Here is the whole story, for anything less would make it seem like it was easy.
At around 10:45AM the worship services ended and the bishops proceeded to the buses. It took five buses to move the entire House of Bishops to St. Mark’s Cathedral where they were to deliberate. According to one bishop I spoke with, trying to get the entire House transported via bus takes a lot longer than you think. Though the cathedral isn’t far from the convention center, they didn’t get there until 11:30AM.
The Bishops sang a few hymns and got settled in the church. They jointly agreed that they were all grown ups and therefore nobody had to surrender his or her phone in order to ensure the name of the elected bishop remained a secret until the election could be confirmed. They prayed, and they voted. Typically it takes multiple ballots before a single candidate gets enough votes to win, so people were ready for a long day.
Meanwhile in the House of Deputies, we took some time to honor past house members and celebrate the 230th anniversary of the House of Deputies. We went on with our regular legislative business. And behind it all we waited.
At about 12:45, fifteen minutes before we were set to adjourn for lunch, two representatives from the House of Bishops arrived. They were invited onto the floor (no unauthorized persons are allowed on the floor of the House of Deputies, including Bishops), and they proceeded to the front of the House. They told us that they had successfully elected a Presiding Bishop. They then turned around and quietly shared the name with Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. The President asked that all members of Committee 19 (Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop) step forward. There were a lot of them – 30 members in all. The house Chaplin, Fr. Lester Mackenzie, stepped forward to pray for the committee in their discernment. It’s strange. Even though I knew all the candidates were men, it still felt strange for Fr. Mackenzie to use masculine pronouns to describe the office after nine years of it being held by a woman. What a difference a word makes.
Committee 19 disappeared behind a curtain to deliberate. At this point I should clarify that I’m not exactly sure what their deliberation entailed. In order for the House of Deputies to confirm a new Presiding Bishop, the election must be given to us in the form of a resolution. In order for us to hear a resolution, it must be presented by a committee along with the committee’s recommendation on what the House should do. However when it comes to the election of the Presiding Bishop, this is more of a formality (one could argue the entire confirmation from the House of Deputies is a formality, but probably an important one). In theory there is no information the committee had about the nominees they didn’t have before, and there’s not much information they could have ever had that the rest of us didn’t have all along. If there was a nominee they had reservations about, those reservations would have existed long before they got the name. So who knows what they talked about. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to ask one of them.
Either way, at ten minutes until our planned adjournment, Committee 19 disappeared and the entire House sat there, knowing that a name existed and that name was known to every bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and the 30 people who just went behind the curtain. The President called on the Secretary to ask what the next item of business was. He suggested that in light of the hour we adjourn and come back after lunch.
The objections rang out from all over the House. The President looked shocked. Whispers began. As the thought of leaving for over an hour and not knowing loomed, from somewhere in the back the singing began. A few days before, the chaplain had taught us all a beautiful chanting song. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo // We are one together, yo, yo, yo.” The singing started and it spread fast. It was a bit of a joke to protest in this manner, but the intent was true. We were in this together. We were not leaving.
The President and Secretary suggested a few strange alternatives that involved everyone running out to get a sandwich and coming right back. People started to appear at the microphones to protest leaving. One deputy pointed out that the bishops were sequestered, unable to leave St. Mark’s until they heard from us, and that we owed it to them to stick around until confirmation could happen. After much bad suggestion-making we all agreed to suspend the rules and remain in session until Committee 19 came back. I started to check my phone. An isolated Twitter Storm was seen over Salt Lake City.
In the middle of the storm, a rumor started to go out. Someone had leaked the information, and we knew it had to be a bishop. So much for being grown ups. The Twittersphere responded by immediately urging everyone not to retweet the leaked name or share it if they had read it. The secrecy was out of respect for the dioceses of all four nominees. One of them was about to lose their bishop, and it would be cruel to toy with them by spreading unconfirmed rumors.
The gallery in the back of the House was standing room only. Photos from the exhibit hall showed it was completely empty. People back home were watching via live stream. At 1:45PM, the committee finally emerged. After more waiting for the electronic and administrative ducks to get in a row, the members came forward and the chair got behind the microphone.
Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina.
Curry is an incredibly charismatic preacher and a strong believer in evangelism and sharing the love of God. He also happens to be the first African American person to be elected to the office of Presiding Bishop. A cheer rang out and the President reminded us not to applaud. He still wasn’t confirmed. We must respect the deputies of the four dioceses.
The results of the House of Bishops vote went on the screen. He was elected on the first ballot, receiving almost 70% of the votes despite being one of four candidates. It was an absolute landslide. More cheering came from the crowd, and more calls for respect from the President.
The matter was put before the house. The committee was still standing in front, and the President politely suggested they might want to return to their seats so they could vote. We entered our selections into the voting machines at our tables. The confirmation was overwhelming: 800 to 12.
Now you can cheer.
Once the applause died down, the House was put at ease for 20 minutes while Bishop Curry was escorted from the Cathedral over to the House of Deputies. The President announced we would suspend the rules to allow him and his family onto the floor. Even the Presiding Bishop-Elect has to have permission.
When we were told he was almost there, we stood up in anticipation. The cheering started, and everyone was up on their chairs trying to get a good photo as the Presiding Bishop-Elect walked from the back entrance to the front of the House. He was escorted by current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. It was a beautiful sight to see them next to each other. A sign that even as we continue to struggle with diversity in our church, in our hearts we wish to be better.
As he reached the platform the cheers grew louder, and the singing began. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo!” I saw the delight and shock in Bishop Curry’s eyes. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your very presence inspire people to burst into song. We are one together.
His speech was short. “I know you haven’t had lunch,” he joked. He was eloquent and to the point as usual, ending with probably the most important fact of all: “Nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”
I was sitting in the Legislative Committee on Marriage, microphone in hand, when we got the news. The Supreme Court had ruled 5-4 in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states. Because I was speaking at the time, I believe I may have been the last person in the room to know. There was applause and smiles. Our chaplain asked to be excused and ran out the door to call his husband. The youth in the visitor’s gallery began to cry. We had to adjourn early because the news was so important to so many members.
It may surprise people who have known me to be a straight ally my entire life that when the decision came down, I was encouraging the committee members to reach out to the opposition and get their feedback on our proposed changes to the marriage canons. This is not a contradiction for me. I was doing what I always try to do: listening to the minority.
Over the last several General Conventions, a clear and noticeable shift towards liberal and progressive values has occurred in the Episcopal Church. We were once a church of contradictions where conservatives sat next to liberals, but over time our conservative membership has dropped, and their voices are now few and far between.
As LGBT inclusion becomes the more dominant belief, we have to constantly remind ourselves that within the church we now represent a majority, not a minority. While there is still more work to do and there is still a long road ahead, we now have the pleasure of walking into this space knowing most people are like us, agree with us, and act like us. This seems to me to be the very definition of privilege.
I have something very close to the Full Privilege Package, which means I make a fool out of myself often. I forget the needs and feelings of others, I neglect to see the unintended consequences, and worst of all I assume that my experience is true of all experiences. I rely on my friends in disadvantaged positions to keep me honest and to tell me about their experiences so that I might better serve their cause of justice. I can be a wonderful straight ally, but I will never know what it really means to be gay.
In my experience, living without privilege makes it easier for you to see the suffering of others. There is something about the personal experience of being in the minority that opens you up and strengthens your empathy. My gay friends show me this. My black friends show me this. And occasionally I show it to my male friends.
The things is, you can develop and practice this empathy without holding the traditional markers of minority. We all find ourselves in the minority at one time or another. For example, I imagine that no matter what your political beliefs, there has been a time in the last 16 years when you were truly disappointed by the results of a presidential election. How did it feel to see people celebrating? How did it feel to hear voices claiming that this is right when you believed it was wrong?
There is obviously a big difference between feeling politically devastated for a month (or even a few years) and living your life as a marginalized person. But the practice of empathy is the same, and if you practice you will get better.
Today I am celebrating, as are most of my friends. I believe that what has happened is right and just, and that ultimately the political opponents of this lose nothing. Their marriages are the same as always and their churches retain the right to refuse to perform marriages that don’t fit with their theology. The government shouldn’t prevent consenting adults from entering into contracts, and now they won’t. As an American I am very proud.
As a Christian and an Episcopalian, I believe this is also what the Holy Spirit has been calling us to do in this church. That part of me is happy, because I feel like I am living into my Baptismal Covenant. But I must also keep a place in my heart for those in my church who are hurt by this, whose upbringing gave them a different view of the world and of faith. They are not just losing to the government or losing to outsiders. They are being told by their own brothers and sisters that their image of God is hateful and wrong. They are a minority in my church, and I imagine they are currently feeling the painful sting of empathetic enlightenment. They are living in a world that is made for others and not for them.
Having laws you don’t like, even church laws you don’t like, is nothing compared to being told your entire life that your very essence is sinful and wrong. But I don’t think it’s helpful to play “who has it worse” when it comes to privilege. The basis of intersectionality is the admission that no minority trumps another in terms of oppression. You can be white but also poor. You can be black but also straight. And you can be a cis-gendered white man in the Episcopal Church, and be told that what you think is terribly wrong. That you are somehow wrong. And you can hear the cheers from the next room and feel like the majority is celebrating your pain.
The charge I place on myself and give to you is this: Don’t forget what it was like to be the loser. We who have been the minority for so long are now the majority, and it is up to us to remain responsible. It is up to us to listen, because we know what it was like to not be heard. It is up to us to show compassion, because we know what it was like to receive only hate (see Exodus 22:21).
I told you that we adjourned the meeting early, however we did not adjourn immediately. First we kept a moment of silence, and we said a prayer for those on the other side. We must give them the love we wished others would have given us. Being in the minority, if only for a little while, can be terrible. But hidden in that pain is the gift of empathy. If you celebrate today, you likely have that gift. Don’t waste it.
Today’s post will be short on both length and substance as the day has been long and my mind is checked out. It’s amazing that I am this beat after so short a time, especially since this is the convention where I have felt most comfortable, most at home. Here are some highlights from the day, some of which may be referenced later in more in-depth posts:
1) A two hour legislative session in which the only substantial matter addressed was the proposed Rules of Order. It’s amazing how dysfunctional we can be in our attempts to function better.
2) A unanimous decision to immediately address a resolution expressing support and condolences for the South Carolina shooting victims and their families. The letter was endorsed without objection and specifically labels the incident as a “racist act of violence.”
3) Having an older cis-gendered heterosexual white man talk about the importance of addressing privilege as he proceeded to interrupt me but not the other two men in the conversation.
4) Getting my own privileged checked when I failed to account for the significant loss in racial diversity that would come from reducing the size of the House of Deputies, a proposal I otherwise support.
5) Secret Young Adult Deputy meeting.
6) Eating McDonald’s for the first time in a long time (not worth it).
7) Hearing many beautiful and passionate responses in the hearing on the proposed marriage canons.
8) Realizing that there is zero agreement on whether or not our Book of Common Prayer is a constitutional document.
9) Being praised by multiple people for sharing a personal experience I didn’t realize was so important.
10) One of the most honest and interesting conversations on sex and marriage and society that I’ve ever had.
I’m going to bed now in the interest of self-care. Tomorrow is another, longer day.
The Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church serves for a single nine-year term. There’s disagreement on what her job currently is, and much debate on what it should be. She is not infallible like a pope, and can’t veto like a president. In some ways she is more of a spiritual advisor and figurehead, in other ways she is the CEO and chief administrator.
Today was the first time the House of Deputies was given a chance to meet and learn about the candidates prior to the vote in the House of Bishops. There were bios and intro videos released ahead of time, and today we saw additional “homemade” videos, heard intro speeches, and listened to the candidates answer questions – A LOT of questions. The questions were submitted by church members ahead of time and separated out into categories such as structure, theology, LGBT issues, etc. The bishops took turns pulling questions out of a bowl and giving short, off-the-cuff answers. Over the course of three hours, we got to know a bit more about the candidates and how they might lead the church.
The environment surrounding the election of a Presiding Bishop is delicate and strange. On one side it’s a typical election where candidates are nominated and must prove their worth to a group of voters who then decide who should get the job. On the other hand it’s supposed to be a calling, not a career move. This subtlety is reflected in the language we use. The nominees aren’t “running” for Presiding Bishop, they are standing for election. They are making themselves willing and available, not vying for the job.
This tension was certainly present in the opening speeches and many of the answers. I couldn’t help but think of the Miss America competition. The questions ranged from the simple and easy (“How has your prayer life changed?”) to the nearly impossible (“How do you feel about divestment in Israeli companies?”). Just like with Miss America, the candidates must craft an answer that means all things to all people. Nothing too upsetting, nothing too generic. To their credit, the nominees were a lot more willing to jump into specifics than most beauty contestants, but then again their audience is a bit more forgiving and their answers aren’t on YouTube.
After about an hour I leaned over to the deputy next to me and said, “You know if they weren’t all trying to become Presiding Bishop, I might really enjoy this.” If they felt a bit freer with their answers and if the questions were a bit more open, the basic activity would have been really wonderful. Imagine if part of every General Convention involved us putting a small group of well-spoken bishops and other leaders on the stage and asking them to reflect on the issues surrounding the church. How much might we learn – and how much might we change – if they speak and we listen and no one has an agenda?
While I think the session was well organized and I appreciate all the work that went in to getting the House of Deputies more involved in the process, I couldn’t help but ask, “What am I doing here?” The laws of the church dictate that it is the House of Bishops that elects their presider. All the House of Deputies does is confirm the election (a good and reasonable guard against a totalitarian takeover). There are plenty who think this should be changed, but I’m not one of them. The House of Bishops meets way more often, they are a smaller and more intimate body, and they have consistency of membership. The House of Deputies is huge, meets once every three years, and is about 40%-50% brand new people. We don’t know these bishops like they know each other, and we certainly aren’t any more qualified than they are to make a decision based on available information. So unless I suspect foul play, I see no reason not to trust their judgement and confirm whomever they call. If we can’t trust them enough for that, why did we elect them in the first place?
Before today, all I knew was the four names and I felt generally ambivalent about all of them. I was confident that the committee we elected was able to find four candidates that would all do a fine job. I didn’t really care who won. Now I know a bit more about each of them, and while I wasn’t really trying, I can’t help but have a favorite. But I still don’t have a vote. So all I have gained is the possibility to be disappointed when the guy I want isn’t picked.
I worry what will happen if we acquiesce to present paranoia and make the change suggested by TREC to have the Presiding Bishop elected by both houses. I worry that the politicking will go up, that we will have to suffer through actual campaigns, and that the job will always end up going to the person who wants it the most (which is almost never the best person for a leadership role).
The vote happens on Saturday in a closed session of the House of Bishops. No white smoke will go up. Instead a simple a message will be sent to the House of Deputies and a bit of (possibly unnecessary) bureaucratic process will occur before the vote comes before the house. And I’m voting yes. I don’t normally decide my votes ahead of time, but unless some strange and terrible thing is revealed about the candidates between now and then, I’m voting to confirm whichever person they choose. And why shouldn’t I? I respect and trust the bishops. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be in a church named after them.
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.
So it starts again. Another triennium, another convention, another set of hot-button issues to discuss. If time and internet access allow I’ll do expanded posts on each of these issues before convention starts, but in case it doesn’t happen, here’s the bumper-sticker version:
This marks the end of Katharine Jefferts-Schori’s term as Presiding Bishop, and it’s time to elect someone new. The nominations committee has suggested four names (videos of the four candidates can be found here). The fact that there are no women on the list has not gotten past anyone, though the sad fact remains that there are very few women they have to choose from in the pool of qualifying bishops. The fact that three out of four are white has also escaped no one. Once again, small pool.
2) TREC Report and Restructuring
In the wake of the unanimous 2012 decision to create the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), the 2015 Convention will have to deal with the report delivered by the task force. There is no doubt that “dealing with it” will involve completely changing the proposed resolutions in big and small ways. Some of the report’s suggested changes go so far as to suggest switching to a unicameral system and changing the Presiding Bishop’s job description. Responses to the TREC report have been mixed. People have expressed both excitement and concern over specific proposed resolutions, as well as over the general feeling and tone of the work. The bottom line: Did we get what we asked for? More importantly, is what we asked for what we really needed?
3) Marriage Canons
Same-gender marriage in the Episcopal Church seems more inevitable with every convention, but that doesn’t mean the road is easy or the journey fast. There is likely to be more harsh words and hurt feelings as we discuss changing the marriage canons, which currently describe marriage as between a man and a woman. The special marriage committee has returned from their work with suggestions on how to change the canons, but no there are explicit theological statements or suggestions of universal acceptance.
What else should we expect at General Convention? There are a few contenders. I’ve heard talk of changing diocesan assessment (the amount of money each diocese is expected to pay into the larger church). There’s bound to be a few things about climate change and the middle east. A special committee was created to discuss issues around drug and alcohol abuse. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll sit around for 11 days and just talk about God. Wouldn’t that be something else.
With General Convention long over, I’ll be officially moving my domain name, katrinahamilton.com, to a different site. This summer I’ll be blogging as I take a solo road trip around the United States, and my road trip blog is where the domain will point to for the near future. Epiconapolis will remain live as an archive of the 2012 General Convention, and can be found at https://generalconvention.wordpress.com/. If reelected by my diocese to go to the 2015 GC, I will likely use this same site as my blogging platform.
I would like to thank everyone who followed my adventures, and for your continued interest in one of the most esoteric and nerdy subjects imaginable, Episcopal church politics.