[Episcopal News Service — Austin, Texas] Episcopalians are starting to arrive here ahead of the official July 5 start of the 79th General Convention at the Austin Convention Center.
As usual, the agenda facing the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies is so packed that legislative committee meetings are set for the evening of July 3 and the morning of July 4. The complete draft convention schedule is here. Convention concludes on July 13.
For a general guide to convention, see the Episcopal News Service story “Episcopalians preparing for 79th General Convention in Austin can expect ‘a real Texas welcome.’”
Here are summaries of some of the major work facing General Convention:
General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage has monitored the use of two new marriage rites General Convention approved in 2015 for trial use (Resolution A054) by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and is aware of concern about unequal access to the trial use liturgies. Its Blue Book Report says it found widespread acceptance of the rite across the church except eight diocesan bishops in the 101 domestic dioceses have not authorized their use.
The task force is proposing that convention require all bishops in authority to “make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial rites.” It also would have convention say that bishops will “continue the work of leading the church in comprehensive engagement with these materials and continue to provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.”
Episcopalians who support that effort have been active ahead of convention. Claiming the Blessing, which formed in 2002 to advocate for the “full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church, according to its website, has published an advocacy piece. Some Episcopalians in the Diocese of Dallas have developed a website called “Dear General Convention” that includes videos and written stories about people who cannot be married in that diocese.
The task force is also calling for continued trial use of the liturgies as additions to the Book of Common Prayer, as well as amendments to the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the Catechism to make language gender neutral.
Five Province IX diocesan bishops and one retired bishop representing the dioceses of Ecuador Litoral, Ecuador Central, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Honduras warned the task force that if convention makes changes about marriage that would force them “to accept social and cultural practices that have no Biblical basis or acceptance in Christian worship,” the action would “greatly deepen the breach, the division and the Ninth Province will have to learn to walk alone.” The bishops of Colombia and Puerto Rico did not sign the statement.
On June 28, Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell and Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely proposed Resolution B012, which would continue trial use of the marriage rites without a time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The resolution proposes that access to the liturgies be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop. Instead, congregations that want to use the rites but whose bishops have refused permission may receive Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) from another bishop of the church who would provide access to the liturgies.
An earlier Episcopal News Service story on the marriage access issue is here.
The task force also proposes two liturgies for blessing the relationships of couples who choose not to marry for legal or financial reasons. It also recommends that the church ponder new ways to minister to the growing number of people who cohabitate in committed and monogamous relationships rather than marry. ENS coverage of those recommendations can be found here.
Revising the Book of Common Prayer?
The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is offering bishops and deputies a comprehensive plan for revision, as requested by the 2015 meeting of General Convention, as well as a way for the church to spend time discerning the future shape of its common prayer. The first option would move the church immediately into a full-blown prayer book revision process that would be completed in nine years. The second would call on the church to plumb the depths of the current Book of Common Prayer’s theology, as well as its usefulness as a tool for unity in a diverse church, for evangelism and discipleship. If convention agrees to the second approach, this would include new BCP translations.
The SCLM has included “guiding assumptions,” work plans, suggested processes and tools, hundreds of pages of supplemental material and budgets for each approach. The approaches are described in a portion of the SCLM’s Blue Book report released to the church Feb. 13. The prayer book subcommittee’s report is here.
An Episcopal News Service story on the possibilities is here.
The Episcopal Church and the #MeToo movement
Convention will ponder the Episcopal Church’s role in and response to the #MeToo movement with resolutions, reflections and the hope for reconciliation.
In what could be an extraordinary session, the House of Bishops is inviting Episcopalians to a July 4 “Liturgy of Listening” event. The session, planned for 5:15 to 7 p.m. CT in the worship space set up in the Austin Convention Center, has been called “a sacred space for listening and further reconciliation.”
Meanwhile, close to 30 related resolutions have been filed. The bulk of them are from the 47 members of the special House of Deputies Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation appointed in February by the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, deputies’ president.
A salary for the president of the House of Deputies
The issue that prompted a rare conference committee between bishops and deputies in the waning hours of the last convention – whether the currently unpaid position of president of the House of Deputies should be salaried – will return for consideration.
The 2015 meeting of convention called for the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to appoint a task force to study the issue. The issue of compensating that officeholder has been discussed for decades, and the Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation has concluded that the president of the House of Deputies’ work amounts to a full-time job. Its Resolution A-028 calls for a salary, but does not set an amount. The task force asked Executive Council to include a salary in its draft 2019-2021 budget. Council budgeted $900,000 for a full-time salary and benefits for the three years.
Supporters of the change say making the office a paid job would broaden the pool of people able to consider running for election. Other disagree, some saying they fear “mission creep” in the form of an expansion of the president’s duties and authority.
A group of bishops has proposed a compromise in the form of Resolution B014 that would direct the Executive Council to pay the president director’s fees “for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the church’s Constitution and Canons.”
An Episcopal New Service story on the issue is here.
And, Resolution C042, proposed by Province IV of the church, would pay what it calls per diem compensation for the president when for certain aspects of her or his work, and once again study the larger issue of compensation.
Following up on the church’s three priorities: evangelism, racial reconciliation and justice and care of creation
A major part of the discussion on evangelism at General Convention will focus on continuation of the church’s increased support for church planting and new regional ministries, as encompassed by Resolution A005. But other resolutions assigned to the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee show the broad range of thinking about this fertile spiritual ground, including the role of social media and the ties between evangelism and stewardship of the environment. The committee also will review a proposal that would focus more attention on how well ministry leaders’ demographic backgrounds mirror those of the communities they seek to serve.
A range of shocking racial incidents in the months leading up to the 78th General Convention, especially the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, helped fuel passage in Salt Lake City of a number of resolutions about racism. Prominent among them was Resolution C019, which called on church officers to develop a church-wide response to racial injustice. How to follow through with those efforts will be the core question before the Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee. But racism and racial healing are such big topics, both socially and spiritually, that the discussion is expected to expand well beyond a single resolution or even a single committee. Additional resolutions to be discussed include one studying the church’s track record of diversifying its leadership and another that questions whether “anti-racism” should be replaced with a term that alludes to the spiritual transformation sought in this work.
Supporting local food growers, carbon taxes and offsets, opposition to environmental racism and Episcopalians’ continued participation in the Paris Climate Agreement are some of the stewardship of the environment and creation care resolutions set for discussion at the 79th General Convention.
Formulating the 2019-2021 triennial budget
The Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) has already begun work on the draft 2019-2021 triennium budget that Executive Council passed in January.
The total income in council’s draft budget of $133.7 million would pay for an equal amount in expenses, with a very small surplus of just $2,654. The triennial budget is up about $8.7 million from that approved by the 2015 meeting of General Convention for the current 2016-2018 triennium.
At the 2015 meeting of General Convention, bishops and deputies turned the current voluntary asking system into a mandatory assessment, beginning with the 2019-2021 budget cycle. Council’s draft anticipates that up to 20 dioceses will get full or partial waivers of those payments under a system that will go into effect in the new triennium.
PB&F will also be asked to consider Resolution B001 to scrap the mandatory across-the-board assessment and adopt a system of diocesan funding of the church’s triennial budget based on how much each diocese spends on average per congregation in their annual budget.
PB&F plans an open hearing on the budget at 7:30 p.m. July 5. Its final budget must be presented to a joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies no later than the third day before convention’s scheduled adjournment. According to the draft convention schedule, that presentation is set to take place at 10:30 a.m. CDT on July 11.
Middle East peace
Numerous General Convention resolutions are expected on topics related to Israel and Palestine by the time the gathering gets. At least three have been submitted so far, including one proposed by the Diocese of California that reintroduces a push for divestment from “those companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands or whose products or actions support the infrastructure of the occupation.”
Corporate engagement won’t be the only topic related to the Holy Land. Two additional proposed resolutions call for greater attention to the plight of Palestinian children, including those being tried in Israeli military courts.
A group of bishops and deputies who were asked to find a way to navigate the often-thorny discussions of Episcopal Church policy toward Israel and Palestine has announced its recommendations for fostering open and productive debate on those issues at this meeting of convention.
An Episcopal News Service story about those plans is here.
How to follow the work of General Convention
A media hub, operated by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Communication, offers people everywhere the opportunity to follow the convention’s proceedings. It will include live streams of sessions from the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, a calendar, daily worship and daily media briefings. Episcopal News Service’s headlines will feed into the site. You can find the hub here.
People who are not bishops or deputies can check the progress of legislative resolutions via the so-called Virtual Binder here. The site mirrors the setup on bishops’ and deputies’ loaner iPads and changes along with it in real time. The online version also includes each house’s daily agendas, calendars for each day and journals (a list of messages sent between the houses informing the other of actions taken), committee calendars and reports. It contains tabs for checking on current action and floor amendments in each house.
In addition, a free app is available for any smartphone or tablet running Android 4.4 or IOS 8.0 or later. The app contains schedules, maps, vendor information, daily orders of worship services and other useful materials.
— This guide was compiled from reporting by Episcopal News Service editor/reporters David Paulsen and Mary Frances Schjonberg and ENS Managing Editor Lynette Wilson.