The Episcopal Church is preparing for its regular triennial convention this summer. The House of Bishops will meet in sessions separate from the House of Deputies, which is made up of some 800 clergy and laity. Either house may propose legislation in the form of a resolution, but each house must agree, in identical language, for a resolution to pass. Deputies will have received a five pound notebook of papers to help them prepare for it. Over nearly two weeks they will debate close to a thousand pieces of “legislation” that will have been parsed by committees holding open hearings. The whole thing is an embarrassment of bureaucracy complicated by arcane rules of order, and the ridiculous idea, solemnly held, that all this so called “legislation” has real meaning for the kingdom of God, the world, the nation, the church and the ordinary people sitting in the pews. Some of it does, but only some.
What got me going on this was a recent gathering where a several persons who are deeply involved in Convention took great pride in boasting about its size, length, number of resolutions, complexity of process, and the mind numbing endurance it takes to attend the many committee hearings scheduled for the odd hours of early morning and late night as if, somehow, all this exhausting vertical motion represents forward movement.
That’s just not right! If egos are well served by such a large, complicated gathering, so be it and God bless them. But all the essential business of the church could easily be handled in half the time, through relatively simple procedures, culling resolutions to those that actually have something to do with the life and ministry of the church.
Twice I have been a deputy to Convention, and have been dumfounded at the time spent in floor debates about commas, prepositions, adjectives, and adverbs. Additional time was spent on resolutions by the dozens commending, condemning, and instructing everyone from the United Nations to Congress and the President on a variety of issues, few of which will even be remembered within a week or two. Grandiose plans for ministry in every conceivable area of interest are worked up with great enthusiasm only to be left unfunded, unheralded and unlamented. Hearings on very complex and important subjects requiring serious scholarly study become arenas for the expression of personal opinion and emotional conviction testified to without fear of contradiction.
It’s not all bad. Daily worship in the company of so many brothers and sisters in Christ is an amazing experience. Small group bible study is always worthwhile, especially since it mixes up people from every part of the communion. Now and then a genuine spirit of prayerful discernment descends upon the gathered, often through the gifted words of a chaplain. The exhibit hall is a riot of churchy stuff to tempt even the most miserly, and there are a lot of freebies. A supply of New York Times crossword puzzles and few good books help keep the mind sharp while interminable babbling issues forth from floor microphones. New friendships are made, networking between interest groups takes place, and there are abundant opportunities for interesting conversation.
Just the same, we can do better. I hope we do. I bet we don’t because we won’t.