Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bishop Hollerith's summary and reflection on GC79

General Convention is a rare experience! It is demanding of its participants. It can often be tedious and arduous and at the same time deeply moving and inspirational. It sometimes feels like a “zoo” - given the cultural, regional, ecclesiological and theological diversity it embodies. It is the Church in all its glory and in all its fractiousness. I’ve attended 4 General Conventions now, and I am truly convinced that there is something holy about the gathering. Not holy as in “perfect.” But holy as in “blessed” - that kind of favor of love that God bestows on a community of people who, in all their finitude and fallibility, are willing to show up and struggle to be Christ’s body in the world. It isn’t always pretty. But God loves us for trying, even if we don’t always get it right, and that fact makes it holy.

As at all previous conventions, during the 79th General Convention held in July in Austin, Texas, hundreds of resolutions were taken up for debate and legislation. At the end of convention there were four particular resolutions adopted that stand out as having potential impact on our life together in Southern Virginia. Some clarification about these seems in order.

1. Prayer Book Revision

General Convention voted not to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  In fact, it passed a resolution to “memorialize” the Prayer Book – which, in essence, says that for the next several years the BCP ‘79 is our standard for liturgy in the Episcopal Church. 

Having established the ‘79 book as the norm, General Convention also affirmed the need to create and authorize new supplemental liturgies for the Church to use between now and when we do eventually revise the Prayer Book.  These liturgies may include texts with inclusive language and/or other expansive language changes, and new updated non-English translations. As has always been the case, these new supplemental liturgies will be for optional usage.    

2. Marriage Rites

General Convention voted to authorize the new marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples as ‘trial use” liturgies.  The transition from being “proposed rites” to being “trial use” will result in the liturgies becoming available for use by any clergy person who is presently authorized to perform the BCP ‘79 marriage rite. In other words, soon it will no longer be necessary for a priest to receive a bishop’s permission to use the new marriage rites in his/her church.

In light of the fact that a handful of bishops in the Church remain opposed to same-gender marriage and do not presently allow any of their priests to marry same-sex couples, General Convention established a special allowance. Rather than violate their consciences, bishops who are opposed will designate another non-opposed bishop to provide “pastoral support” to any couple desiring to be married with the trial rites. This allowance is based on the general understanding that any same-gender couple who qualifies for lawful marriage will have reasonable access to the marriage rites no matter where they happen to reside.

Although I whole-heartedly support same-gender marriage, I believe the alternate oversight option will serve the Episcopal well, and model the kind of tolerance and openness to differences in theology that is a hallmark of our great tradition.

To summarize: As of Advent I, all clergy in Southern Virginia may use the trial rites for marriage – including same-gender marriage - without permission from the office of the Bishop.  The normal diocesan requirements for marriage after divorce will continue to apply as before. For obvious pastoral reasons, it is recommended that all clergy continue be diligent in their efforts to hold thoughtful theological conversations about same-gender marriage with parish leadership – especially if the use of such rites has not yet been introduced to the parish.

As has always been the case, parish clergy with primary authority (rector, priest in charge, etc.) are free to decide for themselves whether or not to perform any marriage – same-gender or otherwise. In other words, no clergy person in the Episcopal Church is obliged to perform any particular marriage.

3. Combating Sexual abuse/harassment

While there were several resolutions around this very complex and important matter, all were focused on making the Church environment safe for all people regardless of gender or orientation. Perhaps paramount was the passing of the House of Bishops’ “Working Covenant” for the practice of equity and justice for all in the Episcopal Church.  An outgrowth of a session of a “Liturgy of Listening”, at which bishops told the personal stories of those who have suffered injustice in the church, the Covenant acknowledges that the Church is not immune to abuse, harassment and exploitation of people of varying gender, racial and cultural identities.  The covenant states that bishops will engage their diocesan cultures and structures to ensure that all people are being treated fairly - in power sharing, in wage equity, and in clergy deployment.

In the days ahead it will be incumbent upon us to consider if we are actually being who we claim to be in Southern Virginia – if our practice is in line and congruent with our faith statements – especially in regard to our treatment of those whom we employ and who serve us.

4. Diocese of Cuba

One of the true highlights of General Convention was the unanimous vote - both in the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops – to restore the relationship of the Episcopal Church and La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba. The resolution lamented the actions of the House of Bishops that ejected the Diocese of Cuba from the Episcopal Church in 1966 (Cuba was one of our missionary dioceses).  For 50 plus years the Episcopal Church in Cuba struggled alone - with the exception of occasional support from the Anglican Church of Canada.  And yet, for the past 50 years the Church of Cuba has considered itself part of the Episcopal Church, hoping that one day its mother church would welcome it home. 

One of the most powerful moments occurred when the Bishop of Cuba was welcomed with applause into the House of Bishops to sit at a table with her colleagues.  It was an honor and privilege to witness such an important moment of restoration. The joy in the face of the bishop was palpable – as was the joy in the faces of those people who had traveled with her from Cuba to witness and celebrate the return.

Perhaps the Diocese of Southern Virginia will find some avenue in the future in which to connect with and directly support the Episcopal Church in Cuba.  I believe it could be a life-giving experience for both dioceses.

As a final thought, I find that I am particularly proud of Southern Virginia’s deputation - thinking especially of our deputies’ dogged faithfulness to what proved to be a highly demanding 11 day legislative process.  We owe our deputies a debt of gratitude for their commitment of time and energy.  Some of them even used their personal vacation time to attend and serve the Church on our behalf.

And I also find that I am again very proud of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the steadfast and energetic leadership that he offers the Church.  His great humor and affection and down-to-earth manner infused the entire 11 day experience with a sense of thanksgiving and hopefulness, not to mention his spirit-filled preaching lighting up the room!

The Episcopal Church is a wonderful, special and unique part of the Jesus Movement.  We truly have much to offer the world. For those who were in attendance, this summer’s 79th General Convention confirmed that fact once again. 


Friday, July 13, 2018

Final day of #GC79: Marriage rites approved; BCP revision defeated; and Becoming Sanctuary Church

General Convention gives church full access to same-sex marriage rites

On July 13, the House of Deputies overwhelmingly concurred with the House of Bishops and approved a resolution giving all Episcopalians the ability to be married by their priests in their home churches. The vote was: Clergy – 99 yes, 3 no, 4 divided; Lay – 101 yes, 5 no, 1 divided. No one spoke against the resolution during the short debate.

Resolution B012 took a winding road to approval, but none of the amendments changed the resolution’s goal of giving full access to two trial-use marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples that were approved by the 2015 General Convention.

The resolution provides for:
  • Giving rectors or clergy in charge of a congregation the ability to provide access to the trial-use of the marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Resolution A054-2015 and the original version of B012 said that clergy could only use the rites under the direction of their bishop.
  • Requiring that, if a bishop “holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples,” he or she may invite another bishop, if necessary, to provide “pastoral support” to any couple desiring to use the rites, as well as to the clergy member and congregation involved. In any case, an outside bishop must be asked to take requests for remarriage if either member of the couple is divorced to fulfill a canonical requirement that applies to opposite-sex couples.
  • Continuing trial use of the rites until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

1979 BCP won’t be revised

The House of Bishops and the House of Deputies both approved a resolution that would allow congregations to use alternative, expansive-language versions of Rite II Eucharistic prayers A, B, and D in the prayer book.

Revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was a big issue before this General Convention. Ultimately both houses voted to create new liturgical texts while continuing to use the 1979 prayer book without revision.

Here are some examples of the optional language included in the trial-use rites:
  • Priests may begin any of the three rites by saying “Blessed be God: most holy, glorious and undivided Trinity.” The current Opening Acclamation of “Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is also an option. In either case, the people’s response is “And blessed be God’s reign, now and for ever. Amen.”
  • At the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving in all three rites, the priest may say “God be with you” instead of “The Lord be with you.”
  • The Sanctus can now be said using “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” in addition to “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”
  • In Eucharistic Prayer A, celebrants now have the option of saying “ … you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and maker of all.” In the original version, that sentence ends with “…the God and Father of all.”
  • Eucharistic Prayer B contains an optional wording for the sentence “Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The option reads “Unite us in the sacrifice of Christ, through whom we are made acceptable to you, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
  • Eucharistic Prayer D offers the option of adding the word “matriarchs” after “patriarchs” in this sentence: “And grant that we may find our inheritance with [the Blessed Virgin Mary, with patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, (with ____) and all the saints who have found favor with you in ages past.”

Becoming a Sanctuary Church

General Convention passed three significant resolutions related to immigration. Resolution C033 puts the church on record as respecting the dignity of immigrants and outlines how public policy should reflect that belief. Resolution A178 takes a forceful stand against family separations and the treatment of immigrant families. Finally, Resolution C009 encourages Episcopalians and congregations to reach out to and support immigrants facing deportation, including by providing physical sanctuary if they choose. All three resolutions passed in both houses without anyone speaking against them and without any audible negative votes.

House of Bishops approves ethical investing in gun manufacturers

On July 12, the House of Bishops approved a resolution to develop and implement a “shareholder engagement plan” to guide dioceses, churches and individuals investing in gun manufacturers and retailers to change company policies through shareholder advocacy.

The Episcopal Church has long been an advocate for socially responsible investing in gun manufacturers. In January 2018, the church’s Executive Council authorized its Committee on Corporate and Social Responsibility to join an attempt to convince Dick’s Sporting Goods to abide by the Sandy Hook Principles developed to stem the tide of gun violence. A little more than a month later, Dick’s announced it would stop selling assault weapons.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Day 8 of #GC79: Marriage resolution and budget pass

General Convention considers a record number of resolutions
Southern VA deputies with Bishop Hollerith
By the time General Convention adjourns on July 13, it will have considered 516 resolutions. On July 11, both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, worked into the night to deal with the abundance of legislation, not adjourning until 9:30 p.m. 

Marriage rites resolution amended by bishops, heads back to House of Deputies 

On July 11, the House of Bishops approved – with “technical amendment” – resolution B012, which gives all Episcopalians the ability to be married by their priests in their home churches.

The House of Deputies had overwhelmingly approved B012 on July 9, but now will consider the amended version being sent to them by the House of Bishops.

The slight amendment doesn’t make any real changes to the purpose of the resolution, it merely ensures that nothing in the resolution is in conflict with the provisions of the ministry canons of the church regarding the authority of the rector or priest in charge of a congregation.

B012, a compromise resolution, aims to give bishops who will not authorize same-sex marriage rites to feel fully a part of the church and, at the same time, end what Bishop Bill Franklin of Western NY called the “separate but equal” status that LGBTQ Episcopalians have been consigned. 

General Convention approved $134 million triennial budget 

On July 12, both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies approved the $134 million 2019-2021 budget presented to them July 11.

The budget as approved allocates funding on the church’s three priorities – the “three pillars” of the Episcopal Church’s Jesus Movement in this way:

  • Nearly $10.4 million on racial reconciliation work
  • $5.2 million on evangelism
  • $1 million on care of creation 

The 80th General Convention to be held in Baltimore, MD
Episcopal News Service Photo
The 80th General Convention, 2021, will be held in Baltimore, MD. Bishop Andrew Doyle of Texas passed the “Olympic torch” to Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland in recognition of the announcement.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Day 7 of #GC79: Divestment rejected; budget proposed

House of Deputies votes to admit Cuba

On July 11, the House of Deputies unanimously voted to admit the Episcopal Church of Cuba as a diocese. “Welcome home,” said House of Deputies President Gay Jennings following the vote.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio was seated in the House of Bishops following the Bishop’s unanimous vote in favor of admitting Cuba. Following the vote in the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gerardo Lojildes and Mayelin Aqueda were seated as Deputies.

The Diocese of Cuba will join Province II, which includes dioceses from New York, New Jersey, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

Bishops reject Israel-Palestine resolution as “divestment”

The House of Bishops voted against a resolution seeking to end the church’s financial complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The House of Deputies previously approved the resolution. It would have asked the Executive Council to research and develop and plan for a “human rights investment screen” which critics described as a divestment from Israel.

“Divestment will not move us one inch forward in the peace process,” said retired Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana. “It will not bring an end to the occupation.”

Read more about the resolution and the debate here.

PB&F presents 2019-2021 budget

During a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies today, the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget & Finance presented a proposed $133.8 million budget for the 2019-2021 triennium.

The budget proposes spending on the church’s three priorities is:

  • Nearly $10.4 million on racial reconciliation work
  • $5.2 million on evangelism
  • $1 million on care of creation

Read more about the proposed budget here.

Alice Webley elected!

Southern Virginia's Lay Deputy Alice Webley, a member of All Saints, Virginia Beach, was elected to the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop. Congratulations Alice!

Southern Virginia’s resolution moves to House of Bishops

The resolution sent to General Convention by Southern Virginia’s 2018 Annual Council (read about that here) has been moved by the Ministry Committee to the House of Bishops consent calendar for July 12. The committee’s recommendation is that there be no further action taken on Resolution C036 since the issue is also addressed in Resolution C005. That resolution has not yet come before the convention.