith, but it could not better have served the wishes of those who had hoped to show that General Convention was unable to respond to “the precise request of Windsor.” The Bishop’s resolution the next day was not able to pass muster either. It appears a response to “the precise request of Windsor” was not met there either.
But none of this is because there was insufficient conversation. Conversations had already taken place before convention and the Report of the Special Commission was meant to further those conversations. That Report and other sources gave rise to a variety of resolutions which were directed to the Special Committee as they in turn worked to report out to the floor resolutions for consideration. The General Convention was not ever proposed as the place for the sorts of conversations envisioned by the Archbishop. It was the place for the end-game conversations about resolutions that would state something for an up or down vote. And so we got some of those up or down votes. This does not mean General Convention is the wrong sort of mechanism, but that perhaps some had untenable expectations of General Convention as a mechanism for conversation.
The Archbishop ended his remarks on General Convention by quoting Don Curran, a delegate from Central Florida who said "We have been asked to build a bridge. The bridge is one thousand feet long. If the bridge is only 950 feet long, it does not work. It's useless." Perhaps Mr. Curran and the Archbishop might remember that General Convention is not asked to build real bridges, and only sometimes metaphorical ones. With metaphorical bridge building, one can also ask if perhaps some others in the Communion might have been willing to stretch a bit and built out say 50 feet from the other side.