Friday, June 5, 2015

Wrapping Up Provinve IV

My time here at Kanuga for Province IV Synod has been so productive that I feel like I need to write four different blog posts to update myself on what will happen at General Convention. I feel so much more clearly the attitudes behind the different proposals and resolutions. Of course, that's only one corner of the church--the southeastern continental corner--and I cannot yet know what the spirit of General Convention will feel like, but I think a lot has been accomplished as we prepare to head to Utah. Here are my updated thoughts.

Marriage. Wow. I thought I knew how the conversation about the Marriage Taskforce and their work would go, but I was dead wrong. I assumed that the proposals--although substantial and, in many ways, controversial--would sail through without any real threat. After our conversation last night, I do not feel that way anymore. Sure, the odds are in favor of the Episcopal Church redefining the marriage canons, but the issues raised by bishops and deputes make me feel that there's still a whole lot still to talk about. In short, it felt like there were two strong, deeply held positions expressed. First, there are those who believe that, after doing good work on same-sex blessings, our church is ready to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex partners and feels that this is an issue of justice. Second, there are those who believe that the work done on same-sex blessings is separate and distinct from the work needed on the sacrament of marriage and who feel that, because our church has no real, clear theology of marriage, we should not begin to tinker with our understanding of the sacrament. Throw on top of that a real, genuine constitutional crisis--in our polity our BCP, which is understood to be part of our constitution, trumps the canons, and, following the presumed passage of these canonical changes, the definition of marriage in the BCP and in the canons would be in direct conflict--and you've got a very interesting, very uncertain conversation ahead. Strap in. Of course, for the first time, the rest of the country seems already to have figured this issues out, which means that, whatever our decision is, it may only get a collective shrug from those outside the church.

Budget. I am again overwhelmed at the good, clear, transparent work done by Executive Council on the budget. They have handed off the task of adopting a budget to General Convention and the whole church with clarity and ease. (Does anyone remember that there were TWO different draft budgets by the time we got to General Convention last time???) Despite their focused and, at times, prophetic work, the old battles over lines in the budget showed themselves again here at Province IV. Several people got up to ask about their own important ministry, notably our church's support of historically black colleges and universities. That's only one area, but it was clear to me that we're in for the same sort of sardine-can-style hearing room, in which hundreds of people come to plead with PB&F for a slice of the pie. In effect, all the hope for restructuring and simplification and streamlining seems to stall when it's time to talk about the area each of us holds most dear. "Of course THAT should be included in the budget. It's really important!" Well, I hope that the movement away from stuck line items and towards a granting process, which is increased in this draft budget, will hold sway on General Convention. This budget is, indeed, a move in the right direction. I hope it doesn't get bogged down by the sausage-making machine that is General Convention.

Restructuring. As I tweeted yesterday, the explanation of the nine proposed resolutions given to us by TREC are incredible. Unicameral General Convention? Restructure the CCABs, eliminating all but two? Redefine the roles of the presiding officers? Allow the Presiding Bishop to be chosen by both houses? Reduce the membership in the House of Deputies by 25%? Those are ground-shifting changes. As Bishop Curry remarked yesterday, the church asked TREC to propose some big things, and it did. We wanted TREC to let us see what a reimagined church could look like, and they did. I want to write another, separate post on why restructuring will not "save" the church and why we shouldn't be focused on saving the church anyway, but that will need to wait. For now, my big question is, what happens when these big proposals fail? Will we still be able to hold on to that bold spirit of reform that pervaded the last convention when the specific suggestions--like a unicameral house--go over like a steel-plated balloon?

Look, friends. The last thing the bishops of our church want is to have to sit in the chaos of the House of Deputies. There are over 800 of us. Why would the 200 bishops, who enjoy round-table discussion with colleagues from across the church, want to be a part of the bizarre moderated bloodshed that is perceived to be the senior house? No, it's not really that bad. Yes, I love being in the House of Deputies. But the proposal for a unicameral house isn't going anywhere. So then what? What happens when some (or all) of these proposals hit roadblocks? The movement to reimagine our church is too important to let it die at this General Convention. We need reform. We need big reform. And we can't let our church's overwhelming desire for reimagination fizzle out because of some setbacks. We need to make sure that the outcome of this General Convention is continued work toward a reimagined future--even if we can't see exactly what it is yet.

Lastly, a word about provincial synods. I heard yesterday that Provinces IV and IX are the only ones who have meaningful, fruitful ministry at the provincial level. I can attest that the work being done here is good, valuable, important work. We are fuller and better because of this gathering. I don't know about other corners of the church, but I hope provinces and their role in the governance of the church continues--perhaps with some reimagination of their own. Someone reported that it would cost each of our dioceses an extra $500 to keep the work of Province IV going if funding is cut from the churchwide budget. I support that--enough to volunteer to pay the $500 from Alabama to make it happen. I hope others in Province IV--and throughout the Episcopal Church--will also look for a way to have meaningful shared ministry at the provincial level.

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