Among the Dying
The day contained exactly the elements of a church governance conference that one might parody: a politely-contentious debate on a resolution changing the Rules of Order—a resolution with far too many changes to consider at once; multiple proposed amendments-to-amendments; subsequent point-of-order questions on exactly what the House had just voted on and whether said vote was in order; short recesses while the president, secretary & parliamentarian conferred. Various characters straight from Episcopal Central Casting appeared on the giant video screens with parliamentary minutiae. Throughout it all, a spry deputy in his 60s took great glee in jogging to the nearest available microphone to "move the previous question." (To his credit, every time he did so, the near-unanimous vote proved he had the pulse of the House).
Focusing on these aspects of General Convention, one might see dinosaurs (thankfully not all of them old white males) rearranging deck chairs, ignoring the imminent iceberg impact (or asteroid impact; forgive the ill-advised mixed metaphor).
But that has not remotely been my overall impression of General Convention so far: what I have proudly been telling my non-Christian friends and my non-Episcopalian Christian friends about is the way our church considers peace and social justice concerns. In the past few days I've seen committee hearings on a number of life-or-death issues including: Drone Warfare; various aspects of Poverty and Economic Justice; Anti-Racism; Health Care, ending the Cuban Embargo; and various Native American matters. I saw Grace Cathedral's Alan Aw testify movingly to a resolution he wrote (with St. John The Evangelist's Sarah Lawton) calling for the reform of immigration law that discriminates against same-sex couples. Rev. Tom Jackson of Oasis spoke in support of Same-gender Blessings. And Rev. Vicki Gray of Christ The Lord, Pinole testified supporting Transgender Ministry as well as a resolution she wrote on Middle East Peace.
Will The Episcopal Church choose to take prophetic action on all these issues? In a few cases so far, yes; in most cases, we will find out later this week.
But whatever action we take, it thrills me that we are having these conversations. Our church is one in which members follow Jesus' example of challenging the existing social order and bringing good news to the oppressed. Indeed, we have set up a structure (even if we're looking to change that structure!) for doing so. And I also celebrate our lay/clergy equality and partnerships: whatever you may experience in your congregation, here at General Convention, clergy and laypeople are equal in voice, vote and authority—and they work (and play) together very well.
Whatever their opinions on these matters, Episcopalians have opinions and feel comfortable expressing and exchanging them in the context of church. Is it enough? No, but it's something; let us see what comes next.
And to that end: the engagement of young people at Convention encourages me greatly. The college- and post-college-age members of the Young Adult Initiative of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship have been testifying in committees about a number of issues; these are lay ministers and activists working as Christ's hands and feet on the ground, dealing with these issues on the streets of our nation and others. Deputies of the Official Youth Presence (which includes Patrick Melendez of Christ Church Alameda, representing Province VIII) have also been speaking both in committees and on the floor of the House, many proving themselves masters of the Public Narrative form; a long line of them gave particularly moving witness to their experience of bullying. Patrick gave a wonderful speech to both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, and was a lector at Sunday morning's Eucharist. Several full-fledged deputies are in their 20s, and at least one deputy—who has expressed herself impressively on the floor multiple times—is a college student. Without exception, every one of these young people has spoken intelligently, articulately and passionately; several of them have spoken prophetically.
So is the Episcopal Church a sinking dinosaur? Not if the young people here at Convention are any indication. They, after all, presumably have many General Conventions ahead of them. Many of you have heard me lament that calling youth "the future of the church" can deprive them of the right to be the present of the church. Here in Indianapolis, the youth are seizing that right. I trust them to help guide the church into the future.