Reflections from your Bishop on the 77th General Convention
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am writing to you on my way back from Indianapolis, Indiana, where we have just finished the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.
Your bishop and your deputation have worked very hard since July 5 in our deliberations in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, as well as in numerous hearings and various legislative committees.
You can also be very proud, as I am, of our diocesan Youth Commission president, Nora Viñas, who was one of two members of the Official Youth Presence to make a presentation in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, as well as in the ECW Triennial. She also participated in a panel of “New Generation Latinos.”
I assume that the news reports you have read have been focused primarily on Resolution A049, which authorizes Liturgical Resources for Blessings of Same-Gender Relationships. This resolution was approved by a large margin of votes in both houses.
As you are well aware, I have already authorized the clergy of our diocese, if they believe it appropriate, to bless persons of the same gender who have been legally married in another jurisdiction. To that effect I formed a task force three years ago to develop a liturgy for such blessings. That liturgy will be superseded by “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” beginning the First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 2, 2012.
The only change for us in Southeast Florida is that now we can provide a generous pastoral response not only to same-gender couples who are legally married, but also to couples in legal civil unions and domestic partnerships.
It is important to note that this resolution also states that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to this decision of the 77th General Convention.
Another important, if less newsworthy in the opinion of secular media, action of General Convention was a the passage of a resolution (C083) that asks all Episcopal dioceses, cathedrals, churches and missions to invite their whole membership, as well as people beyond their church, to read the entire Bible in 2013.
We also affirmed that there is no inherent contradiction between holding and practicing the Christian faith and practicing or utilizing the discoveries of science and medicine. The Convention affirmed that certain characteristics of faith, most explicitly the tenet that reason and tradition are essential to extending our understanding of God’s Creation, are mirrored in science, and that in God’s physical universe the proper practice of science cannot and does not automatically lead its practitioners or others to lose their faith in God, or to be led into beliefs that contradict the existence of God.
I believe that this resolution (A136) is important for us today as we see how fundamentalists are trying to remove any scientific understanding of creation and forcing a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation stories. This rejection of scientific findings threatens our efforts to care for God’s creation in the face of such challenges as climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
Other important actions included:
The 77th General Convention stated its belief that the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may be more faithful to the 5 Marks of Mission:
1. Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
2. Teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
3. Respond to human need by loving service.
4. Seek to transform unjust structures of society.
5. Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life on earth.
Resolution C095 calls for the establishing of a Task Force whose purpose shall be to present to the next General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a plan to reform the Church’s structures, governance and administration. This Task Force will gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces and other interested individuals and organizations to provide information and guidance in their work of discernment.
Resolution D016 stated the desire of the Convention to move Episcopal Church Center offices from the 815 Second Avenue building in New York City, but did not authorize the sale of the property at this time.
Resolution B019, dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calls for a continuing advocacy for peace in the Middle East and reaffirmed the existence of the State of Israel, but also calls for a free, viable and secure state for the Palestinian people with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both. The House of Bishops voted down Resolution C060, which called for a boycott of products made and distributed from illegal Israeli settlements and “more vigorous and public corporate engagement with companies in the church’s investment portfolio that contribute to the infrastructure” of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
Animal lovers will welcome the decision of A054 that makes available Rites and Prayers for the Care of Beloved Animals. These rites and prayers will be appearing in the Book of Occasional Services and will include, among others, prayers for the adoption of an animal, for a lost or missing animal, for a sick animal, for one whose beloved animal has died and for the euthanizing of an animal. Clergy and laity will have now prayers that will help us to alleviate the grief caused by the death of a loved pet.
There was heated debate in the House of Bishops over Resolution C029, which had been passed by the House of Deputies and offered for our concurrence. This resolution allowed clergy in various local contexts to provide Holy Communion to persons who have not been yet baptized. The bishops eliminated that section of the resolution, so that it now states that The Episcopal Church reaffirms baptism as the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion, and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples.
Resolution A021 calls for the release of all in Cuban prisons for religious activities or peaceful advocacy of political change in the Republic of Cuba. It urges the government of the Republic of Cuba to cease the practice of exile of released political prisoners and harassment for their peaceful advocacy of political change. This resolution also calls for the humane treatment and pastoral care of four Cuban nationals who are now serving prison terms for spying for the Cuban government. It does not call for their release.
Two other resolutions were approved that I consider important. The first was Resolution B026, which concerns implementation of the Denominational Health Plan and will give dioceses and parishes an additional three years to meet the requirement that they provide parity in health insurance cost-sharing between lay and clergy employees. That deadline now is extended until Dec. 31, 2015. Dioceses and parishes still must offer health insurance to employees through the Church Medical Trust by the end of this year.
The other resolution was B016, which asks for the preparation of a budget to be presented at the next General Convention based on a 15% asking as the minimum commitment during the 2016-2018 trienniums.
Many other resolutions were debated, and some were approved as others were rejected. I urge you to follow the links in the General Convention section of our website to learn more about all the actions of this convention and to view photos and videos that will give you a sense of the effort—and the joy—of this great triennial gathering of our worldwide Episcopal family.
It was an arduous work, and you can be proud of our deputies, who faithfully served our Church at the 77th General Convention.