A Report
from the Diocesan Deputation to General Convention

Minneapolis • Aug. 1, 2003


 

Members of the deputation
gathered after Eucharist for a
"team picture." (Several people had other
obligations and could not be present.)
Also seen in the back row, fifth from left, is our organist, whose gifts help make
morning worship a joyful experience
.

 

 

Greetings from Minneapolis ...

Attention turned on Friday to the two most controversial items on the General Convention agenda: the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, a divorced, non-celibate gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire; and resolutions proposing that liturgy be developed for the blessing of same-sex unions.

     

TV trucks outside the hotel
where the morning meeting was held

 

 

The day's business started early, with would-be speakers queuing up to give testimony at the Consecration Committee's hearing on the election of Canon Robinson. Fort Worth deputation member Anthony Clark serves on the committee.

The hearing on same-sex rites, which is the business of the Prayer Book & Liturgy committee, was scheduled for 7 p.m. and lasted till about 10 o'clock. In between, plenary sessions were held to consider other resolutions that have already passed out of their respective committees. In the evening, diocesan UTO (United Thank Offering) representatives from around the country met for dinner.

     
           

 


At 6:25 a.m., Fr. Hightower
signs up to testify

 

6:30 a.m.: Waiting for the
doors to open

 

 

 

Committee Hearings

Consecrations

At 6 a.m., those interested in testifying were allowed to sign in. At 6:30, the meeting room doors opened, and participants and observers began to take their seats. Time for the hearing was deliberately limited. After the committee was seated and the meeting opened with prayer, members of New Hampshire's diocesan Standing Committee were allowed 10 minutes to report on the selection process. Part of that time went to Ella Robinson, 21-year-old daughter of the candidate, who spoke of a happy childhood but painful recent months, as the family had experienced intense media attention. The next 10 minutes were devoted to questions for Canon Robinson from the committee members, after which an hour of testimony from the floor began. The two-minute slots alternated between those who supported the consecration and those who opposed it.

During the brief questioning period, one committee member asked Canon Robinson, "What is the purpose in your mind for which the Creator made us sexual beings?"

"To express with our bodies the love in our hearts," Robinson said in response. "That's why marriage is a sacrament [of the church]." He added that experiencing the love of his partner is "sacramental to me."

Many of those in favor of Robinson's consecration spoke of his ability as an administrator and that he is, as the Bishop of Massachusetts put it, "a man of deep spirituality." Several of those on the other side said emphatically that the question was not "about Gene Robinson" personally, but about Church teachings, God's word to his people, and the unity of the Body of Christ worldwide. Bishop Keith Ackerman opened his opposing remarks by saying, "I love you, Gene, and this is painful to me." He added, "To a large extent, the fragile unity of the church is in the hands of this General Convention."

Bishop John Howe of Central Florida said he had to disagree with a June letter from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to the House of Bishops, which said in part that consecration of Gene Robinson was essentially a local matter and would not change the teaching of the church. Howe said it was, rather, "a massive repudiation of [the church's] teaching."

Deputy Donald Curran of Central Florida said that, though Jesus had not spoken directly to the issue of homosexuality in the Gospel accounts, "We do have the example of Christ's faithful, abstinent life of singleness."

One speaker expressed concern about the bishop-elect's understanding of the nature of a vow. Citing Robinson's well-known account of his amicable divorce, which Robinson describes as a way he and his former wife found of keeping their marriage vows to one another, the speaker asked, "What does it make of a vow when one says one is keeping it by breaking it?" Fr. Thomas Hightower spoke personally about the teaching and example he wanted to be able to hold up for his own son and daughter, who are in their 20s.

Some speaking in support of Robinson said the Diocese of New Hampshire should be allowed to pick its own bishop without interference. Others said that by affirming Robinson's selection the Episcopal church would show the world that its doors were "open wide," and new members would flock in.

The Suffragen Bishop of Albany held the opposing view. For the sake of the church, he said, "I humbly ask V. Gene Robinson to withdraw [as a candidate for bishop]."

A member of the Youth Presence at General Convention said, "I wasn't sure [when I arrived in Minneapolis] what I thought." Having met the candidate, she said, "He wants this, and he feels a calling. Who are we to deny it?"

The next speaker was Fr. David Roseberry of Christ Church, Plano. He reminded his listeners of the call in a marriage ceremony for objectors to "speak now." "We let others have a voice" in ceremonies. ... We need to understand that 60 million Anglicans worldwide [will object to Robinson's consecration]."

"We are in the midst of a soul-wrenching conversation," said Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana. "If we confirm Gene Robinson, that conversation will be over. There will be no turning back."

At the conclusion of an hour, the committee retired for 15 minutes' deliberation, a period of time agreed on in advance. They voted by secret ballot on the question before them: Whether to recommend that the House of Deputies approve Canon Robinson's election. When they returned, the chair asked that there be no demonstrations when the result was announced, then she said that a majority of the members had voted to approve the resolution.

The House of Deputies will debate and vote on the resolution on Sunday, Aug. 3.

 

     
 

Most of those who attended the hearing stayed to hear the announcement of their decision in the case, though their approval did not come as a surprise.

 

During the committee's
deliberation period, Canon Robinson (standing, center) was surrounded
by youthful admirers and posed for pictures with some of them.


Listening at keyholes

 

The hearing room
was still full at 9:45 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Prayer Book & Liturgy

Immediately following the suspension of business in both houses in the late afternoon, approximately 750 people made their way to the 7 p.m. hearing on same-sex rites in a nearby hotel ballroom. The room held 600, and the overflow crowd jammed the lobby outside, causing hotel management to be concerned about safety. A sound speaker was set up in the lobby, where people sat or stood for over two hours, listening to the proceedings inside.

The committee itself represents a full spectrum of viewpoints, and opening statements were made by two members expressing the beliefs of the two idealogical camps in the church that find themselves in opposition over the question. Each said he has personal affection for the other member, and the tone of the evening's debate, though passionate, was not hostile. "Pro" and "Con" speakers were then called on to address the committee in alternating turns. One speaker correctly reminded the multitude that "the whole nation is watching" to see what the Episcopal Church will do in Minneapolis.

A number of those speaking in favor of the rites – including ordained clergy – said they had already participated in some form of blessing ceremony with a same-sex partner; others said they were waiting for a liturgy before going ahead. "The harvest is ready," said one speaker, who added that the rite would give gay persons a "sign that we recognize and value" them in the Episcopal Church. "It is now time to free us to do that which God has given us the authority to do," said another. Some speakers emphasized the notion of "local custom," suggesting that no diocese or parish would be required to use the new rite. Many clergy speaking on the "Pro" side recounted positive experiences with gay couples in their parishes. Others saw innovative liturgy as a way of ministering to those who are hurting.

Several speakers at the "Con" microphone described international consequences that would arise from the action. One bishop spoke of "Episcopal imperialism," and another said, "Whenever we take a stand like this, folks [in other lands] die."

"Ask them overseas what this will do to the mission of the Church," urged another bishop, whose rhetorical question was answered by a recent missionary to Uganda: "[They told me] this compromises their teaching to prevent AIDS." A priest from rural Virginia, who has a thriving ecumenical relationship with another congregation, said, "The resolutions will greatly damage what we have built up there."

Several speakers expressed a struggle over definitions. One said he was puzzled over the abbreviation LGBT, a shorthand for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered" individuals, especially as it relates to the promise that same-sex blessings would be on lifelong, monogamous commitments. "Is there such a thing as a monogamous bisexual relationship?" he asked.

Two members of the Fort Worth deputation spoke against the resolutions.

Fr. Christopher Cantrell, president of the diocesan Standing Committee, warned that adoption of same-sex rites would further divide the Episcopal Church from communion with Christians worldwide, especially the Roman Catholic church. He predicted the effect would be comparable to "the impact on us of decisions in the 1970s" to ordain women. "Conversations with the wider communion came to a halt after that." Noting that Pope John Paul II this week called same-sex rites a "legitimization of evil," Fr. Cantrell concluded by saying, "I beg you, please don't do this."

Deputy Judy Mayo, who is a parish Christian Education director, based her remarks on position papers distributed by Claiming the Blessing, a gay-rights group advocating adoption of the resolutions. "I appreciate the sincerity of those who say they would be compromising by putting (this new rite) into the Book of Occasional Services," she said. The natural conclusion to be drawn, she said, was that the liturgy would be destined for inclusion in the Prayer Book at its next revision. "Please vote against this," she said as her time expired.

Not all who signed up to speak could be heard in the time available, and additional time was scheduled for 7:30 Saturday morning.

     
   

 

 

     


 

 

 

At an early-evening reception, the Rt. Rev. Harry Bainbridge, Bishop of Idaho, discussed his new role as chairman of the board of the church's worldwide outreach agency. Bishop Bainbridge has been a member of the ERD board for two years; he succeeds the Rt. Rev. Robert Tharp, who died in May.

At right is Sandra Swan, President of ERD.

 

     
   

National Altar Guild Association

The morning began with an ecumenical service led by the Rev. Nancy Macker using the Lutheran liturgy. (The Episcopal Church has been in communion with the ECLA since the last General Convention, in 2000.) Then, the Rev. Alber Kennington, of Holy Trinity, Mobile, gave us a snapshot of church history and an overview of the uses and significance of space, furnishings, vessels, cloth, and ornamentation at the front of the church. From his lively presentation, we learned how many of today's practices evolved from the early church. Kennington is the author of We've Almost Always Done It Sometimes Like This: A Booklet for Altar Guilds and Others Curious About What Episcopalians Use in Church, 1997.

Following a lunch break, two additional workshops were offered. One session was a hands-on flower presentation by Rosemary Easton. The other, given by Karen Johnson , opened our eyes to the many opportunities for the restoration and recycling of linens and vestments.

-Sue Yarger

     
           
           

Click on a link to other daily reports

Report for Wednesday, July 30

Report for Thursday, July 31

Report for Saturday, Aug. 2

Report for Sunday, Aug. 3

Report for Monday, Aug. 4

Report for Tuesday, Aug. 5

Report for Wednesday, Aug. 6

Report for Thursday & Friday, Aug. 7 & 8