12 June 2009

A chaplain's take on General Convention

The Daily Episcopalian published this article today. It's worth reading.
I think Episcopalians don't know enough about General Convention. That's largely because between Convention years, it hardly ever comes up in the local congregation. It doesn't help that in Convention years General Convention largely comes up in responses to whatever is notorious enough to raise the interest of the commercial media. I realize that here at the CafĂ© I’m largely preaching to the choir; but beyond the Episcopal and Christian blogosphere (and perhaps to some extent within it), the General Convention is, I fear, imagined like the Czar in "Fiddler on the Roof," inspiring prayers not unlike, "May God bless and keep the Czar – far away from us."

In fact in General Convention our deputies make decisions and pass policies that speak to common concerns right down to the life of the person in the pew. This General Convention is no exception. There will certainly be a lot of attention to the flashier issues – how shall we incorporate all the baptized fully into the life of the Church, and how shall we relate to our Anglican siblings around the world, some of whom disagree with us loudly – along with Anglican siblings and others in our own territories. However, there will be many issues raised that will or should affect the life and worship of every Episcopalian.

There is the effort under the Church Medical Trust (a subsidiary of the Episcopal Church Pension Group) to develop a single health insurance program for the Episcopal Church that all dioceses, congregations, and other Episcopal institutions must participate in, and that must be available not only to all clergy but also to lay employees working half time or more. If the plan is approved, within three years (and for many within the next year) this will affect the budget of every congregation. Over time it holds great promise to slow the increase in our health insurance costs. At the same time, Church Medical Trust programs have never before been mandatory for all dioceses and congregations.

There is an extensive revision – really a replacement - of "Lesser Feasts and Fasts," the Church’s publication of information about, and proper lessons and prayers for the feasts and fasts of the Church Year. "Holy Women Holy Men" proposes adding many more observances to the Calendar. For congregations that have daily services this would add many options – indeed, so many as to require some difficult decisions about what to observe and not to observe. There might be disagreement about some of the observances added, and some about the principles used in choosing who to include and who to exclude in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church; but either passage or failure of this revision would affect how we worship.

There have been a number of resolutions regarding issues of our health, including substance abuse, persons with disabilities, HIV/AIDS, and health care at the end of life. Health issues affect all of us, whether directly or indirectly. There are also resolutions on the environment and the economy. There’s even a resolution encouraging dioceses to require candidates for ordination to become conversant in a language other than English.

So, while the hot-button issues will get the most attention from the news media, and will get the most questions from individuals in the pews, there will be many issues addressed that will strike much closer to home. Those of us involved in making the decisions want both to express the best of the Episcopal Church as we know it now, and also the direction the Spirit seems to be leading. We want to succeed in that expression whether we’re considering the ordination of bishops or the health needs of our neighbor in the pew.
The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.