I quipped the other day that I’m starting to think about the General Convention in Anaheim pretty much all the time right now. The start is less than a week away as I write this, and things are heating up a bit.
There are a couple of important things that I really think we’re going to need to ask ourselves, and they’re not things I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere.
1. Is it possible for the General Convention to set policy for the Episcopal Church?
Certainly the Convention is charged with creating changes to the Constitution, Canons and worship life of the Episcopal Church, but is it realistic to believe that Convention can find a way to manage the tactical day to day operations of the Episcopal Church. Lots of deputies attending General Convention believe that it can and should have responsibility for that level of management. And yet for the last nine years, the one constant refrain I’ve heard is the frustration of the Church Center staff with the actions of General Convention and the folks of General Convention being frustrated with the actions of the Church Center staff.
Many of the Church Center staff were members of Convention or active in the Episcopal Church’s interim bodies before they were appointed or hired to their present positions in the Church Center. So it stands to reason that they shared the same frustrations that so many have on the outside of the staff. So, since most of the Church Center folks I’ve talked with now are frustrated with the Convention folks, I’d be very curious to hear what sorts of experiences they’ve had which have changed their minds.
I’m not at all convinced that such a large body at the Episcopal Church and/or General Convention can really manage itself by the direction of a once every three year convention. I’m thinking that even Executive Council is too large to be very effective – and they are maybe a 1/10th the size of Convention and meet something like 3 times a year. Decisions just need to be made too quickly and second guessing everything by outsiders isn’t really helping. The result seems to be that we spend a great deal of time being frustrated with each other and watching mutual trust erode.
It’s the eroding trust that exacerbates the situation and makes it generally so bad that people who are competent in their positions either refuse to apply, or when hired quickly decide that this is simply untenable and quit.
I’m thinking that Convention needs to set broad policy and get out of the way of the folks being charged with implementing that policy. Which is how things work when they work well…
2. Have we become so addicted to fighting amongst ourselves in Convention that we’re going to unconsciously find conflict when there really isn’t any present?
I’m seeing signs that this is unfolding in front of us as we prepare for the opening gavel next week. Most of the angry conservatives have left. The folks who remain who are conservative are loyal Episcopalians and have, as yet, not prepared any real agenda to attack with at Convention. And yet friends of mine on the Progressive side are acting as if these remaining conservative voices need to be fought against with the same sort of vigor as they used in years past. Those who would really swing back to a provocation are now gone – for good or for ill. Those who remain are here to witness to what they believe but have no real expectation of being successful anymore. Dan Martins has something to say about all this here.
With the absence of the true opposition to progressive voices, I’m watching the House of Bishops be deputized to fill the vacancy in the rhetoric of those on the progressive end of the spectrum.
And I’m thinking that it’s happening not because the House of Bishop’s are really the bad people they’re being portrayed to be, but rather because we’re all so used to the conflict that we’re going to nominate someone to be the opposition no matter what the facts are…
Which is probably not a healthy way to do things.