The Anglican Covenant and General Convention

The Anglican Covenant will be debated today at General Convention. Passions are running high on this and it will be interesting to follow the developments. While our own General Convention is meeting the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia declined to adopt it. Instead, it affirmed the first three sections and added this resolution:

that this church affirms the commitment of the Church of Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia to the life of the Anglican Communion, including the roles and responsibilities of the four Instruments of Communion as they currently operate.

Mark Harris on the background to the revised resolutions coming before General Convention and his own change of heart:

What we realized in the small group, and later in the whole of the Legislative Committee on World Mission, is that we are under no compulsion, save our own, to give an answer to the question of adopting the Covenant. Why, in particular, must we provide an answer now?  Now, when we are in the midst of massive efforts to re-structure and re-vision the life of this Church?  Why now when we do not need more division?  What we may want is definitive answers, what we may need is time to be together at the table.
Center Aisle’s reporting is here.
Malcolm French of The No Anglican Covenant coalition is not amused:
hird, this whole dynamic seems consistent with one of the major flaws of the Anglican Covenant.  It is a very “purple” document – concerned principally (and almost exclusively) with bishops.  It seems almost to envision a church which is both episcopally led and episcopally governed, where the concerns of bishops are the principle engine of decision-making and where the role of the laity is, as the old saw has it, “to pray, to pay and to obey.”  In the workings of the legislative subcommittee, we see a process that is driven, not by the heartfelt views of deputies, but by the combined anxieties and machinations of bishops.

If I might risk to make an outsider’s observation about process, it appears to me that the committee structure which exists in the Episcopal Church, while providing the appearance of collegial transparency in the development of legislation and resolutions may actually do just the opposite.  The subcommittee proceedings seem less a healthy exchange of views than a self-reinforcing echo chamber.  The Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland referred the other day to the “smoke-filled rooms” of the General Convention.  This allusion to the bad old days of political powerbrokers and machine politics should, perhaps, be a clarion call to reconsider the whole approach to “managing” the debates of the Church.

Dare I say, the Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Covenant should be determined by those who have been authorized to make decisions on behalf of the Church – the Deputies and the Bishops – and not by a cabal of apparatchiks, however well-intentioned.

The full text of the revised resolutions are here:
005, substitute:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 77th General Convention express its gratitude to those who so faithfully worked at producing and responding to the proposed Anglican Covenant
(; and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention acknowledge that following extensive study and prayerful consideration of the Anglican Covenant there remain a wide variety of opinions and ecclesiological positions in The Episcopal Church; and be it further
Resolved, that as a pastoral response to The Episcopal Church, the General Convention decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention; and be it further
Resolved, that the General Convention ask the Presiding Officers to appoint a task force of Executive Council (Blue Book, 637) to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council task force on the Anglican Covenant report its findings and recommendations to the 78th General Convention.
D008 Substitute:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring that The 77th General Convention express its profound gratitude to those who so faithfully work at encouraging dialogue within the diversity of the Anglican Communion, and be it further
Resolved, That we celebrate the great blessing of the Anglican Communion in its diversity within community as autonomous churches in relationship bound together in our differences in service to God’s mission, and be it further
Resolved, That we hold fast and reaffirm our historic commitment to and constituent membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church maintain and reinforce strong links across the world-wide Anglican Communion committing itself to continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion, and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church deepen its involvement with Communion ministries and networks using where applicable the Continuing Indaba process: conversations across differences to strengthen relationships in God’s mission ( and; and be it further
Resolved, That The 77th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and individual members of The Episcopal Church to educate themselves about the Communion as well as promote and support the Anglican Communion and its work.
Whatever happens in the House of Bishops, my sense is that there will be a lively debate in the House of Deputies, and that there will be little interest in passing a resolution even as weak as the proposed B005. There’s much talk already that it simply “kicks the can down the road.” Much of what’s being written and tweeted reflects the perspective French and is another example of a widespread distrust of the episcopacy.

House of Bishops votes for same-sex blessings

The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed liturgies for same sex blessings (an amendment had earlier changed the language from gender to blessing) this afternoon. The vote was approximately 111-41. The wide margin is a testimony both to where the church is today as well as who the church is today.

I watched some of the debate online and was moved by the tone of the conversation. There were deep disagreements but the bishops treated each other with respect. In many ways, their debate serves a model for conversation in the church. They demonstrate to all of us a way of discussing important issues in a civil manner, listening carefully, and honoring each others’ dignity.

The resolution now moves to the House of Deputies, where it will also likely be passed.

As a church, we will need to work hard, and seek God’s grace, to embrace this momentous change, and to reach out and continue to embrace those who struggle with it. At the very end of the debate today, Bishop Gray (Mississippi) spoke eloquently about the importance of humility for those of us on both sides of the debate, for recognizing that we all “see through a glass darkly,” and that we might be “wrong.” Wise counsel indeed.

Today’s best from General Convention

From a young adult, pondering the role of Young Adults at General Convention:

This is an exciting GC because of all the discussion centered on including more young adults or ensuring that they are better represented. This is a step forward. But I cannot stop thinking that if everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s, mindsets about young adults doesn’t change, than we’ll all be in big trouble. Older generations need to view us as equals and realize the fact that though we may not have the experience, we tend to be folks that have a whole lot of vision and a lot of passion to see that vision brought forth to life. I find that quite exciting—especially in our time of desperate need for renewed visions.

In the midst of General Convention, a baptism in a fountain

Bishop Greg Rickel (Olympia) on the continuing absence of offerings during Convention Eucharists. He points out that “Starbucks wins!

Bishop Dan Martins (Springfield) on yesterday’s work in the House of Bishops

More commentary on Acts 8

Andy Jones

The Best of today from General Convention

a few of the things I read that are worth passing along:

The Rev. Chuck Treadwell (deputy, Diocese of Texas) on the relationship between pastoral theology and doctrine when thinking about something like “communion without baptism:”

Any priest who has been a priest for very long knows, however, that pastoral theology often falls outside normative teaching and practice. Therefore, we occasionally respond pastorally in ways that bend the norms.
I am reminded of what I was taught by the Rev. Dr. Marion Hatchett: “never break a rubric unintentionally”. I think most priest have given communion to an unbaptized person. Hospitality and compassion may require it. But the doctrine of Baptism remains.

There’s a proposal to sell the Episcopal Church’s property at 815 Second Ave in NY. It’s expensive, underutilized, and a relic of a former age. Crusty Old Dean weighs in:

We can’t stop at selling 815 and think we have slain Constantine.  COD is enthusiastically supportive of this resolution (I thought we should move most everything to the ELCA building in Chicago) with two caveats.

1)  We will need to be OK with the transition needed.  Staff, including support staff as well as program staff, will be needed to be treated fairly.

2)  We must also think broader and more holistically, and not rush to details and obsess over things like where the new denominational building might be.  We must also have conversations about what function our staff should have and how they will connect to all levels of the church.

If we don’t begin to think in this way, it won’t matter where the denomination gets its mail.


The proposed C001 resolution on restructuring (Thanks to David Sibley)

And finally, and most importantly, Bishop Curry’s sermon from this morning’s Eucharist–check it out, he can preach!

I dream of a church, continued

Crusty Old Dean reflects on the Acts 8 meeting.

Part of my dream is that those who came to Acts 8 might be the beginning of a network that can continue this conversation about restructuring and reform, should the institutional structures seek to take control of future reform discussions.  I hope and pray that a thoughtful and deliberate proposal will come out of this Convention to shape conversations in the next triennium; but if it doesn’t, then my dream is to gather those who want to have those conversations.

Matthew Ciszek.

I dream of a church… Reflections on yesterday’s events at General Convention

There was the opening Eucharist complete with sermon from the Presiding Bishop

There were lengthy discussions on structure and various other matters. But perhaps the most important event of the day was the Acts 8 Moment meeting which I’ve blogged about before.

It seems to me that this is precisely the direction the church should move. During the “I dream of a church that…” section, one bishop said, “I dream of a church that makes its decisions in meetings like this,” in the context of prayer and bible study. The question about the future of the church is an important one. The question about restructuring the church is important, but it’s easy to get lost in the details. To begin with mission and vision, to begin with what might be, rather than with what is or what was, is to begin by imagining possibilities.

The Diocese of Maine captured the “I dream of a church” on video:

From Andy Jones

From Steve Pankey:

It was a powerful time of sharing, of hoping for the future, and of mourning for the way things are.  As we prepared to end our time, ready to regather on the 11th, several people stood up and said, “Wait!  We need to actually do something.”  And so, with and empowering word from Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, five affinity groups were formed: one to propose candidates for HoD offices, one to draft legislation, one on dream sharing, one on local contexts, and one to pray for the whole thing.

You can add your own “I dream of a church …” on Facebook here:


Reports on Day 1 of General Convention

Andy Jones’ take on yesterday is here.

The main news was the opening remarks by the Presiding Bishop (Katharine Jefforts Schori) and the President of the House of Deputies (Bonnie Anderson). Crusty Old Dean comments on the latter here.

She has this to say:

Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency — to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.

Frankly, I don’t understand what Ms. Anderson was getting at (well, I do, but her understanding of what the Episcopal Church is, and mine, are radically different). As COD points out, she seems to think there are three orders–lay people, clergy, and bishops. As far as I know, bishops are clergy, too.

General Convention Update: What’s happening with the Budget

A committee hearing is taking place with PB&F (I’m assuming Program, Budget, and Finance, but I’m not going to check). Apparently, after all the back and forth, sturm and drang, anguish across the Church, PB&F is using the Presiding Bishop’s proposed budget as its template. Earlier discussions of it on this blog are here and here. Background here.

Jim Naughton had this to say today before the hearing began. He makes several interesting suggestions:

  1. to reduce the diocesan “asking” from  19% to 15% this triennium
  2. to base the budget on the PB’s proposal
  3. to view it as “transitional” and therefore to remove some of the spending on new programs (up to $5 million) that she proposes.

If you’re interested in the Twitter play by play, follow #GC77

Why bother with General Convention anyway? The future of denominational identity

A couple of blog posts to help put GC 2012 in context.

First from David Lose: Five reasons denominations are passé.

3) Inordinate amounts of funding are spent on maintaining denominational structures and bureaucracies, money that could be spent on mission. Even though every denomination I know has in recent years cut way back on spending, eliminated various divisions or boards, or extended the times between major assemblies or conventions, denominations are still expending vast sums of money to prop up dated denominational bureaucracies. Would it not make sense to conserve resources by efficiently combining structures? Are seven or eight struggling denominational publishing houses better than one robust one? Where there are three beleaguered denominational seminaries in a single region, might not one healthy pan-denominational school suffice? (And we haven’t even started on congregations!) Think of what might happen if the savings were channeled to funding creative media campaigns that didn’t extol the virtues of one denomination but taught the Christian faith.

His other reasons include denominational identity is confusing, even meaningless in a post-Christian world; differences among denominations are relatively minor; and often denominational identity depends more on ethnic and cultural loyalties over theological conviction.

He concludes:

Bottom line: while I love my denominational heritage and am all for a robust theological identity and spirited theological conversation, I’d give up denominational identity and structure in a heartbeat if it meant a more unified, comprehensible, and compelling witness to the Gospel. How do we move in this direction? To tell you the truth, I haven’t the foggiest idea. (I know that I don’t think non-denominational churches are the answer, as they’ve essentially become denominations minus any sense of organization.) Do I even think it’s possible, given how much we have invested in our denominations and the good work they still accomplish? Again, you’ve got me. But I do know it’s time to raise these questions and initiate a conversation about mutual collaboration and mission that runs far beyond anything our parents or grandparents would have dreamed possible.

There’s a great deal to ponder here, although I wonder if there aren’t significant incarnational aspects of theology, liturgy, and polity that are expressed via the traditional denominations, aspects that can be lost if one adopts “generic” Christianity. People respond to and experience God differently and the denominations may be in part an adaptive response to those very real differences.

Meanwhile, Laura Everett ponders the disappearance of denominational identity on facebook:

A scan of my peers on Facebook turns up more personalization; I invite you to do the same. Many of my clergy friends are not using their singular denominational labels instead preferring labels like: “Christian Unitarian Universalist Witchy Trancescendentalist Jungian” (a UUA pastor), “Open Minded Evangelical Protestant Christian” (an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor), “Critical Thinking Faith, with a dose of common sense realism” (a dually ordained American and National Baptist minister), “Cake or Death?” (an Episcopal priest), and my favorite “Don’t make me jump a pew” (a United Methodist pastor).

Everett is Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and wonders about the implications of shifting denominational identity for the ecumenical movement.

Whatever her concerns, I think Lose is right to locate a central problem for the future in bloated denominational structures and organization. There is news today that a group of bishops has proposed a resolution to reduce TEC’s asking from the dioceses from 19% to 15%. That’s the percentage of diocesan budgets that is supposed to go to the Episcopal Church. That’s the amount of money that can’t be spent on local projects, on outreach in local communities, congregational development, church planting, Christian formation.

But Lose points to something else, as well. The energy we spend on denominational matters is energy taken away from local efforts, including local ecumenical efforts. One of the questions I’ve asked repeatedly is how Madison’s downtown churches can work together effectively on issues that matter to us and to the city. We don’t work at all together, or very little, and often efforts to come together are thwarted by the realities of life, by busy schedules and the like.