Global concerns and Anglican Communion issues will be a major focus of the Episcopal Church's 76th General Convention when it meets July 8-17 in Anaheim, California.
The church's main legislative gathering, which meets every three years, also will welcome many international guests from various Anglican Communion provinces. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will attend General Convention for the first time July 8-9. He will participate in Bible study and be a keynote speaker at a global economic forum on the evening of July 8.
Convention will devote extensive conversation to global issues through its Committee on International Concerns, which will prepare legislation to be addressed by convention's House of Bishops and House of Deputies.
Some of the key issues will focus on the crises and peacemaking efforts in conflict areas such as the Middle East, Sudan, Sri Lanka and the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Convention addresses global concerns for two reasons, said the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, the Episcopal Church's senior director of mission and director of the Advocacy Center.
"One is in response to God's mission to reconcile all things to Christ. We join in Christ's work of salvation of the world. Secondly, we undertake this work as an expression of our partnership with other provinces of the Anglican Communion. These are life-and-death matters."
The legislative process, Grieves said, "may seem pedantic and ineffective to some, but, in fact, the resolutions adopted become the work of the church, especially through our Office of Government Relations [in Washington, D.C.]"
Alexander Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the government relations office, said that "Episcopalians frequently ask where the Office of Government Relations gets direction for its advocacy work, and the answer is from the resolutions of the General Convention.
"Any Episcopalian who wishes to influence the voice of our church in the public square can work with his or her deputies and bishops to bring a resolution to convention, which, if adopted, shapes the advocacy work of our church in the years to come," he said. "Each of the global issues for which the Episcopal Church has become noted in Washington in recent years -- whether the Millennium Development Goals, the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief or the struggle for peace and human rights in the Sudan -- has begun as a result of resolutions brought to the convention by Episcopalians from around the country."
In preparation for convention, the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns (SCAIPJC) develops recommendations and strategies for the Presiding Bishop, Executive Council and General Convention regarding ministry opportunities and global issues.
During this triennium, the commission has addressed issues such as corruption in emerging democracies, immigration, international gangs, just war/pre-emptive strikes and water, and focused on justice and peace concerns in Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Korea, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.
The commission also discussed the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight principles towards reducing global poverty that convention adopted as a top mission priority for the church's 2007-2009 triennium.
"As we listen to and learn from these leaders, we are invited to deeper engagement to meet the Millennium Development Goals," said the Rev. Ian Douglas, professor of world Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "The General Convention is thus a once-every-three-year opportunity for the Episcopal Church to recenter and rededicate ourselves to God's global mission of reconciliation and restoration."
Besides issues of conflict, Grieves said, he expects climate change and global economics to be a part of convention's deliberations.
Seeing how church operates
The many international guests invited to Anaheim include primates, bishops and provincial secretaries from many of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces, especially those who have "not experienced our General Convention before and have very little understanding about how we operate as a church," said the Rev. Chuck Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Invitations are extended by the Episcopal Church's Partnerships Center, Jefferts Schori, the Church Pension Group, Trinity Church Wall Street in New York and the Chicago Consultation (a group that supports the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.)
Guests also are invited directly by dioceses in the Episcopal Church, many of which share companion relationships with other dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion.
All international guests will be considered "observers" in both houses, said Robertson. "Our goal is to ensure that all visitors are able to see our legislative process at work, and through various receptions and opportunities for conversation, we in turn can learn from them."
Anglican Communion issues at convention could include consideration of a proposed Anglican covenant as well as ongoing responses to the 2004 Windsor Report, a document that recommended ways in which the communion could maintain unity amid diversity of opinions, especially relating to human sexuality issues and theological interpretations.
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is expected to debate and act upon the proposed covenant during its May 1-12 meeting.
Although any topics and issues can be presented from the floor of convention, Jefferts Schori has "strongly discouraged" any formal adoption of an Anglican covenant, saying that the "time is far too short" between the ACC meeting and convention "for us to have a thorough discussion of it as a church."
"I just think it's inappropriate to make a decision that weighty" that quickly, she said.
Convention is likely to discuss the recommendations of the February 1-5 primates' meeting, which called for "gracious restraint" with respect to actions that could exacerbate the current tensions in the communion, such as same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.
The primates' support for the development of a "pastoral council" and the appointment of "pastoral visitors" to assist in healing and reconciliation could be a major focus of convention.
"The long-term impact of 'gracious restraint' is a matter for General Convention," Jefferts Schori said.
Other international concerns also may emerge from the ACC meeting. Douglas, an Episcopal Church representative on the ACC, said, "Perhaps more important than these ecclesial matters that might be debated is the opportunity to lift up, celebrate and recommit to our mutual responsibility and interdependence with sisters and brothers in Christ in the Anglican Communion."
The church, Grieves concluded, is able "to put life into the words" crafted by the two houses of convention. "The global scene is so fragile, the world is so fractured, that we desperately need to engage partners across geographical lines and faith differences in order to create a climate of hope for just resolutions of conflicts that face us."