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Deputation Diary Day 8: The Rev. Canon Lee Crawford

 7/1/2015

And it was evening and it was morning, a seventh day…

But we did not rest. Instead, we worked hard — physically as we sat most of the day; mentally as we worked our way through many complex and difficult resolutions; and spiritually/emotionally as we considered what this church means by full inclusion

The day started out with the commemoration of Hiram Hisanoi Kano, born in Japan, but who later became a missioner to the Nisei (people of Japanese descent) in Nebraska. As a special treat, the congregation heard kneshin taiko drums. They seemed to presage the eventful decisions that would come later on in the day.

 

At the same time that the congregation experienced energetic Japanese drumming, it also sang some very familiar hymns. To sing ‘Humby I adore thee’ with 3000 other people reminds one that General Convention is not just about legislation but also about connecting with a much larger whole and rich history.

The most momentous decisions of the day came in the late afternoon in the House of Deputies. Despite the late hour, the house took up two resolutions (A054 amended and A036 amended) — one that calls on the church to provide marriage rites for all and the other that recasts the marriage canon (I.18).

 The first resolution asks General Convention to authorize for use, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” beginning the first Sunday of Advent 2015. It explains that trial use is only available under the direction and with the permission of the diocesan bishop. At the same time, the resolution asks for recognition of the “theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalizaed in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her theological objection to or support for the 78th General Convention’s action contained in this resolution….” This resolution makes provisions for all couples asking to be married in this church to have access to these liturgies. However, trial use is only available under the direction of and with permission from the bishop diocesan. This creates a paradox, one which tries to create as much room in the church for divergent views. The second resolution, A036, removes the gender-specific language of “husband” and “wife” by replacing it with “couple,” or “both parties.” It calls the rite, “marriage,” rather than “matrimony.”

The House of Bishops had already passed both resolutions. Given that General Convention operates on a bicameral system, a resolution only becomes effective if both houses pass it with no amendments. In the case of these two resolutions, they went first to the House of Bishops and then were sent to the House of Deputies for concurence.

Before beginning debate in the House of Deputies, the chaplain led the house in prayer. Much of the House of Deputies’ prayer consists of song. How appropriate to sing, “We are all one together,” before embarking on a debate that touches the foundations of our lives.

 

When the House of Deputies considers a resolution as important as providing new rites or changing a canon, typically three or more deputations call for a vote by orders — clergy as one order, the laity as another. (At our diocesan convention, we vote by orders when we are electing deputies to General Convention.) For a resolution to pass in both orders, clergy and lay, a 2/3 majority is required, rather than the usual simple majority.

People spoke respectfully and passionately to the two resolutions . The overall sentiment of their remarks was one of a desire to open the church and its rites to all. Richard Pryor, III, from the Diocese of Ohio and a member of the official Youth Presence, paraphrased an invitation at his godmother’s church. The invitation is based on one found at Iona: “This is not our church. This is the Church of Jesus. It is made ready for those who love him and for those who want to love him more. So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been here long. Come, because it is Jesus who invites you. It is God’s will that those who wish, should meet him here.”

Before the second vote, the chaplain once again led the house in prayer.

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Both resolutions passed with an overwhelming majority, despite their being votes by order. (A divided vote means that two members voted for and two voted against; it is counted as a “no” vote.)

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The outcome of these two resolutions held particular significance for the Vermont deputation. Deputation Chair, Tom Little, and member, Stan Baker, were major players in the civil history that led Vermont and the nation toward marriage equality. How powerful it was to see the two seated side by side, and filling out the paper ballot that indicated the Vermont deputation’s unanimous assent to both resolutions.

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 These key players, aware of the historical significance of the vote, wanted to record the results.

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 These key players, aware of the historical significance of the vote, wanted to record the results.

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These votes are the result of almost 40 years of concentrated, at times painful, difficult, persistent conversation in The Episcopal Church. My first encounter with this long, long dialogue started in 1997 at my first General Convention in Philadelphia. Twelve years ago in Minneapolis, Anne Brown and I, the sole “out” couple on the floor of the House of Deputies, were the lead speakers in yet another attempt to ease the church toward full inclusion of its LGBT members.

As I sat and listened to the debate today, I reflected on how the tone has changed over the 18 years I have been a part of it. The intense vitriol no longer infects the tone of debate. Even in deep differences, the members of the House still manage to listen to each other. No one appears ready to pack up and leave — something that would happen in prior years when the vote inched closer and closer toward inclusion.

I am grateful to be part of a church that has wrestled honestly and faithfully for decades with what it means to be created in the image of God, and how to show that God loves absolutely everyone. Today, The Episcopal Church came one step closer to showing the world that God’s love is inexhaustable and how faithful couples, straight and gay, can be examples of that love.

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