Wednesday, July 22, 2009

General Convention Deputies Speak

Ora Houston, St. James’, Austin

Trey Yarbrough, Christ Church, Tyler

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Following General Convention: Tom Fitzhugh

A few days removed from Anaheim, I am not surprised most of the news is on D025 and other resolutions that dealt with the Church’s struggle with issues surrounding sexuality. However, a great deal more happened in Anaheim, and it has not received much press attention.

Though I have been an alternate to six prior General Conventions, this was the first one where I was privileged to sit as a full deputy for our diocese. It is a tremendous honor and responsibility, and I was impressed (though not surprised) by the commitment and faithfulness our deputies showed. Simultaneously the Daughters of the King and Episcopal Church Women were meeting, so combined with the exhibitors, visitors, and guests, the Convention Center was bustling with activity as were the two big hotels. Committee meetings started at 7:30 am, and activity continued every night past 10 – making for very long days with few breaks.

Each day was punctuated by the Eucharist, a place where anyone, not just deputies or bishops, could join in worship and reflection. Prayer surrounded all events, and the chaplain in the House of Deputies opened and closed each legislative session with meditations and prayers. We sometimes prayed before voting and sang hymns together with passion during long sessions. Among other major issues addressed were (1) a comprehensive health plan for all church employees; (2) a lay pension plan for the whole church (though our diocese has one already in place); (3) a complete revision of Title IV, the disciplinary canons; and (4) an enthusiastic approval of a plan to expand our Hispanic ministry. We had some wonderful youth deputies who energized the House several times with their presentation and debates. Our church has much to offer thoughtful young folks.

Evangelism was addressed repeatedly and energetically, but the budget realities meant elimination at the Church Center of positions focused on evangelism. This means we will have to accept the responsibility for this work at the parish and diocesan level. Successful evangelism requires local effort, and I think we have many new opportunities presented by the current situation. Budget shortfalls will require significant reduction of staff at the Episcopal Church Center, but for some of us, the shrinkage of a national bureaucracy may be a good thing.

Though our deputation was diverse in its viewpoints on some issues, as a whole I think we were supportive and listened to one another carefully. We now have the largest diocese in the United States, and we are an amazing collection of people. One leaves General Convention sharing Bishop Doyle’s frustration that the legislative process is not the best way to deal with pastoral issues. Meeting friends made through online exchanges was a real highlight too, even though we didn’t always share the same views on major issue.

As Bishop Lillibridge of West Texas noted, there was a genuine sense of caring and concern for the feelings and realities of those who are not in the majority on some of the big church issues. Votes on these issues were conducted prayerfully, and there was no gloating over results. Some foreign Anglican visitors spoke encouragingly of the vitality of our process, one in which lay and clergy share responsibility with bishops for major decisions in the church. Most explained that their time with us changed their perception of how the Episcopal Church operates. It seems that many primates have a distorted perception of our polity, and this clouds their understanding of how we deal with diversity of thought while maintaining unity in worship and mission.

We stand now before the world with a clearer statement of our position as a church on full inclusion of all baptized persons in ministry. Pray with me that we can demonstrate by our actions, not just our words, how a diverse church can move forward in partnership with Anglican churches around the world to spread the Good News.

As Bishop Doyle wrote, our mission today is the same as it was two weeks ago. Our diocese and our congregations should continue their missionary efforts with renewed energy. We were an energetic and diverse diocese before General Convention, and we should move now with renewed effort to spread the Good News with our neighbors.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Text of Bishop Doyle's Letter to Archbishop Williams

July 16, 2009

Dear Archbishop Williams:

As you are well aware our General Convention has recently passed several resolutions that are stirring controversy within our wider and global Church.

Given the actions of the General Convention it seemed important for you to hear directly from me and for the people of this diocese to know that I have communicated directly to you. In the interest of full transparency, I have copied this letter to the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As the Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, I want to confirm to you my commitment and the commitment of this diocese to continue the process begun with the Windsor Report. I also want to assure you of our continued support of the Covenant Process.

We as a Diocese have affirmed our desire to continue as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, even though the Diocese of Texas is a diverse one, and some are in favor of the recent actions of General Convention. I am committed to listening and shepherding the entire Diocese of Texas.

As I have made a firm commitment to “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship,” I am of course dedicated to living within the structures of The Episcopal Church.

I am praying for the Communion in the days ahead. Moreover, my prayers will be supported by both my words and my actions.

Faithfully yours,

The Right Reverend C. Andrew Doyle
IX Bishop of Texas

cc: The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Last Day

I have worked closely with our deputation and bishops over the last almost two weeks and I've been deeply moved by the dedication they have brought to the process of General Convention. Legislation doesn't always bring out the best in Christians, but our folks (and most everyone here) have engaged in holy listening in order to hear and understand differing opinions.

The exhibits are packed up and gone, people are rolling their suitcases down the hall towards the exit. The FedEx office has a stack of boxes to be mailed home to all points in The Episcopal Church. Everyone is tired and anxious to return home to family and ministry in their local congregations.

For a long time in the Diocese of Texas we have focused on mission, mission, mission. We held six annual conferences for bishops and their staffs to talk about moving from maintenance to mission. We have done much to raise up leaders for our Church. The fruits of that are apparent in the convention here in Anaheim where much has been accomplished to support the mission of the Church (even though the wire services would have you believe sexuality is all that's been discussed).

A strategic focus on ministry to Hispanics, health insurance and pension funds for lay employees are just a few pieces of legislation that have passed. A read through the sermons alone will inspire you.

The truth is that ministry and mission in our congregations will be pretty much the same on Monday as it was on Monday several weeks ago. Our call is to do nothing less than transform the world around us, bringing others an awareness that the reign of God is here and now and it looks like the Episcopalian standing next to them. And it is reflected back when they look in the mirror. It comes to them in from the food pantries, the school vacinations and breakfast for those who find themselves without a home or hope.

We are called to stand in the gap and that has not and will not change.

A complete wrap up of the legislative happenings and words from your deputies will be posted in the next week. We appreciate your following the Diocesan blog and tweets. We have kept all of you in prayer and ask that you keep us in prayer as we travel homeward.

Carol Barnwell, Communication Director, Editor, Texas Episcopalian

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From Deputy Joe Reynolds, dean of Christ Church Cathedral

I am writing this in Anaheim, California, on what is known here as “Legislative Day 8.”

That means we are in the eighth day of official actions of the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Activities began a day or two before legislative sessions began. I have been here now for ten days, and we have two more days to go. It seems like a long time.

It is impossible to report in a few sound bites the actions taken over such an extended period of time, much less capture any of the mood or nuances that can mean as much as the words of a resolution. The media will report with sensation that which has the potential of being sensational. All the world loves a fight, especially if it involves sex. The media doesn’t usually get it right—it didn’t this time—but that really doesn’t matter; perception can be more persuasive than reality.

General Convention meets every three years. Its work is accomplished through resolutions which come from various sources to one of the two houses of the convention—the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies. To be adopted as an action of General Convention a resolution must be approved by both houses.

In 2003 General Convention passed a resolution known as B033. It called for restraint in granting consent for the election of a bishop in any diocese whose “manner of life” be a cause of offense to other member churches in the Anglican Communion. Such “manner of life” was generally interpreted to refer to gay and lesbian persons living in partnered relationships. It also called for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions.

In the months leading up to this General Convention there has been considerable buzz about repealing B033. There have been several resolutions submitted to do just that. What happened instead was that a different resolution was adopted. The resolution came out of the Committee on World Mission and is titled: Anglican Communion: Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion.

The resolution is too long to be reproduced here, but it begins with an affirmation of our commitment to full participation in the Anglican Communion. It goes on to say: “The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationship ‘characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.’

“[T]he 76th General Convention recognizes that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst.

“The 76th General Convention affirms that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God’s call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.”

Finally the resolution acknowledges that “members of The Episcopal Church, as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.”

The resolution passed in the House of Bishops with ninety-nine bishops, including the
Presiding Bishop, voting yes, forty-five no, and two abstaining. It passed in the House of Deputies with more than 70% of the clergy and lay deputations voting in favor of it.

Bishop Doyle, Bishop Harrison and Bishop High all voted no. The Texas clergy deputies
were divided two-two, as were the lay deputies. Because of the rules of the House of Bishop’s, a divided vote is not counted as a partial vote in the affirmative, so it is for all practical purposes a vote of no. I voted in favor of the resolution. I was not aware of any smugness or sense of victory on the part of the prevailing side.

The debate was courteous and respectful. In our own deputation I continue to have a
sense of the mutual affection and trust we feel for each other.

So what does it mean? It was not a repeal of B033, though it has already been interpreted as such and will continue to be. The resolution makes no mention of B033 and does not prevent any bishop, Standing Committee, or parish priest from exercising restraint in the canonical processes of discernment. Bishop Doyle has already said that it will not change anything in the Diocese of Texas in terms of our ordination processes.

It will cause further strain in our relationship with some of the member churches in the Anglican Communion. There is the possibility that it will bring things to a breaking point. and it will likely cause more distress in dioceses, parishes, and in the hearts of individual Episcopalians who love our church and believe its direction is wrong.

General Convention is a political process, and that involves votes being taken on opposite sides of issues. The inevitable result of voting is that there is a “winning side” and a losing side.” In some ways that is a good thing. It is the way we make hard decisions with something approaching fairness. It is also always divisive, or, perhaps more accurately, it always brings into clear focus the divisions that are already there.

At one level, the resolution does little more than state clearly the way things really are in The Episcopal Church. Resolution B033 did little to create restraint throughout the church. It is true that no openly gay person has been elected and approved for ordination as a bishop since the resolution was passed. But there have been gay candidates in several elections, and it is only a matter of time before the issue is brought once again to a vote.

In the meantime, the blessing of same-sex unions—and the marriage of same-sex couples in states where legal—have continued. As is true with any resolution or vote, minds and hearts are not changed by the political process.

There is a potential tension between unity and justice. One of the bishops who voted against the resolution was quoted as saying, “I want an inclusive church; I just don’t want a polarized church.” The truth is that the poles exist whether we like it or not. The issue is not going to go away, nor should it. There are those who say that if the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons comes at the cost of division in Episcopal churches and dioceses—and in the Anglican Communion itself—the cost is too high.

My head and my heart, as well as my prayer life, lead me to a different decision. I love the Anglican Communion. The departure of people as well as dioceses from The Episcopal Church is a tragedy that brings me no joy. I know there are people leaving with broken hearts. I am concerned about the future of the church that I love—the church that has nurtured my faith for most of my life. But if the cost of unity and the absence of conflict is the denial of people and relationships that I have come to believe are holy and life-giving, then the cost is just too high. For me it is a matter of justice central to the Christian gospel.

At the end of the day, the real question is, “What does it mean for us at Christ Church Cathedral?” In most ways, very little. We will continue to welcome all God’s children into our community. I will continue to honor and respect—bless through acceptance, if not liturgy,—relationships of love and fidelity that bring hope and joy into people’s lives. And we will continue to do the mission that God calls us to. We will continue to proclaim the love of God in Christ Jesus to any and all who respond.

God bless.

Joe Reynolds
Dean, Christ Church Cathedral

From Bp. Andy Doyle on Day Eight

I believe we have all had a couple of tough days in the House of Bishops.

We've been debating and passed D025, "Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion," in the House of Bishops, and yesterday C056, "Liturgy For Blessings", in a substitute amendment was passed.

I want to say a couple of things about the process.

As a deputation we have worked hard to talk honestly about our responses and feelings to the events surrounding the Convention. We have met regularly for a caucus and for fellowship and for prayer. I believe this has been essential to our life lived together in this place. The deputation is so very diverse that I hope we are modeling how our life can be when we return.

The legislative process has been wholly unsatisfactory for me and a number of other bishops. I spoke to the "discharge" motion yesterday because I believe the House of Bishops has in its power to make decisions and take actions through pastoral letters to the church without the House of Deputies. And, on issues as divisive as sexuality it is imperative that the Bishops be willing to speak to the whole church, the whole flock, across political lines. Win or loose resolutions do not accomplish the unity that Jesus prayed to God to grant his disciples.

On Tuesday, I felt as though there was no place for me that might hear my voice because of the legislative process, I found myself very frustrated. I did not feel that there was room for a moderate voice. I was not the only one and the Presiding Bishop announced that a group of bishops were going to gather that night. I joined in.

It was a diverse group of 26 bishops. We each took turns telling our story and speaking about the unique missionary context in which we do ministry, the repercussions of our actions, and how we felt about the work before us.

This was an important time for me because it gave me the opportunity to be very clear about who we are in the Diocese of Texas. I shared with them my very clear commitment to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Windsor Process, and the Covenant Process. I also shared with them that we are a diverse diocese in our opinions on sexuality issues, though a clear majority of our members continue to reaffirm a traditional understanding of marriage and a commitment to the processes I outlined above.

The substitute resolution that was written after the group met was not materially different than the original. The words that I felt should be removed in order to continue to honor our commitment to the Anglican Communion were not removed. So, I did not vote in favor.

The process though was helpful and it was a process where by I felt as though people of the broader Episcopal Church were able to hear your voices from within the Diocese of Texas.

I voted against passage of both DO25 and CO56, Dena voted against both, and Rayford voted against DO25 and for CO56.

Both resolutions (DO25 and CO56) will, I am most certain, place strain on the Anglican Communion. Reactions I've received support this belief. However, we need to give the communion time to respond, and we need to listen to our Archbishop as he speaks to us about his thoughts and reflections on the events of General Convention.

My [no] votes represent where I believe the majority of our diocese is right now; though I know it does not reflect the totality of who we are as a community. Press releases, news stories, and magazine articles can never carry the fullness of that reality, nor can they capture my desire to be shepherd to all my sheep in the diocese.

We remain part of the Episcopal Church. That's my stance. I also intend to maintain the same balance as Don A. Wimberly that we also remain active, constituent, members of the Anglican Communion.

I am committed to the Windsor Report recommendations and process which include a moratoria on blessings and elections of partnered gay clergy to the office of bishop.

I am committed to the Covenant and a process.

I do this out of a vocation of my heart.

I support a group of bishops who I believe will make a similar statement. I am writing to you directly.

As the bishop of the Diocese of Texas I am letting you know about my votes and the reasons for my votes. And, I am writing to you so that you may know my commitment to our life together as one church. And, that you will know of my very clear intention to continue on the Windsor Path and to engage as a Bishop Diocesan in the Covenant process all as a full and active member in the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Giving Voice AND Vote to the Youth Presence at General Convention

By Eileen O'Brien

Saturday morning the Structure Committee held hearings on Resolution D066 which resolves to give vote to the Official Youth Presence at GC. Currently, the youth presence, comprised of a diverse group youth ages 16-18 from all over the Episcopal Church, has seat and voice but no vote. The Structure Committee responded enthusiastically to the resolution which would begin the process of changing the canons and constitutions of the church to allow youth a vote. At the conclusion of testimony to the resolution, the entire committee stood to applaud the youth and young adults who had arrived at the Convention Center at the unreasonably early hour of 7 am to be present for this 7:30 hearing.

The current resolution presents a number of legal, funding and constitutional issues, but every single member of the committee expressed an interest in working through those issues in order to get this legislation moving. The message to the young people present was: “Now is the time. Let’s get to it. We want to hear you more than you may think we do.”

I believe that this resolution has important implications for the under-represented young adult community in the church as well. It sends a message to dioceses and to parishes that we need to examine our leadership structures and be intentional about breaking down barriers so that young adults and new members in the church can more fully engage in ministry. For example, parishes that have elected the same people to their Diocesan Councils for over ten years need to be told to think again about how they can train and equip younger leaders for ministry.

Here at General Convention, only 14% of deputies are under the age of 45. Five percent are under the age of 35, and of that 5%, 60% are part of the youth presence that does not have a vote. If we want to hear and empower young people in the church, we must take this first step.

Ms. O'Brien is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Christ Church Cathedral.