Indianapolis 2012 Preshow
Committee meetings started today. Before legislation can be debated and voted on, it must first go through a committee. I’m on the Liturgy and Music Committee (my first choice), which reviews things related to changes in the prayer book, creating task forces to study new music and services, and the hot button issue this year: same-sex blessings.
Our first meeting was slow and easy, mostly because there’s not much we can do. We have to open up to public hearing all resolutions we will be considering, and those require at least four hours notice. So the first meeting is really just to establish how we want to conduct ourselves and plan when we’ll have our hearings.
For reasons I still don’t quite understand, the Liturgy and Music Committee is MASSIVE. There’s about 50 of us, so sometimes it feels a bit like a session on the floor of the House of Deputies. We held our first hearing in the evening followed by committee discussion. While the public didn’t have much to say about most of our resolutions, we seemed to have plenty to argue about. But I suppose that makes sense. We wouldn’t be on the committee if we didn’t care a lot about the liturgy and music of the church.
Unfortunately I missed the opening speeches by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies (still not sure why it wasn’t on my calendar, but that’s what I get for trusting my own ability to interface with technology). I’m told that I “didn’t miss much,” which is to be suspected (in my experience intro speeches tend to be 85% formality), but I’m still disappointed to have missed them for such a silly reason. However I used the apparently not-free-time to go over committee work, so it wasn’t a total loss.
After the hearing I joined the Indianapolis Indians game already in progress. A large block of tickets was purchased for convention goers to see this minor league team play on the Forth of July, followed by fireworks in the stadium and a good view of the city fireworks right after.
I have never, in all my memory, been too hot at a baseball game. Once, many years ago, I recall being comfortable, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come until today. For the first time ever my hot dog didn’t get cold (too bad it was the same for my Pepsi). Minor league baseball in 106 degree heat, surrounded by Christians and patriotic T-shirts. I am America.
After an Indians victory over the Louisville Bats, I realized that while the stadium was nice, I wasn’t keen on spending another hour in the heat waiting for the sun to set, especially after my realization that the view from our Diocesan caucus room would be better than in the stadium. I sent a quick email to invite the other deputies to join me, and that’s how I ended up watching fireworks from the 23rd floor of the JW Marriott with a few friends on the Forth of July, while Mother Nature made her own display just south of the city with a bit of lightning and thunder.
I ended the day by reading the text of the Declaration of Independence, as is my tradition. Sometimes people like to compare themselves and their own plight to that of the patriotic forefathers, and it’s nice to remind oneself just how bad things had to get before the colonists were willing go out on this particular limb. After all, had they lost the war they would have all been declared traitors and hanged.
So here’s to high treason. And baseball.
Today I got to vote on a piece of legislation officially thanking my mother.
The Episcopal Church is broken up into provinces, and the Diocese of Olympia (i.e. western Washington) is in Province VIII. Just like at the congregational, diocesan, and denominational levels, the provinces all need to have the occasional meeting of a governing body. Seeing as budgets are tight, Province VIII decided to hold it’s legislative session (called the synod) in the days before General Convention, with the idea that many of the people who would need to attend would be there already anyway.
With just under 50 voting members, it was like a mini-convention right before the main event. It had all the same trappings (Rules of Order, elections, resolutions, reports, speakers), but was over in under three hours. Plus there were ripe figs wrapped in prosciutto, a flavor combo I would have never imagined could be so delicious.
I was coming straight from another event, so I happened to arrive early to the synod reception. I shook hands with the people in charge, ALL of whom apparently know my mother. For those of you who don’t know my mom, well, she’s kind of a big deal. She’s the director of Faith Formation in the Diocese of Olympia and until very recently was involved with youth and young adult ministries at the provincial level as well. Over the years I’ve had many conversations start with “I’ve worked with your mother” or “You’re Kathy Hamilton’s daughter?” I’m very proud of my mom so I take it as a compliment to be associated with her, but more important than that is my mom’s reaction when I first told her how often I got these reactions from people: “Tell them, ‘I’m not Kathy Hamilton’s daughter. I’m Katrina Hamilton.’ ”
So it was with great pride that I cast my vote at synod on a resolution formally thanking several groups and individuals for their work with the province, including listing my mother by name. She’s helped me so much over the years, and given me a lot of good advice along the way. She even cooked diner for all of our deputation meetings in the year and a half leading up to convention. Some people can’t imagine volunteering to cook and clean up after 15-20 people for free, but if you ask my mother she’d tell you she can’t imagine spending eight days at General Convention. We all have our own gifts to bring to the table. What makes people like my mother extraordinary is how well they know their gifts, and how freely they give them.
I am not my mother. But I strive to match her level of service. It’s service worthy of formal gratitude.
I was reading through my copy of Shared Governance: A collection of essays prepared by The House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity 2012. The book was supplied to all deputies, and as I read it I couldn’t help but notice a particular pronoun popping up: her.
The highest clerical office a person can hold in the Episcopal Church is Presiding Bishop, and the highest (potentially) lay position is President of the House of Deputies. Currently, both positions are held by women (Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bonnie Anderson). As a result, the authors of Shared Governance often refer to the actions of either office by using feminine pronouns, as in “The presiding officer of each house has the authority under the Rules of Order of her House…”
To some, this might seem small. To me it is huge. I’m reminded of an old friend of mine from collage, who I’ll refer to as Matthew. Like all of us Matthew had his flaws, but on the whole he was a good guy.
One evening we were gathered at Matthew’s place to play Dungeons & Dragons, a role playing game similar in world to Lord of the Rings, and a traditionally male-dominated activity. Matthew was talking about some of the changes made to the player’s handbooks on a recent version of the game. These handbooks give outlines of the various characters you could be and their traits. Matthew was explaining the frustration he first had with the new edition, because the authors had chosen to alternate their pronoun use with each description instead of referring to all characters as men, as they had done in previous editions. So every other page talked about the ranger and HER preferred weapons, or the wizard and HER most powerful spells. He would reference the book, trying to create his character, and they kept calling him a woman. “My character’s not a girl,” he told me, “but they keep talking about him like he is. I get it now. That must have really sucked before … for the girls.”
He’s right. It does suck for the girls.
Talking about patriarchy in language in one of the fastest ways to get an eye roll at a dinner party, so I don’t like to bring it up too often. It’s a pervasive kind of problem, the kind that seems too small to spend any time or worry on, but in realty is huge and sweeping. Dungeons & Dragons knew their audience was primarily male, so they catered their product to that audience. It wasn’t until years later that they began to realize that their language was making their few female players feel like constant outsiders, and instantly alienating anyone new. So they changed. And for my part, it worked. When I play I don’t feel like a visitor anymore.
So this is why I experience joy when reading a phrase like, “appointed at her discretion” when talking about the Presiding Bishop or the President of the House of Deputies. It’s a small but impossible to ignore way of telling me I belong. The people in charge can be just like me.
Not a fluke. Not a token. Elected, called, and respected. I am not just a visitor here.
I thought it best to give a brief overview of what are expected to be the hot button issues this year:
Denominational Health Plan
In 2009 the General Convention passed A177, which called for a Denominational Health Plan to be implemented for all clergy and lay employees working 1500 hours annually (three-quarters time). The implementation was set to be no later than the end of 2012, but many are asking for a postponement, if not an out right rejection, of A177. The basic argument: it’s too expensive, it hasn’t been thought out, it won’t work for everyone, we need more time, etc. The argument against: providing health care for all church employees is a justice issue, time won’t solve these problems, etc.
In 2009 the General Convention passed C056, which instructed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to develop liturgies for same-gender blessings. The results of their work (both the blessing services themselves as well as educational and theological resources) are being presented to this year’s GC, and the SCLM is putting them forward with two related resolutions. The first is a resolutions that would allow the blessings to be used over the next three years at the discretion of the bishops of each diocese. The second calls for the creation of a task force to “explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.” Just tell me where to sign up, because I have never wanted to be on a committee more.
Very rarely does any governing body of any kind pass a budget without a lot of arguing first, and we intend to uphold that noble tradition. The draft budget that was released in January showed serious cuts, most notably in faith formation (youth, young adult, new comers, continuing education, etc.). While explanations have since come out that some of those cuts were clerical errors (proven by the fact that the budget doesn’t balance even though it is required to do so), the 90% cut originally proposed, mistaken or not, has gotten a lot of people worried.
Restructuring (aka Sauls’ Proposal)
Stemming from some of the same issues that have been causing budget troubles, there are several resolutions heading for General Convention calling for restructuring of the church. One of the loudest voice’s is that of Bishop Stacy Sauls, which is why the resolution he is putting forth tends to bear his name, despite his objections. However it’s not the only resolution asking for restructuring, and one of them is almost sure to find its way out of committee and onto convention floor.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what’s to come, nor is it anywhere near a full explanation on any one issue, but it is a start. More than likely each of these will have a post of their own as I encounter them in Indiana.
For now, I just need to make a packing list.
Let’s get one things straight from the start: the book isn’t blue.
In fact, this year it isn’t even a book, it’s a whopping 753 page PDF available to all on the General Convention website.
The Blue Book is a the official report of the Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs) of General Convention to the General Convention. It has a nice “of the people, by the people” ring to it.
Remember that the General Convention is not only a massive legislative body, it’s also an infrequent one. With hundreds of people meeting only every three years, there’s a lot of work to be done that simply can’t be handled in committee or on the floor during the two weeks we’re together. So we have these smaller bodies that continue to meet and do focused work during the triennium. The people who serve are either elected or appointed depending on the committee. To give you an idea of the range of the CCABs, here’s a few chosen at random:
Joint Standing Committee on Nominations
Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism
Ad-Hoc Committee on the Study of the United Thank Offering
Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility
Disciplinary Board for Bishops
These CCABs report back on what they have been discussing and working on prior to each meeting of General Convention. Many include with their report resolutions that they have developed (known as A Resolutions). For example, at the last General Convention in 2009, a resolution was passed instructing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to develop same-sex blessing rites. In this year’s Blue Book, the SCLM gives a report of the work they did, provides the blessing rites that have been created, and suggests some resolutions, such as A049, which would authorize the trial use of such blessings.
Oh, and this year the color of the Blue Book is salmon. ApparentlySecretary Straub likes it.So what good is the Blue Book? It lets you see what’s happened and it shows you what’s coming. Whether we take the recommendations of the CCABs or not, it’s important to see the work that’s been done, and the proposed resolutions give an idea of the next steps to be taken.