78th General Convention
The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church met June 25 through July 3 in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was nine-plus days of work, wonder, excitement, inspiration and hospitality. Among the multitude of gatherings, events and sessions, the Church elected a new presiding Bbishop and paid well-deserved tribute to our current primate. Bishops, clergy and lay folk rallied and spoke out in one voice to end gun violence, and preacher after preacher delivered extraordinary sermons during the daily Eucharist. Historic legislation was approved and made our Church that much more welcoming to any and all who want to be a part of the Jesus Movement. Above all, the Church came together – both in Salt Lake City and, thanks to technology, around the world – to remember who we are, to feel the strength we share when we work and pray as one, and to prepare for the work that lies ahead of us.
PRESIDING BISHOP ELECTION
In a historic election on June 27, the Diocese of North Carolina’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, was elected the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
Elected on the first ballot, Bishop Curry received 121 of the 174 votes, with 89 votes required for election. After the House of Deputies certification committee certified the bishops’ selection, the House of Deputies voted 800 to 12 to accept the election result.
The news of Bishop Curry’s election quickly travelled around the globe, spreading the joy and high spirit that dominated the day in Salt Lake City. Headlines carried the notable fact that Bishop Curry is the first African American to lead The Episcopal Church, but few noted that is not the only “first” his election represents:
- Having both been consecrated in 2000, Bishop Curry and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori represent the first and only bishop class ever to produce two presiding bishops.
- Bishop Curry is also the first presiding bishop elected from the Diocese of North Carolina.
And, though not a first, Bishop Curry is only the second presiding bishop ever elected on a first ballot; the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill was also elected on the first ballot in 1947.
Bishop Curry was one of four nominees for presiding bishop. The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal, bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio; the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut; and the Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith, bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, joined Bishop Curry on the ballot.
All four men participated in a first-ever presentation of nominees on the Wednesday before the start of the Convention, spending hours sharing videos of introduction, presenting their visions for the Church and answering questions on topics relating to the Church and the challenges of both life and office faced by a Presiding Bishop.
Never before had presiding bishop nominees been asked to address the bishops, deputies and visitors in attendance like they did, but for three hours, each nominee was candid, engaging and open, resulting in a general consensus from both those on-site and those on social media watching the livestream that the Church had a choice to make between four devoted, spiritual and qualified men.
On the day of the vote, following the daily Convention Eucharist, all bishops with seat, voice and vote boarded buses to travel to St. Mark’s Cathedral, where the closed election took place amid reflection and prayer. Business continued as usual in the House of Deputies until word reached the floor that a decision had been made. A delegation was sent from St. Mark’s to the House of Deputies, where a special legislative committee received the name and retired to decide whether to recommend confirming the selection. Upon their decision, word was returned to the House of Bishops, which remained in session at St. Mark’s, and the election result was put to the House of Deputies for the confirming vote.
The protocol complete, Bishop Curry learned of his confirmation and left for the House of Deputies.
Though it was well after lunchtime, no one moved from the House of Deputies after word arrived that the election was complete, the deputies simply continuing to work through the agenda as they waited. By the time Bishop Curry arrived, the House was filled with bishops, deputies, visitors, volunteers and media, all of whom leapt to their feet and erupted into applause and cheers as he entered and made his way to the dais. Many stood on chairs for a better view or to capture the historic moment on their phones and tablets.
Even after minutes of roaring ovation, the crowd showed no signs of tiring, such was the joy and excitement of Bishop Curry’s election.
“Oh, God love ya,” Bishop Curry said when he was finally able to speak to the crowd. “I know you haven’t had lunch, so no sermons now.
“It really is a blessing and privilege to serve our church and to serve our Lord in this way,” he said. “I treasure this church, this House, the House of Bishops, all of us. We are God’s children.”
Bishop Curry will be installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop on November 1 at he National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
For those who serve, work and worship with Bishop Curry in North Carolina, his election understandably generates a complex web of emotions. But we know as well as anyone the gifts and blessings he bestows on those around him, and it is exciting to think what might happen when those gifts are shared with the wider world. And we, in the Diocese of North Carolina, will honor those gifts as we continue the work we have begun under his leadership.
A PRESIDENTIAL SURPRISE
It was no surprise when the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry preached at the final Eucharist at the 78th General Convention; it has long been a tradition for the presiding bishop-elect to deliver the sermon at General Convention’s Closing Eucharist. It was also no surprise Bishop Curry held the congregation rapt as he walked the altar and challenged them to “Go!”.
But it was a surprise – especially for Bishop Curry – when after the sermon Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered a very special message in the form of a letter from President Barack Obama, which read:
Dear Bishop Curry,
As you prepare to begin serving as Presiding Bishop, I send warm congratulations.
Since our nation’s earliest days, faith communities across our country have shown us how a willingness to believe and a dedication to care for others can enrich our lives. Your leadership over the years has reflected your powerful vision for a more inclusive tomorrow.Guided by your commitment to a future of greater compassion and opportunity, I trust you will continue to use your gifts to bring people of all faiths and backgrounds together to realize the America we know is possible.
Again, congratulations. I wish you all the best.
[Signature] Barack Obama
NORTH CAROLINIANS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Bishop Curry was not the only one at General Convention giving North Carolinians reason to be proud. Several representatives of the Diocese of North Carolina accomplished notable achievements and received honors for the work they do.
Lisa Towle, whose tireless work with the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) is well-known to those throughout the Diocese, was elected president of the National Episcopal Church Women on June 27. Elected in a landslide, she won the office on the first ballot by a two-thirds majority.
As secretary of the ECW’s national board for the last three years, Towle has been working on helping to restructure the organization to streamline and open it up to more women who wish to be involved. She has also worked hard to increase communications throughout the organization.
“Every woman in this Church is a member of ECW,” said Towle. “She can choose to participate or not, but we need to let people know we’re here and what we do and why it’s of value. There’s kind of an evangelizing going on, and hopefully a new focus on mission and ministry.”
One of those ministry focuses, both in North Carolina and on a national level, is the issue of human trafficking. The ECW has made great strides not only in education and increasing awareness of this growing problem, but also in highlighting those working to solve it.
Towle hopes to be able to bring all the work done on the diocesan and national levels together. “A relationship between a national organization and the grassroots work is the ideal, but that can be a little tricky. Sometimes it’s very top-down because [The Episcopal Church is] a hierarchical structure. That works in some respects, but we also really need to focus on bottom-up [initiatives] so we can meet somewhere in the middle and help each other.”
Towle has served as president of the Episcopal Church Women of North Carolina for the past 12 years and will continue in that office through the end of 2015.
Towle’s election marks the first time the Presiding Bishop and the president of the national ECW will be from the same diocese.
On June 28, the ECW held their Distinguished Women Luncheon. The national board presented their first-ever board-awarded Distinguished Woman honor to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and then recognized one woman from each diocese, selected for her dedication and contributions to her church and diocese.
Mary Hawkins was named the Distinguished Woman from the Diocese of North Carolina. A member of St. Titus’, Durham, she is a pillar in her church and her community, and to call her an active, busy woman is an understatement. A retired associate professor, Hawkins continues to volunteer at North Carolina Central University, where she taught. She works within her community on public health initiatives.
The first female senior warden at St. Titus’, Hawkins has served as church newsletter editor, church treasurer, a LEM and LEV, and diocesan convention delegate. She’s served on Diocesan Council, the Bishop’s Committee for Racial Justice and Reconciliation, and the Commission on Ministry. Her decades of service to ECW have included secretary and treasurer to the Board, editor of an award-winning newsletter and delegate to three Triennial Meetings.
With a quiet, can-do spirit, Mary moves easily between the secular and the sacred, offering the gifts she’s been given whenever and however they’re needed.
In the House of Deputies on June 28, North Carolina head of deputation Martha Bedell Alexander was elected to the Church Pension Group board. On the first ballot, she garnered more votes than anyone in the running.
Caitlyn Darnell, coordinator for A Movable Feast, received one of nine special United Thank Offering (UTO) young adult grants awarded this year. The $1,250 grants, which were awarded in each province in honor of UTO’s 125th anniversary, provide seed money for new projects run by young adults, aged 21-30, based on any of the Five Marks of Mission. A Movable Feast is a food truck ministry reaching out to young adult communities typically ignored by traditional campus ministries — those attending community colleges, those living in rural areas and those who enter the workforce directly after high school graduation.
“I saw it as an innovative way to do mission connecting with people and places beyond the walls of our buildings,” Sarah Carver, appointed member of the UTO Board, said. “I want the Church to be inspired by the vision of young adults. People like Caitlyn [and other young adult grant recipients] have something to teach us.”
Darnell wrote her grant proposal in order to transform the trailer’s empty chapel into a space of sacred beauty for liturgy and prayer. The chapel will have no formal altar, but will otherwise bear the traditional trappings of worship. The grant funds will also allow A Moveable Feast to purchase a bookshelf and materials for visitors to take, including prayer cards.
“The world is complicated, and it’s chaos, and it’s broken. And our glimpse of heaven is through liturgy and the space that liturgy takes place in,” Darnell said. “Those holy spaces are still critical to [the Church’s] role of providing rest and respite in the midst of that chaos.”
Though he answered a call in late 2014 to serve at St. Stephen’s in Armonk, New York, former youth missioner, campus minister and director of A Movable Feast the Rev. Nils Chittenden delighted North Carolina friends when he appeared to celebrate Bishop Curry’s election and accept an award for his work in campus ministry. We are happy to share that he and his wife, Kelly, are doing well and are happy in their new life.
The 78th General Convention was not all celebrations and special events. More than 300 resolutions were submitted for consideration, discussion and action, and that meant a great deal of hard work by bishops and deputies alike as they met in their respective Houses and legislative committees. Some of the results of that work made headlines, while others placed great hope in what will be accomplished in the coming years.
Days after the U.S. Supreme Court made its historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, The Episcopal Church made its own history with the House of Bishops (HOB) and the House of Deputies (HOD) concurring on canonical and liturgical changes that now provide marriage equality for all Episcopalians.
Language defining marriage as being specifically between a man and a woman was eliminated from Canon I.18 of The Episcopal Church canons (Resolution A036); the canon now reads, “that clergy shall conform to the laws of the state governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage.”
Two new marriage rites (Resolution A054) were approved for trial use beginning the first Sunday of Advent 2015. The new marriage rites, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage,” and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2,” from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing, Revised and Expanded 2015,” are applicable to all couples seeking to be married, providing the option of using the language of “husband,” wife,” “person” or “spouse.”
Both resolutions provide that clergy continue to have the right to decline to officiate any wedding.
On a related topic, there was also concurrence on Resolution D047, directing Trustees of the Church Pension Fund to continue reviewing and revising the pension plan to include same-gender spouses.
GOVERNANCE AND STRUCTURE
Though the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church proposed several major structural changes, only two resolutions were passed in the form of substitute resolutions.
Substitute Resolution A006 eliminated all standing commissions but two: the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons; and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music.
The proposal to reduce the size of Executive Council by half was rejected, but Substitute Resolution A004 expanded the council’s appointment power in relation to the Church’s executive staff.
Two resolutions were also approved regarding the Church’s Title IV disciplinary process. Resolution A127 provides “express authority for the imposition of sanctions upon a party for disruption to the Title IV process,” while Resolution A150 provided funds for the development and translation of training materials about the Title IV process.
Finally, Resolution A002 was passed, allowing for the exploration of a unicameral model of governance at General Convention.
Changes to the budget leaned heavily in favor of evangelism and reconciliation. Among the initiatives approved were funding for congregational vitality, providing $4 million toward faith community startups, church planting and Latino ministry, and $750,000 toward church redevelopment (existing churches); $2 million for racial justice and reconciliation initiatives; and $750,000 for a new digital evangelism project.
Just as the Diocese of North Carolina is working to do, the budget also reflected plans to reduce the asking from dioceses and mission areas in coming years. In working to reduce the asking, beginning with the 2019-2021 budget cycle the asking will no longer be voluntary but mandatory, with proposed penalties for unwaived noncompliance.
DIVESTMENT IN ISRAEL
The question of whether or not to divest the Church’s investments in Israel and in any company doing business with Israel in support of those in Palestine was one issue on which the HOB and the HOD did not agree. Though the HOD passed a resolution supporting divestment, the HOB rejected it decisively, citing divestment as contrary and aggravating to the peace-making efforts being made in that region. Resolution C018 was passed, though, resolving “that the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its solidarity with and support for Christians in Israel and the Occupied Territories; affirm the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in healing, education, and pastoral care; affirm the work of Christians engaged in relationship building, interfaith dialogue, non-violence training, and advocacy for the rights of Palestinians; and urge Episcopalians to demonstrate our solidarity by making pilgrimage to Israel and the Occupied Territories and learning from our fellow Christians in the region.”
FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT
Two resolutions were passed relating to environmentally responsible investing and working on climate change. Resolution CO45 “calls upon the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy in a fiscally responsible manner,” and “urges all dioceses and parishes of the Episcopal Church to engage the topic of divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in clean energy within the coming year.”
Resolution A030 calls for the development of “parish and diocesan resources designed to support local ecologically responsible stewardship of church-related properties and buildings. The program shall be…composed of one person from each province. Each province member of the Advisory Council shall convene, in their respective provinces, Regional Consultive Groups (“RCG’s”),” who will be responsible for the development of educational materials and the creation of networks.
OTHER RESOLUTIONS OF INTEREST
- Passed: Resolutions A158 and A159, which between them updated the Church’s alcohol policy of 1985 and resolved to increase awareness of substance abuse and to work to increase advocacy, treatment and recovery resources.
- Passed: Resolution D037, creating a task force to study requests to amend church records to match legal name changes, including those made by members of the transgender community.
- Referred: Resolution D021, allowing faith communities to petition for health insurance outside the Denominational Health Plan
- The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has been directed to present a report at the 79th General Convention proposing a plan for revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
- Defeated: Proposal to open a conversation about communion without baptism
While most of the General Convention action took place during legislative sessions and debates in the two Houses, plenty happened elsewhere in the Convention Center and throughout the city. Down the hall from the Houses, the exhibition hall housed vendors, artisans, friends of the Diocese like UTO and Thistle Farms, Episcopal groups like the Office of Armed Services and Federal Ministries, and rotating exhibits, including a full-size United Nations Refugee tent.
Every evening, groups gathered for fellowship and to honor their members. The Union of Black Episcopalians hosted a gala on June 23, during which Bishop Curry received the Right Reverend Quintin Primo Honor Award award; Episcopal Relief and Development continued its 75th anniversary celebration throughout General Convention; and Integrity and UTO held their special Eucharists.
The daily morning Eucharist served as a spiritual anchor point throughout the gathering.
Rotating preachers and celebrants, including the Rev. Cathlena Plummer of Navajoland, who spoke of hearing the call to tend God’s flock while searching for one of her parents’ sheep, and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in America, shared unique perspectives on the Gospel and highlighted the diversity of the Church.
Other preachers included Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori; President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings; Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry; the Rev. Kimberly Jackson, chaplain and vicar of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center, Emmaus House Chapel, Atlanta; the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms; and the Rev. Colin Mathewson, St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego.
A major public witness also took place in the form of about 1,500 General Convention participants marching through downtown Salt Lake City in the Bishops United Against Gun Violence procession on the morning of June 28. Marchers paused along the way to hear testimonies from two survivors of gun violence and a former police officer and priest.
During the closing remarks, Bishop Curry encouraged participants to “go forth and proclaim that love is the only way, go forth and proclaim that we will end the scourge of violence.” The march captured the evangelical, outward-facing spirit that pervaded General Convention.