This story is based on reporting and reflection by TLC’s team at the 78th General Convention: Zachary Guiliano, the Rev. Jordan Hylden, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, and Matthew Townsend.

As bishops and deputies gathered in record-setting heat in Salt Lake City, the presiding officers of General Convention were clear: they saw the church as ready for change, if not even requiring change for the church’s future health.

During her opening remarks to Convention on June 24, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the church needs to face its fears and embrace an unknown future.

“What no longer brings life must be laid down to fertilize future growth,” she said, drawing as she often has on imagery from science. “We will not all agree about precisely what that includes, but we need to be fearless in examining what will come before us, whether it is marriage, the size of this deliberative body, or where we store up our treasure.”

Related Writing

Communion Partners:
The Salt Lake City Statement

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Communion Across Difference:
A Statement of the Mind of the House of Bishops

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The Rev. Grace Burton-Edwards writes at Ye watchers and ye holy ones… about what actions General Convention has asked of individuals and congregations:

Sadly, this list is the shortest.

My current count is—

  • 41 resolutions directing individuals or congregations
  • 49 resolutions directing dioceses
  • 65 resolutions directing the Episcopal Church, plus 25 related to the Title IV changes (the discipline canons), 15 related to liturgy and new liturgical resources, and 14 social justice positions that state a position but don’t ask individuals, congregations, or dioceses to do anything in response.

… Since General Convention is the official legislative body of the larger church, it is appropriate that the bulk of the decisions relate to our common life. However, our common life together would be strengthened if General Convention developed more of a culture of action, encouraging congregations and dioceses to take particular steps in response to the actions of Convention.

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The Rev. Scott Gunn writes at TLC’s weblog, Covenant:

Jesus was front and center at General Convention this time around. Of course, he’s been with us at every General Convention since 1785, but I suspect we have been more or less attuned to his presence over the years. In 2015, lots of us noticed him, and nearly everyone talked about him.

It started even before we all met up in Salt Lake City. At Forward Movement, we decided to make wristbands bearing the hashtag #JesusAtGC. We wanted to encourage people to keep an eye out for Jesus and share him on social media from Convention. Certainly, Forward Movement is not responsible for Jesus showing up, but our focus on Jesus is part of the same “Jesus Movement” that is sweeping through our church.

Bishop Jefferts Schori repeatedly exhorted deputies and bishops to be brave and not cling to vestiges that have served their purposes.

“It is abundantly clear that many of the older plantings have reached the end of their lives,” she said. “We need to find new ways of tending the birds of the air who haven’t found sheltering trees or nourishing fruit.”

Such new ways, she said, include churches in which worship happens around a meal, camps for children of prisoners, and elder housing.

Structural changes will not be easy because, in debating such proposals, deeper issues are at stake, according to opening remarks from the Rev. Gay Jennings, president of the House of Deputies.

“When we’re talking about structure, we’re really talking about our identity,” she said. “We are talking about who we are as the people of God if we are not the church we have always been. We’re talking about what it means to be a deacon or a priest or a bishop if it doesn’t mean what it meant — or what we thought it meant — when we finished a local formation program or seminary.”

In the nine legislative days that followed, deputies and bishops approved deep and wide change with respect to marriage, leadership, liturgy, structure, mission, and more.

Marriage

In a 5-4 decision announced on the morning of June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. Early arguments in open hearings by the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage gave every indication that Convention would take a similar path.

“How long are we going to allow documents like the Book of Common Prayer to contain language that is explicitly discriminatory?” asked the Rev. Will Mebane, interim dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo and a member of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. “Demands for the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate, to come down have been heard. … It is time to remove our symbol that contains language of discrimination.”

“It is time to let our yes be yes, and end what is nothing less than de facto sacramental apartheid,” said the Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Church, Pasadena, a member of the marriage task force, at another open hearing.

When news of the Court’s decision reached bishops and deputies at General Convention, cheers broke out in Salt Palace Convention Center.

“We have something to celebrate today,” said singer Ann Phelps of Theodicy Jazz Collective, mere hours after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. She invited those present to sing, dance, and celebrate with the band.

The band opened with “Siyahamba” or “We are marching,” the famous liberation song from South Africans’ long struggle against apartheid. Cheering greeted the song’s beginning, and its conclusion brought a roar of approval. Episcopal News Service reported that some worshipers formed a conga line.

The House of Bishops made its decision by the afternoon of June 29, three days after the Court’s ruling.

The Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely, Bishop of Vermont, reported the work of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage. Five of the bishops on the committee recommended that a liturgy for blessing covenant relationships and “three liturgies of marriage be authorized for trial use in accordance with Article X.” The designation of the liturgies as being for “trial use” sets into motion the process of amending the Book of Common Prayer. Bishop Ely described this move as “the approach most faithful to our polity.”

He described A054 as “a more practical ordering of Canon 18.” He noted, however, that the resolution had been amended in committee to include “a more robust declaration of intent” in line with the prayer book. He stated his belief that the proposed canon in A054 does not conflict with the prayer book, thus avoiding “a constitutional crisis.”

The bishops took some time to discuss the resolutions at small-group tables before entering open deliberation. Several bishops wished to make sure that the use of any liturgies would be subject to the permission and supervision of the diocesan bishop or ecclesiastical authority.

A morning session ended without any movement of the resolutions, and the House met for about an hour in closed session in the afternoon.

After returning to open session, the bishops quickly passed Resolution A054 (authorizing the rites) and moved to deliberation on Resolution A036 (changing the church’s definition of marriage in canon). Several Communion Partner bishops noted their disagreement with the form of A036, although Bishop John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee noted a resolution of some problems: “I think we significantly strengthened this resolution for canonical changes and took care of some niggling problems that might come back to plague us later.”

Bishop William Love of Albany read Mark 10:6-9, in which Jesus cites Genesis, and reminded the House that Jesus spoke as God incarnate: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

In the end, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of changing the canon: 129 for, 26 against, and 5 abstentions.

Lambeth Palace released a statement that described the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to the bishops’ decision.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury [on June 30] expressed deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion following the US Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ resolution to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that any reference to marriage as between a man and a woman is removed,” said an item on the archbishop’s website. “While recognising the prerogative of the Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”

The archbishop’s concerns had no clear effect on the House of Deputies.

“It’s been two generations we’ve been waiting to do this very thing,” said deputy James Steadman of Northwestern Pennsylvania. “God is doing something here.”

Deputies voted overwhelmingly for the changes. Eighty-two percent voted in favor of the canonical change, while 87 favored changing the rites. Before the votes, President Jennings asked deputies not to cheer out of respect for one another. Deputies took results in stride, with no outbursts.

The New Presiding Bishop

Episcopalians arrived in Salt Lake City under the leadership of a presiding bishop who has nearly completed her nine-year term. They knew that one of four men would succeed her in the office. In one simple ballot, followed by what seemed a protracted dance of protocol in the House of Deputies, the House of Bishops chose the Rt. Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, 62, Bishop of North Carolina since 2000. Curry will be invested as the church’s 27th presiding bishop Nov. 1 at Washington National Cathedral.

Curry radiates energy and joy in his preaching and in conversations with others. He is the first African-American elected to the office (Bishop John T. Walker of Washington was a nominee in 1985 and Bishop Herbert Thompson of Southern Ohio was a nominee by petition in 1997). He is also the first presiding bishop elected on the first ballot. (For most of the House’s years the office simply fell to the bishop with the most seniority.)

Curry commanded Convention’s attention on June 23, when the four nominees presented themselves for randomly drawn questions on various matters of doctrine, structure, and pastoral style. The other three nominees — Bishop Thomas Breidenthal of Southern Ohio, Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, and Bishop Dabney Smith of Southwestern Florida — gave thoughtful and touching answers to questions, but Curry created a sense of palpable excitement.

As the Rev. Tim Schenck of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, put it on Twitter, “For PB we need an Inspirer in Chief who speaks boldly & passionately about the transforming power of Jesus.”

Curry showed that he is not unaware of the dazzling effect of his speaking nor of some remaining questions. In response, he cited a variety of measurable accomplishments from his diocese. “Can a preacher be an administrator? Can an orator be an organizer? Ask the Diocese of North Carolina.”

The bishops elected Curry on June 27. In addressing the press after his election, Curry quoted from the Bible in answering question after question. He noted how Jesus demanded that the temple be a house of prayer, how dry bones came to life in Ezekiel, and how first-century believers did not expect people to come to them but went out to where the people were.

“It’s a challenging time, it’s an exciting time, but the church has been here — read the Acts of the Apostles,” Curry said. “It’s in the Bible. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.”

Then early the next morning, Curry capped an anti-gun violence rally with a glimpse of his exuberant preaching style, rooted (among other places) in the African-American churches of the diocese where he has been bishop for 15 years. His voice boomed over the outdoor loudspeakers to the point that he could have awakened anyone sleeping blocks away at 8:20 a.m.

“We must be about the business of the Holy Trinity,” he said. “We must be about the business of the Jesus who came and taught us.

“You have heard that it was said that life is cheap,” he said in a style similar to one of his heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr. “You have heard that it was said that violence is the way. You have heard that it was said that racism is okay. You have heard that it was said that poverty doesn’t matter, but I say unto you, ‘Love your enemy!’” The crowd of 1,500 cheered.

Curry’s style marks a radical break from that of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, who speaks in measured tones and sticks to texts when preaching. His passion, style, and commitment to spiritual renewal are what the church needs now, according to bishops and deputies.

In the Episcopal Church, “we tend to be more intellectual than we should be,” said Southeast Florida Bishop Leopold Frade. “His will be a different style: unashamedly a proclaimer of Christ. It’s very important to, let’s say, be more out of our shell.”

Curry preached his first sermon as presiding bishop-elect at the Convention’s last Eucharist. “Her passion’s a little different from mine,” he said of Bishop Jefferts Schori. “I told the bishop I’m gonna get a little bit of cool from her.”

The gospel reading for the service was Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission. Its assignment for the day represented a moment of serendipity: Bishop Curry did not know the format and readings for the day very far in advance. But he said, “When I saw the text, all I could say is: ‘There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.’”

He began by reminding the congregation of the enduring presence of Christ: “Remember, I am with you — in the first century and in the 21st — I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

His main focus in the sermon was on going out in gospel mission and transforming the world, following Christ’s teaching. Christ taught us, he said, “to be reconciled and right with God and to be reconciled and right with each other,” an echo of words from the prayer book’s catechism.

Throughout the sermon, Bishop Curry returned to many of his favorite themes, especially about God rescuing us “from the nightmare that life can often be into the dream that God has intended from before the Earth and the world was ever made.”

When he illustrated “God’s dream” he evoked the prophetic vision in Isaiah 40, speaking of a return from exile and a homecoming: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isa. 40:4).

Bishops Curry’s rhetoric soared as he drew in snippets of hymns, scriptural texts, references to movies, stories, and jokes. He cried out; he whispered; he evoked shouts of “Amen” and applause. It was undoubtedly a rare experience for many Episcopalians: they were hanging on his words in the 12th minute, and they were still doing so when the sermon ended 12 minutes after that.

Curry ended his sermon on the theme of unity and racial reconciliation, speaking of how the Church unites people of different races and temperaments, “traditionalists” and “progressives,” “Republicans and Democrats.”

If you are baptized, he said, “You’re in the Jesus movement. You’re God’s.”

And he concluded, “As he died to make all holy, let us live to make all free. God’s truth is marching on. Now go!”

Reconciliation and Justice

Racial justice emerged quickly as a prominent theme and never let go. In opening remarks, President Jennings urged deputies “to take concrete action toward ending racism and achieving God’s dream and justice for every single person.”

Concrete action unfolded in stages. First came Curry’s historic election, then a big march to end the gun violence that’s taken many young, African-American lives [see page 11]. When the budget passed, it included $2 million for new racial justice and reconciliation initiatives.

“People want to talk about reparations, but it wasn’t just the White House that was built with slave labor. Our church was,” said Bishop James Mathes of San Diego during a committee meeting.

“I’d like it to be shockingly big enough to where it says we’re really going to double down in this area,” Mathes said. “We need a societal change, and the church needs to lead it. We should walk out of this convention saying, ‘We’re going to lead it. And we’re going to put our money where our mouth is.’ I want it to be astonishingly attention-getting.”

Resolution B014 says that the church recognizes “the sin of racism that continues to plague our society and our Church, and that we formally repent of our own historic and contemporary participation in systemic racism, committing ourselves to racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, and engagement.” Executive Council and Bishop Curry, as the new presiding bishop, will decide how the $2 million is best spent.

In another major social justice action, Convention addressed environmental concerns by divesting from fossil fuels. The Episcopal Church Endowment Fund, the Episcopal Church Foundation, and the Investment Committee of the Executive Council will be instructed to purge investment portfolios of fossil-fuel companies. The move follows in footsteps of the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the World Council of Churches, all of which have adopted similar policies since 2013.

The House of Deputies voted by a three-to-one margin to concur with the House of Bishops and pass the resolution. It calls for divestment “in a fiscally responsible manner” and reinvestment in clean, renewable energy.

The bishops amended the initial resolution to exempt the Church Pension Group from the rule. Noting that amendment, deputy Patrick Funston of Kansas said: “It shows our brothers and sisters across the hall are more concerned with their pensions than with the environment.”

An effort to affect conflicts on the West Bank through divestment failed in both houses. Resolution C003, which urged the church to divest from companies doing business on the West Bank, was rejected by a nearly unanimous vote in the House of Bishops.

Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana noted that the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, has frequently said that divestment is not helpful to Palestinians. Little said the House had “already passed superb resolutions” on the topic, referring to A052 (Call for Ubuntu within the Episcopal Church Regarding Policy Toward Palestine and Israel).

Barry Howe, retired Bishop of West Missouri and assisting in Southwest Florida, said the resolution was fruitless. “We have no investments in any of the corporations that are mentioned by other groups as being particularly those that are affecting settlement,” he said.

Leopold Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida and a Cuban-American, recommended a different approach: “My experience with boycotts and embargoes is that they hurt the very people we think we’re helping. Palestinian businesses need investment.”

The bishops of California, Rhode Island, Southern Ohio, and Central Florida, among others, also rose in opposition.

Deputies likewise stopped short of calling for divestment from companies associated with Israel’s presence in West Bank territories. Instead they passed a resolution that authorizes $675,000 for peace-building initiatives in the Holy Land, including health care and education.

“We believe that the way to our liberation is through the heart of the Jews,” said deputy Susan Haynes of Northern Indiana, as she spoke in favor of the resolution. “Help these nations come together through a process of restorative justice.”

Some deputies believed the resolution did not go far enough.

“I speak against this resolution,” said the Rev. Canon Gary Commins of Los Angeles. “It is fairly benign, banal, tepid, timid. … It does not address the realities of what currently exists in Israel and the occupied territories.”

Liturgical Revision Restarts

The most notable change approved by General Convention will arrive on the first Sunday of Advent, when the majority of dioceses will offer three choices for priests who choose to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. Many dioceses already had granted permission for their priests to perform weddings where civil marriage was made legal.

The only exception will be in dioceses led by bishops who are not convinced the church should offer such blessings, but they will be required to refer same-sex couples elsewhere for such rites.

This General Convention was convinced that more liturgical change is necessary for the 21st century. It authorized the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to begin plans for revising both the Book of Common Prayer (1979) and the Hymnal (1982). Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori had spoken often of her hope for prayer-book revision during the past several months.

Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio argued that prayer book revision is already “happening all around us,” through piecemeal approaches to new rites. He recommended a more intentional process that “commits us to a real conversation.”

The House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops on July 2 to begin the process, which could lead to a revision that would “utilize the riches of our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship.”

“We’re talking about establishing a plan,” said the Very Rev. Kate Moorehead of the Diocese of Florida. “We’re simply embarking on a study and a listening process.”

On July 3, the House of Bishops approved creating a revision process for the Hymnal 1982.

The resolution asks “the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the Hymnal 1982” and requests $25,000 for the project.

Bishop Martins of Springfield was the only bishop to speak against the resolution, and he cited three reasons.

First, he mentioned that Church Publishing had conducted “an extensive survey” to see if anyone had a desire to see the Hymnal revised. A majority did not.

Second, he reminded the House that “the SCLM is already drinking from a fire hose” because of General Convention resolutions. The commission has been asked to establish a process for revising the Book of Common Prayer, to revise the Book of Occasional Services, and to review dozens of saints for potential inclusion in A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Third, he questioned whether, given the availability of electronic resources for church music, the church should publish a new hymnal, when it already has three (Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing II, and Wonder, Love, and Praise).

Other bishops spoke in favor of the resolution. Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington expressed her sense that it is “important to be coherent” in revision: if the church is to revise the Book of Common Prayer, it ought to revise the Hymnal as well.

Convention approved A Great Cloud of Witnesses as a supplement to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which will remain the primary text for celebrating saints’ days.

Proponents of administering Communion to the unbaptized were turned back by both houses, but by narrower margins than three years earlier. Several bishops attempted to revive the matter in their House, but they could not achieve the supermajority required for such an action.

Resolution C010 dealt with offering Communion in this manner, a widespread practice that violates canon. It is often identified as an act of hospitality and radical welcome.

In 2012, the House of Bishops passed a resolution noting its disagreement with this theology while acknowledging a difference in practice. In 2009, the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee ruled it out as well. At that time, as Bishop Greg Brewer of Central Florida recalled, “the committee was universal in its rejection of that sentiment: clergy, lay people, theologians, bishops.”

This new resolution would not approve the practice but appoint a task force to study it.

In a committee hearing, several bishops spoke in favor of the resolution, especially if it were amended to ensure that members would hold a variety of theological views. Bishop W. Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina had proposed the amendment to the resolution, which Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia heartily supported: “I would say my experiences have led me to be wary that task forces can in fact be de facto works of advocacy” unless diversity is built in.

Bishop Matthew Gunter of Fond du Lac spoke most forcefully in opposition to the resolution. He said he understood why some congregations practiced “open communion” but he believed that the practice is theologically unsound, “not particularly radical, and only superficially hospitable.”

He asked the bishops why they would pass the work to a task force: “Do we want to surrender our role as teachers every time a doctrine is challenged?”

Restructure in Small Doses

Most of the proposals by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church were rejected straight out, referred to committees for the next three years, or folded into other legislation.

Convention approved TREC’s Resolution A001, which urges seminaries, the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and other church bodies to “restructure for spiritual encounter.” This charge touches on training, bivocational priesthood, clergy compensation, and congregational development.

Convention also approved TREC’s proposal to eliminate all standing commissions except for Liturgy and Music, and Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons (known previously only as Constitution and Canons). Executive Council has freedom to create new task forces to succeed the standing commissions on Anglican and international peace with justice concerns, communication and information technology, ecumenical and interreligious relations, health, lifelong Christian formation and education, ministry development, mission and evangelism, small congregations, social justice and public policy, stewardship and development, and world mission.

Convention rejected a TREC proposal to “restructure assets in service of God’s mission.” It also rejected TREC’s proposal to decrease the size of Executive Council.

Convention approved a resolution that makes diocesan assessments mandatory. Dioceses that do not pay their assessment could be deprived of funding from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

Many deputies expressed wariness about a proposed unicameral General Convention, another idea that did not gain sufficient traction for approval.

Speakers at a hearing on the issue focused on what would happen to the quality of floor debates if deputies were to find themselves side-by-side with bishops. Some felt a door to greater equality of voices would swing open like a breath of fresh air.

“If we change, it would have a catalytic and transformative impact throughout the church,” said Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde. “The efficiencies that we would create would be staggering.”

The topic came before the Committee on Governance and Structure as it dug into the challenge of sifting through resolutions derived from TREC.

None of the speakers at one hearing disputed the notion that a unicameral system would involve less complexity and less duplication than the current form. As speakers observed, today’s structure requires two bodies to each consider and debate the same proposal before it can be adopted. A secretariat must then manage the voluminous administration required by the process.

Support for unicameralism also came from individuals who have observed close-up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a full communion partner of the Episcopal Church. The ELCA relies on a unicameral system.

“It’s a partnership that we have with our Lutheran brothers and sisters,” said John Johnson, a layman from the Diocese of Washington and an ELCA staffer. “As much as we have to teach them, I think they have a little bit to teach us.”

But others worried deputies would be less-than-forthcoming with their true opinions for fear of adverse repercussions if their own bishops were listening nearby.

“If your boss is sitting there and you don’t agree with them, very often you will not say anything,” said Sally Sedgwick, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of Southern Ohio who has worked at ELCA’s headquarters.

Sedgwick added that some would likely stay quiet because they’re intimidated, or simply shy to speak publicly in front of a crowd that includes dozens of bishops.

Ultimately Convention approved a constitutional amendment allowing ad-hoc joint sessions, including simultaneous voting.

Should a supermajority of Executive Council have the power to fire the three top executives of the church? The idea was under debate through much of Convention and died in the House of Deputies.

Convention agreed to have a committee study a proposed stipend for the president of the House of Deputies, rather than agreeing to the stipend as requested in a resolution.

Mission

Deputies showed new commitment to church-planting by amending the proposed triennial budget during floor debate Thursday and authorizing new spending from endowment returns to the tune of $5.6 million.

The increase came in the process of approving a $122 million budget. Seeing the proposed budget came in far short of requested funding levels for church-planting, deputies quickly rose to object.

“We’ve got to be more intentional about church planting,” said the Rev. Danielle Morris of the Diocese of Central Florida. “It must become a priority, and you can’t do that with the small budget that we have.”

As a member of the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee moved to modify the budget that his committee had approved, the Rev. Canon Frank Logue of the Diocese of Georgia called for an additional $2.8 million for Latino-Hispanic congregational development and another $2.8 million to create a churchwide network for planting up to 30 new congregations. He said funds will be raised by drawing less than .5 percent annually from the Episcopal Church’s endowment.

Funding for a “digital evangelism initiative,” aimed at sharing the gospel and attracting new churchgoers via the Web, ultimately came in well below the $3 million named in a resolution that passed the House of Deputies. The approved budget allocated $750,000 for the effort, but deputies were nonetheless hopeful.

“We are alive and present and increasing our presence in the digital world,” said the Rev. Bonnie Perry, senior deputy from Chicago.

Largely in response to the death of bicyclist Thomas Palermo and charges of drunken driving and manslaughter against former bishop Heather Cook of Maryland, Convention adopted three resolutions about alcoholism and other drug abuse: D014 (Question Ordinands About Addiction), A158 (Task Force to Review and Revise Policy on Substance Abuse, Addiction and Recovery) and A159 (The Role of the Church in the Culture of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse).

“I’m Mark, and I’m an alcoholic,” said Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., of Ohio as he began a report by a special committee appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.

“There were hundreds of years of sobriety” around the table, Hollingsworth said, and the committee had “a jointly held understanding of the gravity of this issue.”

The resolutions passed after poignant debate spotlighted a culture of drinking that deputies said pervades the Episcopal Church. One after another rose to tell how local church events feel unsafe to alcoholics because alcoholic beverages are routinely served.

“We have had an unhealthy and unholy relationship with alcohol, and we need to change that,” said Kevin Cross, a deputy from the Diocese of Easton and member of the Legislative Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.

But Convention ultimately diluted calls for reform. For example, rather than impanel a task force as its name implies, resolution A158 merely commends to congregations and other institutions a set of basic guidelines to follow when serving alcohol at church functions. No task force was actually created.

In the end, General Convention approved many changes — some dramatic, some incremental — that will play out gradually. Much will depend on how dioceses, congregations, task forces, and standing commissions interpret and apply what’s new. General Convention has spoken.

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