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 (A068 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!