Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Final Report of Deputy Jim Greer


Anaheim, CA, July 2009

Final Report of Deputy Jim Greer, Diocese of San Diego

(These comments are the writers and do not necessarily represent other deputies or the Bishop)

Setting: We were 840ish deputies and 150 or so bishops huddled for nearly two weeks in the very secular Anaheim Convention Center. But in the midst of this world there was comfort in knowing that Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral was just a few blocks away – an edifice, come to think of it, not unlike the convention center. Historic: The inclusion decisions – gays again eligible to be elected bishops and local diocesan option for same gender relationship blessings are huge. Historians will be writing about the cause and effects of the convention’s decision for a very long time. It wasn’t just about sex: There were many other important accomplishments across the width of the church’s interest. The convention completed over 360 pieces of legislation and a lot of it is important. Well led: Occasionally defeated by the technology, the Houses were competently led, often with good humor and always with respect for all. Hard and Loving: Despite lopsided favorable votes, the results of the human sexuality actions will go down hard in some parts of the church and the communion. Bishops and Deputies in love and care took every step to create space for those who cannot agree. The language of the resolutions, the Anaheim Statement crafted by the dissenting bishops and the ‘live and let live’ implementation pattern that will surely follow are all attempts to keep as many as possible at the table. Doing more with less: With a triennial budget of $23 million in less revenue than the last budget, we must become leaner and meaner. I sensed a commitment to do so – still, the heart wants what the heart wants. Stay tuned on this one. Still no plan for growth: Disappointingly there was almost no discussion of growth for our shrinking church.

Significant Legislation
Check out this link for an update on all convention activity. Click on Legislation and then Resolution Status Report. The list below has been selected by the writer as the most significant. However there were hundreds more and others might well select different list.

  1. Episcopal Ordination/sexual orientation not a deterrent to discernment - DO25
  2. Same gender blessings/ local diocesan option - CO56
  3. Title IV clergy disciplinary reforms –A185
  4. Employee health and pension benefits –A138 &AO77
  5. Hispanic ministries/$3.5million for parish planting and help to existing groups – DO38
  6. MGDs recommit and increase to 1% – DO 19
  7. Budget for the triennium – DO67

There were many additional mission proposals approved by the convention. When you access the site above you can sort by topic and committee. If mission interests you, the committee is World Mission, etc.

There were also numerous strong statements of position on a variety of important social justice issues. While most strongly supported many of them, unlike the list above, we have no control over their outcome. There was objection to those position statements that called for a specific result in a matter of public policy debate. So for example, demanding an end to human slave trafficking was universally endorsed, but siding in favor of a single payer national health plan enjoyed less unanimity because it seems to speak for all Episcopalians when we know some would not agree.

The wisdom of bicameralism was particularly apparent in the bishops’ defeat of a deputies’ lopsided, pro-Palestinian resolution that took no regard for Israel’s security concerns. The deputies tend to be more populist and the bishops less so.

Challenges for the Church As We Move Forward
While much good and even historic work was done by the convention, the discussions expose the many difficulties and challenges facing the church. Here is what seemed to be among the most significant.

Implementation of the sexuality initiatives while keeping space for those who don’t agree and maintaining integrity in the way we develop the process.

Mission and ministry in the face of leaner financial times/less reliance on staff and a return to more volunteerism/ looking for high impact-little cost efforts such as mosquito nets and food pantries/ new focus on what we ‘need’ to do vs. what is ‘nice’ to do.

A shrinking church with no real strategy for growth – lots of briefs and plans, but no strategy and no apparent leadership in this regard.

Underwriting Hispanic ministries knowing that it may take a long time for these efforts to be self-supporting. And in this connection, bringing new clergy and bishops ‘on line’ who are functionally bilingual.

The inevitable re-organization – perhaps combining of small parishes that will not be able to afford the new employee health and pension requirements

The almost certain reality that operating a headquarters in NYC and a convention that costs $3.2 million dollars not including what the dioceses spend to send their deputations, is beyond our means and perhaps beyond good stewardship.

The ugly attacks on the Episcopal Church by those who disagree with what we do and aim to hurt the church if they can.

Finding the will and the way to reform a cumbersome and very expensive, 20th century management structure that depends on lots of full time employees, physical fly in and stay over meetings of large and numerous Standing Commissions, printed booklets produced as programming and so on and so on.

Who were the deputies?
The stats: Total Deputies – 847; New Deputies 339 (40%) Of Color 142 (17%); Female 364 (43%); 25 yo and under 17 (2%); 25-35 yo 25 (3%); 35-45 yo 76 (9%); 55-65 yo 280 (33%): 65 yo and older 161 (19%)

The S.D. Deputation: we had one in the youngest category (indeed the youngest deputy present at 17) and one in the oldest category and the others spread across most of the range. We were 3 women and 5 men, one of color. 4 of our 8 were new deputies.

One cannot fault the work ethic of the church’s bishops and deputies. From early morning till well into the evening – day after day, the convention labored. If the product is not perfect or the results universally popular, it’s not due to any lack of sweat equity on the part of these committed folks.

Who's Better Dressed?
Of interest to some, the conservatives definitely dress better than the liberals. Episcopalian liberals, at least in the summertime, are largely turned out in the spirit of Matthew’s, ‘take no care about your clothes. . .’ and the corollary, ‘or how you look in what you wear.’ The S.D. women deputies were of course the exception to prove this rule. The conservatives, on the other hand were often dressed in good fitting summer slacks, attractive knit or sports shirts/blouses and some of the men were even in blazers and ties and the women in summery dresses. With the liberals in the majority, at least at this convention, one wonders if the Episcopal Church will maintain its long standing position as style leader among Americans.

The Chaplain
The Bible tells us that for the first 6 days of creation, it was all about God’s energy but the rest of the Bible tells us that after that, it’s all about God’s and humankind’s energy attempting to work together. That’s what we need to do as we leave this meeting, work with God to make the Kingdom come.

by Jim Greer

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Just Begun

Friday the House of Deputies by a 2/3s margin in both orders concurred with the House of Bishops in resolution CO56 (click on it for the specific language) in providing, under the direction of diocesan bishops, local same gender blessing opportunities. The resolution also calls the church to continue to study, widely confer and gather liturgical resources for the possible development of church-wide Rites.

This action joins the momentous step taken earlier in the convention with the passage of DO25, which returns the church to its constitution and canons and their provisions for full access of all persons to all levels of ordination, including the order of bishop.

While both resolutions passed by huge margins in both Houses, many conservatives in the church will have a difficult time processing these moves when they return home. And conservatives in the worldwide Anglican Communion will be unhappy as well. No doubt some harsh statements will be made in the days ahead. However, the Episcopal Church of Scotland has already issued a statement applauding the actions of the Episcopal church.

Conservative parishes in our own diocese will probably have a difficultly working through these decisions. All of us owe our own bishop support and encouragement as he provides pastoral support and leadership to these faithful Episcopalians.

Integrity USA has issued a statement saying that with the passage of these two resolutions, the work has just begun - LGBT members are now freed to promote an Episcopal Church of full inclusion.

Returning to a theme I mentioned in an earlier report, despite the enormous emotional impact of these actions, on both sides of the issues, the debate has been respectful, the atmosphere collegial and there has been no triumphalism. Beginning now to heal or deeply hurt by the outcome, the decision-making process saw us at our best. If there are happy hearts this day, they want very much to honor and respect brothers and sisters who are sad.

As often happens in moments of great tension, someone does or says something that is comedic in part by the way the moment is played and in part because of the exaggeration of the trauma. Not long after the report on the vote for CO56 and while the static electricity in the hall was still quite high, a relatively minor item appeared on the agenda - some changes in the propers used on the day in the Calendar of Saints for 'Mary the Blessed Virgin.' Somehow and unintended, the phrase, "Blessed Virgin Mary" had been replaced in a couple of spots with just 'Mary' while the full expression continued in the title and in several other places. Given more time the House would have made the corrections and sent it back to the bishops, but there was no more time and any change at that point would have derailed the entire item for three more years. But that wasn't good enough for a grandmotherly priest from Albany (a very conservative pocket of the Church). She was another central casting figure - saintly face, stock of wonderful white hair and no doubt makes wonderful chocolate chip cookies, but at that moment and while still feeling the sting from CO56, she was a Christian scorned. So down the center aisle and out the door she marched barefoot while slapping her sandals above her head lest any dust from the place remain. No one laughed out loud - she was a person in pain. But while unintended, it was for the reasons noted above, high comedy disguised as drama. Some moments later I saw her back at the Albany table.

The Chaplain Gets the Last Word

Anything else I might say about the convention at this point would be anti-climatic. Well, except to pass on the report of the secretary that the convention completed over 360 items of legislation. If congress could work at that speed or the folks we call our state legislature, they would be able to adjourn by springtime.

The last word should come from the Chaplain. Here's what he said before he gave us a blessing -
"Nations and people who stop telling their founding story, lovers who stop telling their mates they love each other, friends and family who stop telling the life experiences and contributions of those who are now gone, soon forget how. And if we forget these things, we forget who we are." By remembering and telling, we know why and how we are in this place and the values that sustain us; we know and feel the depths of mutual love and we know that we are our parents' child and our friends' beneficiary. Remember and tell"

I wonder how we'll tell the story of this remarkable 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church?

by Jim Greer

Friday, July 17, 2009

Swinging low

You can hear the Deputies singing during a break in the morning's activities. We sang from time to time in order to refresh ourselves. You can hear them here.

We have just returned from lunch to hear that C056 initiating a look at liturgies and offering pastoral discretion in blessing relationships.

The Budget was the Main Event

We began the day with the budget and spent all morning on it and a bit of the afternoon session. As advertised it was often painful. For example, among the 30 Church Center staff positions eliminated were the Women's Program Officer and the Racism Officer. There were many attempts to amend the budget, but in the end, it was adopted as presented by the committee. The majority of deputies realized, I think, that it was just too complex to fiddle with and that the time to shape the budget is before it's prepared and the discussion is still on priorities. The final product calls for about $52 million dollars a year of spending for each of the next three years in the triennium. The total represent about a $23 million dollar reduction from the triennium just ending.

Some other significant legislation of the day included a resolution to ask Episcopalians to oppose Defense of Marriage Acts at the state level and work to overturn the federal law and in squeaker, a resolution to petition the government for a single-payer, national, all-inclusive health care plan - our deputation was divided on this one. There were of course dozens of other resolutions and for those interested in the details, go here. A lot of it deals with social action issues that are vitally important, but produced little disagreement among the deputies.

There is some disagreement among the deputies on whether the Church should advocate for public policy since it appears to speak for every member of the Church when we know that not every member agrees with the position approved.

The blessings resolution, CO56, is in the House of Deputies Friday morning at 9:30 am.

It takes a Particular Kind of Shepherd to be a Legislator

St. Paul famously taught us that some are called to teach, others to preach, etc. but having never experienced a working democratic assembly, he didn't know to add that some are also called to rise to a point of order. So many of the deputies just love it - 70% of the action is procedural - changing the schedules for things to happen; structural - recounting the number of deputes that dance on the heads of the countless Joint Standing Commissions; parliamentary minutia - points of privilege, information, clarification and common sense. Given the opportunity, many of these good folks would do it 24/7. And as if they don't get enough legislative process during the session, several rush the platform at the recess to tell the presiding officers what they did wrong or how they can do it better. Now, mind you, none of this will keep them out of heaven and if you're going to have a democratic 'parliament' then parliamentarians are required to make it work and if you're going to have a church parliament, then saints are needed to do what becomes the Lord's work. The good news is that we are not wanting in this vocation.

What I think I've come to realize is that for me, there is enormous satisfaction in participating in shaping the great issues - a small minority of the total agenda - but little pleasure in the required micro work of a legislative process that extends over two long weeks. I'm very glad to have been here and to have had the opportunity to vote on many things particular to this convention, but not because I'm a natural at this sort of thing. I'll have to re-reference Paul and see what else is available.

The Most Interesting Character of the Day

The Starbuck's line has been disappointing the last couple of days, but yesterday as I was waiting my turn, I realized the hotel itself was a character of some interest. Hiltons, Hyatts and Marriotts are not built for kings - there is not a bit of elegance about them. If you stand in the middle of one of their lobbies, or guest rooms or hallways and turn 360, you know at once that they are designed for herding, not promenading. In a given convention day thousands of tired feet trek across carpets and tile strong enough to carry a Roman Legion. The decor is mostly functional, monochromatic and again designed to withstand the living habits of the great and varied middle class.

What is wonderfully amazing about it all is that so unlike our churches, in general, it will all be replaced in accordance with a disciplined schedule - mattresses every 13 months, lobby furniture every 36 months, new T.V's every year and so on. And it's not limited to what one can see - the mechanical systems of the building, the elevators, etc. are also subject to the same rigorous process.

From a management point of view, it's easy to do - simply put away some money every year so that the maintenance and replacement schedule is funded. There are even several software programs to aid the procedure. By comparison, we often tend to manage our church plants as landlords do rental properties - put into the property as little as possible while continuing to collect the income. The landlord's advantage is that s/he sells when the place becomes exhausted. My 'Buildings and Grounds' editorial aside, a modern convention hotel is a marvel to observe. Grand residence no, rather the fast food version of out-of-town lodging, a notch above Motel 6.

by Jim Greer

Thursday, July 16, 2009

LA Nights

We had a delightful evening of "Emergent Church" celebration provided for by the Diocese of Los Angeles. You can see it here It is just a tid bit, but a vastly exciting event.

A Day of Justice - Mostly

From the Chaplain
"Do you remember Hezekiah," the chaplain asks? Hezekiah was a fairly good king of Judea: built the water tunnel into the city that among other things allowed the revolts against Rome, centuries later, to last longer than they might have; he also repaired the temple and restored the Passover feast. Perhaps more importantly, he got on reasonably well with the prophet Isaiah -- no easy task. Despite a solid reign of 29 years, he is perhaps best known for a incredibly selfish act late in his life. Isaiah came to him and said that after his death, the country would fall to the Babylonians, his descendants and the people would be carried off and the country laid waste.

Hezekiah's response was, "the word of the Lord is good." As long as he enjoyed peace and prosperity and the comforts of his kingship while he lived, there was no need to be concerned about the future or to attempt any course of action that might change the prophesy. The chaplain continued, "we must not commit such a selfish act and refuse to do the hard work still ahead for this convention; we must not seek the comfort of a false peace and leave for others to do what God has placed in front of us to do now." The chaplain concludes, "Good Lord deliver us."

Wednesday's legislation

A very productive legislative day, very long, but with a heavy yield. Here's a sample:
  • A177 - Health Plan: a phased in, mandatory health plan for church employees
  • A138 - Lay Pension Plan: a mandatory pension plan for lay church employs (clergy have been covered for some time)
These two new requirements will be hard on smaller parishes and will almost certainly require significant reorganization, but the social justice demands of ensuring that our people are properly provided for require it.
  • DO12 - Transgender equality in the church's discernment process for ordination - some of the most emotional testimony of the day
  • AO167 - Human Trafficking- strong language denouncing the multi-billion dollar sex slave trade IN THIS COUNTRY. Church will pressure governments to do more. Nothing is more stomach turning than to hear the stories of human slave trading. Slave traders are said to get $250k+ per transaction.
  • MDG - an effort to increase from the heretofore .07% to 1% of church revenues, at every level, for world mission programs in several targeted ways.
  • Budget - joint session with the bishops to receive the budget and hear an initial presentation. Both Houses take up the budget in this morning's sessions.
  • CO56 - and over in the House of Bishops, CO56 emerged in slightly different form than that submitted by committee. In traditional 'church-speak' it provides bishops with local option on same-sex blessings. The House of Deputies will take it up later today.
Not all the legislation was good
BO27 -- Palestinian-Israel Issue - a very lopsided, pro-Palestinian resolution was adopted. The preamble appears even-handed, but as the resolution works to its punch lines, it's clear that the Palestinian agenda is applauded without regard for Israel's security. When I asked a member of the committee how this could have happened, he replied, "we heard compelling testimony from Palestinian Christians."

"Did you hear from any Jews or representatives of the State of Israel?" I inquired.

"No," he said.

This resolution is not a just action on the part of the Episcopal Church and I spoke and voted against it.

And despite pages of budget details, very little on our most pressing problem - growth. It is really quite amazing when you think about it - days and days of serious legislative effort, weighty speeches on dozens of important issues facing the church and the planet and almost nothing about what everyone knows is the 'elephant in the room' a shrinking membership and a declining budget.

The old expression about re-arranging the deck chairs . . . comes to mind.

Be gentle with us on our re-entry

When our deputation returns to San Diego, don't be alarmed if you hear us respond to everything with letters and numbers - BO33, DO25, AO167, CO56, XOO9. We have simply lost the ability to process without connecting to the Dispatch of Business' coding system. And if in the middle of your sentence, we 'move the previous question' just reply with 'your motion is in order, Deputy' and then go on with what you were saying.

Abraham's Blessing

At the close of a presentation by several ecumenical visitors, three vested cantor's: a Jew, a Muslim and an Episcopal priest, approached the podium and each in the music idiom of his tradition pronounced/sang a blessing and then the three joined and while continuing to sing in the tradition of their separate faiths, they sang together the traditional Abrahamic blessing - "May God bless you and keep you . . ."

It was as moving a moment as any at the convention.

by Jim Greer

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conservative voices still heard

Many of our votes have seemed quite lopsided with more than two thirds of the Deputies and sometimes the Bishops in agreement on a variety of subjects. This is good in one way because large majorities eliminate the fussing about what we mean when votes are 51% to 49%.

At the same time I noted in the one vote where votes by orders were read for all divided dioceses that the reconstituted dioceses of Fort Worth and Pittsburgh voted "No" preserving their tradition of being strong conservative voices. This is a good thing.

So the change in voting composition is not about movements of peoples but of movements of hearts and convictions among those long faithful in TEC. But we continue to have the presence of ALL voices and they are being heard and this is a good thing.

Michael Russell