General Convention, simply too much
By Charlie Barebo
Thank you for electing me as a deputy to the 76th General Convention. It was an honor to represent you. Our delegation worked very hard and I walked away with greater appreciation for each and every member for our deputation. Special thanks to deputation leader Anne Kitch and my old friend and childhood pastor Rick Cluett.
The immensity of the legislative section of the convention is overwhelming. There were over 820 deputies in the house of deputies and it was announced that we were the second largest democratic body in the world, second only to the Indian National Congress. There are over a billion people in India. There are slightly over 2 million Episcopalians. Could it be that our legislative forum is too cumbersome?
We grappled with over 300 resolutions in less than 80 hours in session. I was very surprised regarding the amount of time focused on national politics versus the Kingdom of God. I would estimate that at least half the time was spent on Caesar’s world. Does Congress lay awake at night looking for the political suggestions of 800 Episcopalians? I doubt it.
The time spent on the Kingdom of God was much more rewarding. (I was a bit put off by the woman who put forth a resolution asking for funeral liturgy for her grown daughter’s dead goldfish, I kid you not.) We did consider and pass some very important legislation regarding lay pensions (A138) and lay health insurance (A177). I have long felt that the church should treat lay employees with the same respect that the clergy are treated. There are some very real concerns regarding the health insurance piece. While I celebrate the concept that all full time church employees will receive health insurance, I remain very concerned that long term the church will mandate that the insurance can only be purchased through the church pension group. This flies in the face of the free market principles that our country was built on.
Resolution D038 was a multi-million dollar strategic project aimed at building the church in Hispanic parishes in the USA. This group accounts for 18% of the nation’s population and only 1.5% of the Episcopal Church. We reviewed a report titled the “State of the Church.” This report gave statistical evidence that since 2003 the number of Episcopalians has dropped roughly 11.5%. After studying the data one can draw a conclusion that the greatest decreases (greater than the average, 11.5%) have occurred in dioceses that are more conservative. As Churchill said, “Facts can be pesky things.”
A bit on election of deputies to both our Diocesan and General Convention. By definition deputies are not bound to represent their parish or diocese in legislative session. We elect them trusting to their judgment; they are not representatives. Whom you elect as deputies has a great deal of bearing on the future of our church. At General Convention we had no deputies from outside the Lehigh Valley or Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. We need better geographical diversity. We had only one moderate conservative in a deputation of eight. This is not representative of this Diocese as I have come to know you from traveling to your churches over the past two years with the New Hope Campaign. I believe that our Diocese is better served by more inclusion and better balance at conventions.
Lastly, up to now I have been totally unaware of some aspects of the excellent leadership given us by our shepherd, Bishop Paul. Bishop Paul has kept us centered on mission, which is Christ’s word. He has insured our liturgy is not only proper but excellent. He stands tall amongst his peers. He has not been tempted by entering into the fringes of meaningless political debate or development of a goldfish requiem. We are truly blessed and I thank God for Paul’s ministry and leadership.
[Charlie Barebo, email@example.com, CEO of Otterbine Barebo, Inc., is chair of the New Hope Campaign, a member of Diocesan Council, the World Mission Committee and Development Officer for the Diocese of Bethlehem. This was his first time as a General Convention deputy.]