From the Bishop: General Convention Recap
This account of the actions of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church was composed by Father Robert M. Lewis for the people of Saint Stephen’s in Grand Island. With his permission, the Nebraska Episcopalian is delighted to made this slightly edited version available to you!
My Brothers and Sisters Redeemed in the Lord Jesus,
Perhaps one of the most pivotal things to come out of this convention was the election of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop-Elect. Bishop Curry was chosen from a slate of four nominees on the first ballot. He received 121 votes of a total 174 cast. Bishop Curry is the very first Presiding Bishop elected on the first ballot and the very first Presiding Bishop of African American heritage.
Practically anyone who turned on the news or picked up a paper on June 26th will know that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of civil marriage of any two persons in the United States regardless of gender. That ruling ended a long held dispute in the public arena about the legality of marriages of same gender couples. Some 13 states still had laws prohibiting civil marriage of same-gendered couples, including the State of Nebraska.
On July 1, General Convention followed suit by authorizing two rites for the celebration of marriage with gender-neutral terminology. It was followed by a resolution eliminating the language defining marriage as between a man and a woman in the canons. As of November 1st, 2015, same gendered couples may be married in Episcopal Churches with the following exceptions: 1. Bishops may direct their dioceses not to conduct these services provided they refer interested couples elsewhere. 2. Rectors may refuse these services in their cures provided they refer them beyond their parish.
The budget approved by convention emphasizes racial reconciliation and evangelism. The General Convention adopted the 2016-2018 triennial budget July 2 after agreeing to add $2.8 million for evangelism work. The 2016-2018 triennial budget is based on $125,083,185 in revenue, compared to the forecasted $118,243,102 for the triennium that ends Dec. 31 of this year. The expenses are projected to be $125,057,351. The budget comes in with an expected surplus of $25,834. Its revenue projection is based in part on asking the church’s dioceses and regional mission areas to give 18 percent of their income to fund the 2016 budget, 16.5 percent for the 2017 budget and 15 percent in 2018. This budget also included a major new $2 million initiative on racial justice and reconciliation, even as it reduces the amount of money it asks dioceses to contribute to 15 percent by 2018.
This convention made giving to the national church mandatory and imposed penalties for non-compliance. Dioceses that do not pay their full assessment to the national church instead of to other mission initiatives will face penalties.
Convention voted to divest from fossil fuels, reinvest in renewables , and create a climate change advisory committee. One resolution called upon the Investment Committee of Executive Council, the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund and the Episcopal Church Foundation “to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Still another resolution called for the creation of a climate change advisory committee with one representative from each of The Episcopal Church’s nine provinces. The resolution also calls on each province to create a Regional Consultative Group composed “of no fewer than five experts in areas of environmental sustainability appropriate to the demographic, ecological, cultural and geographic specifics of each region.”
There were major structural changes to the way General Convention governs.
Resolution A004 slightly expanded Executive Council’s appointment power concerning three members of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s executive staff, including the chief operating officer, chief financial officer and chief legal officer.
Convention reduced the number of the church’s standing commissions from 14 to two. The two would be the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. The presiding bishop and House of Deputies president would appoint study committees and task forces to complete the work called for by a meeting of General Convention, with council’s approval. All of those bodies would expire at the start of the next General Convention unless they are renewed.
Convention opposed divestment in Israel. The House of Bishops wrote on July 2 that divestment from companies and corporations engaged in business related to the State of Israel is not in the best interests of The Episcopal Church, its partners in the Holy Land, interreligious relations, and the lives of Palestinians.
General Convention also took steps for the eventual (2025 probably) replacement of the Book of Common Prayer 1979 and the Hymnal 1982. They directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare plans for revising each and to present them to the next General Convention in Austin, Texas, in 2018.
This convention directed bishops to find ways for congregations without clergy to receive Communion. The House of Bishops defeated proposals to allow unbaptized people to receive Holy Communion or even to study the issue.
A new, unofficial calendar of saints called A Great Cloud of Witnesses was approved for trial use, replacing Holy Women, Holy Men (2012) The official saints calendar is still Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
Some of you know that Heather Cook, the former Suffragan bishop of Maryland was driving intoxicated shortly after Christmas and struck and killed a bicyclist, Thomas Palermo, and then fled the scene of the accident. Cook was deposed from Holy Orders and now awaits trial for vehicular homicide, DUI, and felony leaving the scene of an accident.
General Convention passed three resolutions on the issue of alcohol and drug abuse. One resolution recommended that ordinands should be questioned at the very beginning of the discernment process about addiction and substance use in their lives and family systems. Another resolution acknowledged the church’s role in the culture of alcohol and drug abuse. A final resolution created a task force to review and revise policy on substance abuse, addiction and recovery, passed with one amendment. St. Stephen’s current procedures are already in line with the new policies regarding alcohol and abuse.
The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of Cuba met at General convention and discussed the decades long embargo against Cuba. Convention then passed a resolution calling for the U.S. government to lift its economic embargo.
Bishops led a march against gun violence on the morning of June 28. The parade included about 1500 General Convention attendees and was joined by anti-gun violence groups.
+ Bishop Barker