Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Cycle Begins

I leave this morning for Province IV Synod at Kanuga, which means that it's time for this blog to begin to feature posts related to General Convention. Of course, these aren't the first. I've posted on things like the election of the Presiding Bishop and the proposed reforms in the TREC report. This, however, begins that cycle of General Convention posts in earnest. I'll still post on the lessons for Sunday, on the Daily Office, and on other church issues, but, between now and July 4, this blog will even more filled with church geekery than usual.

A few months ago, a clergyman from our diocese asked me what the "big issues" at this year's General Convention would be. By that, he didn't mean controversial issues, he meant the sort of issues that would have an impact in his parish. After some thought, I identified four issues. For now, they still seem like the big issues, but my time at Province IV Synod will give me a better idea.

First, the election of the PB. Although, as I've written, the bulk of that decision belongs only to the House of Bishops, this is a decision that will have substantial implications throughout the Episcopal Church--from the Church Center in New York to the smallest parish in rural Alabama. We pray for this person by name every Sunday. Although not an archbishop, the PB often speaks for the whole church. Whomever the bishops elect and deputies confirm will make a big difference in our church.

Second, the marriage canons. The Taskforce on Marriage released its report, including some substantial changes to the way we define marriage. Among other streamlining moves, the big change is to remove the language about one man and one woman from the canons. For many in the Episcopal Church, this feels like an inevitable change. Many states allow same-sex marriage, and, despite contradicting the canons, many bishops already allow it in their dioceses. So what's the big deal? It's a huge deal, especially in places like Alabama, where same-sex blessings are permitted but same-sex marriage is not--a canonical distinction our bishop maintains.

Third, the spirit of reform. At the last meeting of the General Convention, we were caught up a moment for change. We unanimously passed the resolution to appoint a task force to work on restructuring the church. This time, we have the TREC proposals to consider as well as other proposals from groups like the Acts 8 movement and from individual deputies. What will this mean for the local church? Immediately, probably not much, but, as those reforms take hold and reshape our church at the highest levels, those changes filter down and make a difference. I believe these will be the real focus of this General Convention, but I think the impact on local parishes will be delayed.

Fourth, the budget. This year's approach to the budget has a very different feel. **After a very helpful and much appreciated phone call from Gay Jennings, I've learned I need to change the way I describe the updated budgeting process in this blog. The process itself isn't completely different. No, we weren't starting from scratch at General Convention. But this year, unlike before, there has been a clear and transparent process beginning all the way back with Executive Council's work. They asked for input all along the way, so it feels like the whole church has been involved in the budgeting process instead of springing the draft budget upon the whole church relatively close to Convention. So, as we approach Salt Lake City, I sense that we've all had a chance to shape the budget from the front end instead of only getting a voice in those chaotic PB&F hearings. (Thanks, Susan Snook, Gay Jennings, and the other ExCon members who worked so hard on this.) Plus, the content has changed, too. In this draft budget, there's a shift away from institutional priorities and toward local priorities. That's seen in a large budget for starting new ministries and in a scheduled reduction of the diocesan apportionments. In short, the amount each diocese will be asked to contribute will be reduced over the next triennium, which means each diocese will, in theory, have more money to do local ministry.

There will be more, of course. There will be surprises. General Convention takes on a life of its own, and it will take me a while to figure out what's going on. I'm thankful to be going back for a second time as a deputy, and I look forward to sharing some of my experience here.

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