A personal reflection on Day One of the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Baltimore by the Rev. Charles Everson, Vocations Missioner, and Rector at St. Mary’s Kansas City. The commentary is based on Fr. Charles’ observations from watching the convention online. sprinkled with a few pictures submitted by our deputies in Baltimore and gleaned from the online video.
The day began with the Holy Eucharist which is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. The Bishop and Deputies worshipped separately, but Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s pre-recorded (and amazing!) sermon was piped into both Houses. Afterward, the deliberations came to a crashing halt when it became apparent that there was a wi-fi outage, making it impossible for anyone to vote. The Bishops’ connection came back up first, giving them more time to deliberate and do their work.
General Convention always seems so bureaucratic and political. It is. But it’s important work.
Note that anytime a resolution is referred to a committee for further study, or a House adopts to take no further action on a resolution, for the purposes of this General Convention, the resolution is not passed and is essentially dead. Identical resolutions must be passed by both Houses in order for the resolution to be enacted, but that process won’t begin until Sunday or so. For now, each House is organizing itself and plowing through the resolutions in the order it wishes.
First, the House of Bishops voted to refer resolution D058 to Committee. This resolution called for a revised liturgy for Good Friday, and would have required the use of a Bible translation in that liturgy that translates a certain Greek word in John 18 a particular way because of perceived anti-Semitism. The Good Friday liturgy as used in the Roman Church before 1959 contained a reference to the “faithless Jews” (Latin perfidis), along with archaic and unhelpful prayer for the conversion of the Jews. There is nothing of the sort in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. While I applaud the resolution’s authors’ intentions of trying to address rising anti-Semitism in this country (and one of the authors is a former priest of this diocese), I think this resolution was a solution in search of a problem, and would have introduced new prayers into the BCP that portray a doctrine of salvation that is not consistent with the teachings of the Church from the earliest days. Frankly, the notion of the General Convention micromanaging the translation of one Greek word in one particular Bible passage for a specific liturgy was a non-starter for me, especially given that we have fourteen approved Bible translations, two of which translate said Greek word in the suggested manner. It is no surprise that the Bishops unanimously referred this resolution to Committee without debate.
The House of Bishops voted to approve a floor amendment for resolution C023 which sought to add the commemoration of the Rt. Rev’d Barbara Harris, the first female bishop consecrated in both The Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion, to our Church’s calendar of saints. This has been a controversial resolution since its inception as Bishop Harris died a little over two years ago, and there is a standard of waiting until at least 50 years after a person has died. The amended resolution that passed changes the focus from Bishop Harris as a person to the act of her consecration as the first female Bishop. Thus, the date of the commemoration was changed from her date of death to the date of her consecration, and so on. I support the amendments made to the resolution, and assuming the House of Deputies concurs, I look forward celebrating Mass on February 11, 2023, the 34-year anniversary of her consecration to the episcopate. I never met Bishop Harris personally, but it is said that at the end of an awful debate on homosexuality at the 1998 Lambeth Conference – which included 738 male and 11 female bishops – she was overheard saying (with a raspy, smoker’s voice), “If assholes were airplanes, this place would be an airport.” I’m a fan of both Bishop Barbara Harris and her consecration as the first female Bishop.
The Rt. Rev. Martin Field, Bishop of West Missouri (resigned), was not elected to the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.
Subject to confirmation by the House of Deputies, the House of Bishops has nominated the Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander as the tenth Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer. While this is largely a ceremonial position, it gives me great comfort that the custodianship of the prayer book is in such good hands!
The Bishops then began to discuss resolution A059, which, among other things, would have changed the constitutional definition of “The Book of Common Prayer,” ostensibly to regularize some of the liturgies that have been approved for trial use for years. This resolution has been concerning to me and many of my clerical friends as we made vows to uphold the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church”, and it would have the unintended effect of including any liturgy approved by General Convention as liturgically and theologically binding on the clergy. Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island proposed a substitute resolution, and a long discussion ensued about clarifying the differences between the two. Ultimately, the substitute resolution passed 60 to 57, and after dinner, the Bishops voted to postpone the vote on the final resolution to give plenty of time for discussion. Stay tuned for more.
Meanwhile, the House of Deputies approved resolution C047 that establishes a minimum compensation for vocational deacons of $25 per month. Vocational deacons generally are not paid in The Episcopal Church, nor are deacons in the Roman Church (with the rare exception being when they act as administrator of a parish without a priest). This is the first I’ve heard about this issue, so I haven’t had time to process it and form an opinion. It will be interesting to see how the Bishops respond.
After their dinner break, the Deputies debated resolution A126 which instructs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to examine all the language of the Book of Common Prayer, The Hymnal 1982 and other approved liturgical material in regard to the colonialist, racist and white supremacist, imperialist and nationalistic language and content and develop proposals for amending texts. The resolution includes an allocation of $100,000 for implementation and passed overwhelmingly by voice vote. In 2018, the 79th General Convention “memorialized” the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for various reasons, so as the text is essentially not changeable, at least for now, I’m not sure what this resolution seeks to accomplish.
Resolution A129 would require a historic audit on the origins and sources of the financial and all other assets of The Episcopal Church that are directly tied to the enslavement of humans, the slave trade, and historical and current racial injustices, in order to tell the story of our history, with an allocation of $150,000 for this work. This resolution passed unanimously, and I support it, primarily because I’ve become aware that we need to have this conversation at St. Mary’s. Mary Troost donated the land and most of the money for our building, and much of those funds were likely earned off of the back of slave labor at her husband’s plantation. This is work we need to do, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
I will admit that I didn’t catch all of the work conducted by the House of Deputies as I wasn’t able to be bi-locate, even virtually. Tomorrow, I will spend more time with the Deputies.
General Convention always seems so bureaucratic and political. It is. But it’s important work. Our system of church government has its flaws, but it seems to me to be better than the alternatives. Please pray for the Bishops and Deputies as they seek to faithfully govern our little corner of Christendom by the power of the Spirit!
For links to live video feeds from the convention, news, other information, and links to information sources, visit the diocesan General Convention webpage.
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- 07-10-2022. Text added to the preamble to clarify that Fr. Charles is not in Baltimore, but observing convention remotely.