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Convention makes important decisions on ministry, other issues

By Richelle Thompson
8/9/2003
[Episcopal News Service]  Beyond issues of sexuality, the deputies and bishops at the 74th General Convention made significant decisions that will affect ministry, administration, social justice, and outreach programs.

Based on the idea that ministry is grounded in the baptismal covenant, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies passed a series of changes to Title III canons, which govern lay and ordained ministry.

The Standing Commission on Ministry Development (SCMD) offered more sweeping changes in its original motion, including the direct ordination of priests. But the elimination of the transitional diaconate was struck down in earlier debate.

The bishops supported 12 amendments designed to streamline discernment, candidacy, and ordination as well as to promote the importance of ministry and formation of all baptized members. Deputies later voted overwhelmingly to concur.

The revised Title III also expands the discrimination clause, dictating that “no person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry.”

The measure creates a single canon for ordination to the priesthood. While what had been known as “Canon Nine” priesthood was eliminated, in the House of Deputies, Ministry Committee Chair Canon Anne Robbins of Southern Ohio emphasized that “there was no attempt to get rid of locally ordained people.” Under the new Canon Eight, she said, there remains flexibility for both locally formed and seminary-trained priests.

Other canonical changes include the clarification that all members of this church who have received Holy Communion at least three times during the preceding year are considered communicants. Those communicants 16 and older are considered “adult communicants.”

In response to an effort in the House of Deputies to recommit the Title III changes back to committee for more review, Nigel Renton of California urged approval. “This resolution has been worked on for many months very carefully by the Standing Commission on Ministry Development. It has been further adjusted and improved through the wonderful committee work,” he said. “If we don’t pass it just because 5 percent is not right, that will be a mistake. We will have three years to work with it, and if there are minor glitches we can correct them at the next convention.”

Social issues

The national church will continue dialogue on racism, with the convention reaffirming its commitment to eradicating the sin of racism. The measure also requires the completion of anti-racism training within a year for all people seeking election of appointment to several standing commissions, other committees of Executive Council, related boards, and auxiliary organizations.

Other legislation calls for the development of a program to combat racial profiling and to push for the repeal of mandatory federal sentencing guidelines.

A measure to continue dialogue on the ordination of women failed. The original resolution requested $50,000 to conduct a national conversation on women’s ordination focusing on a report by the Task Force on Women’s Ordination, which visited the three dioceses of the Episcopal Church whose bishops do not ordain women -- Fort Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy.

A watered-down resolution gave thanks “for the work of the Holy Spirit within our communion through the life-giving ministry of ordained women.”

Scientific concerns

The convention grappled with the ethics of the emerging science of genetics. They commended the study, “A Christian Response to the New Genetics,” and called upon provinces and dioceses to encourage local education and discussion of biomedical ethics. The convention also acknowledged the potential benefits of genetic testing while affirming that it is not morally acceptable to engage in reproductive cloning.

Ecumenical matters

The convention authorized continuing dialogue with the Moravian Church in America, which could lead to full communion. It also called for continued and strengthened dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

The Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations is to study and present the Reuilly Accord of 1998 signed by the French Reformed Church, the French Lutheran Church, and the Church of England and report back to the 75th General Convention in 2006.

Both houses agreed to encourage members of the church to develop a personal discipline of daily prayer and study, weekly corporate prayer and the habit of tithing. The convention also passed a measure urging congregations to adopt a method of 50/50 sharing – that half of their time and money be directed outside of the congregation.

Ad campaign approved

In communications, the convention approved the launch of a $1.5 million national ad campaign. It also directed the national Church Center to prepare materials in other languages, including Spanish and French, and to provide closed captioning for the deaf.

The deputies and bishops approved the selection of Columbus, Ohio, for the gathering in 2006 of the 75th General Convention.