Sunday, July 8, 2012

GC Day 3: Early Impressions

It has been intense at General Convention (GC), with lots of activity and inputs. My sense of disappointment at the proceedings in the House of Deputies (HoD) has felt overwhelming, and I’m trying to process what I’m hearing and experiencing. I apologize in advance to my fellow deputies, because it is not my usual style to complain or chide. It may be that I'm just tired, and it's fatigue peeking out of my psyche – my projections, and not objective reality I'm seeing. Or it may be sensory overload from which I can't quite recover, because the pace of data flow is fast and relentless.

The Colorado Deputation - (l to r) Brooks Keith, Zoe Cole,
Lelanda Lee & Andrew Cooley
I'm disappointed by what I perceive to be the lack of preparation and attention of some deputies. The flow of legislation in the HoD can move quickly. The parliamentary procedures can be complex. Reading the Blue Book which holds all the pre-GC reports from committees, commissions, agencies, and boards (CCABs) in advance, studying the agenda for each legislative day, and paying attention to the order of motions, amendments, substitutions, and votes, are imperative. Relying on others in one's deputation to help track legislation and hearings can be very helpful, especially if there are senior deputies in the deputation. GC is not a solitary endeavor, and teamwork among deputations can be the difference to being effective or not.

Jack Finlaw & Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
I'm disappointed by the attempts to restructure via resolutions and the budget without first having a conversation about a vision for a new whole. I think both are wrong-headed and place the cart before the horse, as so many deputies have said at the microphones when they have spoken against various pieces of legislation making those attempts. I have heard many comments in the blogosphere and here at GC about the shortcomings in the current structure and budget, but I haven't heard very many specifics about how they might look different. 

An example of this wrong-headedness is the resolution passed by the HoD, which directs Executive Council to sell the church's headquarters building at 815 Second Avenue. I'm neither opposed nor in favor of selling 815 Second Avenue. I have read and heard the clamor to relocate headquarters to a more geographically central and affordable site. I think that's a good idea. I think a lot of the church's leadership get that sentiment. I spoke against the resolution to sell 815 Second Avenue, because I don't think a decision to sell real estate can be made without appropriate deliberateness within a current context. I am opposed to requiring our board of directors to take action by fiat. As an Executive Council member, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, I cannot succumb to coercion by moral suasion or GC resolution to do something that would violate my fiduciary responsibilities.

Larry Hitt & Christy Shain-Hendricks
I think the closest anyone has come to articulating a new vision has been to call for a unicameral GC with reduced numbers of deputies and bishops in the respective houses. Prior to coming to GC, I was adamant in my opposition to a unicameral GC, because I feared the charism and personae of bishops overwhelming the voices of deputies. Let's face it: some bishops can be bullies, and some deputies can be wimps. Now that I'm here and have seen how informed and strong deputies can hold their own in debate with bishops in legislative committees, I feel less fearful about that with this caveat:  Laity and clergy must have the good sense to elect equipped, strong deputies, and diversity politics must be firmly aligned with a dedicated focus on equipping every identifiable community. My argument for a unicameral GC is that it is the only way to reduce sufficient costs associated with a legislative process, because it reduces the duplication of time and administrative costs associated with the concurrence of legislation in two separate houses.

 Jenny Te Paa, theologian from New
Zealand, who is co-chaplain for the
House of Deputies this GC.
The church says we’ve reduced the length of GC from ten days to eight days, but that’s not entirely truthful. It bothers me that we prevaricate about these kinds of things – being technically accurate, but essentially untruthful. We’ve reduced the number of days when the houses are in legislative sessions, hearing, debating, and voting on resolutions. However, two days prior to the first legislative day, legislative committee chairs, vice chairs, secretaries, and aides attend orientation, and one day prior, the committees convene for the first time. Volunteer supervisors come in one or two days earlier than that.

Mary Kate Rejouis, who, 
along with Mike Houlik, 
organizes the Convention 
worship logistics.
It takes a lot of people to make GC happen, and essential functions like the Secretariats, where the internal processes of both houses churn the legislation, are largely staffed by volunteers under the supervision of too few staff spread very thin. The church has very experienced, long-term staff, and I cannot emphasize, or be grateful enough for, how those staff members bless the church. I’ve heard a number of deputies comment that they are not getting the same level of support and accurate information from the secretariats as in the past. Do the math: declining membership equals budget constriction equals fewer experienced staff equals less staff support.

The transition to less paper and more electronic transmission of information to both deputies and committees have also caused frustration and stress. There are still large numbers of GC participants who do not travel with laptops or electronic notebooks (like iPads), including some who wouldn’t know how to use either if they were given loaners. I think it’s time for all deputies and bishops to make the effort to learn how to use the new technology. It’s our duty as deputies and bishops to become equipped and prepared to do the work of the current century in the modes of the current century, because GC is not returning to the stone ages.

St. Augustine's, NYC, steel band orchestra playing before and
after the Eucharist on Saturday, July 7th.
The hearings where every resolution must be heard have given me a sense of real hope. Thus far, I’ve attended hearings on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (in the legislative committee where I’m vice chair), Budget Priorities, the proposed Anglican Covenant, and Same Sex Blessings. The testimony has been thoughtful, nuanced, and mostly calm. I’ll talk about each of the hearings in a later post.

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