Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spring 2018 House of Bishops, Day 3

We have new stricter social media rules now in the HOB--no photos taken during a session without the permission of those in it. So ... I'm having to be more creative about finding pics for the blog, because I'm not going to take a panoramic group shot and then contact everyone whose balding head shows in the photo!

Once again, the day began with Eucharist. This time, though, I took a pass, and opted for a vigorous walk on a brisk morning. Having looked at the liturgy sheet in advance, there were enough triggers that I knew the net spiritual effect for me would be negative. #selfcare  I will say, however, that HOB worship has gotten incrementally less problematic during the tenure of the current Presiding Bishop, and I give props for that.

When we convened at 10:15, there were the usual announcements, then a whirlwind set of summary reports from bishop members of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) and the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. The full reports that they were summarizing, containing substantive and enormously significant resolutions being submitted to General Convention, are enormous--including revision of the Prayer Book, and it wasn't quite fair to anyone that they had to be presented in such a temporally condensed manner. And it was even less fair that our consideration of the material had to occur in less than an hour. This took the form of Indaba groups. We adjourned to breakout rooms in groups of about 20 each. The Indaba process involves each one present speaking his or her heart, in turn, into the center of the group, with no crosstalk or discussion in the conventional sense. We were asked to respond to, "How do you imagine liturgy in the future of the Episcopal Church? What are your hopes? What are your fears?" 

After lunch, we heard from bishop members on the Task Force on the Episcopate. This group was created by the last General Convention to study the ministry of bishops, how they are chosen, and how the ones chosen are formed for their ministry. The driving urge is a sense on the part of some that the House of Bishops should be much more "diverse" in terms of gender, race, and class. The proposals they came up with are fairly minor technical revisions of the current canons on election, consent, and continuing education. Once again, we broke into Indaba groups and responded to questions about how we envision the ministry of bishops in TEC going forward. I'm not supposed to pass on anything I hear in an Indaba group, but if you'd like to speculate that most bishops are in favor of the ministry of bishops, you wouldn't be off the mark.

The last hour of our afternoon before Evensong was given over to a report from the bishop members of yet another task force, this one having to do with "leadership compensation." That sounds innocuously bureaucratic, but it is, in fact, politically charged. There is a strong move afoot to make the President of the House of Deputies a compensated position. Advocates would say that the job has evolved from merely holding the gavel when the HOD is in session every three years to something that is incontrovertibly full time, and therefore deserving of compensation. Opponents argue that the ministry of bishops is distinctive, and cannot be understood as in parallel to what the Deputies do. We cannot create a two-headed monster, where the Presiding Bishop and the PHOD are, in effect, co-primates. We decided to forego Indaba groups on this issue and hash it out in plenary tomorrow morning. Stay tuned. This one will be big before it goes away.

After dinner, I attended a voluntary meeting with members of the Marriage Task Force, along with a handful of others. This was an opportunity to dig more deeply into their convention resolutions, which have the potential to be seismic. They are proposing a "surgical" revision of the Prayer Book that would add to the BCP the rites currently authorized just "in the ether" for same-sex marriage, along with a concomitant change to the catechism that would make marriage gender neutral. If approved this year, that would constitute a "first reading" of Prayer Book revision, a process that would be cemented by subsequent approval in 2021. The kicker here, of course, is that while a diocesan bishop can decline to permit use of a trial rite "in the ether," a bishop cannot proscribe use of material in the Book of Common Prayer. I cannot predict how this will all play out. There is a wide variety of opinion swirling around in the mix, and the legislative process at General Convention is a real sausage machine. But it will be a hot issue. And, to be frank, it deserved a lot more consideration than it is getting at this meeting of the House. If the events following 2003 were an earthquake, approval of anything like the Taskforce on Marriage's proposal would be a catastrophic aftershock. It is borderline dereliction of duty that this issue alone was not the focus of table talk, an Indaba session, and plenary discussion at this last meeting of the HOB before General Convention.


  1. +Dan: Sadly, you choose to comment on a report you have yet to read. At the evening one-hour conversation hosted by the bishops serving on the Marriage Task Force, you and a handful of other bishops, heard a brief summary of our work, as we did our best to review the key points from the Task Force Resolutions. We encouraged a full reading of the report. Apparently, you did not think it necessary to do so before commenting. I hope others will wait until the report is published before following your lead.

    We also reminded you that the liturgies proposed for official "Trial Use" are meant for ALL couples (not just same-sex couples) and are ADDITIONS to the BCP. Your continued caricature of these proposals as "surgical" revision is neither fair, nor accurate. They are Constitutionally and Cannonically provided for and not some attempt to circumvent the proper process for additions and alterations of the BCP. I was hoping for better from you.

    See you in Austin,

    The Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely
    Bishop of Vermont

    1. Tom, I'm disappointed that you're disappointed. Of course it's a good idea to read the report, but would that change anything you said in the evening session? I commented only on what you and your TFM colleagues talked about. Did you misrepresent the report in some way? I suspect not. And what I meant by "surgical" is simply that the recommendation is to amend the Prayer Book in a way other than a full-scale revision, a "single issue" revision, as it were. Is that in some way inaccurate? An addition is still a revision, and your proposal on the catechism is no mere addition. Yes, the new rites can be used by opposite-sex couples, but let's not fool ourselves that the motivation behind their creation was anything other than to serve the felt needs of same-sex couples. There is nothing I said that implies that the TFM's proposals are an attempt to "circumvent" anything.

  2. Perhaps rather than further making more bureaucracy by making the HOD Pres a paid position, has there been any talk of decentralizing the PB position and making him a Diocesan again? Help pay for him to have a suffragan for Diocesan responsibilities and cut WAY back on his PB expectations?

    1. Fr Kelly, I agree with you wholeheartedly that the office of the Presiding Bishop needs to be scaled back in the direction you recommend. There are those who agree with us on this, from across the usual ideological lines, but not critical mass to form a movement, I'm afraid.