By Scott Gunn
As we take stock of the recently concluded General Convention, it would be easy to follow the lead of mass media and place emphasis on the election of Bishop Michael Curry as our next Presiding Bishop or the authorization of liturgies for same-sex marriage. Both of these stories are indeed very important and worthy of much exploration. But I think there was a bigger one.
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.
Jesus was given top billing in another way before we gathered. As Susan Snook and I wrote in The Living Church (“Yearning for Transformation”), a group of clergy and lay leaders wrote “A Memorial to the Church,” commending us to give up our lives in the church so that we might find life in Jesus Christ — to give up our allegiance to institutions, egos, causes, and structures. Along with the memorial, our group offered ten resolutions to implement its vision. These “Episcopal Resurrection” resolutions helped to shape conversation at Convention.
A number of circumstances have conspired to put us in the place we now find ourselves, and I am grateful to be there. Our church has been nudged out of complacency by financial pressures, as we can no longer pretend we are the comfortable, establishment church. Our church is weary of battles over what many people (but not all) see as second-order matters. Our church is seeing generational shifts in leadership as millennials and Generation X leaders focus their energy in different ways. Our church has benefitted from more and more people reading the Scriptures, making space for God to speak to the Church through the Word.
Our next Presiding Bishop wants to be known as a Chief Evangelism Officer, and he talks about Jesus at every opportunity. His own transformed life is evident in his preaching and in nearly every conversation with him.
What strikes me as truly remarkable, though, is the budget deliberation in the House of Deputies. In conventions past, once the budget was presented, it was almost never amended, because it is a carefully crafted, balanced document, juggling competing demands which exceed our limited resources. This time it was different.
As presented, the budget already had $2 million for racial reconciliation work, $3 million for expanded Mission Enterprise Zone grants, and $750,000 for digital evangelism initiatives. Several of us worked together to amend the budget. Frank Logue got the mic, and he offered an amendment which added about $2.8 million to our endowment draw (taking it to 5.5% from its current 5.0%) and investing $2.8 million in evangelism initiatives, especially to fund Latino/Hispanic evangelism (A086) and church planting work (D005). Much to my delight and surprise, this amendment, this bold investment, passed both houses. This kind of risk for the Gospel, small though it was, could only be possible with this convention’s constant drumbeat of Christ and him crucified.
Other Episcopal Resurrection resolutions fared well. The Memorial itself is commended for sharing and study in the church (A179). The resolution on church planting (D005) was passed, and thanks to the budget amendment, funded at a solid level. Online digital evangelism (B009) was passed and funded. Congregational revitalization was passed without funding (D009). Our proposal to allow dioceses to collaborate by sharing a Commission on Ministry passed (D007), though our provision to allow two or more dioceses to share a bishop was stripped out by the House of Bishops. A constitutional amendment to allow two dioceses to merge even when one of them is without a bishop passed on a first reading (D003). Another constitutional change to allow the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies to sit, deliberate, or vote together was passed on a first reading (D008). A task force will study the episcopal discernment and election process (D004). Lastly, D013 passed, which means that our budget process will be clarified.
Not every Episcopal Resurrection resolution fared so well. D010 offered a plan to clarify the roles of our churchwide leaders, geared around the idea of an executive director to lead staff. That was a non-starter, and the structure committee worked on TREC’s A004 instead. I think our church has made good progress on this front with greater communication and mutual accountability for our leaders, staff, and council. This will free up staff and leaders to focus more on the Jesus Movement and less on turf and stasis. Also, we proposed D011, which would have eliminated provinces, largely a vestige of horse-and-buggy thinking when we live in the age of Twitter. While the idea to eliminate provinces immediately didn’t fly, a group is going to look closely at provinces and their effectiveness. I think their days are numbered, which will free up resources for more agile networking.
Many of these proposals were scaled back (the President of the House of Deputies will not receive a stipend, as we had proposed), but the sheer boldness of all this work taken together exceeds what I could have imagined. Our church was willing to be adventurous for the Gospel. It turns out that all that Jesus talk was more than just talk.
Let us hope that spirit continues and even grows during the triennium. Let us hope that our whole church recommits to following Jesus in our lives, in our congregations, and into the world. If we can manage that even occasionally, church vitality and health will be the inevitable result.
The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn is executive director of Forward Movement.