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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.


Muthah+ said...

"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.'"

Elizabeth, this was the "spirit" of our convention too. It was clear that the bishop's team was going to get elected. It is also very clear that that team's understanding of the Constitution and Canon's is NOT what we once thought it was.

I am especially concerned about the backlash and especially from the younger women. They do not know how their privilidges were won for them and do not want to know. They think that they should speak what the boys speak.

Another piece of info: Matt and Anne Kennedy have resigned their orders and Tony Seel has been deposed for abandonment.

I don't think that we progressives should see this as a victory--what this "reordering the church" has done is put the new wave moderates in charge which scares me much more than the conservatives.

"You are neither hot nor cold, and I will vomit you forth from my mouth"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wow! No announcement of this on SFiF. When did this happen? Hmmm . . . . . . . . .So, what happens to the Kennedy's vocation at the Episcopal Church where they are now rectors? Will they be asked to vacate the property or allowed to stay?

Very interesting times.

Frair John said...

Could it be that you are misreading some of this?
Questions of gender and race are looked at differently by younger people since the circumstances are different. To use the political issues, I’ll point out that the endorsements for both Clinton and Obama tend to fall along generational lines, and I think that may be the real issue. It is hard to describe, and it may be hard to hear, but we don’t get motivated by the same things. We are an over stimulated generation, given to almost nervous exhaustion and now that we have reached adulthood, and are trying to move into positions of authority the differences are becoming more distinct. From what I gather from many women my age it’s not about “doing what the boys do” – and they would find that deeply offensive – but rather trying to chart their own course. That will mean that it will look different from time to time, including the thorny issue of language. I’ll refrain from commenting upon the political situation since it tends to make me unpopular.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You may be right. It is entirely possible that I've misread this whole thing. Frankly, I think too much attention is payed to the generational gap. It feels to me like the latest "toy". You know. Like, "hey, what's your sign?" Or, "Say, I'll bet he's an ESTJ." We look for easy answers to complex human conditions.

We shall see. Thanks, Friar John, for your contribution to this conversation. I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong. I'm just sayin' . . . .

Frair John said...

I maybe overstated my case.
It is a part, not the whole thing.
Another part is a lack of institutional memory. The students I talk to do not get what the world was like.

Jane R said...

How right you are. When I was teaching the Anglican Tradition and Life course with Bill Countryman at CDSP a few years ago we had a bunch of students who had no idea who the Philadelphia Eleven were... or how recently women got to be seated as Deputies at GC...

As for the language issue, I have a rant about that which I will save for when I am less sleep-deprived. I'll just say that I am amazed (not positively) at how slowly it has taken to move the issue of inclusive language forward. We were raising the issue in the 1970s, for cryin' out loud. In many ways the RC church (of which I was a member till 7 years ago -- 6 years formally --) is ahead of us. Seriously. (I mean as a whole and in local communities -- I don't equate "church" with "hierarchy.") I'll write more when I am less tired.

Thanks for the report!

MadPriest said...

I think your new "up yours" blog photo says it all.

EYouthWNY said...

Regarding Hilary's slide - I live in NY and am a fan of the Senator's. She has turned out to be a much better senator than I expected (I confess that I was afraid it would be mostly a platform to run for president. She's managed to do that AND represent the needs of her constituency. I applaud her).

Recently my enthusiasm for her candidacy has waned. Not so much for anything she has done but for the way the former President has been acting. He seems to be running an almost "co-presidency" campaign. That concerns me. It would be bad for the historical trend for future women in the Oval office, it would be bad from a leadership point of view (Bill, in fact, will have no official powers. I'm not sure he really believes that)and it would create confusion in the minds of the nation.

All of which could shorten Hilary's presidency to a single term and return a Republican (quite likely a "no nonsense, tough leader" type. Think Rudy G.) to the White House.

She needs to get Bill on a leash (I can't even type that with a straight face)

Just one point of view.

JimB said...

Rev. Elizabeth,

I am a rather good mountain dulcimer player, folk singer, d'hbran drummer and sometimes gutarist. A few years ago I was asked to play and teach at a dulcimer festival. It seems that the director of music considers me one of the last singers of the "old civil rights songs."

I learned a fair number of those songs in marches and I do still sing them when I have a gig and they seem to fit. But I was interested enough to think a bit about what had happened.

First, it is not that African Americans do not know the history. They simply wish to forget the movement. We are a bit embarresing to their sense of accomplishment. Almost no blacks sing the protest songs now.

Second, a lot of the whites have moved on. They 'won' when the Civil Rights Act passed so they went to other battles or bought homes in the burbs. Almost no white folks sing those songs. Besides, Besides, they know the blacks don't.

So, I am about the only person still performing and singing "If You Can't Find Me At the Back of the Bus." And I don't get a lot of work.

I play for the occaisional church service, most recently the closing of Church of the Meadiator on Chicago's Southwest Side. But that was not a time and place for protest songs.

I guess the only ones still widely heard have become camp songs. "Blowing in the Wind," and "This Land is Your Land" both totally misunderstood, are sung at camp by born again types now. ;-)

So too with gender I think. The reveolution is passing by. There wont be many of its singers or activists at center stage in a short while.


RFSJ said...


I guess I'm too new to the Diocese to have detected any hint of "being on the Bishop's team," but perhaps I simply didn't know what to listen for. I will say that the Candidates' Forum was well attended with not only the candidates but those like me who didn't know them at all. The forum solidified my votes in some key races, for example, the GC Deputies election on the lay side.

There was some discussion, I forget where now, about how to have more information on both candidates and what the offices themselves are all about. (I believe you were in that hearing, as I recall.) That would be a good thing. We also need more time to hear candidates and a larger room to do it. Of course, this convention was important because specifically of the GC election, and not only because it was +Mark's first.

He will get the hang of presiding. I was most disappointed in his tendency to assume there was no dissent. I was very disappointed in the motion to stop debate on the nclusive language resolution. That wasn't +Mark's doing, of course, but I wonder if that's who Newark does things in general.

Pray for the Church!