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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Deja vu all over again.

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.

B Resolutions are those submitted by bishops

C Resolutions are those submitted by Provinces or Diocese

D Resolutions are those submitted by Deputies.
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.

So, resolution A085 Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies was proposed and submitted by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage - the Interim Body which has been studying the issue for the past three years - and it is exactly what you'd expect from the title and its source.

In addition to proposed additional liturgical rites and changing one rubric, the language in the marital rite and the BCP catechism would be changed to be "gender neutral", as in "two people" vs. "man and woman". (Note: The term "gender neutral" is causing folks a bit of apoplexy - even some gay men who obviously haven't bothered to read the resolution and are clutching their pearls because "I'm marrying a person not a gender neutral thing." Mere, pul-ese! Get a grip and read the resolution.)

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.

However, this resolution proposes that access to these trial use liturgies now be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop.

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.


Flying bishops?

Haven't we been here before? Why yes, yes, in fact, we have. 

To quote Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."

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.

Imagine it.

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.


Imagine that. 

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.

Here's the thing - the bottom line for me, in the words of my colleague Juan Oliver:

he 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."


Bill in DioDallas said...

If this is a dumb question, I apologize, but...

As a lay person who fully supports Marriage Equality but lives in one of the 8 dioceses that has a bishop who does not allow it, should I support or oppose these resolutions?

At first blush, it seems like I would want to oppose B012, but support A085. Is this correct?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No dumb question, Bill. Here's the thing. Resolutions are proposed actions that point to a way forward. They go to a legislative committee. Some never make their way out of committee. Some get merged with other resolutions. That's the work of the committee.

In this case, these resolutions, along with others for the SCLM (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) will go to Committee 13. Both resolutions have merit. Both resolutions need work. From experience, I can tell you that the legislative process is like "sausage making". What comes out at the end is not exactly what went it.

Personally, I think B012 is fine w/o the DEPO, unless - and this is a big UNLESS - the conditions of the DEPO are stated a whole lot more clearly b/c this is about a single issue which may only occur several times. A085 would be my preference, but it needs to drop the stuff about the BCP revision. It's an unnecessary red flag. If we get the rest of A085 we don't have to worry about BCP revision, which won't happen for another decade anyway.

Hope that's helpful to you.

Marthe said...

Ah, my dear, have you not noticed that compassion exits today almost exclusively in the province of those not in power? Those in power will do almost anything to keep it which requires them to ignore, dismiss, demean and deny the basic humanity of those over whom they rule ... it is the legacy of patriarchy ... it may be the death of us all. May it please God, perhaps the Bishops will see the truth of that and cede their authority to benefit those they allegedly were called to serve, not to rule.

Bill in DioDallas said...

Thank you for the clarification! Your answers are kind of what I thought, but you explained it very clearly.

As a former Vestry member, I know well the "sausage-making" analogy. Sometimes it ain't pretty.

Indie Pereira said...

As I prayed on this then slept on it overnight this is exactly what I came to as well. Drop the part about prayer book revision as long as they drop the part about DEPO. It seems to me to be the best way forward.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - Yes, it is painfully clear that compassion is a scarce commodity among those with power who are still insecure. Which describes 90% of the people in purple shirts. Sometimes I lament for the church. Other times, I'm angry enough to spit nails.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Indie - from your lips to the ears of the bishops and deputies.