Friday (I think…)

It’s hard to remember what day it is because General Convention has a rhythm all of itself. I notice that while there are still a number of quite well-dressed deputies (seer sucker suits, pastel dress pants, bow ties, and pocket squares are de rigueur for the sharply dressed male deputy), there seem to be more jeans, shorts, and t-shirts today. I’m grateful, frankly. General Convention is rough on your feet and I gave up on dress shoes this morning in favor of cross trainers. General Convention is also rough on your rear end, but I haven’t come up with a solution for that.

Today started for me at 7:30 am with the Congregational Vitality committee. After feeling like things were a bit chaotic and disorganized for the last two days, today the committee really got down to business.   Buoyed by some good news regarding funding from the Program, Budget & Finance committee (which is responsible for the budget), they passed A086, which creates a network for Latino-Hispanic Congregational Development with $1.5 million, D009, which creates a new staff position and resources for congregational development with $700,000, and A015, which supports an existing plan for helping Province IX move towards sustainability. The resolutions that include money have to also go through Program, Budget, & Finance (PB & F), so I’ll be watching their agenda and may get to check out that committee. The discussion was interesting. There are no ‘promises’ from PB & F, so there is some strategy involved in deciding how much to ask for, and worries that if they fund one of the congregational vitality initiatives it may mean less money for another congregational vitality initiative.

In the middle of the hearing, there was a roar from the committee next door. It turned out that this was not a celebration of the addition of an especially exciting saint to the liturgical calendar. Rather, the Supreme Court decision on marriage had been announced. About an hour later as the entire convention gathered for worship, there was celebration in the air. I have to say that twenty-five years ago I could never have imagined our country or our church getting to this day. Children born today will always have lived in a country where equal marriage is the law. I honestly cannot begin to imagine how this may shape their lives, or, in fact, the common life of our country in the years to come.

Worship was uplifting, with music from a spectacular jazz band, a great sermon from the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, all presided over by Bishop Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles.

Following worship, there was a joint session of deputies and bishops. We heard a brief address from the archbishop of Brazil on the occasion of that church’s 125th anniversary. The Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop formally nominated the four candidates for presiding bishop. The rest of the session was an extended table conversation about church structure. Each group was asked to reflect on how various structures of the church help parishes do mission (the General Convention, Executive Council and Church Center staff, Provinces, and Dioceses). If you saw cryptic tweets on my Facebook page, they were my attempt to report back from our table conversation to the legislative Committee on Governance and Structure (this General Convention is trying very hard to be as up-to-date, tech-wise, as possible). In looking at tweets hashtagged #gcgas, it’s clear that there is a WIDE diversity of views on the value of all the current structures of our church.  I don’t know what I think this means for re-structuring efforts.

At 1 pm, I had lunch with our deputation (finally!), which was great, thanks to Kristy Estey. Congregational Vitality met once again at 2:15. They discussed D005 (the reach- for-the-moon church planting resolution I’ve referred to earlier). Ultimately there were still too many details to iron out for the resolution to be reported out. After determining that the deputies and bishops had not worked out their differences on A012 and A085, the committee adjourned until this evening.

The early adjournment of the committee let me get out of the Salt Palace for a bit. The facilities are certainly top-notch; however, there are only so many hours that one can spend in large, relatively dark, windowless, aggressively air-conditioned rooms, so it was a treat to walk around downtown Salt Lake City for a little bit. It has been in the mid to high 90’s here all week, but it hasn’t felt too oppressive. Salt Lake City seems to be built on a very flat basin, nested between mountain ranges, which you can see rising from what seems just blocks away. The streets downtown are all very wide, and I understand from a deputy from Utah that the city was designed this way because Brigham Young (the early Mormon leader) wanted to ensure that an oxen cart could make a U-turn on any downtown street.

I’m now observing the afternoon legislative session of the House of Deputies. The new rules of order passed yesterday allow legislation from committees to be placed on a consent calendar, which means they are all passed at one time – a real gift to a deliberative body of 840 members. Dozens of uncontroversial pieces of legislation can be dealt with a single vote. Committees can ask that their resolutions be taken off the consent calendar for individual consideration; resolutions may also be taken off the consent calendar by petition of three deputies. Today’s consent calendar passed with no objection. Many of the rest of the resolutions have passed without debate. One resolution, proposing a “Donor Bill of Rights,” modeled on similar ‘bills of rights’ to other non-profits resulted in relatively extensive debate and several proposed amendments. Questions about the theology of stewardship represented by such a ‘bill of rights’ ultimately resulted in its defeat.

An odd operating procedure of the House of Deputies: a resolution can be reported by committees to the house with the recommendation that it be rejected. This means the House still has to debate and vote on a resolution that the committee thinks is a bad idea. It’s an odd system, especially in a House that meets for only nine days every three years where time is at a premium.

Most of the resolutions coming before the House today are the easier, less controversial issues. I’m sure debate will heat up in the days to come. Evening plans are still in flux, so I’ll update tomorrow. My parish, my friends in Rochester, my cats, my house, my family are on my heart and mind this evening: it has been a very, very long week.

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