The Episcopal Church is alive and well! General Convention, the once every three year gathering of the Church governing body, met in Indianapolis this summer for almost two weeks. This is a gathering of Bishops and lay and clergy deputies, all of whom have been elected by the people of the Episcopal Church (Bishops once and deputies every three years by their respective Dioceses). It is democracy in action, led we believe by the Holy Spirit. I participated three years ago in person as a clergy deputy (alternate), and followed indirectly this year via blogs and other on-line postings. It is a veritable feast of great worship, great fellowship, and heated legislative discussion, debate, and often compromise.
Significant actions of this year’s General Convention include the following:
· * A mission-oriented budget for the next three years of just over $111 million, virtually unchanged in dollar amount from the current three-year budget. Yet this budget is profoundly different, formulated around the Five Marks of Mission of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion (see Michelle Boomgaard’s article for more information about the Five Marks of Mission in the August issue of The Messenger).
· * Setting up a process for re-examining the current structure of the Episcopal Church with an eye toward making the Church more nimble, less hierarchical, more mission-oriented, and taking into account the views of younger generations of Episcopalians. There will be a special task force that will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the Church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the next General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014. Consistent with this approach was a decision to move the headquarters of the Episcopal Church out of New York City, presumably to a less costly and more central location.
· * Trial use of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions, formally called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” The liturgy would be available starting December 2, the First Sunday of Advent, but only if approved by the Diocesan Bishop. If approved by the Bishop, individual clergy would have the discretion to decide whether or not to perform the ceremony. Bishop-elect Dorsey McConnell has announced his intention to begin a process for exploring this and related issues within our Diocese in January, with the hope that the conversation could be concluded by May.
At the closing press briefing, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori said “you have seen the Episcopal Church not only of the future, but of today, in the presence of young adults, a more significant number than we’ve seen in a long time, people of many nations and tribes and language traditions,” noting that more than 40 international guests attended convention. “The Episcopal Church is healthy, it’s becoming healthier, and it’s poised for an even more significant impact on the world around us. There’s no stopping us. Watch out world. We’re coming.”
You may have read or heard about some negative opinion pieces following General Convention claiming that the Episcopal Church is, essentially, un-Christian and dying. I beg to differ, on both counts. As with St. Paul’s, the Episcopal Church is about bringing in the Kingdom of God through the love of Jesus Christ, offering hope and new life to everyone, everywhere. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, we are all about love and justice for each of God’s children. We are at the very center of Christian faith and practice as it has been passed down to us by Jesus himself. It is a very exciting time to be an Episcopalian. I agree with our Presiding Bishop: “There’s no stopping us. Watch out world. We’re coming.”