Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More on Resolution A049

A number of you have asked for some more information regarding Resolution A049. On the General Convention resources page of the diocesan website, you will find links to the original text of "I Will Bless You and You Will be a Blessing," the changes to that text made at General Convention, Bishop Johnson's letter to the clergy and his statement to the Commercial Appeal.

General Convention ends

I write to you on this last day of the 77th General Convention.  It has been an empowering and strengthening experience.  I am deeply impressed by the caliber of faithful people gathered to serve the greater Episcopal Church.  I am bolstered by their steadfast faithfulness over the past ten days.  I witnessed a sizeable body of Christians, who are bound together by a particular Anglican way, earnestly discern and prayerfully deliberate the voice of God.  It was like making sausage – it is imperfect and laborious process that makes a presentable, tasty and nourishing result.

For me, one of the greatest gifts of this General Convention was in hearing all the divergent voices of TEC: young people, non-English speakers, the establishment, those who live on the margins, those on the right and left of theological and social issues.  Reconnecting with old friends and making a load of new ones graced me. The worship and music were robust; the legislative committees were a cross-fertilization of ideas; the legislative sessions were thoughtful, deliberate and respectful; the Deputation of West Tennessee was a delight.  Although this gathering was long and arduous, Christ’s presence was genuinely felt with holy surprises emerging at all moments throughout our cloistered days.   Thank you for electing me and trusting me with this privileged role.  Thank you to my family, staff and friends for your support and prayers – it was lovingly received.

“We refuse to exclude” seems to be General Convention’s overall theme. For us, we claim the indwelling Christ in each Christian as what is most essential: not economic, ethnic, racial or physical characteristics, sexual orientation, age. Through our baptism, we claim that each of us has a unique sacred gift to help God’s dream for the world come true. 

  • I believe this why Resolution D022 first passed with broad support in the House of Bishops as well as in the House of Deputies.  No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability or age. Nothing on the exterior will prohibit baptized persons from the full participation in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church
  • Resolution A049 also was passed by a vast majority.  This action gives clergy resources that aren’t currently found in the Book of Common Prayer or in the Book of Occasional Services for the “witnessing and blessing of a life-long covenant in same-gender relationships.”  This is a grace for those who need a legitimate way to recognize gay couples who are making lifelong commitments to each other in Church.  But the resolution also has specific language saying that no clergy person has to use the materials if it goes against her/his beliefs.
  •  Structure of The Episcopal Church was a big topic, and in overwhelming fashion, multiple resolutions were passed to re-imagine the workings of The Episcopal Church to prepare for mission in the 21st century. A special task force will be created to make Church governance as nimble and efficient as possible. The task force is called to look at this restructuring from all angles.
  • Many hoped more would be agreed upon in the deliberation around the Anglican Covenant. The House of Bishops concurred with the deputies to affirm their commitment to building relationships across the Anglican Communion, especially through the Continuing Indaba program, and to decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant.
  • Many resolutions were adopted around social issues to protect and bolster the weakest among us: the illegal, the elderly, the homeless, the disregarded. 
It was not a perfect convention.  It was a human endeavor.  So, it was messy at times, but, from my observation, it was a prayerful, earnest and responsible attempt for us to listen deeply to God’s prompting that directs us to the full Reign of Christ on Earth.   

This Thursday, July 19 at 6:30 PM at Church of the Holy Communion, the Bishop and Diocesan Deputation will share their thoughts, field questions, and share conversation around the events of this General Convention. 

On August 5th at the 10:00 AM in the St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish Hall, I will give a fuller presentation of my experience

The Very Rev. Andy Andrews

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The presence of God

The parliamentary process at the 77th General Convention, the pace, the procedures and the paper – pages of paper, may not be for everyone. I find myself during long legislative sessions wondering what I am going to preach or for whom I can pray or if the fish are biting in my favorite pond. I find myself missing my family, my friends, the good folks in my parish. I also find that the process, including my wandering thoughts, are all gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The process lacks perfection, but so do the people of God even when we are gathered in this glorious event. Thus, that makes gaps, spaces and lots of room for God’s grace and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The decisions we have made as a church; the acceptance of a provisional blessing for same-gender relationships, the budget, the commitment to restructure the governance and the administration of the church, the election of church leaders, and the affirmations of long standing theological traditions transpire in those gaps, spaces and places of imperfection in our church and in our common life.

I believe that all the decisions we have made are attempts to speak to the presence of God. Regardless of one’s position on any set of issues or concerns, we are affirming that God has, can and will make all things perfect, especially those decisions which we have made faithfully. Being faithful and being correct is not the same thing. That is one of the gaps in our common life. We are called to make decisions, we have to make decisions, yet we do so with humility and faith in the hope that God’s grace does indeed prevail.

I am proud of our decisions, not for their theological perfection, not assuming that they serve as the final word in the kingdom of God on any one subject, but because they presume that God will lead us being united in Christ to a deeper understanding of how God is acting in our lives. In our baptism we proclaim:

There is one Body and one Spirit;
There is one hope in God's call to us;
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
One God and Father of all.

I give thanks for that unity given to us and I continue to be hopeful in God’s call for us to share the good news to the world.

The Rev. John P. Leach

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Crossing the Rubicon

Wikipedia succinctly reminds us that the Rubicon is a shallow river in northeastern Italy, about 80 kilometers long, running from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea through the southern Emilia-Romagna region, between the towns of Rimini and Cesena. The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective "rubeus", meaning "red". The river was so named because its waters are colored red by mud deposits. It was a key boundary that protected Rome from civil war.

The idiom "Crossing the Rubicon" means to pass a point of no return, and refers to Julius Caesar's army's crossing of the river in 49 BC, which was considered an act of insurrection. Because the course of the river has changed much since then, it is impossible to confirm exactly where the Rubicon flowed when Caesar and his legions crossed it.

Now that we have recalled the geopolitical situation of long ago, I would draw a parallel to what is taking place now at General Convention. The Rubicon of General Convention is crossed by a process of concurrence. That is to say, both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops must concur with the action taken in exactly the same form. Therefore, much of the ‘news’ from General Convention that has begun to circulate is not yet news that has crossed over to the other side. Soon this will change.

The House of Bishops has sent to the House of Deputies our recommended text to providefor the blessing of same-sex relationships. While I anticipate it will pass in the other House with a level of support similar to that of the House of Bishops (111 voted yes and 41 voted no), it is not yet an accomplished fact.

Resolutionson the implementation of the Church Health Insurance and Pension Funds appear to be heading to an accommodation that will allow for more time to pass before these are fully implemented. Issues of timing, tiered payment levels, and the unintended consequences of wanting to do a good thing (provide equal health coverage for full-time lay and clergy Church workers) are among the issues being addressed. The final form outcome remains to be seen, but the work itself is moving in a positive direction.

A resolution I mentioned in passing the other day that was to support the District of Columbia attain statehood as the 51st state in the Union is a prime example of how a resolution that came to the Convention in one form was transformed by careful work of a Legislative Committee so that it was presented in our House yesterday and adopted. The resulting resolution had nothing today about naming the new state “New Columbia” as had originally been proposed. Rather, a more nuanced statement emerged that actually dealt with the process by which statehood in this unique circumstance could be achieved. But that is another river to cross at a later date.

It was my privilege to attend the Episcopal Church Women’s Triennial meeting for a special session at which dioceses could present a woman of distinction to be honored. For West Tennessee, I was honored to present Dr. Susan Nelson from St. Mary’s Cathedral, Memphis, for this recognition. All who know Susan know of her commitment to Haiti and of her works of healing and care in Memphis. I know you join me in congratulating her in receiving this well-deserved honor.

To participate in the worship here has been a wonderful experience. While each daily Eucharist has been special in its own way, I am certain that each of our Deputies has particular moments that stick out in our minds. For me, the sermons by our Presiding Bishop, by the Bishop of North Carolina, and by apriest who spoke of her experience in a Native American congregation will long stay with me.

On the day of the Eucharist at which the United Thank Offering is presented, I recall a moment during the opening hymn. The bishops process, and four abreast we line both sides of the center aisle. (We do know how to do processions!) What I recall is the seven or eight year old boy who, while we were still singing, stopped at each row of bishops and took a picture. I recall his excited seriousness as he went about this important moment he wanted to be able to recall later. It said something to me about the way the youth of today are looking at what all of us, lay and clergy, are doing. I hope that what we decide will be remembered and acted on in their lives in the years ahead.

While I could go on, I will close with one more remembrance. When we moved to the time of the Lord’s Prayer in one of the Eucharistic celebrations, we were invited to pray in our own language this great prayer that Jesus taught us. When we had finished praying, there was the sound of a language I did not know that continued. A group was singing the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. It was beautiful and haunting to hear them sing. What was powerful to me was not only the singing; it was the reverence with which the other worshipers waited for the sung prayer to be finished in its own time. General Convention is about prayers being offered in thought and word and deed and in their own language and time. We are doing the work of the Church here. It is a sacred moment. It will involve crossing certain rivers, and in the end it will mean having to find new ways to sing the old, old story of Jesus and his love. But that is what we are trying to accomplish. I guess the only way to do it is to eventually get our feet wet. So into the river we go…


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lots of heat, even more legislation

Greetings from a very hot Indianapolis! Though I never saw an official temperature today, I was told it got to 107 degrees here. Most of my time has been spent either in meetings or in transit to them, and there are an abundance of walkways between buildings to get you where you need to go without ever going outside. Though I miss the fresh air, I don’t miss the heat or seeing all the flowerbeds around the hotels and Convention Center wilting under the blistering sun.

Your West Tennessee deputation has been here since Tuesday (today is Saturday, and it’s only the third legislative day). The in-between times have been spent in legislative committee meetings, reading mountains of material, reconnecting with old acquaintances, making new ones and in general acclimating to the work we are here to do. The time is flying by all too quickly, but there is still much work ahead of us. Though this is a shorter convention by two days, the reality is that we will have less time to deal with just as much legislation as in years past.

The House of Deputies has been off to a somewhat rocky start in its first three days. We have had to learn to work together, gain clarity about Rules of Order and how we function under them, learn how to operate the voting machines and a myriad of other issues associated with the ebb and flow of our work. It hasn’t always gone smoothly, but 45% of us are new deputies and there is a lot to learn. The legislative process itself is fascinating, but in many respects, it’s like watching sausage being made. It moves very slowly. But despite that, the House has dealt with some significant legislation in its three days of operation. In total, we have dealt with 89 (by my count) pieces of legislation. Of note in the life of the Church is that we approved a resolution calling for the sale of 815 Second Avenue, the home of the Episcopal Church Center. This issue has been under consideration for quite some time because of the costs associated with operating a large, somewhat older building in midtown Manhattan. However, this is the first time a body of the General Convention has mandated that the building be sold. The resolution, approved by the House of Deputies, will also need to be approved by the House of Bishops before it is inacted. This is true with all legislation in our bicameral process – legislation must be approved in the same form and language in both houses prior to enactment.

Other legislation before the House of Deputies has included resolutions on consents to the election of eight new bishops, reaffirmation of the five marks of mission, request for funding of the Episcopal Youth Event, development of a multimedia-based evangelism guide, the establishment of diocesan mission enterprise zones and reaffirmation of our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals – to name just a few. And there will be many more in the days ahead.

The Diocese of West Tennessee is well represented by its deputation. Several of us are assigned to the various legislative committees, and those of us who are not are spending our time covering other committees so that when we meet in caucus as a deputation each night, we are well informed about the legislation moving through each of the committees. This enables us to respond more effectively to resolutions as they reach the floor. We are working well as a group, we are committed to the work we are doing and we are honored to be here as representatives of The Diocese of West Tennessee. Thank you for allowing us to represent you.

Peace and stay cool!

Ms. Stephanie Cheney, Lay Deputy

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Second Day of Convention and already we are trying to figure out just what the Holy Spirit has in mind for the Church

Today was curious and strangely encouraging. I have been privileged to attend eleven General Conventions. I was elected to twelve, but Jeannie and I moved from East Tennessee to Nashville before I could attend the last Convention in Philadelphia. Put another way, I have been attending General Conventions as a Deputy in the House of Deputies or in the House of Bishops for over thirty years. This is not as long as our friend of blessed memory, Charles Crump, or of our friend of current celebration, the Rev. Reynolds Cheney. However it has been a while since I started out as a young priest representing at the time the Diocese of Tennessee. That is to say that it is not the first time I have joined with this Church to discuss and discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in General Convention.

Noting this, I am struck by what I perceive to be today’s rather unique dynamic. That is to say, the House of Bishops was a bit feisty in our dealing with items coming before us for consideration. I thought this might just be the Bishop’s response to too many resolutions that began to look too much like resolutions adopted at prior conventions. However, when I met with our Deputation I heard a similar story of the response of the House of Deputies to proposed resolutions I might characterize as “business as usual.” I wonder what the Holy Spirit has in mind for us at this Convention?

I recognize that the blog posts to date have been rather general in nature. I anticipate that this will begin to change rather quickly. Since each House (Bishops and Deputies) has to agree to the exact wording of any resolution we pass as a Convention, it should not be surprising that we are just beginning those conversations for ultimate Convention action. However, the number of resolutions that have been originated in one House or the other and that will soon be referred to the other House for their concurrence is about to pick up in volume and complexity. I hope you continue to be patient with us as we begin to core down beneath the surface of the resolutions. It is in this process of mutual discernment by both Houses that this Church comes to understand how God is talking and guiding us in the days ahead. I anticipate the specificity about the direction this Convention is going will begin to unfold in the next couple of days. Until then, know that we need and will be strengthened and guided by your prayers.

More generally, the President of the House of Bishops and the President of the House of Deputies delivered challenging and in some ways complimentary sermons over the last two days. Each approaches the Church’s mission in ways that seem on the surface to be more diverse than I think they actually are. Bonny Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, called today for courage to speak the truth. Our Presiding Bishop preached yesterday and called for us to speak the truth in love. Both are important insights and challenges to this Church as we meet in Convention.

I have met and reconnected with many friends. The Convention is, as many have noted, like a family reunion. Wish you were here with us. It is a great time to meet, greet and recreate old relationships and new. If you can get by to visit with us over the next few days, know that Jeannie and I would love to involve you with our evening caucuses and with the fellowship events that we have planned. Whether you are here in person or in spirit, know that we continue to need your prayers.


Expect Resurrection

Greetings and love from Indianapolis as deputations from the Episcopal Church gather for General Convention 2012.  It is an impressive city – state capital, university town, former home of Peyton Manning, clean with almost a brand new look.  It is sun burned,  brown and dehydrated, triple digits – right in the heartland of the U.S.

We are establishing an inspiring community.  Close to 2,000 Episcopalians hailing from all parts of the globe, 111 dioceses represented, are communing to discern God’s dream for the mission, direction, and growth of the Episcopal Church.  It is a diverse crowd and very sociable.

The questions buzz around:

Where are you from?

What is the Episcopal Church like there?

What is working in your parish?

Who are your people and do you know ……?

The Opening Eucharist was robust – different languages praying from the same Book of Common Prayer, stirring music, Presiding Bishop Katherine’s opening remarks welcomed us to this Episcopalian family reunion and encouraged us to reconnect with our “relatives” and listen again to their holy stories.   She encouraged us to build bridges, make connections and “expect Resurrection.”

Day One of General Convention (Thursday, July 5th) was about orientation and establishing ground rules. It is a task to wrangle all these passionate folks together to decide important things,  So, we worked to get “our house in order” and readying ourselves for the sacred business before us - over 700 resolutions.  Legislative Committees have begun meeting and we had our first taste of a legislative session.

Day Two looks more concentrated – community eucharist,  two legislative sessions with committees meeting and hearings peppered in few open spaces of the day.

It is a powerful process to witness.  Resolutions are filed in from all over the Episcopal Church.  Then, legislative committees listen and debate and fine tune the resolutions.  Then, they are sent to both houses – House of Bishops and House of Deputies – from more deliberations and possible adoption.  All of our work is done in the context of prayer and being very aware of God’s sweet Presence in this place.

This entire crowd seems to be aware that the Episcopal Church is facing a large range of complicated issues.  We will be different after our ten days together, and we pray we will be better equipped to do Christ’s ministry to help relieve the suffering of the world and build God’s full reign on Earth.

The Very Rev. Andy Andrews

Dean, St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral
Chair, Diocese of West Tennessee Deputation