Rector’s Note: Why Diocesan Conventions matter-10.26.23
Last Saturday, St. Peter’s three elected parish delegates (Jenna Linke, Laurel Mosteller and Charlie Hannum) and myself attended the Diocesan Convention, three of us in person and one on Zoom. We voted for representatives to diocesan committees, voted on resolutions, approved the diocesan budget and heard reports on diocesan programming. My gratitude goes out to all who put this complex day-long meeting together, arranging electronic voting, putting together on-line documentation and reports, setting out sustaining breakfast and lunch and leading us in beautiful music and prayer.
It was a long day. But well worth the time and the occasional tedium.
This practice in the Episcopal Church of representative voting stems from our own origin as a church shaped by the values and practices of the United States after the American Revolution. Part of our break with the Church of England, who is still a close relative, was adopting the democratic pattern that marked our country at its founding. This was not without disagreement among those 18th century American Anglicans, a name that wouldn’t be popular for our global communion until a century later.
When I first joined the Episcopal Church, I found the practice of annual meetings confusing. It was very different than the centralized and top-down decision making that I was used to in the church that shaped me. And it seemed a bit tedious to me. So much structure and reports and studies and Roberts Rules and institutional concern.
But I realized that while representative structures are time consuming and laborious, they are essential to inclusion. The Episcopal Church studies. It discusses. Its members disagree and come around. It votes and votes and votes again. And once it has decided, those decisions get feet. It took a while for the church to come to its senses on issues from ordaining women and LGBTQIA+ people, to speaking out for human rights, to repenting of its patterns of racism – but it has worked on those things and continues to work on them. It’s many reports and resolutions bely a church that attempts to think things through and reach at least a plurality of agreement.
“I found it very important and moving to be there,” Laurel Mosteller told me as she visited my office earlier today. “I love listening to what’s happening around the diocese and connecting with our fellow Episcopalians. It’s inspiring.”
At this year’s Diocesan Convention I was particularly moved, convicted and challenged by the discussion that we had on Israel and Palestine, in the wake of the start of the war there and the violence that continues. A resolution had been put forth to ask the next General Convention of the church to make it a policy priority to end Israel’s apartheid of Palestinians and to influence policy and legislation on the issue. That meant that the participants at our Diocesan Convention were to vote on whether to bring this question to next year’s General Convention, which will be in June of 2024 in Lexington KY.
But first there was discussion. Lots of it. In the wake of an attack on Israel, in the face of grievous death tolls in both Israel and the Occupied Territory of Palestine, in the face of dislocation, and an imminent ground attack from Israel and unrest in the region, was this the language to use at this time? several asked. In the wake of decades of mistreatment of Palestinians and their containment in an open-air prison, how could we delay in condemning a practice that has been wrong all along? Others said. Would this resolution alienate neighbors and partners in our parishes and throughout the diocese who were still in shock and horror at kidnappings and assassinations and ongoing attack? some wondered. Would we lose traction on the importance of this issue if we didn’t speak up now? others countered.
Several times the question was called for a vote. And several times we made room for more comments.
As I listened to people that I love and admire and respect speak both for and against this particular resolution, I heard a consistent call for a just peace, for concern for Palestinians who have long suffered under unjust laws and policies, and deep anguish for the violence both in the Holy Land and at home. The thoughtful, passionate, and multi-sided discussion reminded me what loving dialogue sounds like. I agreed with both the pros and cons of the conversation. And then I had to vote.
“I think we were listening well to one another,” Laurel said. “We were considering different points of view. We held space for it. I liked the fact that the bishop said this is important, let’s hear what people have to say.”
Ultimately the resolution was struck down. The bishop asked that there be no applause or outcry, that we receive the decision in silence. The hundreds who attended complied. I quietly cried at the pain of it and the pain in our world.
At the end of the convention a spontaneous resolution was put forth calling for a just peace in the Holy Land. That passed overwhelmingly. What remains is the hope that by General Convention of next year, the representatives of the church that will gather from dioceses all over the Episcopal Church will have a loving, passionate and effective conversation and decision about what a just peace requires there.
Meanwhile, you can be proud of your delegates from St Peter’s who joined in the process with love, discernment and care. This is the second convention where lay people had individual votes rather than having to vote as a parish block. It is a testimony to a church that is willing to change and to listen and to repent when necessary. That makes me proud.