Deputies sprint to the finish

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On a day that began with their presiding bishop-elect begging them to put a fresh charge into the Jesus Movement and ended almost 10 hours later, the members of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies sprinted through dozens of resolutions, sang and prayed, and forged a difficult compromise with their colleagues in the House of Bishops before adjourning until the 2018 convention in Austin, Texas.

The Deputies were the house of final action on numerous resolutions, including those that:

  • continued the church’s policy of what its proponents call constructive investment and engagement in the Holy Land
  • rebuffed an effort by three bishops to establish a process through which two-thirds of Executive Council or the House of Bishops could, after failed mediation, terminate “the Presiding Bishop’s term and jurisdiction.”
  • directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the Hymnal 1982
  • called for a task force to study the relationship between the convention and General Theological Seminary in the wake of conflict between Dean Kurt Dunkle and eight faculty members, all but one of whom has since departed.

The house also passed resolutions urging Episcopalians to work for more humane prison conditions, to pray for and work on behalf of Syrian refugees, and to advocate on behalf of Central American refugees.

The house also elected Kurt Barnes as treasurer of General Convention. Deputies had previously elected Del Glover to the position, but when the House of Bishops voted in favor of Barnes, the church’s chief financial officer, Glover withdrew.

“I was willing to stand for election to offer the Church an opportunity to return to the previous practice of having a volunteer Treasurer in addition to a paid Chief Financial Officer,” Glover wrote in a letter to the Rev. Michael Barlowe, executive office of General Convention. “This arrangement served us well in the past and is the current practice in many dioceses today.”

However, he added, “for the good order of the Church at a time of leadership transition, I withdraw my name from consideration enabling the House of Deputies to elect Mr. Barnes.”

For much of the day while the house was in session, a three-member conference committee of Byron Rushing, vice president of the house, Sally Johnson, a deputy from the Diocese of Minnesota and chancellor to President Gay Clark Jennings, and Tom O’Brien, a deputy from the Diocese of Southwest Florida and vice chair of the legislative committee on structure, were negotiating with a three-member committee of bishops over amendments to Resolution D013, which establishes a budgeting process for the church.

On Thursday, the House of Bishops had removed a provision for an unspecified stipend for the president of the House of Deputies. The move came as a surprise to the deputies because none of the bishops on the legislative committee that wrote the resolution had spoken against. However, several of those bishops introduced the amendment on the floor of their house.

Jennings did not request and would not have received the stipend, which was not included in the church’s 2016-18 budget passed yesterday. She said she formed the conference committee, a tactic not employed since 1997 when Jennings herself served on such a committee, because on the last day of convention, time was of the essence. For further details on this story—which ended with the creation of a task force to study “issues of leadership and compensation” and report to the next convention—read Melodie Woerman’s story.

While the deputies on the conference committee negotiated with Bishops Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bethlehem, John Howard of Florida and Rob O’Neill of Colorado, the house conducted business at a brisk pace.

The resolution on the church’s investment and activity in the Holy Land sparked the most emotional debate. The lengthy resolution builds on the church’s existing policy of investing in the Palestinian economy and advocating for a two-state solution to the violent stalemate in the Holy Land. It makes no mention of limited divestment from corporations that benefit from the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank or Gaza among the tactics that might be used to push for peace. This omission troubled some in the house.

The resolution was “benign, banal, tepid, timid,” said the Rev. Gary Cummins, a deputy from the Diocese of California. “It does not address realities of what currently exists in Israel and the occcupied territories, and exists in a parallel universe in which Israelis and Palestinians have equal power.”

Don Reed, a deputy from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, said that while he deplored the Israseli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the expansion of Israeli settlements in those territories and last year’s bombing of Gaza, he believed that “the worst we could do is make Israel feel more insecure.”

The resolution passed 655-137 and a later motion to reconsider the measure, made by the House’s popular voting secretary the Rev. Winnie Varghese, a deputy from the Diocese of New York, was more narrowly defeated.

In presenting the resolution on the conflict at General Seminary, Kathryn Nishibayashi of the Diocese of Los Angeles said the committee on Formation and Education for Ministry believed that General Convention was the wrong body to undertake the “serious discussions” needed about the convention’s relationship to the seminary.

The resolution calls for a committee of five members “to determine whether this relationship is mutually beneficial at this point in the life of the Church.”

The Rev. Brad Hinton of the Diocese of Delaware opposed the resolution, saying “healing at General Seminary won’t happen until there’s a single voice to tell the church what actually happened.”

However, the Very Rev. Walter Brownridge of the Diocese of Hawaii, who drafted a resolution that was largely rewritten by the committee, urged deputies to support the committee’s work to begin a conversation about the situation at the seminary.

The resolution seeking to establish a lengthy process for ending the term of a presiding bishop was sponsored by three bishops—including the Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe of Kansas, the vice presiding of the House—but it received little support among deputies. The Rev. Megan Castellan of the Diocese of West Missouri said the proposed canon might inhibit a presiding bishop from taking bold but unpopular action.

The long day at the convention began with Bishop Michael Curry, who will become the church’s presiding bishop on November 1, telling a crowd of several thousand at the 8:30 a. m. Eucharist, “I’ve got one word for you. It’s the first word in the Great Commission: Go!” Then, as if to keep the crowd in its seats, he added, “Don’t do it yet, but go!”

Later in the Eucharist, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori read Curry a letter of congratulations from Presiding Barack Obama that had been secured through the efforts of Maureen Shea, former head of the church’s office of government relations and the Rev. Bonnie Perry, a deputy from the Diocese of Chicago.

The day ended in song led by the House of Deputies chaplain, the Rev. Lester V. Mackenzie, a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles. When the last two pieces of legislation—supporting persecuted Haitians in the Dominican Republic and advocating on behalf of stateless citizens—had passed, Mackenzie bade the deputies to wish one another a melodious farewell.

“Go now in peace, go now in peace,” he chanted. “May the love of God surround you. Everywhere, everywhere you may go.”