By the Rev. Dana Karen Emery+
My experience as a first- time deputy/alternate from ECMN to the ECUSA General Convention 2018, Austin, Texas was both an overwhelming gift and an overwhelming responsibility! As a gift: I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to attend and learn, firsthand, about our church polity and governance. I was able to witness how our Church discerns where the Holy Spirit is calling us into Mission and Ministry in the world: I really saw the Episcopal Church in action! And it was a privilege to be part of ECMN’s Deputation along with Bishop Brian.
It is also an overwhelming responsibility to be a deputy. I hope to bring home and to share what I have learned about our church: the good things we have done, but also the things we have yet to do! The Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s charismatic vision of becoming the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement,” inspired me! I hope to inspire others to join Jesus: in evangelism, in reconciliation and in the care of God’s creation. So much happened at General Convention that trying to describe it is overwhelmingly complex! So, I will just share my experience of following one resolution, one that was of importance to me.
1st Time Deputy Tracks One Resolution
BO12 “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church”
The ECUSA General Convention 2018 was as overwhelming as it was exciting! Becoming a deputy has a huge learning curve! General Convention is the governing body of our church. It has a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies (more than 800 members) and the House of Bishops (300 active and retired) and meets every three years for about 10 days! Understanding how the Legislative process works, to be able to follow a resolution, is important. Both Houses need to adopt a resolution before it becomes “An Act of General Convention.” We were given a road map of the process.
Six months before going to Austin, the Minnesota Deputation began preparation by reading the resolutions that would be coming up- in the Two Volumes (1128 pages!) of the “79th General Convention Blue Books” published prior to convention.
In Volume I, the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music & the Subcommittee on Same Sex Marriage Rites reported about an Online survey it had taken to determine how the Liturgical Resource 1: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing was received throughout the ECUSA during its three years of trial use (General Convention 2015) The survey indicated that this resource was well received, except that in 8 of the 101 dioceses, the bishops had prohibited its’ use.
Volume II of the Blue Book contained a 121- page report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. This Task Force proposed three resolutions:
- AO85: Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies
- AO86: Authorize Rites to Bless Relationships
- AO 87: Develop Relational Pastoral Resources
The Task Force determined, “The doctrine and practice of marriage, and other relationships marked by sexual intimacy, may never be settled once and for all and will need continuous attention. Full marriage equality for same sex couples will not be complete until liturgies for marriage reflect gender neutrality and are added to the Book of Common Prayer.” I became aware that the Episcopal Church has been on this journey for LGBTQ equality since 1976. At that time, General Convention made the declaration that, “Homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” There is a lot to discern when following these proposed resolutions through time and previous GC’s!
Just Before Convention
On June 28th another resolution (Resolution B012) was proposed by the Bishop of Long Island, The Rt Rev. Lawrence Provenzano. This resolution proposed that access to these same- sex liturgies be made available in all dioceses without permission of the diocesan bishop, where needed. It also proposed the continued trial use of the Trial Marriage Rites without seeking revision to the 1979 BCP at this time.
At General Convention!
Once at General Convention, the daily calendar of Legislative Committees, Hearings, Sessions and Workshops began! It is amazing how power-packed the days were, going from early morning until late into the night. The Marriage-equality resolutions were scheduled to have committee hearings in the Austin Hilton Hotel on July 5th at 2:15 and 7:30 p.m. The room was packed. I was there.
Given the fact that the Resolutions on Marriage/Equality had been described as a “Hot Topic” for General Convention, I was expecting some heated debate. The Episcopal Church holds a diversity of thought in tension on many issues, the definition of marriage and marriage equality, being one of them. The Very Rev. Sam Candler of Atlanta, chair of the legislative committee that considered all the “marriage resolutions,” set a tone of prayerful unity, before the conversations began. Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago opened every meeting with song. It was a reminder that God’s presence was among us and with God we could all be of “One Voice.” Though there were countless hours of testimony and committee deliberations, there was a respect and a Spirit of love and relationship. People told their stories, spoke their truth on both sides with passion and vulnerability. The hearings were a gift to each deputy, to enable us to remember that as a Church we come together: richly blessed with many gifts, many perspectives, and many voices on many matters. (theological, liturgical and pastoral.) It is our love of God in Jesus that binds us together and empowers us to serve God’s mission.
Resolution B012 Passes the Floor of Both Houses
After days of hearings and committee deliberations, a voice started to be heard throughout the convention halls to seek a compromise. Sometimes it is really hard work to remain together as the Whole Body of Christ’s Church! The Presiding Bishop’s words echoed, “Turn your hearts to Jesus.” The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Someone speaking from the que on a microphone in the HoD implored the whole church to find a way forward… “Let’s simplify the issues, so “yes can be yes!” On July 8th the Legislative Calendar created a “special order of business” to hear and testify to Resolution B012. On July 9th the House of Deputies adopted a heavily amended Resolution B012. Two days later the House of Bishop’s Adopted it with a “technical amendment.” And on July 13th The Very Rev. Sam Candler stood before the House of Deputies and recommended we accept B012 without any changes! I was given the privilege to be seated that day and voted on that historic resolution! It was a memorable event for me.
To read more about action on the floor of House Deputies:
https://vbinder.net/ (resolutions or calendar)
All Episcopalians, now, may be married by their priests in their home churches. It gives full access to the two Trial use Marriage Rites. Bishops who hold an opposing view may invite another bishop to provide pastoral support. The passage of this resolution was definitely a compromise! Though no one will be forced or denied, not everyone got what they wanted. It was a pastoral solution which allows everyone to stay true to what they believe. Yet, we are moving forward together. We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement!
For the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s 104 faith communities and approximately 20,000 members, what impact does this have? We can remember that a conversation is not one voice, but many. We can listen to each other’s stories, we can use our voices in testimony, and we can listen to the silence, who is not speaking? And, we may be called to offer pastoral support to our neighboring Diocese of North Dakota. In the Spirit of love, respect and relationship, though we may disagree, we are all welcome in the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement!