Arriving in Salt Lake City, and the rest of the “Blue Book”

I’ll just say it:  5:30 am is too early for a flight.  Big thank you to Jenny and Chris Streeter who kindly offered to pick me up on their way to the airport.  Anyways, we’re here, the travel was thankfully uneventful.  Rooms weren’t ready when we arrived at the hotel, so we walked over to the convention center and registered.  The Salt Palace (as the convention center is called) is enormous, with huge spaces that can accommodate the 700 or so members of the House of Deputies, the 300 or so members of the House of Bishops, a huge exhibitor space, and yet another space where we can all gather for daily worship.  We also all got loaner iPads which replace what used to be huge three ring binders.  The iPads have the “Virtual” Binder loaded on them, which is updated in real time with information about committee hearings, which resolution is up for debate in which house, what actions have been taken or amendments proposed, and the like.  The “Virtual” Binder is really pretty cool.

On the plane I finished reading the rest of the Blue Book.  Here’s what I’ve gleaned about how the national church is currently governed (with my apologies for nuances which I’m sure I haven’t fully grasped yet).  At General Convention, various resolutions are passed, many of which are then referred to the appropriate Committee, Commission, Agency, or Board of the church.  By my count, there are some 14 standing commissions, 4 joint standing committees, 12 Executive Council committees, 5 Executive Council joint standing committees, 3 committees of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, and 9 agencies and boards.  These groups spend the three years between General Conventions addressing the resolutions from the previous convention and developing proposals for the next convention.  They describe their work and make their proposals in their Blue Book reports.  So, as we begin this General Convention we already have some 152 resolutions to consider, covering topics from amending the canons for clergy discipline (known as Title IV), authorizing the development of new liturgical materials on a variety of topics, restructuring the governance structures of the church, affirming support for various public policies which help the needy, reducing diocesan askings and apportionments, continuing our commitment of .7% of our budget going toward the Millennium Development Goals, amending the canons on marriage, and on and on.  And these are by no means the only resolutions that will come before the General Convention, as resolutions can be proposed by deputies, dioceses, and provinces.

Here’s where things get, to my mind, a little wild and wooly.  All of these resolutions will be referred to one of the legislative committees of the General Convention, committees which are made up entirely of bishops and deputies who only meet during these two weeks.  The committees will consider them, hold hearings, revise, and either report them out or vote them down.  If reported out, they go to the floor of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops for further debate and possible approval.  And, if they require financial support from the budget (which nearly all of them do, of course) they will also have to go to the committee on Program, Budget and Finance so they can be incorporated in the budget for the next three years.  Keep in mind that very few of the deputies and bishops serve on all those Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards, and in the House of Deputies, many of us weren’t at the last General Convention.  In many ways, we come at all of this ‘fresh,’ which can be a good and a bad thing.  In any case, a LOT of moving parts here.

As an alternate, I don’t have a committee assignment, nor do I have to be at every legislative session in the House of Deputies, so I have some freedom to check out what is of interest to me.  I’ve decided to follow resolution A012, which proposes expanding funding for Mission Enterprise Zones.  This is an initiative started by the 2012 General Convention, and it provides funds to areas of the church committed to mission and evangelism that engages under-represented groups, including youth and young adults, people of color, poor and working-class people, people with a high-school diploma or less, and/or people with little or no church background or involvement.”  I’m curious about how this has worked over the past three years, what lessons we may have learned, and particularly what I might take away from these experiments for my work with St. George’s, as well as our diocese’s continuing efforts in congregational development.  I’m also going to follow the work of the committee on Congregational Vitality, which I believe will be looking at various proposals on what sort of data we use to evaluate congregations, among other issues.

Tomorrow is an orientation day, with committee hearings and presentations about the candidates for presiding bishop, and then regular business starts Thursday.  On a very sad note, I was shocked to hear of the sudden death of Gary Sweet this morning, a friend to many and a leader in the Rochester community.  I’m sorry not to be present to grieve with my Rochester friends.  May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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