Friday, July 17, 2009

Anaheim Day 10

General Convention – Day 10

 

It seems as if we have been living in a bubble for the last 10 days.  The House of Bishops have finished their business and are waiting on the Deputies.  We have managed to get through Day 8 business and are almost caught up.  Many parliamentary delays by a handful of folks, but  the mood of the House has shifted to "Let's get 'er done" in the words of a Florida deputy.

 

Significant strides have been made in adopting a denominational health plan which will be administered by the Church Pension Fund.  While not being mandated until 2012, the Diocese of Massachusetts moved to this last Diocesan Convention and we at Grace subscribed to it this year at substantial cost savings and better coverage that is more widely accepted (Blue Cross).

 

Also mandated was the mandating of offering lay employees pension benefits.  At Grace, we have been doing this for a number of years as a matter of justice, but I was surprised to learn the number of congregations that do not offer this benefit to their employees. 

 

And the big news of yesterday was the adoption of the Church budget for the next triennium.  $24M in cuts were made from the previous triennium, virtually eliminating anti-racism programming, women's programming oversight and major cutbacks in almost all areas of ministry and mission.  This also meant eliminating almost 35 positions of the current 185 at the New York and regional offices of the Church…the saddest part of the entire convention, knowing the people whose jobs you have had a hand in cutting because of the economic crunch.  As the Presiding Bishop said, much of this may look like death, but we are a people of the Resurrection.

 

Tempering the sadness is much to celebrate and for which we are thankful:  the continuing dioceses of Quincy, Fort Worth, San Joaquin and Central Pennsylvania deputations were greeted and acknowledged with joy and thunderous applause.  Study of the development of liturgical text for the blessing of same sex unions mandated and a variety of social justice issues received careful attention.

 

And…of particular import for we environmentalists…next GenCon will be digital.  All materials online, and a shortened convention in Indianapolis, deputies on digital notebooks will also streamline the process…not to mention eliminate all of those pesky papercuts!

 

One more major piece of legislation this morning and multiple housekeeping issues with adjournment later today....Deo gratias!

 

God Bless!

Rob Hensley+

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 9 at General Convention

To lighten the mood as we debated and voted on the budget for the triennium, the younger deputies decided that today was 'Dress like Greg Straub' day. Secretary Straub has worn a different colorful jacket and tie combination each day of the General Convention - providing us with something to look forward to each morning. Sam Gould and Christopher Ashley are seen below in their sartorial splendor.

From General Convention pictures


The budget has a leanness that will force us to be creative in our mission. Brian McClaren was today's preacher at Eucharist. He talked about the 'E word' and reclaiming its true meaning from those who have hijacked its meaning in our society.
Episcopalians and Evangelism - a communion no one should rend asunder. Usually, I find myself suppressing an urge to cringe at the word 'Evangelism'. But this time, I didn't feel any cringe at all. Perhaps it is the increased amount of time to talk about the mission of the wider church with people here that has made me able to say the 'E-word' comfortably. I will try to keep this when I am back home. Evangelism is just telling our story, not trying to co-opt someone's mind, and being there to ask the right kind of questions and to listen: What are you seeking? McClaren calls evangelists 'God's peace ambassadors' and 'reconciling co-workers of God' who are agents of change.

McClaren identified three institutional distractions from a focus on evangelism and mission for The Episcopal Church at this point in our history:Bulleted List
  • Institutional Conflict - as long as we use the challenge of conflict to reaffirm a deep incarnational identity, and as long as we stay in conversation, we should receive thanks for wading into turbulent waters ahead of the curve.
  • Institutional Identity - what is the best way to save a beloved institution like the Episcopal Church? Self-preservation is not the answer. Instead, we can focus on leveraging the institution that is our Church for the saving of the world - something we are already beginning to do through our support of the MDGs and the true and deep evangelism that is seen in our outward missional focus.
  • Institutional Rigidity - McClaren pointed to the complex way in which candidates for ministry are trained as an example of a barrier to evangelism. In balance to that statement, he also said the structure of Episcopal Church has powerful capacities for renewal.

I found that I listened to this third point with the lens of my own experience in Anaheim. Being at General Convention and attending numerous Legislative Committee hearings and meetings, and in reading all the reports from the Standing Commissions, I have a new take on how our denomination functions between General Conventions. As the Legislative Committee on Structures noted, the structures of our denomination are perfectly suited for the early 1900s, but they are cumbersome in the present day.

A sermon on evangelism, working on Public Narratives to share our mission story with others - there is a theme here...
-Helen

Thursday Morning Reflection

Dear Friends,

Two days to go and the push to get legislation finished is growing. Into this mix came the proposed budget for the next triennium for the Church. Economic realities are that 17 staff positions at the Church Center are being eliminated, women's programs and anti-racism programs receiving the biggest cuts. But like anything else, we are urged and I believed called to view our glasses as half full, rather than half empty and to work from a theology of abundance rather that a theology of scarcity.

What probably eclipsed all of this in the news media (I have not seen a newspaper since we arrived!) was the fact that the House of Bishops overwhelmingly gave their approval to the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender civil unions and marriages in those jurisdictions where it is legal. Final vote 104 in favor, 33 opposed with a few abstentions. Included was consent for bishops to use "general pastoral discretion" in those dioceses where such civil unions are already legal, phrasing that many are interpreting to mean that clergy (me for example) would now be allowed to sign civil marriage licenses without fear of admonition from our bishops; acknowledging the practice that is already taking place and doing away with the era of "don't ask, don't tell" under which we in the Diocese of Massachusetts have labored now for several years. Our bishops will be meeting with the clergy shortly after our return to outline new guidelines.

At the mid-day "paperless" Eucharist yesterday (all done on the big screen), we heard Bishop Steven Charleston, Native American, former Bishop of Alaska and recently retired Dean of EDS in Boston preach, calling us to action re: environmental justice issues. Inspired me to begin thinking of our Labor Day "Mass in the Grass" and making it an island celebration of the earth. Text and video links are all uploaded at the General Convention website.

Last evening next door to the Anaheim Arena, where several thousand people gathered in an amazing celebration of Baptism, Christian rock band music, and incredible preaching by Brian McClarien. Any reports that you may have heard about the poor health of The Episcopal Church are over exaggerated.

Oh...and by the way...the House of Deputies consented to full communion status with the Moravian Church, continued dialogue with the Presbyterian church (USA) - problematic issues around the Eucharist and ecclesial authority - and continued and deeper engagement in shared communion with the United Methodist Church and their African relatives (AME, AMEZ, etc.).

As we sit through the debates it appears things go slowly and we are not making progress...then when I step back and reflect, I can see how much progress is actually being made.

I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and am more energized than I have been in quite some time.

You are all missed and held in constant prayer.

Stay tuned...

Faithfully,

Rob Hensley+

Clergy Alternate

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 8 at General Convention

Today Becky Alden, St David's (South Yarmouth) lay deputy, swapped for the morning session with Helen Gordon, our one remaining lay alternate deputy from St Barnabas (Falmouth).

With that being said, I (Helen) am returning to using the first person in this post.

Being on the floor with the rest of the deputation was absorbing. They have these little electronic voting machines that are like remote controlsThe clickers are used for all elections and for votes when the President calls for them. I got to vote in some elections for Executive Council.

It is hard to believe I have become the first (only) lay alternate here. Dick Vanderlippe was unable to come to convention, so Lallie Lloyd moved up from first alternate and Christopher Ashley became the new first alternate. Then Byron Rushing had to leave, so Chris moved up to active deputy and I became the first alternate.

We have just had the joint session of the houses for the presentation on the budget for the 2010-2012 triennium. The presentations of a narrative budget overview by the Presiding Bishop and the Progam, Budget & Finance Committee (PB&F) chairs reflected on how the reduction in resources require us to look at doing everything in new ways. It will require increased development of networks - to think 'outside the box'. Mission is the reason for our existence, and this General Convention reflects a greatly deepened sense in our dioceses and congregations that mission is beyond ourselves.

The PB&F listened to the priorities expressed by speakers at their hearings earlier in General Convention. These reflected hope, mission, honesty, accountability, and transparency. Every area of the budget will have cuts, but 'for each challenge, there is new opportunity'. The budget is divided into three major sections: Canonical, Coporate, and Program.

The Canonical section covers the costs of General Convention, the offices of the leadership of the two houses (Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies), and all the committees, commissions, and boards that meet between General Conventions to do the work assigned to them by General Convention.

The Corporate section covers the administrative support for our church. The Program section provides the budget for the mission of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society (yet another -older- name of The Episcopal Church).

Discussion and debate with vote will happen tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sam Gould speaks



Talk about effective speaking within two minutes! Part of General Convention has been a Public Narrative project. We have been practicing our skills at speaking of ourselves and engaging our audience and urging them to a specific action.

In exactly two minutes, Deputy Sam Gould (from Lynn) spoke passionately about D025, the resolution having been returned to the House of Deputies for concurrence with the amendments made by the House of Bishops. Sam talked about the full inclusion of all peoples in the church to attract young people.

Day 7 at General Convention

Grace Church Lobster Rolls are being featured today on Rob's t-shirt. His evangelizing has resulted in a great conversation with a deputy from East Carolina whose parish does a lobster fund-raiser. People place orders for live lobsters, they ship them to the church and then deliver them to the parishioners. The deputy wants to have a t-shirt for this, and is examining lobster designs wherever she sees them. Helen brought over our St Barnabas Lobster on the Lawn t-shirt for her to see as well.




Deputations decorate their poles that show their diocese. We like the flamingo on this one. Maine has (what else...) a lobster. East Carolina has a lighthouse. Montana has a cowboy hat, lasso and cowboy boots. From our vantage point in the alternates area, we can see a cat-in-the-hat hat on some deputation's pole.



Below, you can see Lallie Lloyd's back in her azure jacket. That is as close as we can get to the deputation on the floor. We will send a camera in with them at some point to get a better picture of them.



And here are your faithful alternates: Karen Montagno, Helen Gordon, and Rob Hensley.

Dear Friends,
 
A sad start to the day.  Byron Rushing's mother-in-law passed away, and he has had to leave convention to be with his wife and family in the Dominican Republic.  Prayers to them all.
 
Youth Representatives made special presentation to House of Deputies.  I had begun the day at a hearing of the Standing Commission on Ministry where we were hearing testimony on empowering more youth representation on our vestries, etc.  I want to pursue this with you all when I get home.  It is past time that the young people were enfranchised.
 
Speaking of enfranchised, I was present for the House of Bishops debate and PASSAGE with minor amendment D-025 which moves us beyond B-033 to claim to the Church and the world basically that our ordination processes are open to ALL people.  It is who we are...it is where we are.  Final vote 99 - 45 with three abstentions.  Your bishops were and are amazing.
 
House of Deputies passed a complete revision of Title IV, Disciplinary Canons, to more solidly protect the laity and preserve the right to due process to clergy accused of violating their ordination vows, etc.  Years of hard wok overwhelmingly affirmed. 
 
We even managed to get through Day 4 calendar...on...lets see...Day 6(!)
 
A reception then for Bishop Shaw who received an award from the Association of Episcopal camps...20 minutes for rest and on to the final section of our Public Narrative project for which I have been leading a small group.  About 500 of us finished the process and were commissioned as "Missioners"...hard to explain...basically thanking and blessing us for the work we have been doing and sending us out to do the work that we have been given to do...you know...that thing we say every week at the end of the Eucharist?
 
And speaking of the Eucharist, Bishop Singh of Rochester was our celebrant at daily Eucharist.  Linked the civil rights struggles of this country to those in his native India of the lower castes as the church labored to empower the untouchables and others.
 
So much emotion...hard work...joy...and the overwhelming sense that the Holy Spirit is moving in and among all of us.
 
And of course there are the ever present protesters and picketers outside the convention hall who just don't get it.  But they are also children of God and welcome at the Table.
 
Onward to another day!
 
Faithfully,
Rob Hensley+

Sunday, July 12, 2009

General Convention

Anaheim...Sunday, July 12
Dear Deanery Friends,

On Saturday I had the pleasure to attend the committee dealing with all things liturgical and musical. Two themes were prominent in the resolutions being discussed: Adding a liturgy to the Book of Occasional Services (BOS) as well as additional prayers dealing with the loss of companion animals. St. Francis' Church (where else?) in San Diego has an extensive lay ministry that trains and equips companion animals for the elderly and differently abled. Iraq veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as well as people dealing with mental and other physical disabilities are recruited as trainers, major focus of the training, so the ministry has multiple layers. Several comapnion animals present at Convention were present with their human companions to provide testimony. I learned from others that Angel Grace, Lily and Bron are not the only dogs in church on a given Sunday or weekday Mass. Across The Episcopal Church, literally hundreds of parishes regularly welcome canine friends...and NOT just on St. Francis' Sunday.

The other major area that was discussed was the development of rites of blessing for LGBT couples. The 23+ resolutions have been combined into one, crafted from the best of all being considered. The "common folk" (those of us not on committee) have not seen the text yet. We look for it tomorrow.

During the afternoon, we heard from our Anglican brothers and sisters from Canada, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and Liberia. All positive, all moving.

Last night all of the seminaries held their receptions and dinners. It was good to see so many old friends, professors and classmates.

This morning I am off to the Episcopal Women's Caucus breakfast prior to Mass, one of the leaders, Carlin Rankin, is a valued friend and former parishioner from St. Margaret's in Washington. Yet more connections...proving that the world is indeed a small place, and we are all of us blessed in so many ways.

The nice thing about Sunday: no committee hearings, but the House of Deputies continues in session this afternoon.

Have a blessed Sunday. Sunny and 70's here!

Faithfully,
Alternate Clergy Deputy (2), Rob Hensley+

Saturday, July 11, 2009

General Convention: Friday

We are settling into the rhythm of go-go-go. Hearings and meetings begin at 7:30am and go until 9 or 9:30pm. Web conferencing looks like it is out of the question for now, but if you go to the media hub for The Episcopal Church, there are lots of on-demand and live stream videos for you to watch.

The Integrity Eucharist was this evening. It is the most uplifting spirited Eucharist I have experienced here yet.

Take a hotel ballroom, transform it with a dias, altar, torches and hangings, add a choir (All Saints Church, Pasadena), hundreds of worshippers, and then Bishops Barbara Harris and Gene Robinson, and what a party and spiritual experience you get!

Bishop Harris' sermon was spirited and - as usual - she had the whole room in the palm of her hand.

Bishop Robinson celebrated the Eucharist. If I am not mistaken, the closing prayer was based on the prayer he used at Obama's inauguration in January.

Here is the start of our photo album of pictures from General Convention.
-Helen

Sunday, July 05, 2009

General Convention: Arrivals

Today was a travel day for some of us. Others in our deputation are arriving tomorrow. The hotel where we are staying is next door to the Convention Center. You can see from the picture above that the Convention Center has a new look for the next couple of weeks!

As one deputy pointed out, the Gospel from Mark for today is a humorous reminder from the Holy Spirit. It included the following passage:
'He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.'
That certainly does not describe the way most of the people I saw coming to our convention!

Our Deanery project to help support the seminarians at St Philip's Theological College in Maseno, Kenya, is underway. The choir's CDs have been pressed and packaged. I brought as many as I could (about 500) with me to have available as 'thank-you gifts' for donations of financial support of the students. That means I was definitely NOT following Jesus' command from the Gospel passage!

Tomorrow the Rev. Michael Russell, the rector of Nan & Gerry Hardison's home parish in Point Loma CA, arrives. He has arranged for Maseno Missions to have a booth in the Exhibition Hall and we will be able to have the CDs available there.

God's peace to you all,
Helen G.