The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church took place this past July in Indianapolis. We are blessed to have the following report from our Junior Warden, Sharon Pearson, who was in attendance and saw first-hand the various events that took place throughout the convention. Here are her observations:
I have been privileged to attend the past four General Conventions of The Episcopal Church. These triennial gatherings of representatives from every diocese (See all 110 of them here) are like St. Matthew’s Annual Meeting or the Diocese of Connecticut’s annual Diocesan Convention. It is the primary governing and legislative body of The Episcopal Church. General Convention comprises two houses, the House of Deputies (comprised of 8 deputies from each dioceses – 4 clergy and 4 lay) and the House of Bishops. General Convention approves a budget for the triennial year, approves liturgical resources for publications for worship (such as our prayer book and hymnals) and passes legislation that is informed by the work and mission of the Church according to the will of its people.
For some, General Convention is like watching sap drip from a tree. Some say it’s as gripping as C-SPAN. Others say it is like a family reunion, where 10,000 of your relatives show up to pray, sing and yes – deliberate on important issues before the Episcopal Church.
My role in attending General Convention is varied. I am an appointed member of the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education, one of the interim bodies that meet between General Conventions to learn what is happening at the congregational level and make recommendations (in the form of resolutions) to continue work that is being called for by Episcopalians from a variety of regions, contexts and circumstances of our church. I also work for Church Publishing Incorporated (as an editor and Christian Formation Specialist); we are the Episcopal Church’s official publisher and have a booth in the large Exhibit Hall with many other agencies of the church. You can read the legislation issues I worked on at Building the Continuum.
But what actually happened in Indianapolis from July 2-12, 2012? LOTS! And most of it you did not read about in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. When asked what my impression, in a word, of what General Convention was this time around, all I could think of was “hopeful” and “crazy.” Here’s why:
The Episcopal Church affirmed its priorities focused on the Five Marks of Mission. These are core beliefs that we embraced in 2009 as a member of The Anglican Communion, of which we are a part. With that, every budget dollar and every resolution passed needed to somehow tie into these core beliefs. Every diocese and congregation is encouraged to live into these statements in their ministry and mission – within their congregation and out into the community and world. Do you find any of the below statements crazy? They sound a lot like our Baptismal Promises to me:
1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3. To respond to human need by loving service
4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain an renew the life of the earth
There were hundreds of pieces of legislation passed. In several cases, some of the resolutions were controversial and both houses struggled to discern what the Holy Spirit was calling the church to do. Before (and after) each such resolution came up for the vote, chaplains were called forward to offer prayer, and on many occasions, the entire assembly broke into song. Each resolution that was passed can be thought of as a response to the Five Marks of Mission. Among those that created the most energy were:
· Affirmed that the Episcopal Church welcomes ALL – all areas of our church life are open to anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or dis/ability.
· Baptism continues to be foundational as to who we are as members of the Body of Christ and the entry point to receiving Holy Communion. There had been a request to allow those not baptized to receive communion for pastoral reasons at the discretion of local needs, but this was removed from the resolution, which was adopted.
· Affirmed our commitment to building relationships across the Anglican Communion, especially through the Continuing Indaba program, and to decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant.
· Called for creation of a task force to re-imagine the workings of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century. The Episcopal Church (as all mainline denominations) is losing members and becoming a “graying” church. Read about the Acts 8 movement to give you some further insight.
· Authorized the provisional use of the rite “I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing” starting December 2 (1st Advent). Clergy will need the permission of their bishop to perform these rites. This means that same-gender couples soon can have their lifelong relationships blessed using this rite.
· Called for a study of Confirmation and its role in the life of the church as well as church leaders receiving instruction in the history, polity, and governance of The Episcopal Church.
· Commits the church over the next three years to “teaching, preaching, organizing, advocating, and building mutually transformative relationships with those who are poor to focus our hearts and the mission of our congregations and dioceses on reducing poverty and increasing economic and racial justice.” There were a number of resolutions that addressed social justice issues nationally and globally.
For me, the highlight of every General Convention has been worship. Every day over 6,000 people gather to share the Eucharist. Readings are done in a variety of languages (English, Spanish, Hmong, Haitian French, Navajo, and other indigenous languages that comprise the membership of The Episcopal Church). Music is varied and uplifting. The preaching is challenging and spirit-filled. For many, myself included, hearing Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina preach the Gospel and call The Episcopal Church to be “crazy for Christ” in the 21st century set the stage for the work we are called to do.
You may not agree with all the decisions made at the 77th General Convention. But know that they were not made lightly, but with prayer and lots of listening from all points of view. Some may call it crazy; I think it was the Holy Spirit at work.
I’ll close with a piece from his sermon, which can be read (and viewed) in its entirety here.
We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way? It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness.
I look forward to sharing more about General Convention with the St. Matthew’s community in the weeks and months to come.
Sharon Ely Pearson