Although deputies sometimes grumble about being asked to sing, the joyful noise we make is impressive. Including the gallery and dais, we are a nearly 1000 voice chorus that lifts its song toward heaven. At this convention, we have sung a number of rounds—simple a capella tunes that overlap to produce wonderful chords that fill the cavernous convention hall. Yesterday, we sang a hymn that caused tingly goosebumps to make their way down my neck and arms.
The music was lovely, but the sentiment behind it was the source of real amazement. Even before convention started, we have eagerly awaited a resolution dealing with the structure of the church. Our notebooks of pre-filed resolutions came with over a dozen copies of near-identical requests for a realignment of our church’s priorities to make our church the missionary body it claims to be. After much debate and careful planning, the Structure Committee presented C095—a substitute resolution that calls for the implementation of a task force with the job of exploring and suggesting sweeping changes. The resolution was not perfect—how would the task force be monitored? was the cost justified?—but there seemed to be majority support for it.
That resolution was the one thing we have been looking forward to as a whole convention. As one speaker put it, “Who would have guessed three years ago that the issue we care about most at this convention was structure?” The debate was respectful, and, when completed, the President of the House of Deputies called upon the Chaplain to offer prayer before the vote was cast. “All those in favor say aye.” The enormous space echoed with a thunderous affirmative. “All those opposed say no.” Pure silence. Not a sound. Not a single dissent. Our entire, gigantic, diverse body agreed on the single most important thing we faced. Our unanimity was overwhelming.
As we sang a hymn about God’s Spirit breathing new life into our church, the reality of what had happened sank in. Many seemed moved by what we had done. Smiles were on almost every face. We were a united house. And then we moved on to the next order of business.
We had arrived at the time certain set for debate on A049—the resolution that calls for the provisional use of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions. Conscious of the strange order of things, I tweeted, “Can’t have asked for better timing. 1st item being considered after unanimous vote on structure is same-sex blessings. #hopeforsamespirit.” Although I knew it would be a contentious debate and vote, I hoped and prayed that some Spirit of that which unites us would pervade our House even in our discord.
Again, the debate was respectful, but this time we heard people speak about the future of the church as if we were headed toward a cliff or about to “plunge into an abyss.” We became snarled in a long cascade of parliamentary procedure—motions to divide the question, suspend the rules, appeal the ruling of the chair, and vote by orders. After a blindingly fast thirty minutes of debate, we again prayed together and cast our votes. Because we voted electronically and by orders, the assumed result was not announced for a while. At some point, a deputy rose on a point of personal privilege to ask our House to refrain from celebrating the outcome out of respect for those who disagreed, and, when the vote was finally revealed—78% of lay deputies and 76% of clergy deputies voted in favor—we went into recess and walked out of the hall in an odd but respectful quiet.
I cannot overstate the contrast between those two moments—the jubilant song of our unanimous house and the silent procession of our respectful disagreement—which were placed almost back-to-back. That difference suggests to me that we understand what really matters. We recognize that our ability to participate in the life of the church together is why we have all come to Indianapolis for General Convention. Many deputies and on-lookers were thrilled at the outcome of the same-sex blessings vote, and a fair number were heart-broken. But all of us were more interested in holding together than pulling apart.