Monday, July 13, 2009

Moving Forward

At last! We are moving forward!

Saturday, like every other day at General Convention, was filled with legislative work, worship and much conversation. Anyone who came to Southern California to play and lie beside the pool were again sadly disappointed. The commitment and hard work of all the deputies, and yes, our very own deputation, are a marvel to behold. Meetings that begin as early as 6:30am, and activities that last into the night, make for a demanding time, drive-thru lunches, and not much sleep. But through it all, spirits are high, determined and committed.

Sunday began with a colorful and wonderful festive eucharist, with all the bishops dressed in our red and white rochets and chimeres, liturgical dancers, and rousing music. Every eucharist here is a reminder that we find our unity in the divine liturgy, not in our agreement on certain issues.

I received communication from the official Youth Presence at General Convention. They have invited me to lunch with them on Tuesday -- a special honor, since the other two guests invited to address them have been the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The youth at this Convention -- both the official Youth Presence as well as countless young people who have simply come to be a part of things -- have made a powerful impact on this Convention, speaking articulately and powerfully of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their commitment to The Episcopal Church.

But of course, the issues surface in the legislation. At the beginning of our legislative session, the Bishops were read a communication for Program, Budget and Finance, which sobered the tone of our gathering. As they had begun their work, PB&F faced a $28 million gap between anticipated revenue and anticipated needs. In their letter, they announced that they had cut that gap to $14 million, still a sobering figure. Caution was urged in passing legislation that called for additional funding for anything. In our own diocese, we are of course familiar with this painful dilemma, and it is encouraging to see The Episcopal Church struggling to make the same difficult choices at this level of our common life.

That warning had a real effect on the HOB voting. Measures which called for worthy actions often went down because of their funding implications. Even the funding of missionaries -- we have nearly 80 of them, working at a cost to the church of only $24,000/year! -- was held up, pending further information. Their cost amounts to nearly five-and-a-half million dollars. The good news is that The Episcopal Church is committed to this mission of evangelism; the bad news is that their funding demands the cuts in other important areas. Stay tuned.

The big news, of course, is that the House of Deputies considered D025 -- a beautifully crafted resolution which did not expressly repeal the ban on gay partnered people from being called, elected and consecrated bishops, but simply and elegantly stated that we have canonical processes for the selection and "vetting" of nominees and bishops-elect, and this Church means to follow those processes. They have served us well, the resolution implied, and we intend to follow them WITHOUT extra-canonical promises or restrictions. All attempts to alter the proposed resolution failed. In effect, this resolution ends the informal ban on such bishops-elect. Its power is that it returns us to the canons of the Church, which have always served us well and which allow the Holy Spirit to call those whom the Spirit calls.

I was in the gallery when this vote (which was overwhelming, with a 2/3 majority in EACH of the orders of laity and clergy!) was announced. Rules of the House prevented any display of emotion, support or non-support. But the exuberance of the Deputies could be felt in the air. We had finally moved beyond that dark cloud of last Convention's B033 and into the Church of the future.

Our deputation immediately called my cell phone to share the good news, unaware that I was in the back of the House, waiting to congratulate and thank them personally. It was like a family reunion and celebration when they made their way to the exit, where I awaited them. Hugs, tears and joy filled our faces and hearts as we greeted one another.

Many people, including our own deputies, said: "We've done OUR part. Now you bishops do YOURS!" That is the task we will set our minds and hearts to today (although we are not sure whether this deputies' action will make it to our House today (Monday) or tomorrow. Pray for us, my friends, and pray especially for the Bishops as we determine whether we will remain the church of yesterday, or whether, by God's grace, we will embrace the future of a fully-inclusive church.

As they say, "film at eleven!"