This column is taking shape only a few days after the 75th General Convention adjourned, so my thoughts are necessarily tentative. I went into this meeting, unlike the conventions I attended from 1991 to 2003, with fewer predictions about what could or should occur. Of course I carried certain hopes with me, and not all of them were crushed this time.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with convention since the first one I attended in a sweltering Phoenix. At my first two conventions, my response would best be described as: “Who are these people, and what are they doing to my church?”
In the years since then, especially as I began covering some of the standing commissions and interest groups of the church, I slowly began learning something: These people are my fellow Episcopalians, sometimes by infant baptism, more often by an adult choice. It’s just as much their church as it is mine, though none of us can claim a true ownership of what rightly belongs to the Lord Jesus.
I’ve also learned how much I love many of the people involved in convention or some other aspect of the church’s life. In the earliest years of attending convention, it felt like stepping into the Coliseum, or Hieronymus Bosch’s Seven Deadly Sins. Now it feels more like a family reunion, at least when I can spend more time in quiet conversations than in hearing shouts of “Point of order.”
So where does this leave me in the days just after the 75th General Convention? I’m feeling some relief, but I’m also saddened, exhausted and struggling with a certain dread about the future of Anglicanism.
I’m relieved because this convention made an effort at responding to the Windsor Report. The pressures were great to say to the broader Anglican Communion, “Thank you for sharing, but we’ll not be changing any of our polity for your sake.” I know a significant number of deputies do not appreciate the House of Bishops’ intervention on the final day of convention, but it was important to hear the presiding bishop’s warning of how inaction could affect bishops’ ability to attend the Lambeth Commission in 2008.
Whether Resolution B033 will be enough to preserve the bishops’ attendance at Lambeth certainly is an open question. The resolution addressed the Windsor Report’s request for a moratorium on partnered gay bishops, but it completely ignored the report’s requests for a moratorium on blessing rites for gay and lesbian couples, or for apologies from bishops who earlier had granted permission for such rites.
I’m grieving because I know that more division will follow this convention, both on the local and the global stages. I know that both left and right are ready to assign blame for that division, and I don’t want to add to that blaming. That the division will happen is entirely clear. I pray it happens in a way that, when congregations do not remain in communion with their dioceses, they will seek ways to stay in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury.
I know my fellow conservatives will sometimes entertain dreams of the Episcopal Church somehow being expelled from the Anglican Communion. I think that to engage in talk of expulsion is to hope for a decision that’s clearer and more resounding than what typically emerges in contemporary Anglicanism.
If our church faces a period of probation, some form of accountability for how it has responded to the Windsor Report, I will welcome it as an opportunity for Episcopalians — all of us — to take some humility pills. I will welcome it as a time for Episcopalians — all of us — to consider whether the global conversation that we keep calling for would actually involve listening to, and learning from, Anglicans who do not share in our power, our wealth and our outsized cultural influence.
I don’t know exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing in the global body known as the Anglican Communion. But I’m fairly sure God’s voice cannot be limited to whatever resolutions somehow make it through the labyrinthine legislative process of General Convention.
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