Although Episcopalians have been trickling into Austin for the last several days and legislative committee sessions have begun, today, July 5, marked the official start of the 79th General Convention (#GC79).
Due to a packed schedule throughout General Convention, legislative committees and hearings met July 3-4.
On July 4, the House of Bishops held a “Listening Liturgy” in which bishops and others gathered for worship confessed their collective complicity in issues of sexual abuse and misconduct in the church. The liturgy also included twelve anonymous stories from women and men who have experienced sexual misconduct in the church; each story was read aloud by a bishop of the same gender as the victim. The listening liturgy comes as the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements continue to uncover instances of abuse and misconduct throughout society and in the church. By beginning General Convention with this liturgy, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Diocese of Central New York, chair of the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response to #MeToo Planning Team, hoped that it would set the tone for General Convention’s dealing with resolutions related to sexual abuse and misconduct in the church.
In his Words of Invitation at the beginning of the service, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry stated:
Tonight, we acknowledge the Church has failed her people. Bishops have failed members of the Church. Priests, deacons, laity, all members of the Church have failed our vows. Some have committed offenses against another, some have denied or covered up those offenses, some have silently observed and done nothing. We have sinned against God and one another. Bishops, as successors to the apostles, hold a particular responsibility for acknowledging our past and ensuring that the Church moves forward in a direction that is a witness to our loving, liberating, life-giving God. This evening we continue the work that has already started by offering a public witness, a time of lament and confession, and a commitment to move forward as the Body of Christ in covenant with one another.
The first official day of General Convention kicked off with a service of Holy Eucharist. In his sermon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called on all Episcopalians to live a Jesus-centered life and invited them to live into the “Way of Love,” a seven-fold rule of life.
Following the opening Eucharist, legislative committees and hearings continued throughout the day.
In an open hearing, the Safeguarding and Title IV committee heard testimony on two resolutions, each dealing with sexual discrimination and abuse. Resolution D016 calls on General Convention to “confess our sins of gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms as we understand these sins.” Resolution D020 would create a task force to survey “gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms as we understand these sins, which include, but are not limited to, sexual and gender harassment, sexual assault, physical, spiritual, and emotionally abusive behavior, and oppression based on gender” and would be modeled after a survey used to compile a 2017 report on sexual misconduct the United Methodist Church.
In their session today, the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 voted to propose a plan for comprehensive prayer book revision, focusing on inclusive and expansive language. In 2015, Resolution A169 directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SLCM) to prepare a plan for prayer book revision. If the proposal is ratified by General Convention, the SLCM will begin to undertake the revision process with the intention of having a fully revised and ratified prayer book in 2030.
Two resolutions concerning marriage were debated in committee hearings. The first, Resolution A085, would ensure access to sacramental marriage equality by authorizing for trial use new liturgies and would change language in marriage canons and the Catechism to define marriage in a gender-neutral way. The resolution states that all bishops “exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision, will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial liturgies…”
The second resolution concerning marriage, B012, would continue trial use of the marriage rites with no time limit and also proposes that all diocese be provided access to these liturgies, without permission of the diocesan bishop. Congregations whose bishops will not grant permission may request Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) from another bishop.
In a majority vote, the House of Deputies voted to create a system for paying the president of the House of Deputies for the work of that position. The resolution instructs that the General Convention “compensate the President of the House of Deputies, who serves as Vice President of The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and Vice Chair of Executive Council, in the form of Director’s and Officer’s Fees for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the Constitution and Canons. “ Remuneration for this position has long been a controversial topic at General Convention and has been proposed several times before. Recent moves toward compensating this position cite increased workload and responsibilities but also note that compensating the position will help ensure qualified candidates are not deterred out of financial need.
In other committee news: changes were proposed to the Book of Occasional Services, the Evangelism Committee took to the streets of Austin to live out their work, and the Governance and Structure Committee debated how to ensure diverse representation on Executive Council.
For more updates on General Convention, check back each day for a roundup of the day’s top stories and follow on social media under #GC79.
Photo Credit: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers a sermon at the opening Eucharist at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service