Over the past nine days, the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church has been taking place in Austin, TX. Held every three years, General Convention is the national legislative body of our denomination. The Constitutions of both the United States and the Episcopal Church were written around the same time and so you may not be surprised to learn that the governing structures have some similarities. We have a House of Bishops consisting of all active and retired bishops, led by the Presiding Bishop, and a House of Deputies made up of four laypeople and four clergy from each diocese and mission area. Like the US Congress, the Houses meet and act separately, and must concur to pass legislation. General Convention is the vehicle through which changes to the Church’s Canons (laws) and Constitution, as well as the Prayer Book, can be made, and it also may authorize missionary, educational, and social programs.
The 2018 Convention addressed a record 502 resolutions. As I write on Thursday afternoon, one of the big proposals, which sought to expand the availability of same-sex marriage, is still being reconciled between versions passed by the two Houses. The canonical and liturgical language defining marriage was revised at the 2015 Convention with the understanding that diocesan bishops could decide whether to allow same-sex marriage in their own dioceses. This year’s Convention proposals seek to make the marriage rites available to all in every diocese. It seems likely that some version of that will ultimately pass, although there will also likely be amendments that put the authority of whether to use the rites in the hands of rectors or other clergy in charge of individual congregations. Another of this year’s big proposals, a Plan for the Revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, was passed on July 11. Some major goals of revision are to create new liturgical texts that use “inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity,” and “incorporate and express understanding, appreciation, and care of God’s creation.” We will continue to use the 1979 Prayer Book while the revision process, which is expected to take many years, is underway.
Many participants in General Convention this year have also taken the opportunity to raise their voices to address pressing national issues that also affect the Church. On July 4th, the House of Bishops held what they called a “Listening Liturgy,” an opportunity to hear twelve anonymous stories (read aloud by bishops of the same gender) written by women and men who have experienced sexual misconduct in the church, as well as to confess their collective complicity in such abuse. Later in convention, two resolutions were passed, the first expressing the sin of discrimination, harassment, and abuse against women and girls, and the second creating a task force to do a survey of gender-based discrimination and abuse in the Church.
Sunday, July 8 began with a gathering of hundreds of people by Bishops Against Gun Violence in a park just outside the Austin Convention Center. Joined by the parents of one of the students killed in Parkland, they called for an end to gun violence. There was also a prayer service at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Tyler, TX that sought to bear witness to the tragedy of the women asylum seekers held there who had been separated from their children. Presiding Bishop Curry preached, saying,
“Let us make America great again by making America good, by making America kind, by making America just, by making America loving.”
If you are interested in more detail of all the other resolutions passed and the other goings-on, there are many websites you can visit: The Episcopal News Service has good updates (https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/tag/general-convention-2018/), our Diocese of New York website includes updates from our own bishops and delegates (http://gc18.episcopalny.org/), and finally you might be interested in videos made by the Rev Lorenzo Lebrija, our former seminarian from a few years ago (!) (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/inside).
Bishop Curry set the stage for all of the work of General Convention, and the call to all of us in the Episcopal Church, with his opening sermon. He called us all to follow the Way of Love (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/explore-way-love) which is a seven-fold path to a Jesus-centered life: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest. Sounds like a good place to end Convention, and a good rule of life to carry into our everyday lives!