Once again I’ve found myself at General Convention – as one friend put it recently “my happy place.” It’s the place I get to combine my love of politics and my love of The Episcopal Church all in one joyous, frustrating, exciting and exhausting place. Over the next twelve days, I’m going to be posting daily reflections on what is going on here in Salt Lake City mainly as a way to keep my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, and my internship parish for the fall, Trinity Church, in the loop about what’s going on, but also as a way to add another voice to the chorus of General Convention voices. If there is something in particular you dear reader want to know about, let me know – I’ll see what I can dig up for you.
Over the next few days Bishops, clergy, and lay people will descend upon Salt Lake City, Utah for the triennial governing body of The Episcopal Church – General Convention. For those of your not immersed in Episcopal geekery, General Convention is a bicameral legislature that functions like Congress, but hopefully in a kinder, gentler, more gracious spirit. The House of Deputies is comprised of four lay deputies and four clerical deputies from every Diocese. This is my fourth General Convention, third as a Deputy, and I am as excited about this gathering as I was for the first time I went in 2006. The other day I was asked what I was looking forward to most about General Convention, so I came up with this top five list of things I’m excited and nervous about that you might find interesting as well. I’m pretty sure this list will change greatly over the next two weeks but for now here it is:
1) The 27th Presiding Bishop.
At this General Convention we will elect – more specificity the Bishops will elect and the Deputies will confirm – the 27th Presiding Bishop for The Episcopal Church. Having served as the lay representative from Province 1 (New England), I’ve had the inside track throughout the whole process but only God knows what will happen next and who will be elected. Each of the four nominees are gifted and faithful Bishops who will lead The Episcopal Church to the best of his abilities using their particular gifts.
2) Same-Sex Blessings
At the last General Convention (2012) a liturgy for blessings same-sex couples was authorized for provisional use. This time around, the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music is inviting us to consider revised versions of the liturgy authorized in 2012 and a revised, gender-neutral version of the marriage liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. This won’t change anything for many places, same-sex blessings will continue to happen, but it may change what liturgy we use to bless those relationships.
3) The Calendar of Saints
If you’ve been to a Wednesday night Eucharist or Morning Prayer in Lent you’ve experienced some of the breath and depth of the calendar of saints for the Church. For the last few General Conventions this calendar has been expanded and in trial use under the name “Holy Women, Holy Men.” (The Current Official Calendar is known as Lesser Feasts and Fasts). This project seeks to expand the calendar to include a very wide array of commemorations, and has come under a lot of fire for how this has been done. Depending on what happens at this General Convention you may start to hear some new names being commemorated during the Wednesday Eucharist or even find that some of your favorite commemorations have been moved around.
4) Looking to the Future
Much of the work of General Convention is around budgets and keeping things going, but we also spend time doing some visioning and imaging where God is leading us next. The interim bodies of a General Convention have been looking at our governing structure to see what systems need to be in place on the national level, and the diocese level to support the work of the Church. There have been conversations on how we train clergy – do we use part time, one weekend a month programs or full time residential seminaries? Conversations around fundraising, how we manage our financial resources, and what things we should and should not be investing in. As an example, one conversation my legislative committee (Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation) will spend a lot of time having involves a call to divest from fossil fuels. And there have been conversations on how to get small congregations the resources they need to grow and thrive to continue there mission. Conversations to see how the wider Church can support places like the Redeemer live into their vocation to carry out the Gospel mandates.
One of the best parts of General Convention is a part that never gets any press. Part of our time in Salt Lake City is about reconnecting with friends and colleagues around the Church while also meeting new people. It is about worshipping together and receiving the Sacrament of Bread and Wine side by side with those who we fight it out with during legislative committee meetings and debate sessions on the floor of the respective Houses. It is about hearing stories from around the world about how our brothers and sisters in Christ are doing amazing things in the name of Jesus. It is about learning from one another that we all might be inspired and energized in new ways to carry out our own ministries.
Most importantly I ask for your prayers. Please pray for all the Bishops, Deputies, Alternates, ECW members, Volunteers, Vendors, and everyone else who makes this gathering possible. May we carry out the duties entrusted to use by The Church with faithfulness, gentleness, humility, and the right amount of humor.