Episcopal Church leaders give webcast preview of General Convention

May 12, 2009

The role of young people, the fate of controversial resolutions and the effect of actions on the "people in the pews" were some of the topics discussed during an Internet broadcast, or webcast, May 13 with officers of General Convention, the Episcopal Church's triennial governing meeting.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, General Convention executive the Rev. Gregory Straub, and Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the host diocese of Los Angeles were the presenters. The webcast, which was moderated by Neva Rae Fox, program officer for public affairs for the Episcopal Church, originated from Anaheim, California, where the convention will meet from July 8 to 17.

Jefferts Schori began the webcast by invoking the convention theme, "ubuntu," a Zulu Xhosa word that is often translated as "I am because we are."

"General Convention is a remarkable opportunity for Episcopalians and those who will be peering over our shoulders to see this church in action, in its way of having deep and vigorous conversation in community," said Jefferts Schori. "We never all agree about anything except that it is good to be together."

She said she looks forward to welcoming church members and visitors of every language and culture as well as ecumenical observers and guests from the Anglican Communion. "It's an opportunity for the world to see how we make decisions, in all of our incarnate messiness."

Anderson pointed out the importance of General Convention to the church. "All other positions and bodies in the Episcopal Church derive their authority from General Convention," she said. "This General Convention is providing us with a unique opportunity to explore our mission together." The convention, she said, "will have time set aside to explore the question of the church's mission through a process called public narrative."

Straub explained the process of submitting, considering and voting on resolutions, and emphasized that registered visitors to the convention can attend and testify at the committee hearings as each resolution is considered. Legislation may be followed through extensive online resources that will be available throughout the meeting, Straub said, pointing out that all resolutions submitted so far may be read online at the General Convention website.

"We're right next door to a "magic kingdom," said Bruno, referring to Disneyland, located across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center, "but General Convention will be our own magic kingdom." He emphasized the role of young people at convention, especially a Habitat for Humanity project for teenagers, and programs for young children.

The diocese will also present "L.A. Night," which will feature author and activist Brian McClaren, emergent church programs, a light show and "a great rock band." We're going to take you from the Garden of Eden to an abundant celebration of creation," Bruno said.

He also outlined the "L.A. Midday" program at the diocese's hospitality center in the Exhibit Hall, which will present a different ministry of the diocese. Bruno also encouraged volunteers to sign up through the General Convention website.

The panelists then took questions from the onsite audience and from emails.

One questioner asked via email why church members who are not attending General Convention should care what goes on there.

"Believe it or not, what happens at General Convention will have impact in your own congregation," said Jefferts Schori. "General Convention will set priorities for the next triennium that will govern how your diocese is served by the churchwide staff, and how your diocese uses the resources of the wider church." Changes may also show up in worship, she added, in new texts and music.

The work of convention goes on after the triennial meeting, Anderson said, when the deputies return to their dioceses and continue to serve until their three-year terms end or they are reelected. The committees, commissions, agencies and boards also continue to work, and have a significant impact on the people of the church, she added.

In reply to another question, Jefferts Schori outlined the plans for communications during convention, including the Media Hub, which will feature resources such as Flickr, Twitter and media streams, as well as reporting from Episcopal Life Media.

Several questioners asked about possible repeal or other action on Resolution B033, the controversial measure passed on the last day of the 2006 General Convention that called for restraint on the part of the church in electing or consenting to the election as bishops of persons whose manner of life may present a challenge to the wider Church—a measure widely seen to apply only to gay or lesbian candidates.

"I've been very clear in my public communications for the last few months that my hope is that we not attempt to repeal past legislation at General Convention—it's a bad legislative practice," said Jefferts Schori. "I would far more prefer us to say where we are today, in 2009, to make a positive statement about our desire to include all people fully in this church and that we be clear about who we are as the Episcopal Church.

Twelve resolutions concerning B033 have been submitted, said Anderson, and all have been assigned to legislative committees, as is the practice for all resolutions. "We can't really predict what will happen in regards to B033, which is the beauty of General Convention," she said. "It is up to the participants at General Convention to take those resolutions under consideration, to hold open hearings with regards to the resolutions, gather the voices of everyone present that wishes to speak … and we also pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit as we debate in the House of Deputies."

Answering an inquiry about how convention actions can help church members deal with the overwhelming pressure of difficult economic times, Anderson said that the needs of the church's own members and those of the "poorest of the poor across the world" are a priority for the church, and that the mission conversation at General Convention will address these problems. Jefferts Schori mentioned the global economic forum planned for the second night of General Convention, which will feature an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and video presentations on economic topics. "It's going to be an opportunity for the whole convention to ponder how we are in relationship with the rest of the world in a time when we're asking hard questions about how we are related economically," she said.

Answering an inquiry about the proposed Anglican covenant, the Presiding Bishop said that "our relations have been deepened by the work of the Anglican Consultative Council," which ended its meeting on May 12 in Jamaica. Meeting each other and carrying on respectful dialogue is critically important to the covenant process, she said. "That's a gift that we all need to keep on learning. We don't experience people only as internet caricatures … face to face we learn more about other people's contexts, joys and challenges."

The ACC, she continued, considered that the first three parts of the proposed covenant "were ready for prime time," but that the fourth section 'still has a number of questions around it."

"What I expect at General Convention is that we're going to talk about it," said Jefferts Schori.

A questioner asked about the future of the Church and how it can appeal more to young people. Bruno replied, "In this diocese we're trying to do more all the time to build relationships and community. This convention will do that by offering daily opportunities for not-so-ordinary Episcopalians and young people to be intertwined."

"We have to pay more attention to [young people]," Anderson commented. "We have to engage in their lives together. If we don't pay attention to the young people and their needs—and we have a lot in the Episcopal Church to offer them—I think irrelevancy will become more prominent."

Jefferts Schori said that her recent experience at the ACC meeting in Jamaica reminded her that "Episcopalians and Anglicans everywhere are concerned about how to present the Gospel in a way that can be understood and appropriated by today's generations, who may or may not know anything about Christianity."

"For many years now we have had a youth presence in the House of Deputies," said Straub, explaining that each province of the church has two youth delegates in the house. "It is my hope that the exposure that we give young people at General Convention will create a cadre of people who will go back to their communities and evangelize their fellows."

The entire webcast may be viewed on demand here.

To register as a volunteer for General Convention, click here.

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