[Episcopal News Service –Salt Lake City] Bishops and deputies – and a host of other Episcopalians – are gathering here in preparation for the official June 25 start of the nine-day gathering at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
The two houses face a packed agenda, as is common during General Convention, this time made more crucial by electing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s successor. Among the questions facing bishops and deputies are what structural and other changes The Episcopal Church needs at all levels to support mission and ministry in this century, how the church ought to respond to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, what statements it ought to make and what actions it ought to urge on a host of national and international policy issues, as well as other questions about the church’s common life such as liturgy and clergy discipline. Summaries of many of those proposals are below.
“We’re increasingly focused outside of ourselves rather than on our members alone,” Jefferts Schori said during a June 23 news conference. “We think we are a people meant to participate in transforming this world towards something that looks more like something God had in mind when God created it, and it’s a long way from that vision of wholeness so we’ve got plenty of work to do.”
To that end, House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings noted that convention is about to convene in the wake of the killing of nine black people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. Those murders have “electrified people of faith and all people of good will,” Jennings told the news conference. “I believe that God is calling us to dismantle the systems of racism and privilege that are inextricably bound up in the history of the United States and of our church, which was founded, as you know, in the early days of the republic.”
Convention is a place, Jennings said, where “Episcopalians have the ability not only to proclaim that black lives matter, but also to take concrete action toward ending racism and achieving God’s dream of … racial reconciliation and ending injustice.”
General Convention itself will seem different to veteran bishops, deputies and observers in some significant ways. Jefferts Schori and Jennings have reformed and redefined convention’s legislative committees to be more closely aligned with the framework of the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission. (A list of how the committees break down along those lines is here).
Aligning the work of The Episcopal Church with those goals, Jefferts Schori and Jennings have said, makes sense because the list “has shaped our mission work in the current triennium, and we trust that it will continue to shape our engagement in God’s mission in the next triennium.”
A media hub, operated by the Episcopal Digital Network and the Office of Public Engagement and Mission Communication, will allow all people to follow the convention’s proceedings. It will include live streams of sessions from the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, daily worship and daily media briefings, as well as information about the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s work. Episcopal News Service’s headlines will feed into the site.
Convention is attempting to go as paperless as possible, replacing each bishops’ and deputies’ binder of paper copies of pending actions – a binder that often grew to a very weighty size – with digital systems to make the Salt Lake City gathering a “convention of screens.” Much of the legislative work for both houses will be displayed electronically on tablets or on projection screens. Each deputy and bishop, along with the first clergy alternate and first lay alternate, will be provided an iPad for use during General Convention as their “virtual binder.” More information is here.
Others following convention can watch the progress of legislative resolutions here, a page that also includes each house’s daily agendas, calendars for each day and journals (a list of messages sent between the houses informing the other of actions taken). Complete orders of service for convention’s daily Eucharists are also included on both the iPads, thus eliminating the need to print hundreds of worship booklets daily.
The Rev. Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention, said this staff has taken seriously the learning curve for bishops and deputies, adding that Apple itself does not provide instruction manual for the iPad because use of the device is thought to be so intuitive. “I think it’s going to be easy. We’re all in this together as learners,” he said during the news conference. “From my experience, when it’s a new thing and none of us are experts the Spirit finds a new opening.”
In addition, a free app is available here for anyone with an Android or IOS 7 or later smartphone or tablet. The app contains schedules, maps, vendor information, daily orders of worship services and other useful materials. The app can also be used on a computer.
While convention may not officially begin until June 25, a session of legislative committee meetings during the evening of June 23 informally begins the work of the triennial gathering. On June 24 there will be two more legislative meeting sessions and the 12 hours in between will feature a General Convention presentation by Jefferts Schori and Jennings, plus a scheduled three-hour session with the four bishops nominated to be the 27th presiding bishop. The complete draft convention schedule is here.
The major work facing General Convention includes:
The election of the 27th presiding bishop
The 78th meeting of General Convention will elect one of four men to succeed Jefferts Schori, whose nine-year term ends Nov. 1.
The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop will submit the names of
The Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal, 64, Diocese of Southern Ohio
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, 62, Diocese of North Carolina
The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, 56, Diocese of Connecticut
The Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith, 61, Diocese of Southwest Florida
to the General Convention during a joint session on June 26, the day before the election.
There will be no additional nominees from the floor during convention, according to the committee.
Election details, and information about the run-up to the election, are here.
The presiding bishop-elect will preach at the convention’s closing Eucharist on July 3, and Jefferts Schori will preside.
The structure of the church
Of the almost 400 resolutions submitted to General Convention in 2012, more than 90 related to structural reform. The majority of those resolutions were synthesized into Resolution C095, which both bishops and deputies passed unanimously. The resolution called for a committee to develop a plan for “reforming the church’s structures, governance, and administration.” The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church was the result. The task force spent approximately two years and several hundred thousand dollars engaging, throughout The Episcopal Church, a broadly consultative process of dialogue about structure and its relationship to mission.
In its report the task force proposed nine resolutions that call for clarified and strengthened oversight by the presiding bishop of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and its staff; a unicameral General Convention; a smaller Executive Council; elimination of most of the church’s 14 standing commissions and a process for appointing interim task forces as needed; a study of clergy formation and compensation (including pension); a new process for discernment, formation, search, and election of bishops; discernment with neighboring dioceses for potential collaboration when it comes time to call a new bishop; a lower and participation-mandated diocesan budget asking; and the development of a network of people who can “become skilled in creating, nurturing, and developing spaces and moments for spiritual encounters that transform lives and unjust structures.”
TREC is not the only committee proposing structural-change resolutions to this meeting of convention. The Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church has proposed a number of changes. Those resolutions are here and its report to the church is here.
The Episcopal Church’s theology of marriage
The General Convention Task Force on Marriage, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, and, to date, five dioceses and one deputy are urging convention toward greater clarity in its understanding of the availability of the sacramental rite of marriage to both different- and same-sex couples.
Nine existing resolutions and other related ones that might arise have been assigned to the General Convention’s Special Legislative Committee on Marriage, formally a bishop committee meeting alongside a deputy committee but voting separately. The resolutions assigned to that committee are here.
Formulating the 2016-2018 triennial budget
The Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) has already begun work on the draft 2016-2018 triennium budget that Executive Council passed in January.
The total income in council’s draft budget is $120,470,577 and the total projected expenses are $120,468,248. In addition to diocesan payments, the revenue side includes income from other sources such as $28.2 million from a 5 percent draw on the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s unrestricted assets, nearly $10 million in rental income from the Episcopal Church Center, $2.1 million from Episcopal Migration Ministries’ refugee loan collection program, $2 million to be raised by the development office and $1.2 million in General Convention income, along with other smaller sources.
PB&F will hold a revenue hearing at 7:30 p.m. MDT July 26 in Grand Ballroom A,B,C of the Hilton Salt Lake City Center. The committee returns to the location at the same time July 27 for a hearing on spending.
PB&F will use the comments it receives, council’s draft budget and any legislation passed by or being considered by General Convention to create a final budget proposal. That budget must be presented to a joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies no later than the third day before convention’s scheduled adjournment. According to the draft convention schedule, that presentation is set to take place at 2:15 p.m. MDT on July 1.
Province IX financial sustainability
The Province IX dioceses in Latin American and the Caribbean adopted self-sustainability as a focus in 2012. General Convention via Resolution A015 will be asked to continue its support of financial sustainability in the province.
The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society has been working with the seven dioceses – the Dominican Republic, Ecuador Central, Ecuador Litoral, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras and Puerto Rico – on a comprehensive approach to financial sustainability driven by the individual needs of each diocese.
Fossil fuels divestment
A discussion on whether The Episcopal Church should move its investments from companies engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels and industries that use large amounts of fossil fuels is expected to continue at convention.
Resolution C013 from the Diocese of California is calling on the Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Church Pension Fund, in consultation with experts in the fields of economics and investing, ethics, renewable energy development, to assess whether the benefit of a divestment strategy would be in compliance with the church’s values. Convention’s Environmental Stewardship and Creation Care Legislative Committee, one of the new committees Jefferts Schori and Jennings created, will consider the resolution and make a recommendation to the whole of convention.
Title IV revisions
The Standing Commission on Constitutions and Canons has proposed 25 resolutions it says are primarily meant to fine tune the church’s canons of clergy discipline known as Title IV. Those changes would clarify the duties of Title IV officials and “promot[e] a more efficient, pastoral, and accountable process for all parties affected by Title IV,” according to the commission’s report to the church.
The current version of Title IV was enacted by General Convention in 2009, and it created an entirely new process for handling clergy discipline. The commission in 2013 asked for feedback on how the process was working. The general complaints it received, the commission said, were that the process takes too long and costs too much money; that church officials are often uncertain of their authority and duties; and that respondents are often permitted to disrupt and delay the process, causing significant additional pastoral harm to complainants and those injured by clergy misconduct while congregations remain in limbo in regards to resolution or closure.
The commission said it found that in most cases, the problems described resulted from inadequate training in the Title IV process rather than the process itself. Thus, it is proposing that convention allocate $339,220 for online and offline education materials, and another $224,820 to have them translated into Spanish and Creole. It also proposes establishing a panel of process experts to answer questions.
“It is our hope that with better training and more resources, the system will work more efficiently and pastorally, as it was designed to do,” the commission said.
International policy, peace and justice, global mission and the Anglican Communion
Two resolutions will challenge convention to commit to the ongoing support and development of the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission (EVIM) programs. (Full story here)
Peace, justice and security in the Holy Land are the focus of several resolutions, some calling for deeper investment in Middle East partnerships, especially with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its social institutions in healthcare and education, and others suggesting a strategy of divestment from companies involved in certain kinds of business with the Israeli government.
Several dozen international visitors – representing many of the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces – and ecumenical and interreligious partners will attend General Convention as invited guests to gain a deeper understanding of The Episcopal Church’s polity and legislative processes and to celebrate and explore the opportunities for common mission.
– Matthew Davies, the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg and Lynette Wilson of the Episcopal News Service contributed to this story.