I had a little very minor moment of self-realization recently. I am not too good for General Convention. I don’t believe that the whole thing is such a mess that I have to stand at an ironic distance and make comments that demonstrate my superior intellect and my more refined sensibility—tempting as those activities may be for a writer and an introvert.
I am not above working on the edges of a messy, maddening, anxiety-provoking representative democracy. I started sliding voting cards under the windshield wipers of cars in church parking lots during Sunday morning Masses in my hometown when I was nine years old and my father worked for the city controller in Scranton, Pa. I didn’t go into politics myself, but I never lost my affection for the arts of organization and persuasion that make the systems that govern our church and our country work.
I find, as convention approaches that I feel a greater kinship with the people who natter endlessly about what they are going to pack for convention, who have strong feelings about the wisdom of bringing a small box of laundry detergent and a pair of sensible shoes, who invest themselves deeply in obscure and possibly quixotic causes, who are possibly just a little too fond of the sound of their own voices. I find those who regard the shambling student body president’s fever dream that is our legislative system to be engrossing and even peculiarly ennobling, far more compelling than I do our system’s critics.
Whatever brands of myopia may afflict these people, they have been willing to donate weeks of their time to the church—not only on the national level, but in most cases on the diocesan level as well, as this tends to be what gets them elected in the first place. I bristle when their willingness to make themselves of service is derided by people who haven’t done the same kind or quantity of unpaid labor that they have. I think it is unseemly when they are mocked by young clergy because they are no longer young themselves. These are people who have been chosen by the members of their dioceses to consider legislation that in many instances is also put forward by the members of their dioceses. I like how that works.
I don’t deny that our system could stand some streamlining and some improving, but I suspect that it is capable of reforming itself. The General Convention has given us female priests and female deputies, it approved the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and patiently, skillfully extracted us from the morass that was B033. I believe it can reform itself, and will do so more effectively if the House of Deputies does not feel that the Presiding Bishop and some of her allies are backing it into a corner. I appreciate that the deputies are not in possession of all of the wisdom in the church, but I don’t believe that those who are in no way accountable to the people in our pews should play pivotal roles in deciding our future.
As I look forward to General Convention, I suspect that the proceedings may, at times, be cumbersome. The proceedings of large legislative bodies tend to be. I am quite certain that a few resolutions will come before the houses that ask us to make meaningless gestures that will please some small, but probably well-organized audience. I would be willing to bet that our technology may let us down at some point, or be misused by older members of the convention in ways that will inspire someone those more comfortable with technology to tweet #Fail a few times in their twitter stream.
I imagine that a few too many people may raise points of information, that are really points of personal privilege, or instruct a presiding officer on the rules of order in a way that suggest that they don’t quite know what they are talking about. I can pretty much predict that some people will complain that we haven’t spent enough time debating resolutions that those of us who spend time online have been debating for months.
I can see all of those things coming, and I’m almost looking forward to them. I love this church, and I love it in some measure, precisely because it is governed by an elected representative body. This is what elected representative bodies look like, and I salute those who are not too good to make them work.