Mood of convention reflects ubuntu

July 16, 2009

The 76th General Convention closed July 17 with many participants saying that the gathering lived into its statement theme of Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me.

"The mood has been extremely, extremely -- I don't think there's a word called ubuntu-ish, but if there were, that is how I would describe the mood of this General Convention," House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson told the convention's closing media briefing. "We did not all agree 100 percent. We have been struggling. We have heard each other. We have been so careful to make sure that we have listened to and responded to the needs of our church."

Ubuntu is a Zulu or Xhosa word that describes human identity as being formed through community and encompassing a sense of caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation.

Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, whose diocese hosted the convention, called it "probably one of the least rancor-filled conventions I have been to."

"The whole attitude was that of ubuntu and about respecting each other where we are at," he added.

Since the last convention, in 2006, leaders and members of four dioceses – San Joaquin (California), Pittsburgh, Quincy (Illinois) and Fort Worth (Texas) – have left the Episcopal Church and affiliated with other Anglican provinces due to theological differences.

At the morning media briefing July 17, Atlanta Bishop Neil Alexander acknowledged that "some conservative voices chose not to be a part of this church" but said that did not mean no conservative opinions were expressed in the House of Bishops. In their private and public sessions, they "listened to the broad breadth of the church." Even those who disagreed with the majority remained committed "to the future of our church," he said.

The Rev. Lowell Grisham (Arkansas) said that "there are people I miss who are good friends who are not at this convention." He added that he also noticed a less contentious atmosphere and that "people are less inclined to be in ‘for' or ‘against' camps."

Roslie Simmonds Ballentine (Virgin Islands) said she agreed there was a lack of contentiousness on the floor, but also said, "I missed hearing some of those voices – not that I agreed with them – and the passion that often came behind the sentiments they expressed."

Asked what stood out at this convention, Deborah Harmon Hines (Western Massachusetts) said that, for her, there was a moment of grace on each day and cited the moment when Resolution D096 passed. It called on the convention to "speak out clearly against the widespread practice of domestic violence" and urged bishops, clergy and lay leadership to review and participate in domestic violence prevention training.

For Grisham, what stood out for him occurred while serving on the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committee, which worked on Resolution C056 concerning the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources on same-gender blessings. "It seemed like it came together instantly. [The work of the committee] felt like what the church ought to be as it works together. "

Alexander said this convention was characterized by "a sense of clarity and a sense of balance." Previously, he said, conventions "have waded waist-deep into Anglican muddle. [Here] we were crystal clear about our commitment to the Anglican Communion and who we are as the Episcopal Church. I came expecting enormous tension. We have had appropriate tension, but also a sense of calm and balance, and that felt wonderful to me."

California Assistant Bishop Steven Charleston's sermon at one of the daily Eucharists on humanity's oneness with the earth "mesmerized" Ballentine, who also noted that "you saw this democratically governed church in all its messiness." She said she came to Anaheim "anxious about what would happen to B033" (a resolution from the 2006 convention widely interpreted as a moratorium on gay bishops) but was pleased with Resolution D025, which affirmed the openness of the ordination process. Ballentine added, "This is who we are."

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