General Convention Report, Day Five – The Diocese of Cuba

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by Katrina Hamilton

At the height of the Cold War in 1966, the House of Bishops removed the Diocese of Cuba from the Episcopal Church. From what I can tell, this move was entirely political and in defiance of the church’s constitution. The hope was that the church in Cuba would be picked up by a neighboring Anglican denomination, but that never came to pass. For the last 52 years, the Episcopal Church in Cuba has been what’s known as an “extraprovincial diocese.”

Today the House of Bishops addressed resolution A238. The resolution and the topic had its own devoted committee, and was a result of the church in Cuba’s direct request to be readmitted into The Episcopal Church. There was a small constitutional question, as there is no provision in the church’s constitution for the re-admittance of a diocese that has been removed. The church’s various lawyer members had argued over whether the General Convention can only take actions specifically granted to it by the constitution or whether it can take any action that’s not specifically forbidden. However it did seem to be the majority opinion that this action was constitutional, and at very least more constitutional than the act to remove them.

Many bishops spoke on the motion, every one of them with passionate support. They said how devoted the Cubans were to their faith, how welcoming they’d always been when various church partners came to visit. They spoke of the incredible devoted leadership of the bishop of Cuba, the Right Reverend Maria Griselda Delgado del Carpio. One bishop mentioned how some had suggested this might be too soon after U.S. relations with Cuba had improved, but pointed out that we don’t know what the current administration might do in the next three years, and we are right to send a statement of unity and support with people in Cuba while we have the chance.* Former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told us that if the whole church pitched in, the dollar amount needed to add the Cuban clergy into the Church Pension Fund was only $0.50 per person, and challenged each diocese to raise that amount so that we might provide pensions for the clergy that have been working tirelessly for years with no promise of retirement. Another bishop stood to say his diocese would commit to a dollar per member, and a third offered the same.

Bishops kept coming to the mic, one after the other, some in English and some in Spanish. The visitor’s gallery where I sat with the youth kept growing as word got out about the historic thing happening upstairs. The final bishop was a Cuban who’d been 23 at the time of the split, and he broke down in tears during his speech: “It was an unconstitutional action by a House of Bishops that had no authority to kick us out.” While the men (and they were all men at the time) who made this decision were all long gone, it was clear that the current members of the House felt the weight and guilt of the church’s past mistakes.

When the microphones were empty Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called for the vote. One of the youth I was with is Puerto Rican, and was becoming more and more invested in the issue as time went by. She turned around with her hand outstretched in nervous excitement and whispered “Someone hold my hand!” I grabbed her hand and held it tight as Bishop Curry began the vote.

“All those in favor say aye.”
“Aye.”
“All opposed?”
Silence.
“Let the minutes reflect that the motion has passed the House of Bishops unanimously.”

Cheers rang out through the whole room as we all leapt to our feet. I saw some people rush to a spot in the front of the visitor’s area and I realized that Bishop Delgado herself had been there with us the whole time. I was flooded with emotion as I realized what was going to happen next: they were going to invite her on to the floor.

In both the House of Bishops as well as the House of Deputies, no one but House members and approved admin staff are allowed on the floor. Small curtain barriers separate the area. Volunteers stand guard, checking badges and turning people away if they don’t belong. This exclusivity is especially strong with the Bishops because fewer admins are needed, and they occasionally meet in closed session where visitors are not even allowed to watch from the back. Not to mention that while any lay person can be elected as a deputy for their diocese, becoming a bishop is no small feat and a huge responsibility. It’s a very small club and one you belong to for life. The House of Bishops includes all living bishops, even if they are retired and no longer in charge of a specific diocese.

Bishop Curry told the Sergeant at Arms to escort Bishop Delgado onto the floor. It took a good minute or two for her to reach the front, where Curry gave her a huge and extended hug and she was greeted by every person on the platform. But the applause and the standing ovation never wavered. We clapped loudly, enthusiastically, the whole time. Near the end as she approached the microphone, the applause started to quiet and Bishop Curry began to sing the doxology, one of the church’s favorite ways to pray, celebrate, and unite under any circumstance. We all joined in:

Praise God from whom all blessing flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Bishop Delgado gave a short and beautiful speech thanking everyone, especially those in her diocese who had worked so hard to make this happen. We cheered again, and a handful of bishops began to sing another hymn, this time in Spanish. I didn’t know the song, but I clapped the rhythm along with the rest of the room. I was standing next to the section for ecumenical guests where there were two bishops visiting from other denominations, and I could hear them proudly singing along.

When the song was over and as Bishop Delgado was leaving the platform, Bishop Curry went back to his microphone to make one final statement. “Bishop of Cuba, you may take your seat at table seven.” More cheers and applause rang out. She was a member, instantly, with seat, voice, and vote. She belonged. After more than 50 years, the people of Cuba were with us again.

 

*Once Bishop Delgado was seated Bishop Curry shared his gratitude with the Anglican Church of Canada for the amazing work they have done supporting the Diocese of Cuba for all these years. This includes one of my favorites church facts, which is that the Canadians have been helping the Episcopal Church in the United States give money to the Cuban church despite the financial embargo by funneling it through the Canadian church. Bishop Curry delicately referred to this as “God’s laundry.”

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General Convention Report, Day 4 – Committees & the Capitol

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by Christian Knafla

Let’s start from the beginning. Today, we had two options on when to wake up. One was at 8:00AM and we were meant to leave at 7:30AM but ended up leaving at 7:45AM because we just didn’t get ready in the amount of time that we thought we could. On top of that it was raining like it does in Washington.

We eventually made it to the hearing. During the hearing, we had many people talk about what they thought should be added, taken away, or changed in the resolution. We had a few resolutions such as D093 and D097, which talked about representative planning teams and establishing an advisory council on disability & deaf access. After listening to that we got about 15 minutes to do what we wanted. When we came back together, we went to the House of Deputies and listened to B012 (Marriage Rites for the Whole Church). There was a lot of arguing that happened during both that and A193. When we finished listening to it, we went to the House of Bishops where we listened to the Prayer Book revision, which was amazing I might add, I felt like the bishops knew more about what the resolution was talking about than the deputies because there weren’t as many questions and they were more voicing their opinions. After they got done talking about which side they took, the meeting was adjourned.

We decided to go to the capitol building where we had fun standing in the center of the rotunda star and listening to ourselves echo. The only problem I had was the fact that traffic was as bad as Seattle, which says a lot. Finally we went to meet up with the youth group from Connecticut. We went out for pizza and talked for a long time. Finally we came back to the church for closing. Overall today was a good day.

General Convention Report, Day 3 – Gun Violence & the Detention Center

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by Catie Rosario-Kilmer

This morning instead of Sunday morning mass, we went to the Bishops Against Gun Violence public witness. This event called to witness the parents of one of the Parkland shooting victims. They spoke of their loss. They spoke how the loss of their daughter was the thing that finally shocked them and their community into action. The eloquence of their words moved some in the audience to tears others to anger at the situation that they were speaking about. We then had Abigail of Waco, Texas, an upcoming high school freshmen and the coordinator of the Parkland walkout at her middle school. In giving her testimony of her experience she brought with her the tradition of our youth speaking out for the advancement of the movement on gun control.

When the prayers had all been said and all testimonies witnessed we continued our service of social justice at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center. We drove up to the front of the detention center where a splinter of the entire rally – approximately 250 people – were singing and chanting in both English and Spanish. While being ushered back towards the main rally we saw pieces of paper being waved in the windows. After the event GrassrootsLeadership tweeted “A woman called from Hutto after today’s prayer and told us they were glued to the windows until the last bus left the detention center. Women inside were crying, saying they knew they weren’t alone after seeing so many people there…”.  We arrived back at the main rally in time for Bishop Curry’s sermon and the prayers of the people.

General Convention Report, Day 2 – Evangelism

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by Elijah Adrian

What is evangelism to you? Take a moment to create an image in your head. For me, I envision a passionate preacher on the street telling passersby the good news, how they live in sin and how they’re going to hell.

Before today, my only concept of evangelism was spreading one’s religion, converting people, letting them know why they’re wrong. That doesn’t work for me for several reasons, and chief among them is this: I don’t think other people are wrong for having a different religion from me. Further, I don’t want to tell people they’re wrong for leading their lives and that they should be more like me. After all, what’s so great about my life? I’m no better than any other person. I’ve spoken with several ministers who felt so strongly that people in conflicting faiths needed to be saved, and shown the “true” way. I’ve always wondered of these ministers why they feel so entitled as to believe that they know what the true way is; though I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer.

Our joint session today featured several presenters, all sharing the ways that they have practiced evangelism in their lives. What completely changed my view of the word “evangelism” was what one presenter said. To paraphrase, ‘I guarantee that all of you have been evangelists. Every time you interact with someone, they come away changed, and you have evangelized them.’ No mention of sin, hell, forgiveness, religion, or even God. Evangelism, at its core, is nothing more than influencing another person in a positive way. Evangelism is spreading joy and love to people in our lives, and building positive experiences with anyone we meet. Evangelism is something we can all get behind, no matter what religious sect we belong to or whether we’re religious at all.

After the presentations the deputation from our diocese met with us (the youth visitors), as well as anyone else from our diocese who was visiting, to discuss how to bring what we had learned back home. The group decided that we should be more outgoing and welcoming to others who haven’t experienced church, but to allow them space to discover for themselves if they wish to stay. We also mentioned “extracurricular” activities that we might try, remembering that church isn’t just Sunday morning, but 24 / 7 / 365.

Oh, and one more thing, resolution A068, regarding major revision of the Book of Common Prayer, passed in the House of Deputies. Soon the resolution will be presented the House of Bishops, and they will debate and vote on it.

General Convention Report, Day 1 – Racial Reconciliation

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by Rachel Dennis

After arriving late last night, we attended our first sessions of General Convention today. We got to see committee meetings about several fascinating resolutions, a debate in the House of Deputies over revising the BCP (Book of Common Prayer), and a Eucharist. One of the highlights of our day was the joint session on racial reconciliation.

To begin the session, we heard from four speakers about their thoughts on how the church and we as Episcopalians should address racial differences in our lives. We then had time as a group to discuss what form the presentations stood out to us and what actions we feel called to take. Much of our conversation centered around the problem that emerges when we say that we support causes or groups but then fail to take actions that match our words. We wondered how we can help all of the huge variety of causes and groups that all need our attention and support. Members of our group pointed out that we can devote the majority of our time and energy to one cause without becoming apathetic to others. Additionally, as the body of Christ, we each have a specific role to fulfill and can trust that there will be other members to focus on what we cannot.

Central to our discussion was also the idea of loving people who disagree with us. One speaker, Dr. Meeks, declared that we ought to care the about wellness of any given person, not the color of their skin, their sexuality, or the other differences between us. Another, Arno Michaelis, discussed the idea of “practicing” love, which shapes the way we see the world and the actions we consider taking. One of the ways he suggested we do this was by forming connections with people who disagree with or are different from us. We brainstormed ways to start discussions that could help us find commonalities rather than differences with each other.

Between this conversation and the discussions we listened in on, today was a very interesting and informational day. We heard from people we both agreed and disagreed with, and became more familiar with our own opinions in the process. We’re looking forward to more opportunities to learn and get to know our fellow Episcopalians this week!

And Now for Something Completely Different

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After the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City I decided I needed to take a break from church governance and let other people have a turn. At the same time, I realized that some of my favorite moments from Salt Lake City were when the youth from our diocese came to visit on their pilgrimage and I got the chance to act as teacher. So I will still be attending GC this year, but this time as a chaperone. I’m traveling with four youth and three other adults, and we’ll be in Austin from July 5th through the 10th. The youth expressed interest in blogging about their experiences, so I offered this platform for that purpose (I’ll probably still write an entry or two myself).

So check back here next week for some guest writers sharing their unique experiences at one of the largest legislative bodies in the world. And if you know of a good place to get breakfast tacos in Austin, make sure to tell me in the comments!

Six Myths About Gay Marriage in the Episcopal Church

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I’ve been answering a lot of questions and explaining away a lot of nonsense about the work we did in Salt Lake City. Here’s a few common misconceptions people have about marriage and the Episcopal Church:

Myth #1: The church was already doing same-sex marriages

This is partially true. In 2009, General Convention directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) to look into possible blessing rites for same-gender couples. At the same time the church directed the bishops to exercise “generous pastoral response” when it came to the issue of gay marriage. So while the SCLM was researching and writing the rites, some bishops were already letting similar rites be used for marriage. In 2012 General Convention authorized the blessing liturgy to be used throughout the church, and the pastoral response became even more widely used. However even when the rites were being used for a same-sex marriage in a state that allowed it, the official canons for the church still contained gendered language, and the rites being used were not officially approved as marriage rites.

Myth #2: The canons and the prayer book conflict now

It’s true that marriage as described in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) still refers to a male and female, and the canons will no longer describe it that way. However the canons are the laws of the church, while the BCP is where we get our liturgy. Both are necessary, but they fulfill different roles. Among the broader changes we made to the canons, in terms of gender all we did was remove the specificity. The words “couple” and “parties” are used now, which are the sort of legal terms appropriate for a set of laws. So how come the specificity of the prayer book doesn’t override the canons and make gay marriage impossible? Well…Sign and photo op

Myth #3: They changed the prayer book

No part of the current marriage liturgy in the BCP has been changed. Instead, several new liturgies have been added and are currently under “trial use.” In accordance with the canons surrounding the BCP, trial use liturgies can be used throughout the church as though they were a part of the prayer book. This allows people to try them out and suggest improvements before they are made permanent. Because these liturgies are on the trial use path, the marriage rite currently in the BCP is no longer the only rite, and therefore it is no longer the only definition that can be used in accordance with the canons to perform a marriage. By declaring an intention to add these liturgies, the church gives bishops the ability to treat them like regular prayer book liturgies. The final changes to the prayer book are likely to take years, and will probably be part of a larger revision. In the 230 year history of the Episcopal Church we’ve only done a major revision of the prayer book twice, so it’s kind of a big deal.

Myth #4: It doesn’t count because bishops don’t have to do it

While in trial use, these liturgies are still only to be used in dioceses where the bishop has allowed them. This is so more conservative diocese can choose not to participate and retain their personal beliefs on marriage. However, the resolution also states that a bishop must make provisions for any couple in his or her diocese to have access to these rites. This section was left intentionally vague, and is intentionally contradictory. It’s how we like it in the Episcopal Church – we want there to be room for everyone. Making provisions could be as simple as getting the couple in contact with a neighboring diocese that already performs gay marriages. It could mean allowing certain priests to perform the rites within their diocese. The point is that no one has to feel forced into this (clergy can still refuse to marry any two people, a right they’ve always had), yet everyone can get married if they want.

Myth #5: We’re getting rid of blessings

The future of blessings is unknown. The blessing liturgy was specifically left out of the list of trial use liturgies this year. Instead, it remains available for use with permission from the bishop, same as it has been for the last several years. There is a strong pastoral need for blessings. Not only are there still plenty of countries in the Episcopal Church where gay marriage is outlawed, but many heterosexual couples have chosen to use the blessing ceremony as well. The most common example is retired couples who would lose pension and retirement benefits if they were to re-marry. However to put the blessing liturgy into the BCP implies a strong theological backing for the concept of blessings, and we just haven’t been looking at it that way. Perhaps it would be better suited for the Book of Occasional Services, but that’s a conversation we have decided to put off for now.

Myth #6: The church is just following the Supreme Court

This one is so impossible I wonder if I should explain it or just post a series of reaction gifs. People have been working towards full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people for the last FORTY YEARS. And this most recent inclusion train started in 2003 with the election of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. The fact is, if you had been there at our convention in 2012, you would have known this was coming up in 2015. We had already assigned these canonical changes to the Marriage Task Force to study. And as anxious as some of us have been about this, very few had any doubt that the changes would pass and we would leave Salt Lake City with marriage equality. The majority of Episcopalians were onboard with gay marriage in 2012, even though most of the states were not. If the Supreme Court release schedule had been a week later, we would have looked down-right prophetic.

If you have any questions about the marriage resolutions I worked on (or anything else from this year’s convention) please let me know in the comments. I love explaining things!

NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify the difference between a major revision of the BCP and a simple change. Simple changes happen all the time (we did one this year in fact), while major revisions are infrequent.