Report on the General Convention, Salt Lake City, June 23-July 3, 2015
+C. Franklin Brookhart, Bishop of Montana
The big news from the General Convention was the election of the 27th. Presiding Bishop by the House of Bishops. The Right Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, is that person. The bishops were sequestered in St. Mark’s Cathedral on Saturday, June 27, in order to vote, with Bishop Michael being chosen on the first ballot by an overwhelming majority.
Bishop Curry has been very clear about his priorities for his nine year term: Jesus, evangelism, nurture, and social outreach. I believe these are just the foci we need, and Bp. Michael will pursue these with his usual vigor and good humor. An extrovert, deeply soaked in scripture, a powerful preacher, he was the man of the hour in Salt Lake.
The press has made much of the fact that Bp. Curry is an African-American, the first elected as Presiding Bishop. Truthfully, that did not seem to come into play in our decision. The vote was simply for the best person for our church at this crucial time.
The General Convention also made several significant actions in regard to same-sex marriages. I need to warn you that this set of actions, like much that is done at the Gen Con, is not simple, but must be read carefully with an eye as much to what is not said as to what is said. First, the Church’s basic definition has not changed; primarily marriage is the union of one man and one woman in a solemn covenant made before God. That stands, but now with a bit of expansion to include persons of the same sex, who can now be invited to share in the spiritual discipline of marriage.
Also, the rites for same-sex marriage are for trial use. They will be evaluated and reported on at the next General Convention in 2018 in Austin. The resolutions also included provision for those bishops and priests who do not choose to use them to do so without any negative consequence (deacons were specifically precluded from using these rites). The trial rites cannot be used until Advent I, at which time the current rite for witnessing and blessing a same-sex union will no longer be authorized.
I voted in favor of these rites. All of our deputies also voted in favor, as did Bishop Gallagher. I will be checking with a variety of a people around the diocese about this matter before the Standing Committee and I will confer. In the end, however, the decision lies with me, and I will make an official statement later this year.
The General Convention also took action that significantly changes the structure and function of The Episcopal Church. Perhaps most important was the reduction of the number of legislative committees of the Gen Con. Presently there are twenty-three, which will be reduced to two. Much of the future work of the church will be done by task forces, which will cease to exist when their assignments are completed.
The role of the Presiding Bishop was clarified. The PB will be clearly understood as the Chief Executive Officer of the church. The inner workings of the general work should now be clearer and simpler. Moreover, the Executive Council of the church, the body that does much of the work of TEC between General Conventions, has been clarified and in some ways restricted. Finally, over the next three years the church will be moving to a new system of assessment for dioceses: all diocese will pay 15% of operating expenses (currently it is 21%), but the assessment becomes mandatory. Lack of full payments results in loss of any grants or funding to that diocese from TEC.
The General Convention set aside funding for two special projects: eliminating racism and starting new churches. Two million dollars was allotted for both.
This year Bishop Gallagher and I was able to be with our Montana deputation much more often than the past. They were: Sandy Williams (leader of the deputation), Cynthia Benkleman, James Ellis, Dr. Pru Randall. Clerical deputies were: Keith Axberg, Jean Collins, Joan Grant and Bradley Wirth. They served well in their important work as members of the House of Deputies. They will be making their report at the diocesan convention in October.
I found the tone of this Gen Con to be conciliatory and positive. There was less of the self-congratulation that has been too much a part of previous conventions. There are signs that we are becoming a more mission oriented, Christ-centered church, and that we may well be on the way to a time of revival. Let’s all pray that this will be so. As Bishop Curry often says, “This is a good church!”