Welcome to the first of COD’s wrapups on General Convention. In this post Crusty will be looking at how General Convention dealt with issues of Prayer Book revision and liturgical reform. For the next post, COD will break down how the Convention addressed issues
|COD is here, and he's in effect.|
So let’s get started: Here I go, here I go, Here I go again — What’s Crusty’s weakness? General Convention!
1. Prayer Book Revision.
Crusty has broken this down in previous posts in past years, but it is revealed time and again at each General Convention: we are in a profound ecclesiological crisis in the Episcopal Church. On the one hand, in our polity, we created a unitary form of government: all authority is vested in General Convention, since it is the only entity with the authority to change the Constitution and Canons and Book of Common Prayer. Yet the reality is we have a unitary form of government with an entity that, at times, seems to have no idea what it is for and what the nature and scope of its authority is. COD broke this down in detail in his discussion of Resolution D050 from General Convention 2015. Things have not gotten better, friends, with how General Convention sometimes resembles a shambolic stumbling towards incomprehensible resolutions.
Let’s take Prayer Book Revision, shall we? COD will lay it out step by step.
--The 2015 General Convention charged the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to "prepare a plan for comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer." The SCLM did so: in its report it offered two possible paths. One was a comprehensive revision, to be begun by action of the 2018 General Convention. The second was a deeper engagement with the current Book of Common Prayer, authorization and engagement of alternative liturgies already available, and new translations of the BCP into languages used by The Episcopal Church.
SCLM was asked to do something, and it did it.
--After a long, passionate, and respectful debate that occupied several hours of floor time over two days, the House of Deputies passed Resolution A068 to authorize and begin this process of revision of the Book of Common Prayer.
--The resolution then went to the House of Bishops, where the situation was completely different. There was no long, sustained, passionate debate. A bishop stood and moved a substitute resolution to replace A068. Portions of the resolution are incomprehensible gibberish. It was clear that some bishops interpreted some resolved clauses in wildly different ways. After a brief discussion, it was moved, voted on, and passed.
And the reality is, this whole resolution is a cynical con by the House of Bishops. At times it's gibberish because they didn't have the courage to say and do what they really intended. COD will reflect on a few resolves, break down the gibberish in them, and then translate into real speak from HOBSpeak.
A) The first resolved:
That the 79th General Convention create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR), the membership of which will be jointly appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and will report to the appropriate legislative committee(s) of the 80th General Convention, ensuring that diverse voices of our church are active participants in this liturgical revision by constituting a group with leaders who represent the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church, to include, 10 laity, 10 priests or deacons, and 10 Bishops;
|Wish I could tie you up in my shoes/Make you feel UnCrusty Too|
So they a proposing to create a task force, with members appointed by the presiding officers, to deal with matters relating to liturgy, and that reports to the General Convention. Huh.
We already have this, it's called the SCLM.
They nowhere explain why they feel the need for a commission like this, why it shouldn't be the SCLM or why they need another commission. Let's be honest. It's because they don't have the courage to say: "We don't like Ruth Meyers and the SCLM, we want another commission that we have more control over," which is the whole reason for this substitute to begin with.
Crusty is not sure what to make of the following. In barely one day, the House of Bishops:
--They created a whole new commission even though WE ALREADY HAVE ONE THAT DOES THIS because they don't like the SCLM and its perceived dominance by Ruth Meyers.
--In the debate on re-admitting Cuba to the Episcopal Church, in one speech, a bishop specifically called out Sally Johnson, the chancellor of the House of Deputies, by name and said her interpretation of the Constitution and Canons was wrong. Then, another bishop stood and asked for that speech to be transcribed into the minutes to it could be part of the official record. My jaw dropped at the spitefulness of wanting to put the HOB's opinion in calling out a specific person (and that's all it is, BTW, an opinion) in the official record.
--The House of Bishops has regularly and routinely resisted compensation for the President of the House of Deputies, often couching it as some kind of guerrilla action towards having a co-Primate.
--In the Conference Committee appointed to reconcile the conflicting resolutions on Prayer Book revision, despite talking about engaging the diversity of our church in their resolution, the conference committee had three white male bishops on it. And nobody said anything until the House of Bishops was called out on Twitter. No, check that, Crusty called them out, COD tweeted out his shock right away. As mentioned above, Crusty was sitting in the House of Bishops when they announced the all white male conference committee, despite all their language about diversity in their resolution, and my jaw dropped. Crusty immediately tweeted out that the House of Bishops appointed an all white male conference committee. One bishop replied to me and said "No the PB did, not the House." To which COD replied, "Thanks for the correction. PB appointed an all white male conference committee and none of the 170 bishops said anything while everyone I was sitting with noticed."
COD does not want to impugn motives to individual bishops. Yet in barely one day in the House of Bishops, and entity over 90% male, there is a series of potentially troubling actions regarding women in authority and leadership in the church. One of the most important takeaways for Crusty from anti-racism training has been sorting out issues around intent and how things are received or perceived. While the House of Bishops may not have intended any of these, nonetheless there can seem to be an accumulated suspicion and insensitivity with regards to women in leadership.
So: Translation from HOBSpeak: "We don't like Ruth Meyers or the SCLM so we're creating another commission with more bishops on it." Here's the other Trojan Horse here. Standing Commissions have 5 bishops, 5 clergy, and 10 lay persons by canon. This Commission has 10 bishops, 10 clergy, and 10 lay persons. Not only can they again express the corporate disdain for female leadership from deputies, this will also allow for greater episcopal and clerical influence and input by circumventing the canonical requirements for Standing Commissions.
B) Let's take Resolved #4:
"That this Convention memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a Prayer Book of the church preserving the psalter, liturgies, The Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and Trinitarian Formularies ensuring its continued use..."
Here's just a few reasons why this resolved is utter gibberish:
--Why specifically name some sections of the BCP and not others?
--The Lambeth Quadrilateral is a subset of the historical documents, not its own section, so are the other historical documents somehow not in the same category?
--It mentions the Psalter but does not mention, for instance, the lectionary or calendar. The Trinitarian Formularies are scattered throughout, so it appears to be singling out a specific liturgical aspect that needs to be preserved. The ENTIRETY of the BCP is what is authorized by General Convention. They are throwing together a hodgepodge of elements from different liturgical components for reasons apparently known only to the 50 drafters of this resolution.
--These particular sections and/or smorgasborg of BCP-related entities are to be "preserved" and the BCP is to be "memorialized". What is the difference between preserving these sections, and memorializing the Book as a whole? Does this mean we can alter other aspects of the 1979 BCP, but not these sections? If the intent is for the 1979 BCP to be authorized for use, then why name specific sections that cannot be changed? Do they mean these particular sections shouldn't be changed in subsequent revisions?
--What does "memorialize" mean? The bishops themselves didn't know what this meant. Let's repeat that. The bishops themselves could not agree on what this verb meant. One bishop stated that this verb authorized the use of the 1979 Prayer Book in perpetuity for use. Another bishop
|How long till the HOB gets it right?|
--What kind of use? Officially authorized? Occasionally authorized? Authorized under the provisions of the bishop's authority under Title II? If the resolved clause wants to authorize the BCP as an ongoing liturgical resource, then why can't it just say that?
So: Translation from HOB speak: "We want to move into realm of liturgical usage where there are multiple, authorized liturgical resources, like in the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces, but are either unable to express ourselves in the English language and/or we don't want people really to know what we are proposing."
C) And this is how we will do it:
That bishops engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church, and that each diocese be urged to create a liturgical commission to collect, reflect, teach and share these resources with the TFLPBR; and be it further
So...we are basically now throwing this to dioceses and local bishops? Congrats, House of Bishops, instead of one SCLM, you're creating 110 diocesan-based SCLMs. What could possibly go wrong? COD is all for letting liturgical revision be grassroots based, but a number of dioceses can't even run a functioning ordination process. Crusty can see two possibilities emerge:
a) This could really go off the rails and some very...interesting liturgies could emerge; and
b) Many dioceses just won't participate. Crusty knows clergy in dioceses where use of Enriching Our Worship is not permitted, let alone the kind of liturgical spaghetti throwing on the wall being proposed here.
And then there's
D) That the TFLPBR in consultation with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons is directed to propose to the 80th General Convention revisions to the Constitution and Canons to enable The Episcopal Church to be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission, attending to prayer book revision in other provinces of the Anglican Communion
Huh? Now we're proposing Constitutional and canonical revisions, in addition to any liturgical revisions to the BCP, without giving any indication of what they might be? They're doing two things with this resolved: a) Saying we should make propose Constitutional and canonical changes without giving any hint as to what they might be, because of b) the gibberish and jargon that makes up the last half of the sentence: "be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission..." Damn, this reads like the blurb for a book called "Purpose Driven Liturgy". If only they could have included "nimble."
So: Translation from HOB speak: "We want to move into realm of liturgical usage where they are multiple, authorized liturgical resources, like in the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces, but are either unable to express ourselves in the English language and/or we don't want people really to know what we are proposing, and we already said this in a previous resolved and are kind of saying it again."
E) In discussion in the House of Bishops, and again in the legislative committee where this was sent, there was concern raised that this resolution not be amended by the House of Deputies, because that would send it back to bishops, which may mean that nothing got passed at this Convention before time ran out...which brings me to my to a point COD has made before in advocating for a unicameral General Convention.
Our bicameral structure is undemocratic in that it routinely disenfranchises one house. At every single Convention, there comes a point, towards the end, when legislation starts piling up, and people say: "We can't amend this because if we do, it goes back to the other house, and it may not get passed, which means we end up not doing anything about this particular matter." This happened with Title III and Title IV revisions in 2006 and 2009, for instance.
At this Convention, the House of Deputies was disenfranchised in Prayer Book reform. The bishops submitted a substitute, the conference committee just accepted it the substitute so that something would get passed, and the HOD passed it. The HOD had a long, involved, passionate debate, and none of it mattered.
And, BTW, according to comments in the House of Bishops, 50 bishops were consulted and had input into this resolution. And they produced something that nobody seems to know what it means.
|As Janet once told us, "This is a story about Control."|
"Episcopal Church Approves Prayer Book Revision"
"Episcopal Church Kills Prayer Book Revision"
Also, this resolution doesn't provide any funding.
To give credit where it is due:
Crusty is actually not opposed to moving towards something like what the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces have done, with more than one officially and fully authorized liturgical resource. If this is what the House of Bishops wanted in their resolution, then why in God's name couldn't they say that?
And this resolution does a fine job of naming important elements like including creation care as an emphasis, lifting up inclusive language, stating the need to incorporate electronic and online resources in liturgical revision, calling for newer and better translations into French, Spanish, and Creole, and for embracing the range of diversity within our church in any process of liturgical revision.
F) There's also the larger Commission question. The establishment of this commission also reflects the way in which this General Convention officially ended any real efforts at restructuring or reform. One of the few recommendations General Convention adopted from the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church was the elimination of most Standing Commissions. The 2015 Convention provided only for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, and Constitution and Canons.
By Crusty's count -- and he may have missed a few -- this General Convention re-established or created 39 commissions or task forces. We now have more than we had in 2015, and we now will spend more on them.
And guess what: we may it worse. Standing Commissions, agencies, and boards were defined by canon, had standardized membership which had equal numbers of clergy and laity, and had clear lines
|General Convention never gonna get it.|
[BTW, Crusty predicted this in his 2015 wrapup -- COD said we would eventually have more commissions with unclear lines of accountability and reporting.]
Crusty sees this as a extension of a trend with General Convention: despite being the only entity created which has the authority to do anything, it seems be unclear, at times, in just what it does. Instead of having the kind of unitary governance laid out in the Constitution, we instead get a black hole of unitary muddling.
2. The What Is Not Forbidden Rabbit Hole
Crusty would like to round out this initial post by weighing in on what he sees as a second very troubling ecclesiological trend: the what is not forbidden is permitted maxim.
COD tried to sound the alarm in his reflections on Resolution D050 from 2015: this is where General Convention authorized "An Order for Celebrating Holy Eucharist" for people to write new eucharistic prayers for use on Sunday celebrations. The rubrics clearly, crystal clearly, state that "It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist."
It could not be more clear. Yet the ruling from the platform, and in the debate in the House of Deputies, it was stated that since it did not explicitly forbid it, then it was permissible. Even though the rubric itself does not permit it, it didn't forbid it. And it passed, overwhelmingly.
Crusty said it then: if this is the case, then why even have a Prayer Book or a General Convention? We either have to craft canons, legislation, and rubrics that account for every possibility, or else we don't need them at all because we can pretty much do whatever we want. For instance, where does it say we HAVE to use bread and wine? Why can't I use Fresca and Cheez-Its? There's nothing in the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book that forbids it. Why can't I baptize with rose petals instead of water? Sure, there's a Canon that recognizes baptisms done with water, but it doesn't EXPLICTLY say that baptisms performed with other elements are not valid.
This came up again in the debate of the admission of the diocese of Cuba. Look, COD supported admitting Cuba and wanted to find a way to do it. But again this "what is not forbidden is permitted" argument was trotted out. Sure, there was no mechanism for admitting an extra-provincial diocese -- so the argument that "what is not forbidden is permitted."
One bishop even quoted the revered White & Dykman, authors of the definitive Annotated Constitution and Canons. (Crusty keeps his two-volume White & Dykman in the bathroom BTW.) He quoted from White & Dykman that what is not forbidden is permitted. It was hard to follow what was happening live, but Crusty think the reference quoted was the one he found on p. 99
|As Bey might say, "If you like then you shoulda made a canon of it|
And BTW, it is now, apparently, being applied retroactively to history. Another bishop brought up ordination of women in the Cuba debate, saying "We did that because what was not forbidden was permitted." This is utter nonsense. Everyone at that time knew perfectly well that the ordination of women was not permitted under the Constitution and Canons. It was defeated narrowly in 1973, which is why the irregular ordinations took place in 1974 and 1975. It is why only retired bishops presided at these irregular ordinations. Any engagement with the historical record will show women's ordination advocates took these bold and prophetic actions BECAUSE it was not permitted. The bishops involved were censured and the House of Bishops voted to require the irregular ordinations be regularized by the dioceses where those clergy were resident because they had been irregular.
Crusty will sound the alarm again: using What Is Not Forbidden is Permitted can lead us to some very dark places. It can reflect whatever is animating the church at a given time.
Don't believe me? The one reason The Episcopal Church never had legislated segregation was because we had a canonical governance structure. Other Christian denominations created non-geographic areas that were for African-American congregations; notoriously the Methodist Church created a Central Conference for African-American congregations. From 1883 to 1940, various proposals were put forward at EVERY General Convention to created some form of legislated segregation. What was to prevent pro-segregation forces from saying, "There's nothing that forbids this so we're going to set one up"?
Don't believe me? There's nothing that explicitly forbids a diocese from seceding from the Episcopal Church and joining another province of the Anglican Communion, like the Diocese of Forth Worth tried to do by becoming a missionary diocese of the Southern Cone, so long as it doesn't try to take any property with it. The abandonment of communion canon only applies to seeking to be admitted to body not in communion with this church, whereas other provinces of the Communion are in communion with us. Nowhere it becoming a missionary diocese of another province of the communion forbidden, so it must be permitted. But you know for damn sure there is no way this would be countenanced by the General Convention. What is not forbidden is permitted serves to reflect what "we" think at any particular time.
It can foster a climate of lawlessness in the church where we already routinely ignore some canons. It calls into question our entire governance: why even hold a General Convention, why even make Constitutional and canonical changes, why bother at all when we can decide at certain times they just don't matter? Crusty will undoubtedly be called heartless to the suffering of Cuban Episcopalians or somehow opposed to matters of justice. That's not the case. There were more than two options here. The choice was not between not admitting Cuba and doing whatever Convention wanted to do. Just like there were all sorts of options other than making Rite III into whatever people wanted. We just trotted out "what is not forbidden" and moved on. This is a troubling ecclesiological development, one, if it persists, can serve to undermine our already shaky ecclesiology.
Sidenote: Some may think that because there are some hard words here for the House of Bishops, Crusty is somehow anti-bishop. In the truly lamentable and toxic atmosphere that characterizes relationships between our two houses, some may even think COD is part of that shadowy deep state that is trying to destroy the episcopacy. Seriously, it is odd to think of reasonable people debunking flat earth and faked moon landings but suddenly see Game of Thrones-like conspiracies around every corner once they get to General Convention every three years. Crusty has had hard words for the House of Deputies, too -- I once compared it to Chinese Democracy and Tammany Hall, for instance. COD is on record for saying repeatedly there are systemic problems with the entire structure of General Convention, he is not singling out the bishops or the deputies. The whole thing has some serious dysfunction.
Sidenote 2: COD has also sometimes been accused of being overly critical of others' prose. This is not being grammar police. Legislation passed at General Convention shapes the overall course of ministry in aspects of the church, one should think we should be able actually to say what we are trying to do instead of just getting something passed and then letting people figure it out. COD is not sorry for asking for accountability for a nearly two-week gathering that we spend three years prepping for and which we spend millions of dollars on, and asking it to do more than pass poorly written, vague resolutions in order to do something, anything, ahead of adjournment. If we want to run our church through barely comprehensible resolutions drafted by a small group of people the night before, there's quicker and cheaper ways to do that than General Convention. Also, feel free to critique anything I've written. There's a long paper trail for me, and Crusty stands by what he has written. Crusty published a church history book with Church Publishing, was lead drafter on the United Methodist-Episcopal Church proposal, I've drafted and edited dozens of resolutions submitted to General Convention as primary staff support to a Standing Commission from 2003-2009. COD is glad to be held accountable for what he has written, and only asks others being willing to do so as well.
Crusty's General Convention Wrap-Up Part 2: Electric Boogaloo will be coming out next week.
Enjoy your Tafelpuber! David Simmons, who coined this, has already trademarked it so you have to pay him 5 cents every time you use it.