General Convention 2018 was, if my math is correct, my 10th General Convention with the first being in 1991 in Phoenix, Arizona. I attended the first as an observer in my role as President of Integrity USA. All the others I was a Deputy, First Alternate or Alternate Deputy. It has been a fascinating experience and an important part of my spiritual journey.
General Convention 1991 was when the issues surrounding human sexuality first began to really heat up. It was a time of unpleasant and sometimes inappropriate conversations on the subject using inappropriate and hateful terminology. That has diminished over the years, but some of it still lingers.
Sexuality has never been the most important issue at any GC, but it has been what grabbed the media headlines. It didn’t seem to matter that we have systematically discussed, debated and made our voice as The Episcopal Church heard on extraordinarily important subjects as race relations, the place of women, ordained and lay, in the church, issues of poverty, issues of imprisonment both on the domestic and foreign front, immigration, and how we invest our money as a church. We have grappled with the sensitive position of supporting the existence of both Israel and Palestine (in my personal opinion despite the outright stubbornness of both sides!)
We sought to address many of these same issues again. Some shortcomings of our humanity never seem to go away. So I was gratified that we moved ahead with a relatively large amount of money to be devoted to creating the Beloved Community through healing, reconciliation, and education. We also got the toe in the water toward addressing the inequities of clergy and lay pension plans. (I served on Committee 17, Church Pension Fund.) We forcefully addressed the disgraceful way that women have been treated in our church. There remains much work to be done, but part of reaching a resolution to an issue is to name it and begin to address it. And we were a forceful witness to the inequities of our immigration system in this country, especially what it does to families.
Two events will remain with me for a long time. One is the joyful readmission of the Diocese of Cuba into The Episcopal Church. We corrected a serious wrong that took place in 1966. The genuine welcome back into the church was filled with tears and laughter and something that is probably a once in a lifetime event to witness.
The other event was the testimony and voting on Resolution B012 addressing the accessibility of marriage in all dioceses of The Episcopal Church for same-sex couples. (Eight bishops had refused to allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses.) The mind of the church was clear: Marriage is to be available to all regardless of the diocese in which they live. The decision now rests with the rector or priest in charge rather than the Bishop Diocesan. Some resistance continues, but we are on the way to making all really mean all in our church. This resolution represented a very painful compromise for many of us, but a good compromise means no one is happy, so it was also a good compromise.
Never mistakenly think that being a Deputy to General Convention is a period of “time off” for anyone. Committees meet as early as 7:30 am followed by legislative sessions with joint sessions and a myriad of activities every day. And some of us had meetings that began at 9 pm! It was both exhausting and exhilarating. It was, however, holy work for our church. We did manage to find time to share a few meals together.
I left Austin tired but also feeling that we had accomplished much in acting on 498 of 519 resolutions that came before the two houses.
Then I got a pleasant and unexpected surprise: The person in the seat next to me on the flight back to Atlanta was none other than our Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry! We exchanged a few words and then settled into watching different movies. I have considered him a friend for years through other church work, so little needed to be said. Besides, I knew how tired he was! I was delighted to hear him laughing out loud at the movie he was watching. I’m sure he needed some laughs.
It was a good convention….on to Baltimore for 2021.
Bruce Garner, Lay Deputy, Diocese of Atlanta!