Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
like showers on new growth.
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
ascribe greatness to our God!
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 32:1-3 – July 13, 2012)
The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church has just concluded and, I know from having been a deputy or a volunteer at past conventions, those who attended had a wonderful time (unless they came away righteously angry over one action or another, in which case they are now thoroughly enjoying being in the “right” while the rest of the church, they are sure, is going to Hell in a hand-basket). But I do wonder whether the actions of #GC77 (as the Twitter hashtag named it) will “drop like the rain” and “condense the like dew” and provide gentle nurture for “new growth.”
In preparation for the Convention, all the delegates received a massive paperback tome called “The Blue Book” – I don’t know if it was actually blue, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. This book contains all the proposed legislation the bishops and deputies will be asked to deal with, together some other materials needed for the efficient running of the assembly. I’m told that this triennium’s book ran to nearly 800 pages! Upon arrival at the convention, the church’s legislators also receive a huge 3-ring notebook of changes to what’s in the Blue Book, together additional reports and proposed legislation: pages are added to or replaced in this binder at every session of the convention throughout the several days of legislative sessions.
At GC77, when all was said and done, there were 441 pieces of business (resolutions, canonical changes, elections, budget, special business). 441! That’s impossible! Even if, on average, each of these items were to receive 10 minutes of floor time, it would take over 73 hours of legislative time in each of the two “houses” to deal with them all. The GC77 schedule included less than 43 hours of legislative time for the bishops and deputies. In other words, each item of business brought to the convention, received an average of under six minutes of deliberative consideration. (Many received none at all; a few received a lot more!)
The reason for all of this, of course, is micromanagement and wastes of time. One of the proposed resolutions (one that was adopted) was A015 entitled “Commend Democratic Movements in the Middle East and North Africa.” (An “A” resolution is proposed by a committee, commission or other body of the national church.) It had four resolves: to commend the “Arab Spring”; to call on the US government to exercise leadership; to reaffirm a resolution from 21 years before; and to urge the President to seek accountability from recipients of foreign aid. That’s all well and good, but is dealing with what is essentially a “feel good” resolution requiring no action by the church a proper, productive, or efficient use of the time of nearly 850 deputies and 165 bishops? I suggest that it is not.
This overload of unproductive work is not a “gentle rain” . . . this is a Category-5 hurricane, a tsunami, a deluge of biblical proportions! Actually, the thought did occur to me that it’s bigger than “biblical proportions” – the Law of Moses, the Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of Holy Scripture, the word of God to the Chosen People for all time (whatever one calls it) in my Oxford Annotated Bible only takes up 308 pages (complete with footnotes). The word of GC77 to the people of the Episcopal Church for a mere three years is more than twice the size, not including the loose-leaf supplement!
Of course, there are significant things that came out of the convention. A rite to bless the relationships of same-sex couples making a life-long commitment to one another, for example. (That probably won’t be received everywhere as a “gentle rain” fostering “new growth”!) And there is what seems to be a commitment to a new re-envisioning and restructuring the church, which looks like a good thing. (Of course, adoption of that resolution was followed by the election of leadership that is anything but new – capable and dedicated, I know, but let’s be honest – these folks are part of the well-entrenched, long-experienced cadre of church governors.)
My hope for the Episcopal Church after GC77 comes not from the formal actions of the legislative houses, nor from the elections of those who will manage the church’s official affairs for the next three years. It comes from the emergence of things like The Acts 8 Moment and from the commitment of a new generation of clergy and lay leadership who appear more interested spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ than in micromanaging the church, in proclaiming the name of the Lord and ascribing greatness to our God than in passing feel-good resolutions.
And in that there is hope for teaching that will foster new growth!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.