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.
This entry was originally posted July 7, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”
“The church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a church.” – Deputy Rushing
My morning started off at 7:30AM when I first realized that setting two alarm clocks “just to be sure” is only helpful if at least one of them is set for AM instead of PM. Still, I threw myself together and made it downstairs in time to be told the New Deputies Orientation was in Convention Room D, wait, Ballroom F, no actually Ballroom E. When I finally arrived in Ballroom E it was just in time to hear that the four-hour New Deputy Orientation was cancelled. Lay Deputy Doug Oles believes it is some sort of elaborate hazing ritual to test whether or not we can get up by 8AM, and I’m inclined to agree.
My free morning was spent investigating (and using) the hotel fitness center, adding in the rest of the updates to the schedule, and watching the Michael Jackson Memorial Service on TV. Plus, I got to make up for that half hour of getting ready I missed. GC is easier on a full stomach, but more on that in a moment.
At 2:00 we all gathered in what is normally the worship space (the only room big enough for all of us) to hear the opening addresses of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson. Katharine spoke about Crisis Management, and how our financial situation will necessitate that we use the larger church to work on the issues requiring the entirety of the Church, and allow individual congregations to do the mission work better suited to them (without national oversight bearing down). Bonnie shared a bit of her personal faith journey and reminded us that we are not the first ones to suffer through “tough times,” but that in our age of technology it is impossible to ignore the poor and hungry around us. Our tough times include their need.
After our intro to Public Narrative (which I will discuss more later in the week) we had our deputy orientation, which included a surprisingly humorous “role play” in which members of the HoD along with the President and the Secretary followed a script to outline basic resolution and amendment procedure by way of trying to pass a fake resolution. The resolution was proposed by “Deputy Hannah from Montana” and debated by such greats as “Deputy Captain Jack Sparrow from the Diocese of Port Royal” (“Deputy Sparrow you only need to introduce yourself by your last name, not title.” “But I’m always Captain.”) See the new page, “Ten Things I Love About Secretary Gregory Straub” for a video of the secretary reading off the fake resolution during the orientation, as well as his fantastic coat.
Finally, it should be noted that my old habit of trying to eat only free food has lingered from the last General Convention. Then it made sense: I was there on my own dime, I had to save money. Now it’s just silly, as I have a reasonable food per diem. I guess old habits die hard. My dinner tonight consisted of three free fruit cups I got at the New Deputies Reception, followed by some delicious goat cheese and red sauce on toast that I snagged at the Young Adult Meet and Greet held by Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.
Tomorrow morning will begin with a meeting designed to create a game plan for some important hearings coming up involving actions to negate or revoke B033, allow for full inclusion of all the baptized, and create liturgy for same-sex unions. Afterwards I’ll head over to the convention center for my first Legislative Session, which will deal almost entirely with what Rev. Steve Moore referred to as “foreplay.”