Pre-Convention Buzz: A Diversity of Concerns

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There are 852 members of the House of Deputies at the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church and, even in these hyper connected times when you can find a Facebook group to discuss what is being discussed in other Facebook groups, it can be hard to know what is on deputies’ minds as they assemble.

But here is a small sampling of what deputies are talking about as they arrive in Austin.

“The most discussed issues in the Diocese of California are liturgy and music (including Prayer Book and Hymnal revisions, marriage liturgies, and translations for Chinese and Spanish), evangelism, care of creation, international issues (especially Haiti, Cuba, Palestine/Israel, and refugees and migration), social justice (especially paid family leave, gender wage equity, transgender dignity, racial justice, voting rights, and sanctuary cities), and our own governance,” said Christopher Hayes, a deputy from the Diocese of California.

“I am most interested in how we will choose to move forward on marriages for same-sex couples,” said Hayes, who was among the chancellors who, in 2015, helped organize a series of amicus curiae briefs on marriage equality signed by House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings and 60 bishops.

“Some fear that progress on marriage will cause division in the places that haven’t yet moved forward, yet I believe strongly that it need not be so,” Hayes said. “There will be a gracious way to move forward, just as there was when we found a way to authorize church weddings for people who had been divorced. Decades later, there are still people who disagree about remarriage after divorce, and yet we have stuck together. That’s what our baptism calls us to do: to stick together no matter what.”

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, describes herself as “a liturgy lover” and says she is most interested in resolutions regarding the potential revision of the Book of Common Prayer. “Being a cradle Episcopalian priest, I know the power of years of community prayer together and how that shapes, challenges, and pushes us closer to God. Our belief and our prayer are very much wrapped up in each other and I am very interested in the theological statements we are making and may be changing in how we may change our prayer book,” she said.

Deputy Andrea McKellar from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is part of an advocacy team from FORMA, the Christian formation network in the Episcopal Church. “We have been discussing the resolutions that are formation and ministry related,” she said. “With all of our emphasis on evangelism, it is becoming clear to many in the Episcopal Church that we need to work on how we are forming people. It is a lifelong process. To evangelize others, we need to be clear in our own understanding of faith and how it can change.”

Deputy Joe McDaniel from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast is most interested in Resolution D002, which would devote $1 million to the work of the Beloved Community, a racial justice initiative.

“The reason is it vitally important that we continue to press forward in doing the work to address the racial strife in our society,” he said. “At a recent meeting at the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, Dr. Catherine Meeks asked the participants, who represented a broad swath of racial reconciliation trainers from Province IX, what was the one factor preventing them from conducting racial reconciliation workshops and other events to bring about racial healing within their dioceses? The number one answer was the lack of financial resources.”

“One issue I am very much interested in approving is the resolution on compensation for the position of the president of the House of Deputies,” said the Rev. Canon Juan Marquez, a deputy from the Diocese of Puerto Rico. “This is the one thing General Convention must do.”

The Rev. John Kitagawa, a deputy from the Diocese of Arizona, is looking forward to the discussions about Israel and Palestine. “Our church has struggled to formulate an effective response to the ongoing, sometimes violent, conflict,” he said. “I trust we will not back away from our prior commitments to a two-state solution, to support the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its people, and to being a partner in seeking justice and peace.”

Kitagawa also has ecumenical concerns. “I am interested to see how the Methodist Church’s recent actions related to human sexuality will affect our discussions and actions concerning the relationships between our churches,” he said. “How will we weigh our commitment to ecumenism and Christian unity in relationship to our commitments to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’”

Resolution A041 encourages and supports prayerful consideration by all Episcopalians of “A Gift to the World, Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness,” from the Episcopal Church-United Methodist Dialogue.

Sometimes deputies’ concerns are shaped by issues percolating in their own dioceses. “In the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, we have been very interested in the governing structures of dioceses and figuring out how to sustain diocesan vitality,” Yale said. Her diocese and the bordering Diocese of Western New York will decide at a joint convention this fall whether to share a bishop and staff for the next five years while exploring a deeper relationship.

“We are one of the smallest dioceses and that is both a strength and a weakness,” she said. “We are currently stepping out in collaboration in new ways with other dioceses and I think that has been an important step. Hopefully, General Convention will recognize new ways of understanding diocesan structure and vitality and promote those ideas for others.”

Other times, it is national and international affairs that shape deputies’ concerns. “We are facing an enormous cultural reckoning brought by the #MeToo movement,” Hayes said. “It’s vital that we respond to it because we, like every other societal institution, are complicit in sexual harassment. We must show a commitment to reckoning with the past and to responding more effectively in the future.

“And we are also in a vital moment on how we welcome immigrants, especially those who are desperately fleeing conflict in Central America and seeking asylum in the United States,” he said. “In both of these areas, we must reassert the dignity of every human being, which is the commitment we make in our Baptismal Covenant.”

Jim Naughton is editor of Deputy News.