The Rector's Blog
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July 26, 2018, 8:57 AM

General Convention


As you know, I spent almost two weeks in Austin Texas (city motto: “Keep Austin Weird”) at General Convention.  Although I went as the “first clergy alternate,” there were several times when I was asked to sub for one of the other clergy deputies, which meant sitting in the House of Deputies and occasionally voting for or against a proposed action.  Being an alternate, though, meant I was not assigned to any committees, so I was able to “float” and sit in on committee hearings, occasionally offer my views on an issue, and to generally keep tabs on overall developments. 

The big issues, the ones that caught media attention and much commentary on Facebook, were Prayer Book Revision and Marriage Liturgies.  (More on these below.)  We also welcomed the Episcopal Church of Cuba back after 52 years of separation; Cuban Christians were highly restricted under Fidel Castro and maintaining their ties to TEC would have been dangerous for them.   

There were five “movements” that shaped events:  Bishops United Against Gun Violence offered prayers every morning to bring attention to those killed for various reasons – on average, 96 U.S. residents every day die as a result.  On Sunday, July 8, a special prayer service was held, featuring family members of a student killed at Majorie Stone Douglas High School.

The Presiding Bishop asked Convention to consider action in three topic areas: Evangelism, Anti-Racism and Racial Reconciliation and Healing, and Stewardship of Creation.  Special presentations were made in Joint Sessions (that is, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies together), and follow-on conversations were offered for those interested to learn of resources available and share ideas.  See the presentations: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/teconversations

The fifth “movement,” part of TEC’s response to asylum cases, included was a prayer service near a migrant women’s detention center in Taylor TX, about 45 miles away.  Here, women who were separated from their children at the border were being housed pending deportation or asylum hearings.  Roughly 1,000 of us attended a prayer service across the field from the center, and about 300 also walked around to the front of the building to pray and sing and wave through the windows.  We received word the next day that the women saw us and heard us, and thanked us for being there, reminding them that they are neither alone nor forgotten. 

I realize that the subject has fallen out of the headlines, but so far, of the over 2500 families eligible to be reunited, less than 900 families have been reunited, and the pain continues.  Estimates are that something like 463 people have been deported without their children, sometimes at their own request in the belief that their children stand a better chance at life by remaining in the U.S. than returning to their countries of origin – but of course, all may still be subject to deportation proceedings. 

OK, back to The Top Two:  First: Prayer Book Revision.  There was a big push to enter into a wholesale look at the current 1979 Prayer Book with an eye to updating the language we use to speak of God and of humankind, and to create new or additional liturgies for situations not included in the ’79 Book or the Book of Occasional Services, and so on.  There was also a lot of push-back. 

In the end, the House of Bishops proposed to “memorialize” the ’79 Book, and to issue trial use updates to Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D, as well as encourage dioceses to work internally and in cooperation with others to assess how people worship and what our practical experience would suggest.  This means that our current Book continues as the authorized guide to worship, but allows for new liturgies to be tested.  One example of a change to updated (expansive) language would be in the Sursum Corda, where the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the people would respond, “It is right to give our thanks and praise” – instead of give him (I know some of us already do that…)

Second and finally, Marriage Liturgies:  There are some interesting developments.  There are eight dioceses within the U.S. whose bishops have banned all their churches and clergy from performing any liturgical rites of marriage or blessing for same-sex couples.  A resolution was passed, over their objections, that makes it clear that parish clergy are authorized to conduct (or not conduct) any sacramental rites (including marriage and blessing services) as in their judgment seems suitable, and if the bishop disagrees, now the bishop must find another bishop to assist as needed – including in cases where a person desiring to marry has been previously divorced.  (This has always been the rule in case of marriages involving divorced person(s); but in the case of same-sex couples with a dissenting bishop, the review is now to be conducted by a bishop from outside the diocese.) 

Placing the option in the hands of the priest and not the bishop represents an unprecedented step and potential precedent that those bishops see as devaluing their  role as “shepherds of the flock.”  

Even more interestingly, the Convention approved Resolution B012 “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church,” which authorized two versions of a text for Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, one of which closely tracks the language in the existing BCP Marriage Rite, with some adjustments to recognize that the couple being married may be of the same sex; as well as rites to bless a civil marriage.  This is a pretty big step, and responds to the desire of many couples to have their marriage ceremony reflect the traditional form in the Book of Common Prayer.  These rites become available for use on and after the First Sunday of Advent. 

Technically, these are “trial use” liturgies, to be used until such time as a wholesale revision of the Prayer Book is completed; that’s a step up from “authorized” and a clear indication that this is the direction in which the church is moving.

In addition to these changes, a third resolution set up a task force to consist of up to 14 people, half of whom hold that marriage is “a covenant between and man and awoman,” and half that marriage is “a covenant between two people.”  This proposal is designed to provide a space for those with opposing views to be heard, and for a deeper theological conversation to take place.  Whether minds will be changed is, of course, unknown, but the first stage in any difficult conversation is to listen and be heard; so as a former diplomat, I have to say this is promising.  It is way better than yelling.

I know that’s a lot of information to take in; if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me!

In the meantime, I would just say it was an interesting two weeks; I’m really glad I was able to go; and I’m really glad to be home again! 

Oh and by the way; this is my wrap-up, but if you’d like to hear Bp Jennifer’s, you can find it at https://indydio.org/bishop-jennifers-general-convention-wrap-up/

Blessings to all!                            Evelyn+

 


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