I am on my way to Indianapolis for the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which begins, officially, on July 5, although I believe folks began trickling into town yesterday.
I don’t entirely know what to expect at this convention, but I suspect that people may arrive in a state of some agitation and find that there is little immediate legislative reason to be so stirred up.
I believe that legislation authorizing a trial rite for blessing same-sex relationships will pass, and am delighted that this will be perceived as something of an anti-climax. I am fairly certain that we will not sign on to the Anglican Covenant, but am wondering if we will nuance our no.
I suspect we will delay full implementation of the denominational health plan, and while this is certainly a significant issue, it isn’t what people are most worked up about.
Much pre-convention conversation has focused on restructuring the church and developing the triennial budget. But in some ways, on these issues, we are all het up with few places to go. Unless we waive the constitution—a dreadful idea—we can’t make any constitutional changes at this convention, so we are likely to end up arguing about whether efforts to restructuring the church should be led by the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church—which I would prefer—or a special commission appointed by the presiding officers. This decision will not be without consequences, but it merely determines the forum in which our ongoing conversations on this issue will take place. As for the budget, by the end of this General Convention, we will have one, and some people will like it more than others.
I think there is an argument to be made for looking at the budget that the Presiding Bishop presented, cutting much of the new spending she proposed (little of it has been subject to even cursory scrutiny) and cutting the asking to so that more of the money in the church stays on the grassroots level where the experimentation we need right now is more likely to take place. I doubt this idea will prevail, and I will be only mildly disappointed if it does not. I don’t like the way that the Presiding Bishop and her closest advisors are behaving right now, but I do not believe my sleep will be troubled if they get the budget they want, even though I don’t approve of the means by which they got it.
The problems that the Episcopal Church faces now are not of the General Convention’s making, and they will no be solved either in Indianapolis or three years from now in Salt Lake City. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Gosh, you guys have a beautiful liturgy. I just loved the preacher and I could listen to you people sing all day, but I won’t be back unless you get yourselves a unicameral legislature.” Me neither. And I don’t know of a single parish that has lost members because we have too many CCABs—although I think we do.
General Convention may be able to fund or facilitate the kind of grassroots innovation that our church needs, but it can’t make it happen. The same is true, though perhaps to a less degree, of the Presiding Bishop and the staff at Church Center. Our problem is less in our structures than in ourselves. We simply are not inspiring enough people to join our congregations. I am not sure we want to, and I am not sure we know how. Legislative bodies don’t exist to solve such problems.
This is not to say what we do in Indianapolis will not be important, but we shouldn’t expect from the convention more than the convention has to give.