Monday, January 28, 2008
"The Spirit blows where it wills . . ."
Well, I was right and I was wrong about our diocesan convention.
I was right about a 'new spirit' being present in the diocese. I was wrong about which resolution would be controversial.
I knew, even before I allowed my name to be placed in nomination for re-election as deputy to General Convention that I wouldn't be re-elected. The nomination slate was filled with new candidates - stellar people that represented new skills, new perspective, new expertise and a diversity that was much more reflective of the reality of this diocese.
In fact, out of eight slots (4 clergy, 4 laity) we elected three first time deputies - two in the clerical order, one of whom is a man of color, and one in the lay order, who is also a man of color. In doing so, we finally achieved parity in terms of people of color in our deputation - a first in this diocese. And, for the first time, women are a majority of the deputation. Louie Crew was re-elected, the only openly gay deputy, also a first.
I will be at Lambeth and at Anaheim as president of the Episcopal Women's Caucus, so I'll be doing my work from behind the scenes, where I do my best work anyway. I ran into two diocesan delegates after the balloting, one of whom was distraught that I had not been elected. The other said, "Elizabeth has a voice - in some ways, a voice that is given a much wider audience than the diocese has right now. She'll be able to speak prophetically without the incumbrance of conforming to the diocesan body-politic."
He's right. My non-election is a gift, really. The vote from this diocese on all the important issues will not change. I now have the freedom to say things that used to make some in this diocese cringe. That's a great freedom and I'm glad for it.
It was far more shocking to me who didn't get re-elected to the deputation. Two former, long-time deputies who are responsible for writing most of the resolutions and canons in The Episcopal Church were not elected. That was stunning to me. So was the unseating of one of the longest sitting deputies at General Convention, who now attends as an alternate.
Then, there were the positions of diocesan leadership.
I won't go into specifics here, because most of the readers of this blog won't know the nuances anyway, but it was shocking. One person who was running for re-election to a very important diocesan position of leadership would have, upon re-election, been the first person of color to hold that position as its leader. Instead, a senior Caucasian person, one who has never previously served in that capacity, was elected to the slot.
Not that the person elected wasn't a good candidate or will not do a good job. I'm just shocked that the highly qualified person of color was not re-elected.
I think, with the new bishop, there is a new spirit in the diocese and that's a wonderful thing - one in which I celebrate and rejoice. However, I don't think most of the diocesan deputies understood either how these bodies work or the importance of the qualifications and expertise of the candidates are needed and required. The operative dynamic seemed to be name recognition and the association with those who are working on the new bishop's 'team.'
The surprise was the resolution that brought about controversy. There was a wee bit of a whimper about the resolution to have a sign language interpreter available for diocesan convention. One clergy person got up and said if we allow this, then in order to be truly inclusive, we must also have translators available for other languages - Spanish, Haitian, etc. That was not heard, and we moved to adopt the resolution.
There was also some controversy about the increase in compensation for supply clergy. It is now recommended that we increase the remuneration from $150 to $200 per service, plus travel. If there are two services on the same day (Sunday, 8 and 10 AM) it would be $100 for the first and $200 for the second service.
The argument was that, at $300 (plus travel costs) that makes a supply clergy unavailable to many small churches. The result would be that congregations would have to say Morning Prayer without communion for the principle Sunday service. The resolution passed because the question about this was made after the resolution was passed.
The thing of it is this: Canons are binding. Resolutions are not. Clergy who do supply ministry can state their charges up front. That does not mean that congregations have to accept them. Congregations can also negotiate with clergy for the cost of remuneration. We've always done that. We do it now. I think passing this resolution was the right thing to do.
The surprise controversy came in the resolution to reaffirm a previous resolution (1980 something) for inclusive language at all diocesan worship services, events and communication. The resolution we passed now requires the diocese to 'be sensitive' to the language we use - except in diocesan worship services. That was removed from the list of 'requirements'.
I was amazed by the clergy who are women who argued against the original wording of the resolution - and even the change to 'be sensitive' to inclusive language. One fear-monger tried to tell convention that if we passed the resolution, we would not be able to use the Book of Common Prayer. This is simply not true. We would, as we always have, adapted some of the references to images of God and humankind.
Another deputy, who should know better (but he was running for office) said he didn't want to see us be poorer for not 'struggling' with the rich diversity of the heritage of our language at worship.
No one was able to see that the resolution was not about enforcement but a suggestion to 'be sensitive' about the language used when we meet together as a diocesan family at prayer. That was a call to diversity of expression which was not heard.
I'm not sure why it was not heard. It was a curious thing.
Bottom line: this bishop will be sensitive to the language we use in the worship of diocesan events anyway. Warning to others: Never re-affirm a resolution which is already working. You may lose whatever ground you already have.
But, suddenly I feel anxious about Hillary Clinton's nomination. Is it the high-testosterone level which is present whenever we're at war that gives rise to a sexist back-lash? Is it the whisper of the 'r word' (recession) that raises people's anxiety? Is it a function of the 'post 9/11' anxiety that makes us all a wee bit more conservative?
I don't know. But, it is a curious thing, indeed.
It was a good convention. We are off to a wonderful start with this new bishop. A wee bit slower for my tastes - I really missed the excitement of the Spong years, when there would be a whole room filled with journalists and photographers from around the world, waiting to see what the Diocese of Newark was up to now.
No real excitement. No magic. Yet. We'll give this guy some time. How much? Oh, no more than 3 - 5 years. You just wait and see. Then, get out your helmet and put on your seat belts. My guess is that we'll be in for the time of our lives.