General Convention Reflection from Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Report from General Convention 79 in Austin, Texas
By Stannard Baker | Clergy Deputy
As many of you know this is my third General Convention as a Clergy Deputy. Today was our first full (very full) day of convention business. I did have an organizational legislative committee meeting last night, but today was truly off and running.
My morning began, after tea and oatmeal in my room, with open hearings held by my legislative committee. Bishop Ely and I both serve on Committee 13 – The Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169, made up of both clergy and lay deputies, and bishops. It is one of 24 legislative committees, and perhaps, the most awkwardly and obscurely named legislative committee at convention, but our work is important. Here is our mandate: Receives and considers the report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music on Resolution A169 adopted by the 78th General Convention; receives and proposes Resolutions on revision of the Book of Common Prayer.
All legislation that comes to the floor of the House of Deputies, or The House of Bishops must first come through one of the 24 committees for review, amendment, conflation, etc. The Committee makes a recommendation on each resolution before it moves it on. Changing the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) takes time and each change or major revision to the BCP must be approved by two consecutive conventions. Work we begin this summer will not be incorporated into the Prayer Book for some time, although we may bring forward liturgies that are available in other ways. This morning we heard moving testimony on six different resolutions focused on adding inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity as well as for God’s creation – language to include the rich diversity of our church. Fourteen people, including trans clergy, spoke eloquently on issues of gender-neutral language and the importance of creation care language in the BCP, and in the Baptismal Covenant. After an hour of testimony, we moved into the business of working with the resolutions before us as a committee. Tomorrow we will hear testimony on resolutions having to do with changes to the BCP that remove gender specific language from marriage liturgies. There are two resolutions being considered, one carefully crafted by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage that both +Tom and I were part of for the last triennium, and an alternative resolution. We expect these to be very large hearings.
Then, after a quick lunch, all the deputies and bishops sat together in the House of Deputies (HoD) to hear addresses from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, and the President of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings. Both were stirring and well received. I’ve included a photo of PB Michael Curry speaking. Notice in the left lower corner of the photo is a large Bible that is always open whenever the HoD is in session, to remind us why we are here.
These “Presentations to Convention” were followed by a two-hour orientation for deputies dealing with: parliamentary procedure, rules of the HoD, learning to use our “Virtual Binders” (in a effort to be as paperless as possible), and practicing using our voting devices. We have several ways to vote: yes – no; voting for a number of people from a list; and voting by orders (lay and clergy), we practiced by voting on whether Brazil would win the World Cup and our two favorite Disney characters (out of six), which added a moment of levity. And, yes I did need a cup of tea to make it through the orientation, awake and alert.
The day ended with a moving Listening Liturgy. This worship experience focused hearing the stories of survivors of abuse. This was abuse perpetrated by people in power in the church. The congregation singing a Kyrie three times and then a profound silence followed each story.
Tomorrow morning is our first Eucharist, always a powerful experience, but I am reminded as I hear fireworks out the window of my 21st floor room, that today is the Fourth of July. It has been a full day for me and everyone here at convention: a day of celebration for our mission as a church, but also a day to remember all who have been wounded, ignored, or oppressed as our nation and church grew. Let us send for prayers of thanks and also prayers for atonement, healing and reconciliation. There is much work to do here, some of it challenging, but it is good work; it is God’s work. #GC79