Thursday, August 6, 2015

Have Fun Storming the Castle! Crusty's GenCon Wrap-up

Like most people in the mid-late 1980s, post New Kids on the Block but pre-stockmarket crash, Crusty was indelibly shaped by Rob Reiner’s classic 1987 film The Princess Bride (and, to a lesser extent, the TV show, which was also called Fame).  One line which he has repeatedly endlessly over the years was Miracle Max’s final words to
Inigo, Fezzik, and the Man in Black as they get ready to attack Prince Humperdinck's fortress.  Miracle Max calls out cheerily as they walk away,  “Have fun storming the castle!”  Crusty has repeated this over the years as prelude to any kind of absurd, doomed, or hopeless endeavor.  Their plan is so outlandish; Inigo has already noted how many men are guarding the heavily fortified castle, and there are only three of them.  They are placing their trust in Miracle Max’s miracle pill to resurrect the (mostly! shows how much you know!) dead Man in Black, a pill whose efficacy Miracle Max even doubts.  When asked by his wife (she's not a witch!) if he thinks the pill to resurrect the (mostly) dead Man in Black will work, Max mutters, “It’ll take a miracle.”

As Crusty boarded his filght to Salt Lake City, this is all he could think about:  Have fun storming the castle!  As the handful of readers who slogged through Crusty's GenCon previews (such as they were...he just re-read them and they sound like the jazz odyssey stylings of the revamped Spinal Tap) may have gleaned, he had a lot of strum und drang heading into the triennial fandango in Mormon Central.  This was a moment, Crusty thought, for the church to get a grasp on the myriad challenges facing it – could we respond?
You are witnesses at the birth of Crusty's GenCon Preview, Mark 2!

Well, friends, Crusty has been to five General Conventions, and this one was, by far, the least soul-crushing experience of them all.  Rereading that sentence, Crusty wouldn't change a word of it, strange as it sounds.  Let's recap. 2003 was full of both exultation (we had taken a momentous step with consenting to the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire) and some dread (we had no idea what would happen, or what the consequences would be: were we going to get kicked out of the communion?).  2006 witnessed the upside of electing our first woman primate, followed by an epic legislative meltdown which made Crusty wonder if our structures were even capable of doing what we needed them to do, outlined in gory detail here and here.  2009 saw a dysfunctional budgetary process and financial bloodbath where we restructured without any strategic discussion, solely by defunding, in response to crisis.  In 2012, we witnessed a slow-motion budgetary train wreck in the months leading up to Convention and seemed to blink on the future, establishing a Task Force to restructure but didn’t fund it adequately.

Crusty found a strange feeling stirring inside him during GenCon 2015: much like Bart wondering what this strange feeling was for Homer (it’s respect, it turns out), COD felt a similar unexpected and unfamiliar emotion.  Hope.  Crusty has even cheekily decided to write this post all in Comic Sans, he is so giddy.

To be sure, however, while GenCon 2015 was much more encouraging than Crusty had expected, being Crusty, you can certainly expect that he will throw a turd in the punchbowl as well.  Heretofore follow Crusty’s Pro and Con from GenCon 2015.


MAWWIAGE.  The bwessed event. The dweam within a dweam.  MAWWIAGE is what brought us to Salt Lake City last June.  General Convention 2015 approved, overwhelmingly, to make available marriage rites for same gendered couples and revised the marriage canon accordingly.  As noted previously in this space, Crusty
Priest who presided at Crusty's wedding opened rehearsal with this quote.
wishes we would get out of the whole business of marrying people, and bless civil marriages, but he is certainly pleased by the actions of Convention.  Crusty sat down in secret with his first same gendered couple in 1995 and cobbled together a blessing service from various resources, which Crusty cut and pasted by hand and photocopied.  Crusty put the service together and presided at the ceremony because we were concerned about ecclesial authorities coming down hard, and, as a lay person, Crusty could not be defrocked and was beyond discipline.  COD would also like to point out that the ELCA did what we did six years ago, so he’s glad we finally have caught up to some of our ecumenical partners.  

PRO:  Election of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop.  It may be a surprise to you that some people think Crusty is hopelessly cynical, sarcastic, and jaded.  When Crusty was in a creative writing class in high school, the teacher once said after handing back our short stories, "You kids are way to young to be so cynical."  Crusty replied, "We're way too old not to be."  (#GenerationX).   Yet even Crusty found himself moved by the election of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop -- and will hasten to add he felt the same way in 2006 when Bishop Jefferts Schori was elected, he was present when her name was announced to the House of Deputies.  This election, however, was different in that there was such an overwhelming consensus behind the election: elected on the first ballot with over 70% of the votes cast.  After 1997, when a write-in candidate came in second, and in 2006, when it went five ballots and conservative bishops manipulated the election process (two bishops openly stated they voted for Bishop Jefferts Schori not because they wanted her to be PB, but that a woman primate would cause problems for the Episcopal Church in the broader communion), this election was almost a coronation the consensus was so strong.  However, just as in 2006, we need to look not only at the historic first.  True, Bishop Jefferts Schori was the first woman Presiding Bishop.  Yet she was also the first convert from Roman Catholicism to be PB, the first second-career clergyperson to be PB, the first person with a PhD in the sciences to be PB, and the first person to minister exclusively on the West Coast to be PB.  She was not just the first woman, and her election is indicative of broader changes in The Episcopal Church.  Bishop Curry is the first African American bishop, true, no doubt there.  But he's also the first to be elected on the first ballot since the current system was put in place, and brings such a clear focus on mission and evangelism that his election is also indicative a broader changes in the church.

As cynical and jaded as Crusty was, he was genuinely moved and choked up when Bishop Curry entered the convention hall.  As it happened, Crusty was also standing a few feet away.  Everyone though Bishop Curry would enter through the main entrance, and there was huge crowd on that side of the House of Deputies.  Then, suddenly, a door opened
Do they srsly need nametages?  Like they won't be let on the floor?
about 30 feet to Crusty's left and in walked Bishop Jefferts Schori, Bishop Curry, Bishop Curry's family, and representatives from the diocese of North Carolina.  Crusty was stunned and barely had time to pull out his phone and snap a picture before the crowd quickly realized what was happening and rushed over to his side of the hall, which is why it's so blurry and grainy, about 5 seconds after snapping this a huge crowd of people had swarmed and it was nearly impossible to see.  This is not to say that everything was perfect about this election process, Crusty had some thoughts on some things which need changing here.

MEMORIAL TO THE CHURCH.  Back in April, the Acts8 posse met in Columbus in to work on a Memorial to the church, seeking to revive something which had fallen by the wayside in terms of General Convention.  Luckily we didn’t try to revive absinthe, child labor, or phrenology, other things which last saw their heyday around the same time as the venerable Memorial.  While drafting, the other Acts8 members asked for his historical perspective on memorials, and Crusty replied, “Well, since the most famous Memorial, the Muhlenberg Memorial, was a colossal,
How we would have picked a Presiding Bishop in the 19th century?
Cassandra-like flop in terms of its impact, correctly presaging what needed to be done but the Convention didn’t do anything, sure, let’s do this thing.”  But lo and behold, over 500 people and 30 bishops signed on to what one wag referred to as a “Gassy Sermonette.” (Crusty loved that line and wished he had thought of it.  Crusty immediately said, “I have the new name for my next band: The Gassy Sermonettes.”  Srsly whoever you were in cyberspace who wrote that, the Crust is strong in you, that was awesome.)  We combined the Memorial to the Church with a number of resolutions, some of which Crusty thought had a decent shot at being addressed, some of which Crusty thought would die in committee and never see the light of day.  Then, lo and behold, it worked!  As my colleague Susan Brown Snook has pointed out, a group of people got together, with no money, drafted a memorial and handful of resolutions, and the bulk of them were passed and funded.

Crusty was particular astounded that the unthinkable happened:  the budget was successfully amended not once, but twice.  Like knocking over a Vegas casino in Oceans 11, many had talked about, and actively tried to, amend the proposed budget at General Convention.  Yet the budgetary process at Convention is Chinese Democracy at its finest:  a small group of people draft a document, relying on information largely provided by an even smaller group of people, which shapes the ministry of the church for the next three years and is presented with an often explicit demand for  approval, with barely 48 hours left in Convention, and the direst of apocalyptic scenarios invoked should it not be passed.  Crusty knows there were some who got their nose out of joint because the budget was amended; well, too bad: COD hates to break it to you, but this is what democracy looks like.  We can’t fetishize and laud our glorious democratic polity and then, you know, be angry when, you know, a democratic process plays itself out.  One of the resolutions crafted in Columbus, to “extravangtly fund” church planting, was passed but not funded, and, as part of the budgetary amendment process, was able to be funded. As one colleague opined, “I feel like the dog who caught the car.”  This will help fund new church starts, particularly among the Hispanic/Latino community.

In addition to these uplifting moments of Convention, however, they weren't all Happy Days. 

CON:  The at times bizarre, dysfunctional mistrust between the two Houses of Convention is embarassingly alive and well.  On two separate occasions when Crusty was present in the House of Deputies the phrase "bishops trying to take over the church" were uttered on the floor of the House during debate.  This, however, has nothing on the bizarre turn of events in the House of Bishops during discussion on the resolution proposed to clarify the roles of presiding officers, which included the inclusion of a stipend for the President of the House of Deputies.  One bishop actually spoke of a "concerted attack on the authority of bishops", while another talked about how the role of President of House of Deputies had expanded without any conversation or discussion, which, in turn, devolved into a snarky comment by one bishop that the current Presiding Bishop had expanded the role of the office of PB without conversation or discussion.  All of this on the floor, while the HOB was in session, streamed for all the world to see.  Crusty thought, "Good God, I wonder what they talk like when they're in closed session!"

This is yet another reason why Crusty argues for a unicameral General Convention: there continues to be mistrust and suspicion between the House of Deputies and House of Bishops.  Crusty knows one thing for sure, and that is meeting separately and regularly offering unchallenged caricatures of the other House is quite possibly the one thing which will never move us beyond the current mistrust.  When COD has dealt with conflict, one of the first things he tries to do is to get the parties to stop talking about each other, and begin talking to each other.

Crusty also realized, as he pointed out here, that the current bicameral structure has the added detriment of effectively disenfranchising either the House of Bishops or House of Deputies, depending on the situation.  Since we deal with complicated issues with barely hours left in Convention, the House of initial action gets to have a through debate and proposed amendments, while the House that is not the one of initial action is usually told, more or less, just to pass what is in front of them otherwise it won't get passed at all and trust us somebody somewhere will try to remember to fix it later.

CON:  No major substantive structural changes passed.  The Episcopal Resurrection group, which also includes some of the Acts8 posse, did propose a measure, which did pass, which allows for joint sessions of the HOD and HOB to be held, perhaps as baby steps for a potential unicameral (due for a second reading in 2018).  Otherwise, no major restructuring resolutions to General Convention -- which means any substantive change is now kicked down to 2022 at the soonest, since most would require constitutional changes, which require two consecutive Conventions to approve something, which will now mean 2018 and 2021 with any changes coming into effect for the 2022-2025 triennium.  True, they did vote to get ride of all the Standing Commissions, but a) actually added money to the meeting budget, so not sure how this is redirecting funds towards other mission priorities, and b) said that Executive Council would be "guided" by past commitments in determining which Task Forces to set up for the triennium, so I'm guessing we'll get a bunch of Task Force which look a lot like the current Standing Committee structure, only this time instead of being agreed upon and accountable to and reflecting the priorities as voted on by Convention it'll be whatever Exec Council feels like, and most likely just a re-creation of what we already have.  So even getting rid of the CCABs wasn't doing much.

CON:  Continued lack of clarity about what GenCon can do and/or should do, which, in turn, reinforces a tendency towards localism.  Crusty wrote extensively here that quite often resolutions ask conflicting and/or confusing things for GenCon to do, and picked a couple of resolutions for 2015, more or less at random, which exemplified this.  Neither of those resolutions passed in the format they were proposed, but, in Crusty's mind, Convention picked a doozy of a resolution to continue to show we don't really know what Convention is for sometimes: 

Here follows the saga of Resolution D050:

Resolved,  the House of Deputies concurring, That a bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority may authorize a congregation to use “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” (BCP pp. 400-405) at a principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if the Eucharistic Prayer is written and submitted in advance of its use to the Bishop; while the BCP states that the rite “is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” the BCP does not forbid its use in such contexts.

First off, there's the larger question of why this is even needed.  There are at least nine approved Eucharistic prayers that Crusty knows about; Crusty has served in settings as diverse as small rural congregation and campus chaplain; and always was able to find an approved Eucharistic prayer that more or less fit the situation.  I am not even sure why this resolution is needed, and frankly was unconvinced by any of the examples offered during debate

Regardless, Crusty initially argued that this resolution should be out of order since it contradicts the plain meaning of the rubric.  The rubric clearly states that "An Order for Celebrating Holy Eucharist" is "not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist."  Yet the resolution proposes to allow the diocesan bishop to do exactly that.  Crusty had a deputy friend approach the parliamentarian, challenging whether it was in order.  The parliamentarian said it was in order, and then Crusty and his colleague pondered challenging the ruling, but, since it was approaching the end of Convention, this meant that the House could spend its time in endless parliamentary wrangling instead of actually doing its work.  So we made the decision not to challenge the ruling and instead try to express concerns about the resolution itself.  It didn't work, and it passed, fairly overwhelmingly, showing, yet again, quite often people don't even know what they're asking Convention to do.

So what did Convention do?

What Convention is authorizing here is mind boggling: here we have, in one resolution, sweepingly authorized that what the BCP does not explicitly forbid is permitted.  Think about that, one more time.  The resolution states that since "the BCP does not forbid its use in
Maybe the Sicilian is in the House of Deputies.
such contexts", the bishop has the authority to authorize the Order for Celebrating Eucharist, despite the clearest plainest most obvious meaning of the BCP that it should NOT be used in this context.

This shows a profound lack of understanding between a rubric and a canon.

Given our ecclesiological subsidiarity, General Convention, from its outset in 1789, very clearly allowed for leeway in local governance, and only laid out what MUST be done in the Constitution and Canons.  So long as they did not violate the Constitution and Canons or any civil or criminal laws, dioceses could organize their business as they chose, and, so long as they did not violate the diocesan Constitution and Canons or Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons, parishes could do the same.  Thus we have local pecularities, like the Tennessee dioceses requiring a 2/3rds vote to elect a bishop, and some parishes where only the Vestry votes on the budget, not the parish as a whole.  The local level cannot contradict any higher levels in terms of canons.

This resolution mistakenly extends that canonical subsidiarity understanding to the rubrics, namely, that anybody is free to do whatever they want so long as the BCP does not explicitly forbid it.  Well, guess what was the only thing the 1789 Convention excluded from local option?  Yes, that's right -- LITURGY.  It enacted a single Book of Common Prayer for use and required that it be used.  Violation of the rubrics are grounds for clergy discipline!  Subsidiarity was NOT assumed for liturgy.  Use of locally authorized liturgies is carefully defined circumstances in Title II and in the Book of Common Prayer, and, by the way, the use of "An Order for Eucharist" as a Trojan horse for local liturgies happens to be EXPLICITLY NOT PERMITTED in the Book of Common Prayer.  I honestly don't know how many times I have to keep pointing that out.

Not only do they not exemplify canonical subsidiarity, rubrics function differently than canons.  They lay out what SHOULD be done, and, when there are permitted options, they give those options, like "stand or kneel."  

Here's an example.  The Prayer Book mentions water in baptism.  But nowhere does it say that you HAVE to use water, and it does NOT EXPLICITLY FORBID anything else.  So why can't we use rose petals to baptize someone?  According to D050, we can, just like we can use Fresca and Ritz Crackers for communion, because, after all, they are not explicitly forbidden (though they are mentioned in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which speaks of Baptism and the Lord's Supper and the elements "ordained by him", it just says they must be "used" and does not EXPLICITLY FORBID other elements.  Hey, we use bread and wine at our 8am spoken service, it just says they "must" be used, doesn't say "at every service and at every time").  While this resolution places the permission to authorize this rite to the diocesan bishop, it does not do so not under the diocesan bishop's authority as laid out on p. 13 of the BCP, or in Title II, but solely on the grounds of what it lays out here in this resolution, this authority is delegated to the diocesan bishop by this resolution because this resolution has determined what is not forbidden is permitted, and then qualifies that permission in this case to the diocesan.  It's the most circular and baseless argument I could possibly think of, but it passed overwhelmingly, with absolutely no clue as to what precedent it has established.  Convention is on record as saying what is not explicitly forbidden is permitted.  Great job, GenCon. 

Remember, this is the same body which has spent the better part of 20 years variously tying itself up in knots about and endlessly discussed rites of marriage, as well as at this very Convention discussing in addition a process for revising the Book of Common Prayer, and whether to authorize a list of liturgical commemorations.  The same body that did that also, with very little discussion or debate, decided that anybody can do whatever the f**k they feel like liturgically if it's not forbidden by the rubrics.  So why did we even bother to propose a process to revise the BCP?  Why even bother authorizing commemorations? Why even bother with authorizing rites for same sex marriage?  Sure, the BCP says "man and woman" but nowhere does it explicitly forbid same sex couples from marrying.  Mischief managed!  No need to debate anything liturgically anymore!

Apart this simply resolution being, in Crusty's eyes, at best out of order and at worst a bad idea that continues to erode any "common" aspects to "common" prayer, it continues to show that, at times, we simply don't know what we are asking General Convention to do.

CON:  Age discrimination is alive and well at General Convention.  In addition to the strange, simmering animosity expressed at times on the floor of one House towards the other, the other moment that caused Crusty's jaw to drop was the casual age discrimination that went on, practically unremarked. in both the HOB and HOD.  

In the House of Bishops, in the course of a session discussing the question of same sex marriage, one of the bishops joked that "We've been discussing matters of sexuality since before Bishop Rowe was born," referencing the youngest bishop in the House of Bishops.  Using someone's age as a punchline for a joke should be utterly unacceptable, yes there were some low-level chuckles and nobody said a thing.

Imagine this:  after a discussion about issues of race and racism, someone cracks, "Hey, we've been arguing about equal treatment of African Americans in the church since Bishop Curry's ancestors are slaves -- c'mon, Amirite, people?"

Or, instead of the Bishop Rowe crack, after that same discussion of same sex marriage, someone said: "We've been discussing matters of sexuality since Bishop Robinson was in the closet and married to a woman!"

Of course not.  Yet nobody said a f****g word.  In the House of Bishops, a roomful of old people, of course it's OK to make fun of the one person who is (barely) 40. 

Then, in the House of Deputies, the following occurred ON THE SAME DAY.  During the debate on developing policies towards use of alcohol at church events, a deputy stood up, asked the official youth delegation to stand, and implored the House to pass this for the sake of the youth.

This was so utterly, completely bonkers I had to look around and make sure it was actually happening.  Once I did, I tweeted out my astonishment that one member of the House of Deputies could use other members of the House as a prop for a floor speech.  Can you imagine what would happen if someone did this during the debate on authorizing rites for same sex marriage:

"I'd like to ask all the gay members of the House to stand, and implore you to pass this resolution on same sex marriage for their sake."

Or this when voting to consent to the election of Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop:

"I'd like to ask all the black members of the House to stand, and implore you to consent to Bishop Curry's election as PB for their sake."

Of course not.  But nobody said a f****g word.  Until Crusty tweeted about it.

My tweet got circulated quite a bit, and someone even stood up and referenced it from one of the microphones.  This propmpted a response from the Vice President of the House of Deputies, who tweeted me.  He noted that the action was out of order, Deputies should only address the chair and should ask permission to address anyone else in the House.  To which Crusty thought:  That's it?  Only noting that it's out of order?  Not noting that even if the Chair granted the deputy permission, it's utterly condescending and unacceptable?  

And we look around and wonder why there aren't more young people in the church.  The cold, hard, reality is that a good number of folks are so utterly tone deaf to the needs and concerns of youth and young adults, and the church has spent a generation abandoning any effort to reach out to them.  While we remain addicted to structure and ADDED money for meetings even while we cut CUTTING EVERY STANDING COMMISSION, the budget cut funding for youth ministry, on top of spending a generation gutting campus chaplaincies.  The cluelessness of the Convention as a whole towards age discrimination and marginalization of youth shows that the church is reaping what it sows.  

Well, friends, those are some initial thoughts.  It was the least soul-crushing General Convention I have attended, but, like all General Conventions, the real issues will be addressed in the triennium.  Crusty fully expects there will be those who seek to recreate the Standing Commission structure more or less as task forces of Executive Council, and those who will seek to undo the budget amendments to fund church planting.  It's in the interim bodies and work between Conventions that the things passed at Convention either thrive or die.  As Mad Eye Moody would say, "Constant vigilance!" 


  1. One editorial comment: In the sentence "will hasten to add he felt the same way in 2006 when Bishop Jefferts Schori was elected, he was present when her name was announced to the House of Bishops" I think you mean "to the House of Deputies."

    My reaction to much of General Convention is that someone needs to write a well-researched and accessible book on exactly what authority General Convention has and what it can and cannot do.I heard some people say that the BCP was a constitutional document and others say it wasn't. I heard people bad around the phrase "constitutional crisis" when we talked about revising the marriage canons. I heard some people say that General Convention had no authority over the Church Pension Group (vis-a-vis divestment) and others say that it does (else why would it elect trustees?). As you noted, "Rite III" was never intended to be carte blanche for any Eucharistic liturgy to be used that was approved by any liturgically moderately-trainied bishop, but General Convention says it's OK, so.....

    I would just like some clarity on what the function of Executive Council, General Convention, and the various officers thereof is so that those younger newcomers (and veterans who should know better) don't just say "Well of COURSE we can do this, we're General Convention!"

    Oh, and you forgot to mention the near disaster that was the Treasurer's election--HOD elected one and HOB disagreed and sent their choice back to HOD, having presumably convinced the HOD's initial choice to drop out for the good of all.

  2. Perhaps some of the confusion over what is permitted and what is forbidden stems from the fact that many good Episcopalians were not raised in the Episcopal Church but came to it from other denominations, where the polity is different. When I was a parishioner in a parish in the great Midwest, the Rector was clearly incapable of leading the parish. A member of the Vestry (who had come to the Episcopal Church from the Presbyterians) said to me, "Well, let's just fire the Rector and get another one." My long explanation followed. One would hope that deputies (and Bishops) at GenCon would be more cognisant of Episcopal polity. Bring on the rubrical confusion.

    1. Very good point. I have a sincere question - I'm one of those newly minted Episcopalians with my prior life spent as a Presbyterian then a Methodist. How can an interested but non-vocational Episcopalian learn more about canon, rubric, and polity? What resources are available?

    2. There's a link to the Constitution and Canons on the General Conv. website if that helps:

    3. Sally, Bexley Seabury (where I am academic dean) offers an online course in the history and background of Constitution & Canons, and Church Divinity School of the Pacific does as well. Those are two resources which come to mind (mainly because I've taught them both at various times).

  3. From an OYP member, many thanks, CoD.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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