Law and Order: Episcopal Unit. DUN DUN

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Alternate Deputy Megan Castellan

In the Episcopal Church, the people are represented by two separate and equal groups: the lawyers, who writ the canons, and the not-lawyers, who attempt to decipher them.

This…is their report.


Welcome to the Official Blue Book report of the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons, or as I lovingly dubbed us several years back, Law and Order: Episcopal Unit.

The Rev. Scott Gunn has already blogged much of this report for you, should you want his take on this.  However, as I take particular delight in the canons and constitution, I have been asked to provide you with a humorous take on the report, which I shall endeavor to do, if only because we succeeded in producing the longest report in the Blue Book—a feat for which I expect much praise to be cast our way.

I would here like to pause to add a note of caution.  I am currently serving as the vice-chair of the Resolution Review Committee of the House of Deputies.  Nothing I am about to say should be taken as an official position of that committee in any way, shape, or form.

We begin, as all reports do, with a list of the luminaries who worked so hard for three years to craft the work now before you.  The unmentioned characters who also deserves much praise include Google Sheets, for compiling and tracking all of our work in a massive spreadsheet for three years.  (As the old proverb says: When you work with lawyers, prepare for spreadsheets.)

I would also like to give a shout-out to all the members of the commission, not only for their hard work, but also for their unashamed embrace of Zoom.  Rarely, if ever, have I experienced so many people in the church take to online video conferencing with such relish, such verve, such understanding of the mute button!  You all are to be greatly rewarded in heaven for such courage.  May we all emulate your example.

Verily, the report of SC-Everything-Except-For-Prayers is too long to go through each resolution individually, so I shall endeavor to hit the highlights.

First up, we have the proposed guidelines on amending church records.  This may strike you as odd, or extraneous, but the topic emerged from a very serious pastoral need.  The TransEpiscopal community made a request of the previous convention that we figure out how best to properly change church records, so that the transgender community could have their identity reflected in their spiritual home.  Turns out, there are a ton of reasons you might need to change the record of your baptism, or confirmation, and because church records can be used as identification in many instances, this is pretty serious.  So, we needed Rules!  To the rescue come the Archives!!!  With the able help of Mark Duffy, we figured out, and here present, a set of guidelines for the proper alteration of church records, for your use.  ::sings You’re Welcome from Moana::

Next, background checks!  It came up during the triennium that trustees for the Church Pension Fund should really, probably have background checks—especially if they are going to be in charge of more money than many small national economies.  Also, while we’re at it, the Executive Council folks, and the DFMS officers should also probably not be living secret lives as jewel thieves or something.  So we endeavored to work on this problem, which actually is far trickier than it sounds.  Once you run a check, there is then the question of who gets that information, and what sort of information becomes disqualifying and who decides that?  It is not for the faint of heart.

Finally, like everyone else in the western world right now, we took a stab at smashing the patriarchy.  (It was only our duty.)  In proposing an additional requirement to Title III that rectors of parishes and bishops of dioceses both enact and publicize a sexual harassment policy, we tried to address what we recognized as a systemic problem in the church.  The truth is, the church has policies on harassment, but they are so diverse, and so different, and in some places, entirely absent, that we now have a culture that permits the treatment of women as less than the beloved children of God that they are.

And this, right here, is why I love canons.  For as much as we love the flashy parts of renewing the church—the new liturgies, the shiny elections, and the hopeful new slogans—the reality is that most of what changes this creaky old Body of Christ is not fancy at all.  Most of it is plain, unassuming ideas about what rules we should follow, and what order there should be.  It is that sort of concrete that actually holds up the church, and does the heavy lifting of our common life together, and it is that stuff that needs our constant attention, because it can too often reflect all the unthinking brokenness of our human condition. So when we become aware, again, of some deep systemic injustice that afflicts us, we cannot just mend it by a surface answer; we have to dig down deep to the concrete that holds us up, and examine again the rules and ideas that support us.  It’s not pretty, and it’s not easy, and it will never flow off the tongue in poetic streams like our best liturgy.  But when it comes down to it, when you want to work for deep and lasting justice and mercy in the church?  You have to poke around in the canons.

photo credit:  Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash