Between getting my registration badge and finding my committee room, I had a few moments to spare. I walked along the main hallway until I found the sign for the House of Deputies. I flashed my badge to the volunteer guarding the door and headed inside.
The room was huge. It always is. The House of Deputies is routinely housed in the biggest room a convention center has. The ceiling reaches up high above you, and there’s real distance between the door and the curtains that mark off the legislative space. The dim fluorescent lights were familiar. The cement floors were familiar. The rooms where we work tend to be rather cold and sterile spaces. But that’s because they usually don’t have a soundtrack.
As soon as I stepped through the door I heard them. An a cappella chorus of women singing high, sweet notes was playing loudly over the speakers. If they were singing words, they were singing the same words over and over. Da de Da, Da de Da. The song shifted and I thought I heard some distinctly African syllables. Harmonies and breath swallowed the space. The music was loud and thank the Lord for that. It echoed against the giant bare walls and turned the room from a hospital into a holy place.
Up on the jumbo screens the techs were running tests. White Balance. Gain. Hue. Check. A man held a white sheet up at the podium to test the coloring of the cameras. A woman joined him and they discussed camera height. The women sang on.
I found the table for our diocese, clean and clear and free from the debris that would inevitably fill it. I took a few pictures of the big empty house, as is my custom. I like how the place looks as it sits in preparation. I took a deep breath. The women sang. Here we go again.
“How many people have told you that you look like Stanley Tucci?” I asked Brian Baker, Deputy chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage.
He laughed in the tired way I laugh when people attempt to make Hurricane Katrina jokes. “You’re the third today,” he said with a smile of resignation.
Tonight was our first committee meeting, and it was mostly an introduction. Our Bishop chair, the Rt. Rev. Brian Thom, led us through a short mixer to determine demographics. We self-sorted by silly questions such as “What color is your toothbrush?” and serious ones such as “Are you a cancer survivor?” Some answers were surprising. Despite the typical assumption about the Episcopal Church (and General Convention specifically) being a very old group, most still had two surviving parents and very few had grandkids. For me the biggest take away was from the question about marriage. All but three or four of us have been married, and about half who have been married have also been divorced.
After our mixer, Brian asked us each of us to share what we were having to leave behind in order to do the work we have come to do. He explained that his son is about to go off to school, and it’s hard to be gone for two of the last three weeks that his son is living under their roof. Many of the members were leaving behind similar situations of children moving away. Several had sick spouses at home, some sick enough to be in the hospital. There were challenges at work and at churches that members felt guilty for leaving, feeling as though they’d abandoned others to do the difficult work. One woman recently lost her father, another was power of attorney over a very sick friend. Several will be missing wedding anniversaries, and one just got through a divorce. One South Carolina bishop lamented not being with his diocese during a time of mourning. “There are demonstrations going on across the street from our cathedral,” he said, “And I can’t be there with them.”
We heard a short presentation on the recent history of same-sex and same-gender relationships in the church from a member of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. She highlighted just how much has changed in the last triennium. For example when the committee was first formed, only six states had legalized gay marriage. Now it’s thirty-six. She reminded us that no one piece of legislation is likely to be enough to resolve this issue. No one thing will make or break us. It’s a good reminder: what we are talking about is much bigger than the words we’ll use to discuss it.
In closing, Bishop Thom reminded us that we are all here not by our doing, but by the Spirit’s. “The Spirit has an idea for you,” he said. For us on the committee, for the dozen guests sitting in the gallery. She brought us here and put us in this place for some reason. It is our charge to find out and follow.