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Saturday, May 02, 2009

What do you think will happen at General Convention?

Seemingly everywhere I go, people who are Episcopalian and some who are not, ask me this question: What do you think will happen at General Convention, July 5-18?

In a few days in excess of two months, The Episcopal Church will begin its once-every-three year gathering wherein we meet in legislative session, Daily Prayer, Bible Study and Eucharist.

Alternately referred to as 'My Big Fat Anglican Wedding' and 'Brigadoon,' it is a bit of both. Remember the movie about the Greek wedding with all the crazy relatives? Yup, that would be General Convention.

(Especially emblematic is the scene where the crazy aunt says to the non-Greek, prospective, albeit vegetarian groom, "You no eat no meat? Ah, no worry! I fix you lamb!')

If you can imagine it, in many ways it is a HUGE family gathering which takes place in the midst of a legislative session of Congress. The hallways of the Convention Center are dotted by small huddles of tense political conversation and strategy - some of affinity others of adversity - which are occasionally interrupted by joyful shouts of welcome and back-slapping.

It is also an enormously intense experience wherein the reality of the rest of the world - and even our 'home churches' - fade away in the mist that rises and the wee village called 'General Convention' appears, as it always does.

Unlike the wee Scottish village of Brigadoon which arose once every 100 years, ours appears in various places every three years. Life in the Village of Brigadoon only lasts for a day, life in our village in (this year) Anaheim, CA will last only 10 days. But, what a packed 10 days it will be!

Two months is an awfully long political shelf life - especially in these still volatile economic times, when we are deeply engaged in two 'foreign' wars and many of our people are living from paycheck to paycheck, still maintaining a now-weary guard against foreclosure and bankruptcy.

The night sky in the Gaza strip is still bursting with rockets' red flares, and famine, disease and Tribal Wars still plague many parts of Sudan, Congo, Sierra Leon, and Kenya. Towns and villages in Southeast Asia are still trying to recover from the Tsunami and Volcano that struck a few years ago, and the tension between North and South Korea continues to boil and bubble along the border.

All of this and more will be swirling around our wee village in Anaheim, but you would never know it from the conversations and deliberations you might overhear.

And that, sisters and brothers, would be evidence of our Sin.

These things will consume most our time:

1. Sex (check that: homoSEXuality)

2. Money (and, our ever-increasing anxiety over our ever-decreasing income)

3. 'Compliance' with the Windsor Report

4. Signing The Anglican Covenant

The last two, either directly or indirectly, are manifestations of the first two, and will include deliberations and debates on whether or not to repeal or ignore B033, by which we indicate whether or not we want to stay 'in compliance' (such as it is) with the 'recommendations' of The Windsor Report.

The interesting thing in the mix here will be the fact that, by the time we meet in Anaheim, approximately 14 States will have some form of legal recognition of same-sex covenants / marriage. That means 28 dioceses of the approximately 110 dioceses of The Episcopal Church will now have at least 10% of the parishioners in their diocesan borders who are in need of the pastoral care and liturgical rites to bless the Holy Covenants into which they may enter.

Clearly, the authorization of liturgical rites of blessing and/or rites of marriage will be a hot topic.

So, too, will be the movement to change the language of 'marriage canons' of our church from 'one man and one woman' to 'two persons'.

Other resolutions already submitted to General Convention want to move the role of the priest as an agent of the state in marriage out of the purview of the church so that s/he may function much as is done in Europe - a civil ceremony which is then blessed by God by the agents of God in the Church.

Not completely unrelated are proposed canonical changes to Title IV or 'disciplinary' canons which deal with 'clergy misconduct' - the most common manifestation of which is, of course, crossing sexual boundaries. And, most of that has to do with predominantly male clergy who are heterosexual, but the standards, of course, will apply across sexual orientation and gender.

Are you keeping count? That's AT LEAST three proposed canonical changes - all in one 10 day session which won't come again for another three years. It should be noted that it takes the successful passage of two General Conventions before the BCP or constitution can be changed. I believe that the liturgical changes - whether they go in the BCP or BOS (Book of Occasional Services) will need ratification by two General Conventions.

Are you getting a sense of the intensity of those 10 days?

Okay, now add to that the discussions, debates and conversations which will spring out of open committee meetings and eventual hearings on other various resolutions, including but by no means limited to things such as:

* PB&F (Program, Budget and Finance) which will present a multi-million dollar budget for our approval.
* Anti-Racism and Reparations for Slavery
* Reproductive Rights and the perennial wailing and gnashing of teeth (not to mention emotionally manipulative maneuvers) about The Episcopal Church's membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.
* The consent to the election of bishops whose election has been 120 days prior to General Convention (which will not include the newly elected bishop of Northern Michigan, but you can bet at least twenty-four hours of California sunshine that it will be discussed).

All this against what will be a constant buzz - think migraine headache sort of mind-numbing buzz - about who can and can not sign The Anglican Covenant, which the Presiding Bishop herself AND the President of the House of Deputies has already said is WAAAAYY too soon to address such a Very Important Document.

Oh, there's lots, lots, LOTS more, but I think you get the picture.

See what I mean about "My Big Fat Anglican Wedding"?

Those are a few snapshots of what will happen at General Convention. I left out the early morning (7 AM) sub committee Caucuses which take place before the actual Committee meetings (there are 24 GC Committees). Not a pretty sight.

Neither is the sight of the evening gatherings of lobby groups of The Consultation - like, Integrity, Episcopal Women's Caucus, Union of Black Episcopalians, Episcopal Urban Caucus, etc. - which will meet in the 'early evening' (say, 7 PM) - depending on whether or not there is a hearing on a resolution of major significance and then it will get bumped to the "later evening" (say, 10 PM)

We have developed a Platform for General Convention which can be found here. Actually, I think it's quite good, if I do say so myself.

After the meeting of The Consultation, the various independent constituent groups may or may not caucus. Integrity surely will, late into the night and early morning, to track reports about legislation from our network of volunteer legislative aids and legislative floor whips.

And, this year, we welcome the presence of The Chicago Consultation - a group of theologians and scholars who define themselves as progressive to liberal but with a heavy dash of 'moderates' among them (whatever any of that means, anymore).

It should be a fascinating site to watch the 'intelligentsia' mix it up with the 'street activists' of groups which include people who have marched with Martin, sung 'We Shall Overcome' from jail cells, been part of the street theater (and resulting jail time) of ACT-UP, and lobbied the halls of Congress for Reproductive and Civil Rights as well as the Civil Right of LGBT people to marry.

Oh, it will be quite a whirl! I have no doubt about that.

One shameless plug: Visit the websites of IntegrityUSA or IntegrityUSA at General Convention to check out the resolutions we're already following, watch the video "Marching to Anaheim" and, if you can and of your mercy, make a generous contribution.

But, that's not the question you asked, was it? You want to know what will ACTUALLY HAPPEN with all that happens at General Convention, right?

Well, it's still too soon to tell, but I have some initial impressions. I will write about that after church tomorrow.

I don't know what the day is like in your neck of the woods, but it is a wonderful Spring morning here in the NE Corridor. I've got a Mission Trip Car Wash to attend, a few pastoral visits and calls to make, laundry to wash, dry, fold and iron, and groceries to shop for in between all that.

So, here's my best advice: Close your laptop, power down the computer, grab an apple, get the leash for the dog and go for a long walk.

After all, this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

The ghosts in the mist of Brigadoon can wait to rise again tomorrow and whisper in our ears. Oh, one last thing about that - a little something to consider about what might HAPPEN to all that happens during General Convention.

According to their covenant with God, no one from Brigadoon may ever leave, or the enchantment will be broken and the site and all its inhabitants will disappear into the mist forever.

Or, as the character Tommy laments, ""Why do people have to lose things to find out what they really mean?"

Just a few interesting things to consider while out on that walk.

Now, g'won. Go! Enjoy your day!


Paul (A.) said...

It should be noted that it takes the successful passage of two General Conventions before canon can be changed.No. I don't know where this meme keeps coming from.

Canons can be changed by concurrent vote of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies at any General Convention and are effective on January 1 next following adjournment of the Convention unless stated to take effect at a later time. Canon V.1.

It is the Constitution and the Book of Common Prayer that need action of two consecutive General Conventions for amendment. Const. Arts. X, XII.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Right you are, Paul. I will make the changes.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What I meant to say is that liturgical things come under the BOS (Book of Occasional Services) which, I believe, take passage of two GC's because it is part of the BCP. We certainly did that, changing from the Episcopal Lectionary to the RCL.

IT said...

Now, for the really important question: will it be possible to have Friends of Jake and Madpriest get together in Anaheim? There are a lot of us bloggy types within reach of the Magic Kingdom....


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, absolutely IT. We'll have to plan a gathering in the Magic Kingdom. Woo hoo!

Paul (A.) said...

The Book of Occasional Services is not the Book of Common Prayer: two different books.

And the Constitution Art. X provision I previously referred you to on amending the BCP also provides:

"But notwithstanding anything herein above contained, the General Convention may at any one meeting . . . :
"(a) Amend the Table of Lessons and all Tables and Rubrics relating to the Psalms:
"(b) Authorize for trial use throughout this Church, as an alternative at any time or times to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Office thereof, a proposed revision of the whole Book or of any portion thereof, duly undertaken by the General Convention.
"And Provided, that nothing in this Article shall be construed as restricting the authority of the Bishops of this Church to take such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms of worship."

So amending the Lectionary and the Psalms is allowed, as also trial forms of liturgy, and bishops have their usual leeway.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Paul A, things don't always go according to Hoyle. And, I know that the BOS is different from the BCP, but you know damn well that if we finally authorize a liturgy for SSB -even if it is to go into the BOS or the SLT - the stipulation will be that it pass two GC's.

That was the way it was with the RCL. It took TWO GC approvals before it would pass.

IT said...

Um, no, Elizabeth, preferably not IN the Magic Kingdom which costs something like $75 per person....which seems a bit steep to me. Although truth be told there is a little shopping.eating area outside the Kingdom's Gates, that might do in a pinch.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

$75??? A DAY???? You're serious about that, aren't you???


Okay, so I won't be doing THAT while in Anaheim. But, let's meet up. Fer sure.

$75????? ODM!

Mary Sue said...

You can get discounted tickets to Dizzyland, check your local Safeway or if you're a member of AAA.

Cousin Eldest is the only other Anglican in the family, she fronted the idea that we should go down to Anaheim to watch the circus.

I'd much rather undergo dental surgery without anasthesia. Y'all have fun, though.