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Closing General Convention in a Rush

The House of Deputies raced to get through its agenda on June 28, the final afternoon of the 81st General Convention. Deputies worked with the knowledge that the House of Bishops had already called it a day, meaning that if the deputies amended a piece of legislation already approved by the bishops, they would effectively kill it.

The pressures of time led to a number of widely-supported compromises: new liturgical canons that secured protections for conservatives alongside prayer book revisions desired by progressives, and a concession to the bishops’ insistence that the State of Israel is not an “apartheid” regime.

Two resolutions related to prayer book revision survived motions to refer to an interim body for further study, a move that would have delayed any possible approval until 2027.

Resolution B008 introduced a series of canons about the authorization of liturgical texts, addressing what the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music had described as the “lack of a canonical net” in 2022. The new canons lengthened the process for amending the Book of Common Prayer. Any new liturgies must be considered at three successive General Conventions — approved first for Trial Use, then as a first reading, and finally, as a second reading.

Matthew S.C. Olver, a deputy from Dallas and the executive director and publisher of The Living Church, explained that in the past, the custom has sometimes been to approve new liturgies for trial use, and simultaneously conduct the first reading of a resolution to revise the prayer book. He noted that the bishops who designed a widely supported compromise revision to the Book of Common Prayer’s definition in 2022 felt strongly that a period of trial use should precede the first reading, thereby requiring action at three General Conventions.

The canons introduced by B008 also clarify that a Book of Common Prayer memorialized by General Convention (as the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was in 2018) is authorized for use in all dioceses, and that the memorialized prayer book is the version in use at the time of memorialization.

These canonical changes echo the proposal of Resolution A090, which was proposed by the Task Force on Communion Across Difference, but rejected by committee. A clearer definition of memorialization and a canonical safeguard are especially important to Episcopalians who continue to affirm the church’s traditional teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Resolution A224 made two “clarifying amendments” to a constitutional change defining the Book of Common Prayer — a constitutional change that had been approved earlier in the General Convention, or “five minutes ago,” as one wag put it.

Constitutional changes require action at two consecutive General Conventions, and on June 26 the deputies concurred with the bishops in approving Resolution A072, a second reading changing the definition of the Book of Common Prayer so that it includes not just the printed 1979 prayer book, but also other liturgical forms and texts authorized by General Convention.

Deputy Bill Powell of Ohio told deputies that the changes in A224 were intended to clear up confusing language in Resolution A072 that the deputies on the Committee for Constitution and Canons had originally voted to reject.

Some debate subsequently arose about the meaning of the term memorialized in the 2018 resolution, so A224 was introduced on first reading to clarify that “Any Book of Common Prayer, or portions thereof, memorialized by the General Convention, is authorized for use at any service in all the Dioceses and other jurisdictions of this Church.”

During the separate debates on B008 and A224, Deputy Christopher Hayes of California moved to refer each resolution to an interim body, saying in the case of A224 that General Convention should not seek to amend the Constitution when “the ink is not dry” on the amendment passed earlier in the week.

Other deputies objected to the idea that the church might have two teachings on marriage, a traditional one enshrined in the memorialized 1979 Book of Common Prayer and a gender-neutral one in a future Book of Common Prayer.

Both motions to delay were soundly rejected, and B008 and A224 both were approved by the deputies, concurring with previous action by the bishops.

Later in the session, deputies concurred with the bishops on Resolution A116, a first reading for adding gender-neutral marriage rites to the Book of Common Prayer. The current traditional rites will be retitled “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 1” and the new rites will follow them in the printed book as “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2.” These changes would become permanent if General Convention approves them on a second reading in 2027.

They also concurred by wide margins on Resolution A160, which revises the section on marriage in the Book of Common Prayer’s catechism. The revised catechism would state that marriage is between “two persons” instead of “the woman and the man.” It also adds a question and answer about the traditional goods of marriage, but omits the procreation of children from the list. In keeping with the process outlined in B008, the changes were approved for trial use at this convention, and could not actually be added to the Book of Common Prayer until 2030.

The pressures of time also shaped debate on the convention’s final resolution on Palestine and Israel, after earlier resolutions ping-ponged between the houses. A majority of the Social Justice and International Policy Committee felt very strongly that the church should use the term apartheid in reference to Israel’s relations with Palestinians, and use the term genocide regarding Israel’s prosecution of the war against Hamas in Gaza.

The House of Bishops rejected both terms and rewrote the resolutions, after debating while Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum was seated at times in the visitor section. The committee pushed back hard, rejected the bishops’ versions, and called for votes on the original versions. The deputies reluctantly gave way on genocide and stood firm on apartheid, setting up a showdown with the bishops.

Committee chair Janet Day-Strehlow, deputy from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, told the deputies that a conference committee of the two houses had determined that the bishops would kill any resolution that mentioned apartheid, and crafted substitute Resolution D013 as a compromise.

Clearly distressed, Day-Strehlow said the reference to apartheid “was changed to [read] that the current government of Israel ‘continues to commit acts and pass laws that result in fragmentation, segregation and dispossession against the Palestinian people and the occupied territories.’ So those words are essentially apartheid, without saying apartheid.” Additional language was added “to address the fact that our two houses are not in agreement over calling out apartheid for what it is,” she said.

Some of her fellow deputies had harsh words for the bishops. “I am disappointed that the bishops remain obstinate in avoiding the word apartheid,” said Luke Krueger, deputy of Vermont. He nevertheless recommended passage, because the alternative was no resolution at all.

“I’m deeply disappointed in some of our bishops,” said R.J. Powell, clergy deputy from East Tennessee. “But I would be equally disappointed in failing to say anything.” Eva Warren of Ohio was one of several deputies speaking against the compromise, saying, “We cannot be afraid to use the word that matters.” D013 was approved overwhelmingly in a vote by orders.

Reunion & Juncture

There were two happier votes earlier in the day, with standing ovations celebrating the merger of three dioceses in Wisconsin and two in Michigan. However, dioceses do not use the word merger when they merge, presumably because it sounds too corporate.

So the three dioceses in the state of Wisconsin — Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, and Milwaukee — received approval for their “reunion,” becoming once again the statewide Diocese of Wisconsin.

In Michigan, the Saginaw-based Diocese of Eastern Michigan and the Portage/Kalamazoo-based Diocese of Western Michigan both had been spun off from the Detroit-based Diocese of Michigan, but the two had never stood together as a diocese without Detroit. They received approval for their “juncture” into the newly named Diocese of the Great Lakes.

“To be clear, we stake no claim on these waters,” said Jen Adams of Western Michigan. Addressing the 11 dioceses that touch the Great Lakes, she added, “We see you.”

“In the words of the collect for the church, things which had been cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new,” said Tyler Richards of Fond du Lac, “as we in Wisconsin are reconciled into one diocese.”

Fond du Lac, Eau Claire, and Eastern Michigan were among the smallest dioceses in the church, and Western Michigan and Milwaukee were not much bigger. The two mergers create two dioceses slightly larger than the median.

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