I am not against raucous appreciation. The occasional standing ovation is fine. It’s important to honor people, and occasionally to show our overwhelming support. But it’s time we face it. We have a problem.
Every addiction comes with enablers, and I think our biggest one is the Legislative Committee on Privilege & Courtesy. So far we’ve had 27 resolutions from this committee, and we aren’t done yet. Privilege and Courtesy resolutions exist only to commend and thank people. So there’s one thanking the volunteers, one for the people who organize worship, one about the Official Youth Presence, etc. But there also individual resolutions for the President, the Parliamentarian, the Secretary, the former Secretary, the treasurer, etc. The list goes on and on, and we’ve been giving a standing ovation for almost every single person after their resolution passes. I’m not saying these aren’t great people or that they aren’t doing great work. It just seems to be a bit…much.
Our desire to excessively thank people is part of a larger issue that I’ve noticed at this year’s convention. We seem really eager to pat ourselves on the back these days. We had the President give an acceptance speech even though she was running uncontested and her election was only a formality. We spent a while praising the legacy of the outgoing Presiding Bishop, despite every indication that she hates receiving excessive praise. We applauded ourselves for having more Young Adult deputies than ever before, even though the actual number is still embarrassingly small. And sometimes after we pass a resolution, someone goes to the microphone for a point of personal privilege just to thank us for passing the resolution. We haven’t even done anything with it and we are already getting thanked.
Yesterday a deputy from a nearby table asked me, “Are we doing actual business this afternoon, or is there another thing?” He wasn’t being snarky. He actually wondered if we were planning on doing work or if yet another thank you speech followed by thunderous applause was scheduled.
We talk all the time about the length of convention. With nine legislative days and two additional committee and orientation days, it’s a lot to ask of a person. Most deputies with regular jobs are using their entire vacation to be here. The length of the convention forces the average age up, because most people can’t do it until they’re retired.
This year we have been amazingly efficient due to some great procedural changes that were adopted. Yet we still had to go until 7:30PM tonight. And we are still using the full nine days. And every time the adorable chair of the committee on Privilege & Courtesy gets up on the platform, I have to ask, “Isn’t there a better way to thank someone?”
I think it’s important to show appreciation, and I believe we should give a standing ovation to the volunteers. But I worry that every time we praise anyone who is currently in office, we take a step closer to idolatry. We are praising the person and the position, holding them up like the royalty we so pointedly got rid of 230 years ago.
After years of shrinking numbers and tightened budgets, I understand that it feels good to feel good about ourselves again. There’s a renewed energy around growth and mission, around fixing the world one Episcopalian at a time. But I don’t want us to lose our humility.
Humility is the greatest gift religion ever gave me. My faith tells me that there is something greater than my small concerns, and that thought keeps me honest and whole. When we’re at General Convention, the real world tends to disappear. We start to think what we’re doing is very important. We think the whole world is watching. The legislative live streaming and twitter hashtags aren’t helping, because all they do is prove that at least some of the world really IS watching. Ultimately these feelings are just a side effect of working 15 hour days and never making it more than two blocks from the convention center. In the end, we’re a small denomination and most people will never know or care about most of what we do here. Our work is unsung, un-applauded. And it should be.
I think we are a wonderful church with a beautiful liturgical tradition, some great theology, and an army of people doing good work in the world. But those things can speak for themselves. We are called to be servants, not heroes. We are here to do the work of God, and to find ways to enable and equip others to do that work. The rest is, and should be, silence.