Wednesday, July 18, 2012

GC'12 Wrap-up

August Update --> An official Summary of Actions of the 77th General Convention is now available from the General Convention Office: (pdf file).

Some excellent and not-so-excellent General Convention wrap-ups have been published since Convention ended on Thursday, July 12.  Here are a few [with responses to the not-so-excellent pieces included]:

Episcopal News Service (official news organ of TEC):

Center Aisle, a General Convention daily published by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia:
A piece that puts TEC within a dying "liberal Christianity," in the New York Times:
An unfortunate diatribe (opinion piece) in the Wall Street Journal:

Four responses to the WSJ opinion piece:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12 - Blogging GC'12

There were two protests yesterday to the passage by General Convention the day before of the Blessings resolution (A049). No one could pretend they didn’t see this coming without confessing a nearly incredible innocence. So, no doubt the protests were planned, at least foreseen, and the emotional tone was controlled.

Twelve bishops signed and had read on the floor of the House of Bishops (HoB) a “minority report” expressing their dissent from passage of the rite for blessing same-sex unions.

Also, the deputation and bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina issued a statement and departed from Convention, leaving two deputies behind on the floor of the House of Deputies (HoD) to make clear they have not left The Episcopal Church itself.

We are in the home stretch. Convention ends late this afternoon at 6:30 p.m. whether we’re finished with all the legislation or not. One of our “consent” calendars (schedules of resolutions voted on without debate) was 48 pages long yesterday.

Other efficiencies were introduced yesterday as well. On a motion from one of the deputies, speakers are now limited to 2 minutes instead of 3, and total debate time on any resolution is limited to 20 minutes instead of 30. We also decided to consider first (and so out of order) all the resolutions that originate in the HoD and still need to go to HoB. Then we'll take up resolutions that HoB has already acted on but that still need HoD's action.

The major resolution on “Structure” passed in the HoB yesterday, and the budget passed without amendment in both Houses. The budget is sadly weak in funding for communications, especially at a time when we most need to get our message out about the healing love of Christ and the wonderful life-giving work of The Episcopal Church. But the sentiment in HoD, I think, was that we could not afford to begin changing line items in what – given the conversations about “structure” over the next triennium – is surely a transitional budget plan that will need basic reform at the next Convention.

HoD implicitly promised to conduct our work judiciously before going into recess yesterday at about 6:45 p.m. – agreeing not to speak in favor of resolutions we support unless someone speaks against, to keep amendments to an absolute minimum, and to minimize also all procedural motions. We have 60 resolutions to consider in this morning’s three-hour session that still need to go to the HoB for action.

One final note:  I have tried my best to “go paperless” at this General Convention, with moderate success. The limitations of tablet computers at this point make it difficult, so I’ve had both my iPad and my MacBook at Convention, keeping the latter in my hotel room for functions my tablet cannot perform. This has helped, but the process is still a bit clunky. My bet is that three years from now it will be much easier.

Also, I have followed the Twittersphere this time. Much of what I’ve seen from the very select set of tweeters I follow has been redundant, though of course if I weren’t here it would be like nearly live coverage as a scrolling line on the bottom of the TV screen posts updates constantly. But I have learned some things from tweets I would not have seen otherwise, at least not nearly so quickly. And I have used text messaging to coordinate work on legislation with friends from other dioceses. This has been very useful.

As an old dog trying to learn some new tricks, with some success, I'm looking forward to what wireless devices can do to facilitate this work three years from now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11 - Blogging GC'12

We did it.

1.     We in the House of Deputies (HoD) passed the “Structure” proposal to establish a task force to formulate “a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.” The resolution (C095), which passed by a unanimous voice vote in the HoD, deliberately left open what form the final recommendations would take. It explicitly stated that the members of the task force are to be diverse (without specifying categories to be represented) and that they should not be (my words here) entrenched in the current structures. The task force will be appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop (PB) and the new President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) (the Rev. Gay Jennings from the Diocese of Ohio). The task force will however be accountable directly to the General Convention and not its presiding officers. Some of the matters at issue are likely to include the following:
a.     Will the Presiding Bishop (PB) continue to be devoted full-time to being a sort of CEO for The Episcopal Church as well as its first-among-equals but-nonetheless-chief shepherd (a bishop among bishops rather than an archbishop, but the primate of our province in the Anglican Communion and not also a diocesan bishop)?
b.     Will the staff of The Episcopal Church shrink further? And what will be the principal functions of this church-wide non-diocesan staff?
c.     Will General Convention continue as a bicameral body, meeting once every three years, or will the Houses unite, shrink, and meet more often for briefer periods?
d.     Will the committees and commissions of General Convention be restructured so that they are far fewer in number, with different functions?
2.     HoD affirmed our desire and commitment to remain involved in the discussions and work of the Anglican Communion (D008). This was then sent to the House of Bishops (HoB) for their concurrence.
3.     HoD demurred on the Anglican Covenant [in its current form], opting not to say either “yes” or “no” but instead to say that we are committed to continuing to follow and participate in the conversations in the Communion about the proposed Covenant (B005). This also was then sent to the HoB for their concurrence.
4.     HoD passed the Blessings resolution, concurring with the amendments proposed by the HoB (A049). This authorizes provisional use of a rite for blessing same-sex unions (with the diocesan bishop’s approval), beginning with the First Sunday of Advent 2012, and commends the study materials developed since the previous General Convention for use in The Episcopal Church.
5.     And we heard presentation in a joint session of HoD and HoB of the proposed budget for 2013-2015. This will be considered in the HoD today.

There are many matters still to consider by the end of our final legislative session, tomorrow (Thursday, July 12) at 6:30 p.m. But the items listed above are big, and if budget discussions go well today, we could be on course for a very successful General Convention.

NOTE:  The parliamentary maneuvering on the Blessings resolution (A049) was unparalleled in my three General Conventions. I wrote down all the steps, but I won’t bore you. Believe me, everyone outdid themselves. But it must be said, I think, that part of what was going on is that the PHoD was doing everything she could to be generous to the socially conservative members of the HoD who were very distressed by the prospect of almost certain approval of same-sex blessings. Also, they were doing everything they could to gum up the works surely because they did not want to let this happen without doing everything they could to stop it – partly for the message they would have to convey back home but also surely partly because they could not in good conscience do otherwise, answering to themselves alone. One deputy from the Diocese of Southwest Florida asked explicitly that the HoD please not engage in celebration when the vote was taken and the result announced. And when all work in yesterday's final legislative session was completed about 6:45 p.m., and we had prayed, the members of the credentials committee returned and the final vote was announced. There was on the floor of the HoD no celebration. I left with others, quietly, with an expanding sense of how momentous an act had just been completed.

You can find the vote and some excerpts from the news coverage here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10 - Blogging GC'12

Yesterday the General Convention approved the first readings of amendments to two of our non-discrimination canons (D002 & D019, if you’re looking things up on the GC’12 website). Canons are like bylaws, amplifying the constitution. Both would add “gender identity and expression” to the categories on the basis of which it is not acceptable to discriminate in our church. Other categories already listed in the canons include race, sex, age, national origin, marital status, and sexual orientation). In one of the canons, the matter is access to discernment processes for ordination. In another, it’s the rights and privileges of laity in our church.

At the Integrity Eucharist last night, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson pointed out in his homily that these actions have the effect of adding the “T” to “LGBT.” If you’re not sure what the word “transgender” means, it could be good to discuss this in our diocese in the coming months.

Also, the House of Bishops (HoB) passed an amended version of the Blessings resolution (A049) yesterday after it had left my legislative committee at 9:30 a.m. that very morning. It came back to my committee this morning, because of HoB’s amendments, and we have now sent it forward to the House of Deputies (HoD) through the committee on “Dispatch of Business,” which manages legislation through the two houses and relevant committees. They are now scrambling to get things through proper channels swiftly as the end of Convention approaches.

Finally, General Convention approved creation of a task force on marriage, to study the current state of the institution and theology of marriage in lands where The Episcopal Church exists and around the world.

As someone who is heartened by these decisions, I feel accountable to those of us who are troubled or even angered by them. I hope we will talk. For a small number of our “trans” sisters and brothers in Southern Ohio, this is so vital to who they are.

We took votes yesterday in the House of Deputies on the Israel/Palestine resolutions (B019 & C060). They went even better than I had expected. I was very glad we even got to consider B019, and we approved it without objection. It urges, especially, investment in Palestinian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) so that the Palestinians in the occupied territories can build institutions for self-determination that are so vital to having an independent state, free of Israeli control. By the time it got to the HoD, C060 had been made much more acceptable (in my opinion). A motion was made to amend it to add explicit language calling for boycott of goods produced in the Israeli settlements within the Palestinian territories and for divestment from businesses supporting those settlements and the military occupation (which would have been much worse, in my opinion). This amendment was soundly defeated, by maybe 95% to 5% in a voice vote. So C060 passed un-amended and with B019 now goes to the HoB.

The HoD now has before it the motion on Structure, which will be taken up today (I assume). You may have seen Bishop Breidenthal’s recent writing on this:
He has played a central role in this very important matter before Convention. Also, the HoB joins the HoD for a joint session for the presentation of the final proposed budget this afternoon.

Structure & Budget. Power & Money. These are the big big matters before us in the final days of Convention.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9 - Blogging GC'12

Things are getting pretty hectic for all of us, including me.

Two Israel/Palestine resolutions come to the floor of the House of Deputies (HoD) for debate this afternoon. I support one and believe the other is ill advised. I plan to speak to one or both of these motions. The HoD passed special rules of order for this debate in this morning's session, which will limit debate to 20 minutes on each before votes are then taken on the two resolutions in succession without intervening debate.

Also, the Blessings resolution (A049) made it out of my legislative committee this morning, as we stayed well beyond the end of our session to finish considering amendments. We worked hard to accommodate as many concerns as possible, expressed by committee members who still could not in conscience vote in favor when all was said and done. We even agreed unanimously to reconsider the motion after it had already passed, because two members did not realize we had just voted on the main motion -- and they wanted still to propose amendments and to vote "no" in the end. I was heartened we did that, and I think they were grateful.

The Blessings resolution goes to the House of Bishops first, likely for their work tomorrow.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 8 - Blogging GC'12

We got into a couple of parliamentary snarls yesterday afternoon in the House of Deputies (HoD) of the sort that make Robert’s Rules geeks like me giddy. It’s like – how many levels of amendment and amendment to amendment, and how many levels of motion privilege (this takes precedence, no this does) can we get into at once?!

For instance, the committee on “structure” introduced a resolution eliminating part of a Canon that requires the Presiding Bishop (PB) to resign her or his diocesan post to take the PB job. We had discussion of the motion, then an amendment that would add different language back into the Canon. Then we had an amendment to that amendment that would also have added more language back into the Canon.  After debate and then a motion to end debate on both amendments, which passed, we voted on both amendments, which both failed. Then there was a motion to refer the matter back to committee, debate on that, a motion to close debate, which passed, and the motion to refer then failed. When we finally got to the main motion it passed without amendment!!! (27 minutes all told) OMG. 

The thing is, we had to pause several times and figure out where we were as a matter of parliamentary procedure, before we could continue. A deputy from the Diocese of Arizona (seated next to our deputation) started a game with me to see who between us could untie the parliamentary knots before the big shots on the platform figured it out. What fun! 

To be honest, though, I had to sneak out at one point, make my way to a nearby hotel, and get a double Espresso, which might have made things a bit more fun than otherwise.

This deputy from Arizona is 30 years old, and he’s been to General Convention I think three times. We talked about how this happens every year. On one or more days of Convention, after the deputies have gotten warmed up to our style of meetings, the tedium just goes bananas. The President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) handles it all with aplomb for a while and eventually begins to lose her cool. Her frustration becomes more and more apparent – but she never really scolds anyone, or at least not directly. Well, maybe sometimes.

But by the final three days of legislative sessions (coming up next Tues. thru Thurs.), all the big stuff begins to come before us (including the budget). The folks running things get us to change the rules to speed things up. Scorn is collectively heaped on those who are still intent on mucking things up with wordsmithing and procedural wrangling. Then the question is whether we can get everything done – without either riding rough-shod over folk or making huge mistakes.

Right after that four hour session, bogged down, off and on, in tedium, I snarfed my “emergency meal” (curried tuna in a foil pouch, spiced soy beans in a foil pouch – yum!) and headed to my legislative committee’s big 7:00-9:00 p.m. hearing. It was held in a huge room, with the 51 members of my legislative committee arrayed in seats in front facing the audience. The hearing was on the resolution that proposes provisional use of a rite for blessing the lifelong covenants between same-sex couples. It went very well. We didn’t hear anything we hadn’t before, but 38 people got to make their voices heard on a matter about which many of us are passionate. Most of the speakers on both sides were not only impassioned but eloquent.

My legislative subcommittee dealing with this resolution met this morning at 7:30 a.m. We had a very productive meeting. One bishop and three deputies on the subcommittee, from socially conservative parts of the Southeast and Midwest, helped craft language that would make the resolution much more palatable to themselves and their folk back home, and a couple of the political heroes of the decades-long movement toward this very moment were completely agreeable to the changes. It was great.

I’m going to stop before I start getting all mushy about how much I love The Episcopal Church.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 7 - Blogging GC'12

Yesterday was officially only the 2nd day of General Convention, but most of us have been at it for three full days or more (since legislative committees began work before GC began). We're at it 14-16 hours per day. 

Eyes are getting red. Gaits are slowing, more haggard, or both. Attention span and focus are a bit off, at least in our least favorite parts of the day – night people are slower ascending from the dull of night, whereas morning people like me begin our descent earlier in the afternoon.

Moods seem good, though. It feels like something new may happen. And right now people I'm encountering seem more energized than frightened by that.

We took a series of actions in the House of Deputies (HoD) yesterday that, as a series, caught my attention, voting to do the following things [if the House of Bishops (HoB) concurs]:

·      Move toward a paperless General Convention in 2015, with all materials made available electronically before and during GC, and WiFi made available on the floor of HoD & HoB [yes = 477/56.92%; no = 349/41.65%] (There’s no WiFi on the floors this year, but all materials and updates are available to everyone – including you – electronically through the General Convention 2012 website.)
·      Reaffirm commitment to the Millenium Development Goals as a mission priority for the budget
·      Endorse statehood for the District of Columbia
·      Challenge every diocese and congregation to read the Bible through during 2013 (This seemed to be headed for failure, following the legislative committee's recommendation to reject, until a deputy from North Carolina, whose advice I’ve learned to listen to, pointed out how it would look on the front page of the paper if The Episcopal Church is against reading the Bible! Lots of chuckles and a resounding vote in favor.)
·      Affirm the compatibility of science and Christian faith
·      Sell the office building for the offices of The Episcopal Church in New York City and relocate

Most of these items involved significant debate among deputies – in a House of over 800 voting deputies.

Some of this is about grinding political or theolgical axes. Some of it is about updating ourselves as an institutional church.

But the mood in the HoD feels opened to change. We’ve discussed selling 815 Second Avenue (church offices) in New York City before, and we’ve moved toward going paperless. But the HoD seems to be getting impatient. Let’s act! Both came to the HoD with committee recommendations to reject, yet the HoD approved them. Both are about shedding baggage. Lightening our load.

We’ll know more in the coming days of Convention about what we’re lightening our load *for*.

Postscript: This morning my legislative committee finalized the procedure for tonight's hearing on Resolution A049 about blessing same-gender unions. You can learn about this at:

Friday, July 6, 2012

July 6 - Blogging GC'12

I will err this morning in the opposite direction from the past two mornings -- so, on the shorter side. Legislative committees begin meetings at 7:30 this morning.

We had an interesting discussion of Holy Women, Holy Men (HWHM) yesterday in my committee. This is a book of celebrations and commemorations that has been in trial use since the 2009 General Convention. Several members on the committee echoed concerns expressed in testimony that we heard in our hearing, that HWHM offers materials that are very uneven. (Apparently it is impossible to chant some of the collects! That's all *I* need to know.)  Some are concerned as well about the shear number of new celebrations -- one bishop referred to "drinking from a fire hose." 

Local commemorations are already allowed when authorized by the diocesan bishop. So here's a problem for you: 

* If we should limit the number of church-wide (rather than local) commemorations so that we do not over-crowd the calendar, how would you draw the line between holiness of life and heroism of service which may be inspiring but not necessarily "holy"?

We endorsed continued trial use and encouraged careful study of these resources.

The committee also sent to the House of Bishops a resolution that would privide for creating a task force to study the current state of marriage. This will probably stir some controversy. The suspicion on the part of some traditionalists is that this task force may be just a device for delivering a pre-determined result: recommendation of marriage equality for same-sex couples. 

In the legislative session of the House of Deputies in the afternoon, we passed a resolution directing the legislative committee on budget to reserve $300,000 for the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE).  This would restore some funding for youth. The budget proposal released earlier by (or on behalf of) Executive Council implied EYE would not receive a budget.

Finally, there was an interesting story in Episcopal News Service on the resolutions coming forward concerning Israel/Palestine. It is a long article, but it covers the discussion well, and it summarizes the main points early in the story:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 5 - Blogging GC'12

Legislative committees met for the first time yesterday morning. There was an early afternoon budget hearing, and we had our first [non-legislative] session of Convention.

If you have heard rumors of tension between the Presiding Bishop (PB) and the President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) over the past triennium, you'd not have been left wondering. There they were, audible plainly just beneath the civility. The PB spoke again, lyrically, of mission and the work of the church. The PHoD, reminding us it was the 4th of July, spoke of gaining independence from the dictates of princely dominion. She referred, disparagingly (sarcastically?) to the suggestions floated in the past few months that General Convention is too expensive, too unwieldy, too complex.

The principal issues of contention this time are not about sex. Those votes have not finally been taken, but the matters are more or less resolved, at least politically. The principal controversies this time are about money and power.

Those discussions occur this time under the heading of "structure," which refers to our church's procedures, rules, and institutional hierarchy. Questions include: Should General Convention have two houses (House of Bishops and House of Deputies, with clergy & lay deputies)? (If we were unicameral, some believe, bishops would gain power.) Should we continue to have 8 deputies from each diocese, plus alternates, or fewer? (Fewer would almost certainly mean less racial diversity and fewer post-Baby Boomer deputies -- and the total proportion of bishops would go up.) Should we continue to have 20 or more committees and commissions carrying out the work assigned by General Convention, or far fewer? (Again, the notion is that fewer means more power to bishops, and less participation of young & non-white lay and clergy folk.) And should the church offices continue to be in New York City or move to a less expensive, more middle American location?

If one had thought -- as I naively had -- that nothing would bring out the worst in us like disagreements over human sexuality, one begins to see new abundance in our capacity to be at each other's throats. When belts are synched tighter, baser instincts can come into play.  The alternative, of course, may be that a few prelates make all the calls, removed from us ordinary folk by several layers of ecclesial hierarchy. And the rest of us just get in line, or not. The specter of that model may in fact be what puts fire in the bellies of some in the PHoD's camp. Could that worry be justified?

We tried out the voting equipment in the final segment of our deputy orientation yesterday. The Voting Secretary posed the first mock resolution: "Yes" or "No." "Acolytes in The Episcopal Church will wear closed toed shoes." "Yes" votes prevailed, 50.93% to 49.07%. We chuckled, but I admired the cleverness of our Voting Secretary, having put her finger so deftly on one facet of our division.

My legislative committee (Prayer Book, Liturgy & Music) held its first hearing, on matters that we deemed either uncontroversial or calling for early action (having budgetary implications or requiring follow-up by the legislative committee on Constitution and Canons). Four spoke in support of the proposed resolutions calling for a study of our church's theology of marriage, given the significant changes in recent decades in our state laws and local practices. On a resolution calling for so-called "marriage equality," 2 spoke in favor and 2 against.

On the other hand, the early afternoon budget priorities hearing was standing room only. By the end, the legislative committee on budget (Program, Budget & Finance) decided to begin their deliberations from the budget proposed, very recently, by the PB, and not the budget proposed through normal procedures by Executive Council with which the PHoD is aligned. The Executive Council budget was riddled with errors, and there was plenty of blame to go around about that. Some on the committee, though, wanted to make sure we knew that the PB's budget numbers were not the default figures for our budget, but instead her proposal would only provide the general framework, a "template" from which to begin conversations.

In an early blog from the 2009 General Convention I fretted about an impending clash between the bishops and deputies that never materialized. I hope my Chicken Littleish fears are again unfounded, that I have just misread the mood, or at least that cooler heads will prevail.

Postscript: A Good Omen
I crossed paths with two [celebrity] bishops on my morning run a few minutes ago: The Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool and the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori. I crossed paths with the PB on a morning run in 2009 as well, also early in Convention, when I was brooding about the clash to come.