General Convention can become overwhelming and confusing even to the most seasoned participant after few days. Even if bishops and deputies who have come many times are better able to find their way to the right committee, or to follow the flow of business in legislative sessions, after a while, new participants and old begin to show the same sort of stunned demeanor. One learns to treat convention as a sort of river that carries you along, while at the same time watching for those moments when you need to break out of the current in order to address something of significance to you or for which you have specific responsibility.
The progress of technology has in some ways lessened the complications of legislation, while simultaneously making it possible to take more actions on a piece of legislation in the time allotted. Another consequence of the advancement of technology is that General Convention has become less closed to the observations of those Episcopalians and other Christians who are not deputies, but who nonetheless wish to remain informed. Live streaming brings the deliberations of both the Houses of Convention to them, and Twitter and Facebook allow them to converse with one another and with deputies on the floor about what is happening. I believe this evolution is, when taken on the whole, a good thing, and it sometimes yields tangible results.
A recent result of such electronic collaboration is A Memorial to the 79th General Convention regarding liturgical language. This memorial began life as a proposed resolution written primarily by Father J. Wesley Evans, with significant input from the Rev. Dr. Kara Slade. Wesley, Kara, and I are involved in online forums together, and as they worked on their resolution, they sought out those of us who were deputies to determine what we thought of their proposal, and whether any would submit it.
In our discussions we determined that a resolution, given the timing and the other obligations those of us who are deputies had, would be a difficult sell to the House of Deputies. We were also aware that many of the premises in the memorial are considered so basic, and that any revisions to our liturgies, or crafting of new liturgies, would necessarily presuppose them.
One of the criticisms we’ve seen is that guidelines such as we propose were adopted in the 1980s, and we should acquaint ourselves with them. Having looked, I can find no examples in the General Convention archive in which such standards are presented. In any case, if the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is ripe for revision, then surely in that process we can expect a clear articulation of the principles that will guide such revision, even if something similar may have been mentioned previously in the dark recesses of the collective General Convention or Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s memory.
Even if the affirmations of this memorial may not be provocative to a majority of people in the Episcopal Church, or even to deputies at convention, we chose to present it as a memorial, mindful of the history of resolutions presented as a means to urge General Convention to speak clearly on doctrinal matters, which traditionalists thought of as affirmations and clarifying statements, and progressives and others thought of as “gotcha” resolutions that could be — and were — used as evidence that the Episcopal Church denies basic Christian assumptions.
In other words, we recognized that the Episcopal Church has not completely emerged from the conflict mentality that has so shaped our identity for the past 15 years or more. We did not want these affirmations to become a liberal or progressive vs. a traditionalist or conservative thing.
I believe we achieved our goal based upon the diversity of those who have already signed the memorial. Others have expressed disappointment that they were not given an opportunity to sign before the memorial was submitted. The drafters and the deputies who worked to complete the memorial and submit it to the secretariat before the filing deadline sincerely apologize for that. I should especially thank deputy Everett Lees of Oklahoma and deputy Justin McIntosh of Virginia for their efforts, as well as so many others. We did not in fact come to convention with a sense that such a resolution or memorial would be necessary or helpful. Our sense of things changed during convention, and the memorial was written, God willing, to the good of the Church.
And that is our goal: The good of the Church. I believe I am not out of bounds in speaking for all of the drafters, revisers, and signers in saying that we present this for the good of the Church, particularly the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
We hope that this memorial can contribute in some way to the staking out of a broad and comprehensive orthodoxy, clear principles to guide part of our shared future. To that end, folks who are interested may still sign. Those names will not be on the document that is referred to committee at General Convention, but believe me when I say that people will see them: lay and clergy deputies, bishops, and people nowhere near General Convention, even interested parties outside the Episcopal Church. That too is a gift that technology has given us.
If you would like to read the memorial, and possibly sign your name, visit the memorial’s new webpage. Please continue to pray for the 79th General Convention, for the Episcopal Church, and the whole Church of God.