By Douglas LeBlanc
At 759 pages and 155 resolutions, the Blue Book for the 77th General Convention addresses a broad range of topics, from blessing rites for same-sex couples to an embattled budget, from a kinder approach on clergy removal to additional Bible translations for lectionary readings.
This year’s Blue Book, like those of 2006 and 2009, is not blue. Instead, it is salmon (Pantone 169 M, to be precise). A free PDF of the book is available at this link. Here is a sampling of the copious resolutions and reports from the church’s standing commissions and other bodies.
Church Governance and Polity (Deputies): This study committee has prepared a book, Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church (sent to all deputies in early June by Church Publishing).
Constitution and Canons: Declined a request by the Diocese of Albany that the standing commission “study and begin the preparation of edits to the revisions that might be necessitated by constitutional concerns raised by canonical experts.”
The standing commission acted on a request by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to soften language regarding renunciation and abandonment canons. “The proposed amendments attempt to clarify that there is no negative connotation associated with that process, in large part by recasting the process in terms of ‘release’ from the obligations of Ordained Ministry in the Episcopal Church and ‘removal’ from the privileges that flow therefrom,” commission members wrote.
Ecumenical and Interreligious: Seeks to address continuing theological divergence with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, even amid the full communion established by the decade-old “Called to Common Mission” agreement. A resolution asks General Convention to “express its disappointment that the formal membership of representatives of The Episcopal Church in certain international ecumenical dialogues has been withdrawn by the Archbishop of Canterbury” and to “find ways to further the principles of unity outlined in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.”
Executive Council: Advises that the Episcopal Church “commit itself to continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion and to continued dialogue with our brothers and sisters in other provinces to deepen understanding and to insure the continued integrity of the Anglican Communion” but to add that it is “unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form.” The council also asks General Convention to commit the Episcopal Church to anti-racism programs through 2018.
Lifelong Christian Formation and Education: A resolution affirms that “the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer understands Baptism and not Confirmation to be the sacramental prerequisite for leadership in the Episcopal Church.”
Liturgy and Music: One resolution authorizes a trial-use liturgy for blessing same-sex couples, and authorizes bishops to “provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church, including adaptation of the liturgy and declaration of intention” in that liturgy. Another resolution would create a task force to “explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.”
Commission members wrote: “As the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music developed liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships, it faced repeated questions about marriage. What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, ‘marriage’ or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called ‘marriage’?”
Another resolution authorizes trial use of Holy Women, Holy Men for another three years, leading to a revised edition in 2015 for a first reading toward its replacing Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Another resolution authorizes preparing more inclusive and expansive language for the Book of Occasional Services.
The SCLM also proposes authorizing the Common English Bible and The Message for lectionary readings.
Ministry Development: Proposes creating a reconciliation council consisting of the Presiding Bishop and president of the House of Bishops, and the president and vice president of the House of Deputies. The council would, at the request of a diocese’s standing committee or convention, “intervene and assist in resolving the disagreement or dissension” between a bishop and a diocese. Escalating steps could involve removing the bishop or other diocesan leaders.
Planning and Arrangements: A resolution proposes Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Kansas City or Knoxville as possible sites for the 79th General Convention in 2018. The 78th General Convention will meet in Salt Lake City in 2015.
Program, Budget and Finance: The budget to be discussed at General Convention has prompted lively discussions among bishops and deputies. The committee has posted the draft budget, and welcomes comments, at a weblog.
State of the Church (Deputies): “In the past three years, the Episcopal Church had a net loss of 196,476 baptized members; 50,066 of these losses occurred in the most recent year for which complete data is available. … Average Sunday attendance (ASA) statistics show a smaller net loss from 2006 to 2010 than for membership (-107,575), but a larger percentage decline (13.4%).” The top three sources of serious conflict are ordination of gay priests and bishops (62.7%), finances and budget (52.7%) and priests’ leadership styles (45.8%).
Structure: Endorses the principle of sudsidiarity (“the appropriate balance between the unity of the whole and the roles and responsibility of its parts, all working toward and measured against a sense of the good of the whole”). Calls for reducing diocesan apportionments. Urges that, “as a matter of stewardship for the Church, the House of Bishops consider reducing its interim meetings to one per year, except in exigent circumstances.”
Theology (Bishops): The members report: “It appears that recent controversies over the role of confirmation … and also the continuing (and controversial) practice of inviting the un-baptized to receive communion may be more helpfully reframed in the light of a renewed and fundamental understanding of the eucharistic assembly and of eucharistic celebration as the quintessential gathering of the people of God.”