A Final Report from the Diocese of Georgia Deputation
“Jesus Christ is Lord” and “The heartbeat of the Church is mission.” These are two of the many statements approved of by the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church you are unlikely to hear reported in the media. Why? Because they are not controversial. Controversy sells newspapers and generates viewers, but it does not grow churches.
The Worship of the Church
One of the joys of the General Convention is the daily Eucharist with more than 2,000 people soaking in the rich and spirit-filled liturgy and music. The Sunday service with closer to 10,000 worshippers included the ingathering of $7 million in donations to the United Thank Offering over the past three years turned in symbolically by the diocesan UTO chairs with Carolyn Gay representing the Diocese of Georgia. We also benefited from the excellent daily meditations and prayers on the floor of the House of deputies. Through all of our legislative sessions we felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Mission of the Church
In spite of what you may have heard, a push toward mission at the local level was the focus of this convention. This was done with an eye toward subsidiarity. The opposite of hierarchy, subsidiarity is the principle that tasks and decisions should be made at the lowest possible level.
When it comes to the mission of our church, the most appropriate level is usually the congregation, where the primary work of the church happens and at the diocesan level for diocesan-wide efforts, such as youth programs and camp. Seeing the heartbeat of the church as mission, the convention encouraged further participation in God’s mission in the coming year.
One resolution said the convention “challenges dioceses and congregations to participate in one new or ongoing project that engages in a relationship with another part of the Body of Christ in the world.” We look forward to the Diocese of Georgia responding to this call to mission.
Public Narrative on Mission
Part of the convention involved training in Public Narrative offered by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The idea is that in very brief form (just four minutes) one learns to tell a story of a point of decision or something else in your own life, that connects then to the group you are addressing to bring them into the story, showing how it is part of their story. Then one finishes with the now piece which gives the call to action. This form was used for bishops and deputies to connect emotionally on the mission of the church. We were challenged to come up with a plan of action and to tell our stories in such a way as to encourage others to join us in mission.
Approving the Budget
A major responsibility for every General Convention is to set the budget for the coming three years. This convention faced the concern of responding to God’s call to mission while dealing with the reality of declining revenue. Responding to these changes within our church, The Episcopal Church budget was cut by roughly a quarter, effecting virtually every line item, but not cutting support to appointed missionaries of our church. Acknowledging that dioceses also face budget constraints, diocesan asking is to be reduced by one percent a year for the coming three years.
Your Deputation’s Votes
Your Diocese of Georgia bishop and deputies have sought to faithfully represent you in this convention. This does not mean that we have tried to weigh how the decisions we make will be viewed back home. That approach would be fruitless as every yes or no vote cast on issues of great substance will disappoint and hurt someone in our diocesan family. There is no one view in our diocese on the issues that face our church as a recent poll conducted as part of the search for our next bishop makes clear.
Instead, your deputation has sought to read carefully the exact text being considered, rather than just whatever words will make headlines. We have prayed and struggled over how to account for the best decision on a complex resolution with the rather imprecise and clumsy tool of a yes or no vote.
In the end, it seems that our votes probably have accurately reflected the opinions of our diocese in that the lay votes have been in line with majority of lay people in south Georgia, while the differing votes of the clergy deputation has reflected the more mixed views of the clergy of our diocese.
Know this first and foremost. This convention’s actions will have no effect whatsoever on the worship in your congregation this Sunday, or on any of the other Sundays. This is true whether you and your congregation are pleased or angered when you read of the work done by this once-every-three-years meeting. You will all continue to worship together, love one another and seek to follow Christ as individuals and as a congregation. And our common mission in response to our common faith will go on. You were not all of one mind on all that faces our church before this convention and you are not all mind now. But you can and will be one in the ways that matter most when you worship and serve our Triune God together.
That said, we hold ourselves accountable to you for our actions and will report here how your deputation acted on the resolutions, which are generating interest around The Episcopal Church and beyond. For all of these, we encourage you highly to take the time to go to view the full text of the resolutions available online at http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/ This is a bit time consuming, but our votes were based on the full text of the resolutions and not how others, or even we ourselves may characterize the topic.
Your deputation voted 4-0 in both lay and clergy orders against C023, which asked The Episcopal Church to work to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines a marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The resolution was approved by the House of Deputies, but was rejected by the House of Bishops and referred to a committee. While there were some differing opinions among us, with some certainly in favor of anything to assist in full civil and human rights for homosexual persons, the text of the resolution itself called on all Episcopalians to work on this issue. We could not support any resolution which seemed to indicate that this is a matter about which people of good conscience are all in agreement.
Resolution C056 called for the church to develop, over the next three years, theological and liturgical resources concerning the blessing of same gender relationships and allowed for a “generous pastoral response” in areas where those unions are sanctioned by civil jurisdictions. This resolution did not endorse same gender blessings, but called for study and allowed for a pastoral response, which some may interpret as permission to allow for the same. Your lay deputation voted 4-0 against passage of this resolution, with the clergy 3-1 in support of passage. The House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops who first approved this resolution.
Resolution D025 was a lengthy resolution with seven resolves, which has already been reported on variously by the media. The stated intent was to commit our denomination to the Anglican Communion while describing honestly where The Episcopal Church is in its understanding of issues of sexuality. To understand what was and was not approved, it is preferable that you read the full text of D025 at the link above. The lay order of our deputation voted 4-0 against, with the clergy vote divided 2-2, making our clergy vote a no vote.
You will see by this record that we were not one in our votes. Yet we assure you that we were not divided. Every vote that your deputation cast was with the best interest of our diocese at heart. Through the whole convention and in every vote your deputation saw Christ working through one another. This is no small matter. We trust that you too will find our prayerful consideration of the matters to have been worthy of the faith in Christ that is in us, even if you cannot agree with each of our decisions.
None of us agreed with all of the decisions on the 361 resolutions acted on by the convention. We trust our Lord to affirm our church where it has acted rightly and to correct our church where we err. In the meantime, we return to the diocese we love, where we are of one mind about our one mission to know Christ and to make him known in our lives and through the mission of our church. We thank you for your prayers for us during the General Convention and join you in your prayers for our congregations and their members as we move ahead in our life together.
We were honored to serve you for two weeks of meetings, which make up the convention. We were joined in this by others from the Diocese of Georgia including some who volunteered at the convention and others taking part in the Episcopal Church Women triennial meeting which met alongside us.
All of us, who met here, are excited about where God is leading our diocese in mission. We look forward to returning to Georgia and rejoining you in that work.
The Rev. Frank Logue
The Rev. Billy Alford
The Very Rev. William Willoughby III
The Rev. Jim Shumard
The Rev. Sister Deborah Magdalene
*The Rev. Joy Fisher also served as a clergy deputy, but had to return home early and did not have the opportunity to read and sign on to this text. The Rev. Sister Deborah Magdalene was deputized by Bishop Louttit to serve as an alternate and in that capacity did serve on the floor for debate.
Labels: The General Convention