Friday, July 10, 2009

Back to Blogging -- General Convention Thoughts

Hello, there has been a hiatus in my blogging efforts. Periodically in my career as a writer I have simply run out of things to say (this can be a problem when preaching almost every week!). I try to respect those periods as times of silence and restoration, and allow God to work with me when my busy brain and keyboard fingers are still for a while.

Nonetheless, "Saints Alive!" is back for now. I want to share with you some thoughts about our church's General Convention, meeting in Anaheim, California. General Convention is the governing body of the Episcopal Church. It meets every three years in a legislative/party/family reunion/convention type setting to do the work of the church. To decide the direction of our denomination. To rewrite the canons (church laws) that govern how we work together. To pass resolutions that speak to the world at large with the voice of Christian justice and concern. To ponder liturgy, polity, politics.

The Episcopal Church was born in the period after the American Revolutionary War. Anglicans in America had to figure out how to be a new kind of Church of England, when the nation was no longer a British colony. The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America was born in 1789 in the city of Philadelphia. You may recall that our US Constitution was written in 1789 in Philadelphia. There are strong similarities between US governmental structures and our own church structure.

General Convention is a bicameral body. The House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (made up of clergy and lay deputies elected from dioceses) work much like our Senate and Congress, developing legislation, reconciling differences in legislation passed by both houses, and articulating the voice and direction of our denomination. The House of Deputies is presided over by Bonnie Anderson from our own Diocese of Michigan. The House of Bishops is presided over by the Most. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of our church. The Presiding Bishop is also the chief executive officer of the Episcopal Church, and is in charge of the administration of the denomination in the three-year intervals between General Conventions.

But General Convention itself sets the guidelines, the rules, and the direction of the Episcopal Church. And so, if you are curious about where we are headed as a denomination, and what is going ON out there in Anaheim, here are some preliminary notes, and also sources where you can keep updated:

1) The first two days of convention have been occupied with the beginning of legislation, the presence of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and the beginning of a process called "public narrative" that may help us each tell our own stories and hear others' (rather than talking past one another, which we too often do).

2) Major issues of concern are first ...a shrinking denominational budget (like everywhere else, money is tight) and whether we can keep our commitment as a denomination to give 0.7 percent of our budget to work toward the UN Millennium Development Goals. And second ... the ongoing discussion of inclusion for LGBT people. For example, in states where same-sex marriage is legal, should churches and dioceses be able to bless and celebrate those marriages? And what about the resolution passed in the waning hours of the last General Convention, resolution B033, that encourages dioceses to refrain from electing bishops whose "manner of life" poses difficulty to the wider Anglican Communion?

3) There is a barrage of information coming out of General Convention. And if you like that sort of thing, you can follow blogs, get Twitter "tweets", watch videos, debate on bulletin boards, until you have no time left to eat or to think. If you don't have that much time or interest, but want to follow the activity at General Convention, here are the three best resources I have found:

-- Episcopal Cafe. Edited by journalist Jim Naughton, this blog is following items of significance and general interest.

-- Convention Daily. This is a daily newsletter that everyone on site at GC2009 receives. It is updated daily, and covers the events of major significance in a traditional newspaper-type format.

-- The GC Media Hub. I find the Media Hub totally overwhelming and confusing. HOWEVER, Heidi Shott, of the Diocese of Maine, does a video segment called "The Daily Wrap" at the end of each day. The Daily Wrap does a TV-style report on the events of the day, which is short, comprehensive, and entertaining. You can find The Daily Wrap by rolling over the tiny, square icons to the right of the page, until you see Daily Wrap.

And finally, one of the most encouraging side activities at GC2009 is the construction of a house for Habitat for Humanity. The house is being built in sections INSIDE the convention center. Affordable housing in the LA area is hard to come by. This home will make a difference in one family's life in the LA area.

+ Kit

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