A Summary of the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church
The Rt. Rev. Franklin Brookhart
The 79th General Convention of our Church met in hot and humid Austin, TX, July 5-13. This gathering of the highest authority in the church was marked by a calm, joyful, and cooperative spirit. Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, preached on three occasion, emphasizing that we are part of the Jesus Movement and that we are empowered by the liberating, loving, life-giving presence of God. That message resounded throughout the proceedings of the convention.
The General Convention meets as two houses. The House of Bishops gathers under the leadership of the Presiding Bishop and operates with its own rules of order. The House of Deputies, composed of four lay persons and four clerics elected by each diocese, meets under the leadership of its president, the Rev. Gay Jennings of the Diocese of Ohio. It, too, has its own set of rules. About one-hundred forty bishops were present, and about eight-hundred deputies attended. Over four hundred pieces of legislation were considered. Both houses must approve of any resolution before it can take effect.
Probably the most attention of the convention was focused on a resolution to revise the Book of Common Prayer by 2030. While this passed the HoD, the HoB substituted a compromise motion. You can find this online as Resolution A068. The Book of Common Prayer 1979 will continue as the official prayer book of the church. Meanwhile, a special task force will be formed to monitor alternative liturgies which might be authorized by future general conventions. This is the way the Churches of England, Wales, and Canada function, each having an official and historical prayer book accompanied by optional, alternative services. Both houses concurred on A068.
The convention also made a statement regarding marriage equality in resolution B012. The services entitled “Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage” and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” were re-authorized for trial use. “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage 2” and “An Order for Marriage 2” were authorized for trial use. Of course, the Prayer Book service continues as the standard liturgy for marriage. These trial services are attempts to provide ways for the church to affirm and bless the committed unions of same-sex persons and those who wish to have non-civil yet church-related unions. The Episcopal Church continues to work on an understanding of marriage that fits both pastoral needs and sound theology; we are not yet at a place where such a theological statement can be authorized by the General Convention. As always, any priest or bishop will not be obliged to use these trial rites. These rites will be available online and in printed form.
One of the highlights of the convention was the readmission of the Diocese of Cuba to The Episcopal Church. In 1966 the church severed its ties to that diocese, but has now been welcomed it back as a full member of our church. Their bishop was seated in the HoB and their deputation in the HoD with great celebration.
Every General Convention deals with the knotty issue of Israel and Palestine. We again stated our support of a two-state solution, supported an investment policy to promote human rights for both Israel and Palestine (we did not pursue a divestment policy, but now will use “investment screens” to advocate for both groups), affirmed aid for Palestinian refugees, and called for special care for Palestinian children. We have an Anglican presence in Israel and Jordon in the form of the Diocese of Jerusalem; their archbishop was present with us. That diocese carries out an enormous number of social service and programs for all the peoples of that region. Our annual Good Friday Offering goes to assist their ministries.
Evangelism and racial reconciliation were special themes of the convention with increased amounts of the budget given to those concerns. Current immigration issues also were noted in a number of resolutions.
Each day was marked by a celebration of Holy Eucharist. Various authorized rites were used as well as a variety of musical styles (most of which were too loud and often lacking in musical and literary substance).
Our deputation was headed by Sandy Williams of St. Andrew’s, Livingston. She was also elected as the president of Province VI! Also Cynthia Benkleman, Brad Foster, and Dr. Pru Randall were the other lay deputies. The Revs. Jean Collins, Terri Grotzinger, Bradley Wirth, and Stephen Yurosko were clerical deputies. This was my last convention as a bishop diocesan, but I will continue as a member of the HoB after my retirement.
The 80th General Convention will be in Baltimore in 2021.