General Convention Reflections by The Very Rev. Sam Candler

It’s hard to get 880 strong-willed and highly-qualified deputies to agree on the precise statements of our Church on sensitive issues. But I took that challenge as my role during this past 2018 General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I was asked by Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, to chair a Special Legislative Committee this year, not one of the regular committees, which would consider any resolutions having to do with revising, or with revisions to, the Book of Common Prayer. I was honored to accept the invitation!

All sorts of proposed resolutions came to our committee, and all sorts of committed Christians came to testify in our open hearings. We prayed. We listened to people. We honored people. The range of issues came down to two: 1) Whether and how we might engage the process of Prayer Book and liturgical revision, and 2) whether and how we might allow same-gender couples to be married sacramentally in their home parishes when their diocesan bishop is theologically opposed to same-gender marriage.

You can read elsewhere of the very many excellent statements and events of the 2018 General Convention: welcoming the Church of Cuba back into The Episcopal Church, taking steps to ensure safety and honor for women in the church, dismantling racism, going out to make a prayer witness at the Hutto Family Detention Center for the sake of detained immigrants, passing a budget, and how to appeal to Israel on behalf of Palestinians.

But I was honored to be among those crafting and dealing with resolutions on prayer book revision and same-gender marriage provisions in certain dioceses. In the end, it was a great joy to propose two resolutions on those issues that actually passed. Success!

Again, you can read the actual resolutions (A063 and B012) on the official communication sites of our Church; I especially recommend Episcopal News Service. You can also read comments and reflections that speak of compromise. People were glad to seek, and to recognize, graceful compromise from some of our Church’s more passionate and committed members.

But here is what I think happened: not compromise, but victory! I enjoyed noting the victories that our parties, and our entire Church, can rightly claim. For instance, our final resolution on “Prayer Book and liturgical revision” (A068) really does authorize us, the Church, to do revision. Plus, we really did claim that we remember (“memorialize”) the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer continues to be our duly authorized prayer book. But we also committed ourselves to the healthy and ongoing joy of liturgical revision. There was tremendous agreement on the need for inclusive and expansive language in referring to both humanity and divinity. People who wanted prayer book revision, and people who wanted to remain committed to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, both could claim victory in our final resolution.

On the other issue, which was finally resolved in B012, I believe both “sides” can rightly claim victory. Importantly for me, we found a way for same-gender couples to be married sacramentally in their own, local, parishes even when the diocesan bishop is theologically opposed to that type of marriage. There are about eight dioceses of our Church presently in that situation. However, we were also careful to honor the theological principles of those eight bishops. They remain able to lead their dioceses with their conscience and leadership honored (It is just that “Their conscience is NOT their diocese!”).

Again, what I enjoyed about this year’s General Convention was how we found a way for opposing sides to enjoy victory, and not compromise. Compromise is fine and necessary, but I believe we did something beyond compromise. We celebrated common victories together, as a Church, and that celebration was truly grace-filled.

Throughout General Convention, my counsel to deputies (and bishops!) is always “to offer and then to let go.” In our Church, all of us have important voices, and we have important offerings. Our role, in Convention, is to make our offering, our statement, our idea, our proposal, but then to let it go! Once we offer our word, that word is no longer ours alone; it belongs to a wider group: either the committee considering the resolution, or the House which is considering the perfected resolution, or the entire Church (House of Deputies and House of Bishops) finally concurring with each other.

“Offering and Letting Go.” That is my motto for successful General Convention activity. In our Church, no one –no matter who we are! – no one gets their own way. We offer what we have, and then we let it go. We don’t get our own way. But we do, indeed, get the Church’s Way, the greater good, the common good, the Way of Christ. The same goes for our local congregations and local communities of faith. Our most healthy communities of faith are those where people faithfully make our offerings, and then let them go, for the sake of the whole Church. In the end, it is not any one person or party who “wins.” In the end, Love wins! Alleluia!

 

The Very Reverend Sam G. Candler
Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip
Atlanta, Georgia
 

Reflection on Prayer Book Revision by The Rev. Jeff Jackson

The iOS on my phone updates pretty frequently. Sometimes it does it without me noticing, and other times it has the decency to ask me. There have been times when the update is hardly noticeable—bug fixes on apps I don’t even use. Then there are times when the update really slows down my phone, and I have to decide if I will go back to an old system, or just bite the bullet and order a new phone. There’s a cost to that, unfortunately, but soon enough, I find I’m pretty happy with the new iOS.

The Episcopal Church has been “bug fixing” our Book of Common Prayer for years, creating small changes to fit the life of our particular congregations. We’re really not supposed to do that, but we do anyway (maybe you don’t, but I certainly do). One example is “And blessed be *God’s* kingdom, now and forever. Amen.”

The scuttlebutt at the 79th General Convention has been whether or not to begin the revision process. At the time of writing this, the House of Deputies has already approved revision, and we await the response from the House of Bishops. Should we keep updating our phones or just buy a new one? Believe me, I’m not so naive to think that this won’t give us heartburn. But does it have to?

It has been interesting to see the response from Episcopalians back in Georgia around this issue. Many seem to have “General Convention whiplash” where folks don’t know or care about what business comes to our authoritative body until a big decision is made. I’ve been there myself. But as a deputy, I have been reading actions taken at the last General Convention and a lot of information leading up to this one. General Convention is our decision-making body, so it is important to know what they are working on at all times, especially the things that affect our common life like prayer book revision.

I love the ‘79 BCP. In fact, I’ve loved every prayer book I’ve ever picked up. None of them are perfect, mind you, but the concept of common prayer is mind-blowingly beautiful to me. Each revision has had its share of controversy, and yet over time, each one has been championed by the next generation in resistance to revision.

I believe in the Holy Spirit’s work through the Episcopal Church. I’ve seen her transform lives through us and she is currently transforming my life as I experience General Convention. Imagine the Holy Spirit moving through us again to craft a new prayer book that speaks to every concern? One that preserves the ancient and elegant language of previous prayer books and one that enlivens the language of the present and future to include every image of person who makes up our Church? Maybe it will be longer, so as to include all those expressions. Maybe it will be more like an art gallery than a monument, curated by gifted liturgists. Maybe this internal prayer work we do now will lead us to greater work of evangelism, leadership, social justice, creation care, and all the work God has called us to do. Maybe it will excite all our piety.

The Episcopal Church is amazing and can do this and do this well. It won’t be perfect either, but if we don’t try, we may never know. 

My prayer is that every parish, convocation, and diocese will begin a dialogue in order to increase the impact on the conversations that will revise our next prayer book. Start by expanding your own personal use of the ‘79 BCP. Use the Daily Office, both Rite I and II, and use them *daily.* Read through the numerous liturgies, not just the ones starting on page 355. Ask your rector to rotate through the Eucharistic prayers and Forms of the Prayers of the People. Pray the wealth of prayers and thanksgivings found in the back of the prayer book. Memorize the Catechism (which generations before us had to do to be confirmed)! Let these words lift you and deepen your understanding of who God is and who you are in God. Many people have prayerfully crafted those words, and some even died over them.

We have a good long time before a final draft of the next prayer book is adopted. The earliest is 2030 (I will only be a few years away from retirement then!). Even though this news may seem fast to some, know that we have a good amount of time to digest it. Like all important things, we will need to have heartfelt, honest, and loving conversation around our prayer book. Having spent these weeks at General Convention with incredibly faithful, diverse, and intelligent deputies and bishops, I am assured that whatever we craft together will only serve to glorify God and bring us closer to one another.

A Big Church by The Rev. Jeff Jackson

When I was in high school, most of my church’s EYC members fell away from coming to church. I ended up being one of a few teenagers who were interested in being a part of the life of the church. It felt lonely. It wasn’t until I began attending diocesan youth events that I felt a part of something bigger — that there were other young people who felt that loneliness in their schools and their churches and yet banded together to support one another in our journeys with Christ. 

I have spent a majority of my ministry in rural parishes, often the only Episcopal church in a county. I’ve borne strange looks from people when I wear my collar. I have defended our church from those who think we are some strange aberration of Christianity. I have stood in the face of hatred from those who would call us unchristian because of our stances on Jesus’ inclusive love. I have endured the apathy of our own members, who see church as a monthly social obligation instead of a way of life. I have often felt that same high school loneliness and isolation, even though I have always made great efforts to be a part of my convocation, Clericus, other clergy support groups, and diocesan ministries. Annual Council is important to me because it helps assuage that isolation. But I confess there are often times when I have allowed that isolation to make me cynical enough to believe a lie that no one really cares about the Episcopal Church, perhaps even Episcopalians.

Now, I find myself in Austin, Texas at the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church as an elected deputy. I am humbled and grateful that the Diocese of Atlanta has given me this opportunity. By far the most moving thing in being here is to catch a glimpse of the wideness of our beloved church.

The first time I got choked up was in our opening worship. We were summoned to worship by drums. We sang both traditional and contemporary hymns accompanied by piano, guitar, organ, violins, and a horn section. We heard the Word of God spoken in English, Spanish, and even Hawaiian. We consumed the Body and Blood of Christ in long lines of people of all colors, genders, identities, and abilities. I had the good fortune to be seated behind the deaf community, and watched them sing with their whole bodies!

The second time I was moved to tears was during a legislative session where we watched videos of distinguished guests from all around the worldwide Anglican Communion. They gave us greetings from other members of our Church in Brazil, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and everywhere in between. They pray for us even when we don’t always pray for them. 

I realized I wasn't alone.
I will never be alone.

I am surrounded by faithful Episcopalians, those who are like me, but thankfully most who are not like me, but all who love Jesus and faithfully walk in the Way. 

Our Church is wide and wonderful, isn’t it? When you feel like you’re the only Episcopalian out there, you are not. Keep caring. Keep connecting. Keep creating relationships beyond your own circle of churchgoers, and you will find an Episcopal Church so beautiful that you’ll get choked up, too.

General Convention Day 2 by The Rev. Dr. Sharon Hiers

Almost without warning, the self-identified former neo-nazi skinhead was pacing the platform, microphone in hand. This morning, Friday, day 2 of General Convention, called the two houses together for a time called “Joint Session on Racial Reconciliation.” The first speaker was Arno Michaelis who shared a story of helping a friend and thus his friend’s young son, escape the grasp of hate groups. Arno was passionate, telling us how he himself had escaped because others “loved the nazi out of me” with forgiveness and compassion. Next, we were introduced to Charles Dawain Stephens affectionally known as Chucky Black. A poet and an activist, Chucky Black silenced the crowd when he stood up and started with the line “For this we will need a cauldron…” and continued with a passionate, prophetic poem that had us all on our feet in a rousing ovation. With shouts from the Atlanta delegation, we next heard from our own Dr. Catherine Meeks who declared “racism: your time is over!” and then she lured us into the work she had dedicated her life to doing. She invited the body into the work of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing and reminded us that love and acceptance is the way forward. The last speaker we were honored to hear was The Rev. Nancy Frausto, a priest and a dreamer. She started quoting a friend who said, “You can not have reconciliation without justice, and you are not going to get justice without telling the truth” and then she did. She told her truth of being seven years old, hiding from border patrol, recalling every single moment of the night she escaped bondage and found freedom being reunited with her father in America. She gave us the image of Lazarus and told us to tell the truth, and unbind each other and ourselves.

The Absalom Jones Center for Racial healing held a luncheon where some 150 deputies and guests came to learn and be exposed to our work. Bishop Wright addressed the crowd and Catherine had us pass a basket for donations.  

The afternoon legislative session held some anxiety. Revising the Book of Common Prayer causes a lot of feelings, understandably so. We debated and discussed in the House of Deputies for an hour and a half and left with a suspension of session to carry the conversation into this morning. The queue is full of deputies yearning to be heard, and I am delighted to report that I believe that is being done faithfully. There is surely more to come.  
 

Opening General Convention by The Rev. Mary R. H. Demmler

The President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop officially opened their respective houses this morning, thus beginning the first official legislative day of General Convention. Gay Clark Jennings called the House of Deputies to order at eight o'clock this morning. One of the first orders of business at every General Convention, required by canon, is the placement of the Bible front and center in the meeting hall for all to see. President Jennings chose the Bible to be open to 2 Corinthians 4:5-11 for this year's convention. The placement of the Bible and President Jenning's choice of text can leave no doubt as the centrality of Jesus Christ and the story of God in Holy Scripture to the work and mission of The Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry continued with the theme of the centrality of Christ in his sermon at the Opening Eucharist this morning as well as an invitation to the whole of The Episcopal Church. In his conversation with the Official Youth Presence last night, he said that an important question emerged, "How do you love in a world that is profoundly unloving?" He used the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water to illustrate how we are called to love and follow the example of Christ, not once the storms settle, but in the midst of the wind, rain, waves, and darkness.

The Presiding Bishop paraphrased Deitrich Bonhoeffer and encouraged us all to "throw (ourselves) into the arms of Jesus and then (we) might know how to love (our) enemy." He also called on the words of the Civil Rights anthem, "Eyes on the Prize," to say that if we keep our eyes on the unconditional, unselfish, and self-sacrificing love of Christ, we can persevere in doing the work of ministry, even in the most divisive of times.

Curry's invitation comes in challenging every Episcopalian to adopt a "way of love." Volunteers handed out small pamphlets and tri-fold business cards that explain this invitation. Part of the text reads as follows,

"As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we follow the Way of Jesus. His way is the Way of Love, and that love has the power to change lives and change the world. Do you seek a life centered on Jesus? Do you seek to explore and live his Way of Love? How will you or your church, ministry, or network commit to follow the Way of Jesus? How could you join or gather a community for practicing Jesus-centered life?" For more information on this invitation, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/wayoflove or text WAYOFLOVE to 51555.

Curry reminded the congregation that we are branches connected to the vine of Christ and of the importance of abiding in Christ in order to succeed in doing God's work in the world. Through this work, he believes The Episcopal Church, "can help Christianity reclaim its soul." His closing words were, "Throw yourself into the arms of Jesus and let those almighty hands of love lift you up." Then he spoke words, again, from the anthem, "Eyes on the Prize."

During the opening session for the House of Deputies, memorials were read. These are the names of former deputies and other leaders who have died in the past triennium. Included in those remembered were people dear to the Diocese of Atlanta. The Very Rev David Collins served as President of the House of Deputies and was a past dean of the Cathedral of Saint Philip. Lueta Bailey was the first woman elected as a deputy to General Convention in the whole Episcopal Church, and she was elected by the Diocese of Atlanta. Finally, Suzanne Foucault was included in the memorials. She was the consultant to the diocese for the nominating process for the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta.

After lunch and dinner, the various committees held hearings on their respective resolutions. These hearings are growing in activity and energy as deputies attend to speak passionately in favor or against the various pieces of proposed legislation. The committee on which the Very Rev. Sam Candler serves has had particularly energetic debates in their hearings. We can expect to hear much out of the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 in the days to come.

Deputies voted on a number of resolutions in the afternoon legislative session, mostly pertaining to Order of Business matters. One significant resolution that was debated and passed was B014. This resolution provides for a Director's Fee for the President of the House of Deputies. To date, this has been a volunteer position despite it demanding full-time work of the person holding the office. This resolution will allow for the President of the House of Deputies to be compensated for their time and expertise. 

A reminder about the bicameral nature of General Convention: resolutions must pass in both houses without amendment in order for the resolution to pass General Convention. If either house amends a resolution, that resolution returns to the other house for consideration.

A highlight of the after legislative session was a filmed greeting from the many international leaders visiting General Convention. The deputies heard greetings from primates and secretaries from Episcopal and Anglican churches in Ghana, New Zealand, South Africa, the Philippines, Canada, Korea, Japan, Italy, England, and more. It is moving to witness the relationships the Episcopal Church enjoys around the world.