Breathing life into Diocesan Convention?

Yesterday, the 165th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee met. Details of the gathering are here.

There were two resolutions: one a change to the canons to permit vestries of six members; the other the annual minimum compensation for clergy. Neither elicited any debate. There were only two contested elections (for a lay member of Executive Committee, and for a clergy slot on Standing Committee).

I wasn’t able to stay for the discussion of the budget but from my twitter feed, it seems that there was little debate on that. In fact, a newcomer to the diocese observed that the explanation of the rules for debate took up more time than the debate itself. It’s as if we were going through the motions–doing things that needed to be done without any energy or excitement.

The only time it seemed the room began to fill with ideas and energy was as we talked around our tables about three questions Bishop Miller gave us at the end of his address. Here they are:

How is your congregation experiencing new life?
How do we, continually ourselves and others to see the new life God is calling forth and deepen our relationship with God?
How can diocesan structures and ministries help you in these efforts?

The questions were oriented toward the diocese’s ongoing strategic planning process in which I participate as a member of the task force.

It got me thinking, though. We’ve been talking a great deal about restructuring the church, on the congregation, diocesan, and church-wide level. Diocesan conventions seem ripe for complete rethinking. Every year, several hundred of the most committed Episcopalian Christians gather in each diocese to elect members to various bodies, debate resolutions, and pass budgets. I’ve never met anyone who said they love the business session of a convention. We do it because we have to do it, because we can’t imagine another way of doing it. But here we are, several hundred of us, gathered to work and worship. We hang out together, rekindle relationships, make new friends. How might we use our time together more effectively: for teaching and learning, for asking big questions and hearing about new initiatives? For praying? Studying the Bible? Instead, we go through the motions of doing business. In our diocese, we hear the Bishop twice, preaching the sermon during the Eucharist and his pastoral address during the business session. Instead of listening, how might we foster more conversation, dialogue, and listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit?

Here’s Bishop Miller’s Pastoral Address to the convention.

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