[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] Applause and cheers erupted July 11 as Resolution C095, which calls for creation of a task force to re-imagine the workings of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century, sailed unanimously through the House of Bishops.
A day earlier, deputies also had passed the measure unanimously.
The resolution creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.
Several bishops spoke in favor of the resolution.
Prior to the vote, Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut urged its passage. “I do believe the Holy Spirit is leading us forward,” he said, noting two previous moments when the church underwent sweeping change.
“I believe we are in exactly the same circumstance at this time,” he said. “I do believe the Holy Spirit worked through the General Convention in 1835 and in 1919, there were special committees that proposed the new structures. I believe the Holy Spirit is working through this resolution and, if I didn’t believe it, the fact that the House of Deputies voted unanimously is proof to me.”
When Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont questioned: “who’s going to pay for the special gathering” provided for in the measure, several bishops responded: “Vermont.”
Ely explained that structural reform had been allocated $200,000 in the budget and said he wondered, “What other thought has been given to fund it. Do we need to go home and prepare for it in our budgets or what?”
Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard of Florida, who chairs the committee on structure, said that the committee: “is so thoroughly convinced of the process of the Spirit, that it will be blessed. We believe $200,000 may become half a million, like the loaves and fishes that the Lord will provide. Don’t let the money stop you right now.
Bishop Skip Adams of Central New York said that, “many of us are having similar conversations in our diocese and are making the same kind of movement. We plan on using it as a model for our ongoing dialogue within the diocese. We recognize that in order to accomplish the Holy Spirit’s movement, we must be doing the same thing on the local level and that will enable this to happen for us in concert with who God is calling us to be and become.”
Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer for the Episcopal Church, praised the work of both the committee and convention.
“My hope has always been that we would begin to have a conversation and the church embraced that. The conversation became a movement of hope for the future of the church.”
He added that the people of Episcopal Church have realized – and the institutional is getting it – “that we are standing on the brink of an unprecedented moment; have seen it as opportunity rather than threat.”
In other convention business, bishops also signed off on the budget with very little conversation (see related story) and passed an amended substitute for Resolution B021, which involves the dissolution of a pastoral relationship between a bishop and a diocese. The amendment involved changing the votes required to dissolve a relationship to a two-thirds, rather than a simple, majority.
Assisting Bishop Carol Gallagher of North Dakota told bishops: “As somebody who has had my life directly affected by a dissolution, I am grateful for the work of our bishops who gathered together and wanted a word of thanks for myself personally. That this is incredibly pastoral and incredibly sincere and demonstrates our willingness to be a house together and compassionate toward one another. Thank you.”
Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles, who was among a group asked by the presiding bishop to develop the substitute resolution, told the house “we want this to be an instrument of reconciliation mostly.
“We’re all working toward reconciliation,” Glasspool said. “Unfortunately, the dissolution piece had to be in there if everything else fails, but the spirit of this was that this was meant to be an instrument of reconciliation and not a weapon or a tool or a threat for dissolution.”
Bishop Martin Field of West Missouri proposed the amendment, “that all the votes, literally, whether they be in the diocesan convention or among the bishops here become supermajority and not a simple majority, so two-thirds majority,” he said.
“This is different thing than our Title IV dissolution. This is something wholly based in relationships at many, many levels, not the least of which is our relationship in this house, but it goes all the way down to the core of a diocese. I think it needs to rise to the highest form of decision-making, and we need to bring this up to a very high bar before any bishop is brought to the possibility of the dissolution of that pastoral relationship. We need a high standard for standing committees … we need a high standard throughout.”
At the start of the morning session, Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota read a seven-point Indianapolis Report to the house, dissenting to such General Convention actions as approval of a liturgy for blessing same-gender relationships and declining to approve the Anglican Covenant.
Bishops also approved legislation that: condemned the practice of wage theft (C077); moving toward full inclusion of persons with disabilities (D068); reaffirmed its commitment to the network of Jubilee Ministries (D063); and to consider allocation of funds to create programs to prevent the “pipeline from school to prison” for some children in challenged communities (B024).
–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service editor/reporter, contributed to this report.