Well, it's that time again, folks.
General Convention resumes after three years of the Executive Council, acting on its behalf, has discussed and attempted to implement the resolutions passed during General Convention 2015.
There are lots of hot-button issues, but none so 'hot' as the whispers of "Prayer Book Revision" have become complete, loud sentences which have found their way into print in the form of resolutions.
Stir in a resolution or two of the red hot chili pepper issue of Marriage Rites and, eh, voila! There are volcanic eruptions and seismic earthquakes to be found wherever Episcopalians gather on social media.
There are two pretty complex and layered resolutions under particular discussion, A085 and B012
Some background information might be helpful to you who are not General Convention nerds like me. Because, you know, context is important.
Resolutions are classified according to their origin:
A Resolutions are those submitted by Interim Bodies in the report to General Convention or during General Convention.There's a lot more to it than that but that's just for context. You can find these and all of the resolutions to General Convention here in the Virtual Binder of the 79th General Convention.
B Resolutions are those submitted by bishops
C Resolutions are those submitted by Provinces or Diocese
D Resolutions are those submitted by Deputies.
It should be noted that the other part of the apoplexy is that this resolution assumes that the process of revising the BCP is underway (GASP! How DARE they?!?!) and proposes that these changes be incorporated in the revision.
Again, deep breaths, people. Saying - or writing down on paper - that it's time to revise the 1979 BCP does not mean that it magically happens. It simply begins the process, which takes almost a decade.
Which would make it available by, oh, say, 2029. There, feel better now? (Pssst . . . don't anybody tell them that the 2029 BCP would probably not be an actual book and it will be out of date the minute it makes its official debut, just like all the other BCPs before it.)
A085 also tries to calm the fears and anxieties of the purple-shirts and their fans who worry themselves into a lather about their "episcopal authority" by stating, "This resolution requires bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority (or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision) to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial liturgies," and urging "pastoral generosity".
This means that they, themselves, don't have to compromise either their conscience or authority but must not compromise the conscience or authority of their clergy and laity who wish to avail themselves of this liturgical-sacramental rite.
Well, that's what we said in 2015. And, there are a handful - okay 8 bishops - who will not allow Marriage Equality in their diocese. Most are simply sending them to other dioceses. Which means, of course, that a couple may not be married in their diocese, in their church, in the midst of their worshiping community of faith.
I see no compulsion in this resolution for them to do otherwise.
Neither, apparently, did Bishop Provenzano of Long Island, who, together with the bishops of Pittsburgh and Rhode Island, submitted resolution B012 "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church."
The resolution seeks to ensure that all of God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies of the church, regardless of diocese, while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop. Resolution B012 continues to authorize the two Trial Use Marriage Rites first authorized in 2015 without time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
It does that by requiring delegated episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO) of congregations who wish to celebrate same-sex marriages, but where the bishop’s position is not to permit them in congregations under his or her care.
You can read the Bishops' report on this resolution by clicking on this link.
Okay, so now we've got a spicy stew of Liturgy, Rubrics, and Authority all served over a steaming hot bowl of the rice of Marriage Equality.
See what I mean?
Or as my friend Susan Russell asks, "What could possibly go wrong?"
Well, these three good men, the bishops of Long Island, Rhode Island and Pittsburgh, see this as the "via media" - the "middle way" - to move the church forward through the volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and earthquakes.
I applaud them for their efforts to be pastoral while also being mindful of the "unity" of the church, which, admittedly, is part of the vows they took at their consecration as bishops.
Here's my take on all this.
Haven't we been here before? Why yes, yes, in fact, we have.
This is exactly the "process" we went through with the ordination of women. In July 1974, eleven women deacons were ordained to the priesthood.
In October of 1974, HOB ruled the ordinations "invalid".
Just stop right there for a minute and take that into your heart and your soul and get your mind wrapped around the fact that a group of men had ruled that the call you had experienced to be of God and had risked your spiritual, emotional and professional life to be obedient to have called it "invalid."
Okay, let me continue.
After bringing clergy and bishops to trial for their participation and/or support of ordained women, in 1975 the HOB censured the ordaining bishops and decried the ordination of the Washington Four and the ordination of Ellen Barrett. In September of 1976, General Convention changed the canons to allow the ordination of women, the first of which began in January of 1977.
Less than a year later, in October of 1977, the HOB offered a "Consciousness Clause" which protected any bishop who, in good conscience, could not ordain or allow the ministry of ordained women in their diocese. Since this was an action of only one House and not agreed to by the House of Deputies the decision had no canonical authority and yet a handful of bishops used the HOB decision to prohibit women from the priesthood for 33 more years.
The 1997 General Convention revised the canons to prevent any diocese from denying access to the ordination process, or refusing to license a member of the clergy to officiate, solely on the grounds of gender.
I'm going to beg your indulgence and ask you to pause again and take that in. Set your gender aside for half a heartbeat and imagine you are a person with a valid call to ordination which could be approved by all but a small handful of bishops in the church. You do not have the luxury of geographical mobility - your family is and has been in that diocese for as long as anyone can remember and this is where you feel called to serve. You can not ask your family to make one more sacrifice for your vocation.
Now, imagine you feel called to the vocation of family life with another person. And, this person is a member of the same sex. You have entered into a legal contract of marriage with this person and now you want the churches blessing on the covenant of your marriage. In your diocese. In your family church. With your priest and community of faith - all of whom are wonderfully, wildly supportive.
And, your bishop says no. Because of HIS conscience. Not yours. Not your family. Not your deacon or priest. Not your community of faith.
This is a process known as "compassion". This is exactly what Jesus did. He imagined and then took on the pain of others and then, he took a stand. Even though it was against the "canon law" of his time.
Resolution A085 proposes to make all the sacraments and sacramental rites available to all of God's people. Full stop.
Let's not make God's people wait 33 more years for what we ALL know is inevitable.
The conscience of individual bishop does not go beyond the individual. It may not be used to refuse their diocese what the assembled Church has decided.
Which means, at least in part, that B012 would be strengthened by removing DEPO and clarified so that everyone - especially bishops - understand that Marriage Equality is, in fact, the way it is in The Episcopal Church.
And, the language of A085 needs to have everything about Prayer Book Revision removed. Yes, of course, the writers wanted to put their toe in the water. Thing of it is, if the standard practice of the church - the whole church - is Marriage Equality, then these liturgies WILL be included in the revised Prayer Book.
There will no doubt be more discussion on this the closer we get to General Convention in Austin.
As Rachel Maddow says, "Watch this space."