Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Northern Michigan election "null and void"

The Presiding Bishop has officially informed the Diocese of Northern Michigan that she has not received consent from a majority of the Standing Committees of the church to the ordination and consecration of the Rev'd Kevin G. Thew Forrester as bishop, and therefore the election is null and void (you can read it here).

Much reaction - prior to the PB's statement as well as now - has decried a conservative campaign against the bishop-elect, a resistance to creativity and innovation and change, and an unwillingness to countenance any new ways to imagine the episcopate (such as the proposed team approach in N. Michigan) - all fueled by the malevolent pressures of blogs and internet.

As a member of a Standing Committee that withheld consent, I have long wanted to say those things are all no doubt true - AND, there have also been thoughtful, reasonable people (enough, in fact, to constitute a majority of the 110 Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church) who examined the evidence, read the bishop-elect's sermons and writings and liturgical creations, studied the materials from the diocese, and concluded that his theological positions and liturgical changes were beyond what one would look for from a bishop of the Church. Yes, the Episcopal Church does have standards.

Either the elected lay and clergy leaders (in the form of the Standing Committees) of the church are nastily reactionary (the recent General Convention would seem to suggest otherwise), or they are so clueless as to have been led around by the nose by those terrible bloggers -- or perhaps the process of review and consent can be entered into carefully and faithfully and will sometimes - very rarely - produce a "no", even when that is disappointing and difficult for a diocese and its bishop-elect.

The Archbishop Reflects

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, has issued a reflection on the recent actions and decisions of General Convention 2009. His reflection can be found here. There is much good comment out there, including at Thinking Anglicans and Seven whole days.

I found myself taking issue with a couple of things that the Archbishop wrote. The first comes near the beginning, when he disappointingly repeats the notion that a concern for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church is a matter of human rights and civil liberties. This is usually held out as somehow being in opposition to a Biblically and theologically based concern. He then goes on to suggest that the requisite exegetical and theological work have not been done. It seems clear to me that for many people, the concern for full inclusion is precisely a matter of trying faithfully to live out the demands of the Gospel. For so many people, an attention to the sweep and fullness of Scripture - not just a handful of verses - leads to the conclusion that the church needs to move in new directions. As many have pointed out, exegesis and theologizing have been going on for decades. While there is always a need to do a better job of thinking clearly and deeply, and of communicating that work, perhaps the issue here is that some folks just don't like the conclusions that have been drawn from that work.

Another concern is with this statement: "...a person living in such a (same sex) union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond;" Is this not the tired, frustrating circular argument that "we will not recognize the validity of your committed relationship, therefore you are living in sin just like a promiscuous heterosexual person because you are not in a valid relationship because we won't recognize the validity....?"

Finally (in order for me to have the traditional three points), Archbishop Rowan raises the thorny question of the need for consensus/agreement across the church in order to make changes. The Communion, let alone the Church Catholic, is not in agreement on these issues of full inclusion, and so we should not be proceeding. Really? While the need to respect the larger church community and recognize our deep interconnectedness is profoundly important, and it can be way too convenient to claim the movement of the Holy Spirit and charge off in our own new direction, must there be full agreement before anything can change? Would we have changed positions on race, or women, or circumcision if everyone had to approve? What about the little matter of the English Reformation - where was Rome's approval?

There is much to ponder and digest in Archbishop Williams' reflection. I invite your thoughts and comments.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Last thoughts on General Convention

One of the challenges of the Episcopal Church is to live up to our slogan: "The Episcopal Church welcomes you." Part of our ongoing work - in Constitution and Canons and resolutions, in processes and structures, in our own hearts - is to live into the deep and life changing hospitality and invitation of the Gospel. It seems to me that General Convention 2009 has taken one more step on the way. In a calm and reasonable way, we tried to describe where we believe God has led us, to say that the Church is made up of all kinds of people - including gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people - and God just might call any one of us into one of the orders of ministry or into a committed, loving relationship. As the bishops added: "ain't it a mystery?"* As we heard on the First Sunday After General Convention, also known as the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: "in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." The life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus has overcome our deeply human tendency to try to decide who's in and who's out, who is worthy and who isn't, who's in the wrong group. Whether it's a matter of circumcision, or race, or sexuality or gender identity, the Church has struggled to live into that new reality. The struggle isn't over, but at least we've taken another step.
*not a direct quote

Friday, July 17, 2009

The power of beeswax

In liturgy, there are grand moments - solemn processions, clouds of incense, thundering preludial music - and then there are the small things.
The "candles" at the altar and the ambo in our worship space are as tall and neat and clean as when we began General Convention so long ago. They clearly are some synthetic material filled with oil. What if they were genuine candles? (at least 51% beeswax, of course) By now they would be shorter, burned down, perhaps dripping down the side. What a powerful symbol - not of depletion or exhaustion, but of people consumed by the Spirit, offering prayer, praise, work, care and love for the Church. May God receive and bless the offering of these past two weeks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

LA Night at General Convention

The Diocese of Los Angeles sponsored LA Night Wednesday evening. The night featured rock music, poetry, Bishop Jon Bruno (top) blessing water for sprinkling the crowd and Brian McLaren (bottom).

"Tavolaro, Rhode Island"

Deputy Tavolaro takes to the floor again. He's on a roll - this resolution passed, too.

Deputation hard at work

Bishop Wolf and Deputies Pedrick and Gunn take a look at the proposed budget for the next three years. The vote comes on Thursday.

The face(s) of The Episcopal Church

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori were together today at a joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. This happens every General Convention so that the proposed budget can be presented to both Houses.

How old is he?

Yes, Episcopal bishops can be young. The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, spoke at the joint session of the Houses to receive the proposed budget. At the age of 34, he's the youngest member of the House of Bishops.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bp. Wright is not always right

The Bishop of Durham (England), N.T. Wright, renowned Biblical scholar and renowned meddler in the affairs of The Episcopal Church, has written a rather over-the-top response to the passage of D025 at this General Convention. Fr. Scott Gunn has an excellent response at "Seven whole days" - check it out.

What's with the shirts?

Back to the really important things (as opposed to the really important things).
Inquiring minds want to know the hidden significance of bishops' shirts. Black, magenta, purple, sport shirts, purple sport shirts.... Does this indicate theological positions? Liturgical preferences? Seniority in the House? Fashion challenged sensibilities?
This is an official call for transparency in bishops' shirts (not in the actual shirts, that would be gross).

The House of Bishops

On Tuesday morning I visited the House of Bishops for their session. It's a smaller, nicer, quieter room, as you might expect in space for 100+ as opposed to the HOD and room for 800+.
The Bishop of the Dominican Republic noted that they always sing in English, and proceeded to lead the bishops in a Spanish song.
Debate is civil and respectful. One of the major items was a resolution allowing for generous pastoral response to the needs of same sex couples, especially in states that have legalized same sex marriage. Things got held up for an amendment to be copied for all to read, so I didn't get to see the result.

The Deputy Testifies

Deputy Tavolaro speaks to a resolution adding gender identity to the non-discrimination section of the ministry canons. The resolution passed overwhelmingly in the House of Deputies. On to the bishops.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Okay, this is what's really important

It's easy to joke about the signposts, or buttons, or the occasional foolishness of the whole General Convention thing, but then one looks to the front of the House of Deputies and there, following the tradition of the ancient councils of the Church, is the Bible. And one remembers that this is a community of Christians, gathered in faith and prayer and worship, seeking to know and do the will of God in our time and place. Of your charity, continue to pray for General Convention.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

See how they love one another

Today some fellow Christians, filled with the love and compassion of Christ, came by General Convention to helpfully point out areas where they think the Episcopal Church has fallen short of the glory of God. (Not pictured is the sign that said, "Gene Robinson Minister of Satan")

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ABC comes to GC

For the first time since his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is visiting a General Convention. Tonight he participated in a forum on the global economic crisis. Tomorrow (Thursday) he will lead a Bible study as part of the daily Eucharist, and then he'll be off to the General Synod of the Church of England.
While he's here, Abp. Rowan is also meeting with some individuals and groups, including - for what seems to be the first time - actual gay and lesbian people. It's about time.

What's really important

Budget priorities, ecumenical work, evangelism, liturgical changes, yadda, yadda, yadda...

The really important stuff at General Convention includes: how do deputations decorate their signpost? To the right is the sailboat with "Hope" anchor atop the Rhode Island sign.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day One in the House of Deputies

You gotta keep your strength up.
Deputy Tavolaro prepares for the opening of the first legislative session with a yogurt/granola/fruit cup.

St. Paul's at General Convention

Not only has St. Paul's contributed three of the eight Rhode Island deputies, but as we turned to leave from the opening Eucharist, there was the children's program processing out, led by none other than our own crack acolyte, Elizabeth Kolakowski.

Another look at General Convention

If you want an always interesting, insightful and entertaining look at General Convention, check out Seven Whole Days, the blog of friend, colleague and fellow deputy Fr. Scott Gunn.

So what do they do there?

The committee I serve on - Ecumenical Relations - began its work today (Tuesday). We had an "unofficial" meeting (since Convention technically doesn't begin until Wednesday) beginning at 8:00 am and going until 11:00. On then to more Convention work: Program & Budget hearing, addresses from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, a long introduction to a story sharing technique we will be using to discuss mission, and then orientation for deputies. That left an hour for dinner before the committee reconvened at 7:00 pm for a public hearing on three resolutions. The results of the hearing and committee votes? Resolutions will go the General Convention to: commend the current Eucharistic sharing with the United Methodist Church and to expand the conversation to the historically African-American Methodist churches; take more steps forward in discussions with the Presbyterian Church, including encouraging the reception of Communion in one another's churches and having ordained ministers of one church celebrate the Eucharist with their own liturgical rite in the other church (I was the lone no vote on that one); and initiate a dialogue with the Church of Sweden. Not bad for the day before Convention actually begins.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ECW at GenCon

A General Convention year also includes the Episcopal Church Women Triennial gathering. Your wandering correspondent came across the RI delegation in the lobby of the Convention Center.

Monday, July 6, 2009

General Convention gets underway

RI Deputation hotel
Anaheim Convention Center

Much like the early Christians gathering in the catacombs, Episcopalians from around the country - and beyond - are gathering for the 76th General Convention.

Today is the day to register and not much else, and so perhaps the last chance to take full advantage of temperatures in the 70's and bright sunshine - just like Rhode Island the last two months.