Mission, hard decisions and gifts received
By T. Scott Allen
In the closing Eucharist at General Convention 2009 our Presiding Bishop preached on the Propers for William White, first bishop of Pennsylvania and architect for much of how the Episcopal Church understands its way of doing business to be. She commented on William White’s charism to “model the gift of Anglicanism – to hold together in tension polarities that some are eager to resolve. He was a master of ‘both/and’ thinking and living….the long view says that if we insist on resolving tensions we’ll miss the gift of the Spirit, for truth is always larger than one end of the polarity.”
I left General Convention feeling better about the state of our Church than I had in any General Convention since 1988. I must admit, the absence of the former leadership of Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Quincy made the Convention far less contentious and polarized. Some back here commented that there was less in the main stream media than had been present in past Conventions, although what was adopted was as controversial (for some) as in the past. This, I believe, was largely due to the absence of a certain kind of press that brokered in sensational headlines.
The over-arching feel I got this time was mission. Our Presiding Bishop spoke of this in her opening sermon at Eucharist (yes, there is daily Eucharist at General Convention) – her call to mission was unmistakable. And I have to say that this was, indeed, what guided most of us in the hard decisions we made. Hardest of all was the substantial cuts we made at the Episcopal Church Center in order to continue to fund mission and ministry in the domestic and global arenas. Some of my friends at “815” lost their jobs which they had held for many years. This was a harsh reality of the economic and religious climate in which we find ourselves throughout the Episcopal Church (which also includes 15 countries beyond the USA).
The infamous B-033 resolution from General Convention 2006 in Columbus which was aimed at appeasing some in the Anglican Communion who were upset about sexuality issues was softened by D-025 which acknowledged the work and ministry of LGBT clergy and laity and affirmed their participation in all orders of ministry.
Inclusion of same gender couples in the exploration of Rites which would allow for their vows of monogamy commitment and fidelity were approved for initial presentation to the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (C-056). Much of this had to do with allowing for a “generous pastoral response” by dioceses in states where same-gender partnerships are now the law. This legislation also left “wiggle room” for those dioceses that did not see (or agree) that this was pastoral need. It also left open the decision by bishops to implement what they saw fit in dioceses where the state laws were not yet changed or where in practice blessings in churches were already being performed as a pastoral response. Bishop Paul and I served together on the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee which worked on this legislation before it went to the floor of convention.
I left tired, but pleased with what we accomplished. My serving on a committee for the first time made my personal schedule more demanding than in the past – beginning most days at 7:00 a.m. and not finishing until 9:00 p.m. But I left being “thankfully tired” in that I believe the Episcopal Church was true to itself in a way it hadn’t been for quite a while. And for those concerned about Anglican Communion relationships, I am not as worried about those as in the past. As in personal relationships, you can’t really be in them with any authenticity until you are able to claim, embrace and love who you really are.
[The Rev. T. Scott Allen, firstname.lastname@example.org, priest-in-charge at St. Andrew’s Allentown/Bethlehem and member of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Bethlehem, has been an elected deputy to General Convention three times and an alternate twice.]