Today began the seventh day of business at the General Convention (GC), but it was far from a day of rest.
The biggest item came near the end of the day, when the House of Deputies (HoD) passed a pair of canons related to marriage equality in the church. A054 and A036 had already passed the House of Bishops (HoB) earlier in the week and if the HoD concurred, they would be fully approved.
A054 was a resolution approving a trial rite for marriage. As it stood until today, the only marriage rite approved for use was the one in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) which was written and worded with the assumption of a man and woman marrying one another. This resolution also approved rites originally created prior to the 2012 GC, “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.”
A key section of A054, unlike the 2012 resolution, was to not allow a diocese by diocese application but stipulated that all bishops would need to make efforts to provide the rites for any couple that asked; “Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies.” What this may mean in practice is unclear as Bishops still decide how it will be used. Examples offered in earlier HoB debate was contacting priests in neighboring dioceses to lead the ceremony.
A036 changed the marriage canon (the church’s laws) to eliminate gendered language, thus opening the meaning of marriage to include all couples.
Each of the motions engendered impassioned debate from opponents and supporters, and in both cases the vote was taken by orders, which means that the lay deputies and the clergy deputies from each diocese vote as a bloc. This allows a record of how each deputation voted, similar to the roll call vote in the HoB.
In the end, it wasn’t even close, with both resolutions passing by overwhelming margins. Understanding the gravity of the decisions taken, voting was punctuated by prayer and the deputies did not react to the results with celebrations and Twitter was filled with tweets to calling for graciousness in response, no matter how one felt about the decision.
In other business, the HoD also continues its work on resolutions pertaining to changing the structure of the governing bodies of the church. First up was A004, which was a complete restructure of Executive Council (EC) which serves as the board which governs the church between GC’s. According to the resolution’s own explanation, it would “implement TREC’s proposals to reduce the size and enhance the effectiveness of the Executive Council while retaining the Council’s balance of Orders and Provincial representation and promoting a constructive framework for shared decision-making. Adoption of these changes would result in a more nimble and accountable governing structure to undergird the mission of the Church between General Conventions.” Several amendments were offered, but all were eventually defeated.
Next up was A006, which would dismantle the current Standing Committee and Continuing Board structure and replace it with only two Standing Committees of the church; Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons and Liturgy and Music. Other issues would be handled by Task Forces whose remit would expire. An amendment was offered to add a third Standing Committee on Mission, but it was defeated, and the resolution passed easily.
The third structure resolution for consideration today was D013, which redefines the budget process calling for close cooperation between the EC and the Budget and Finance committees. This change actually is meant to document the process created after the budget debacle at the 2012 GC which has been being refined in the past three years. This one too passed easily.
There was also a joint meeting of both houses to discuss the draft budget. Key items presented were a reduction in the diocesan
asking assessment, which would not be voluntary. Enforcement seems unclear, but one mechanism discussed was blocking grants and assistance to dioceses not paying the 15% without a waver, though that requirement wouldn’t take effect until 2019. Deputies seemed unhappy that amounts voted on in resolutions for church planting and Mission Enterprise Zones were less in the budget. Also concern was expressed about amounts for Youth formation. Expect substantive debate and amendments when the budget comes up for a vote.
An historic day for the Episcopal Church, but GC has more work to do. You can follow along on Twitter at @episcopalcafe.