The General Convention of the Episcopal Church must be restructured. The system is broken. It no longer serves the life and purposes of the Church. Yet I am still eager and confident about General Convention 2012.
How can I have high hopes even as I believe that the very mechanisms of convention are so wrong for the Church’s needs? It comes down to my sense that the issues we’re facing at this gathering are so basic, so fundamental to the witness and mission of the Episcopal Church, that we have no choice but to look at things afresh. I pray that the controversies over the past several months have begun to shape our mindsets and visions. I hope for – even expect – deeper engagement and a more substantive process in our collective work. It really is about crisis being a form of opportunity.
Take the budget, for example. I believe we will be able to consider proposals that are genuinely passionate in mission rather than being determined by scarcity. The swirling debates that have already begun suggest that more people will be more invested in this discussion. Rather than simply balancing numbers, we will be able to make informed choices that better reflect the Gospel. Gone are the days when the budget could be left to the Executive Council or even to “PB&F.” It’s my hope that the budget that is passed will be more deliberate in its priorities and clearer in its implications.
I’m also looking forward to good conversation about the proposed Anglican Covenant. Although the covenant appears to be dead-on-arrival legislatively (in my view, rightly so), it should nevertheless have a significantly positive impact on the Episcopal Church. We will be given the opportunity to affirm the unique importance to us of being part of a worldwide communion that is, in fact, based on affection, choice and priority, rather than on jurisprudence.
The proposed covenant has given us the opportunity to think again about what we value in our heritage, experience and witness as Anglicans. We must be clear that we treasure our relationships with our Anglican sisters and brothers everywhere and that we are grateful for the gift of grace that they are to us. We will do this even as we remain true to the fact that each province of the Communion proclaims and lives out the Gospel in its own particular context.
This convention will also prompt the Episcopal Church to be clearer about Holy Baptism – a matter about which we must be quite clear indeed. We must come to terms with the question of whether baptism should be required prior to receiving Holy Communion. That issue is a definitive bottom line of sacramental theology.
The foundational nature of baptism has been eroding for years (ironically, under the use of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which was intended to reassert the primacy of the sacrament of baptism). We are called to be true to the specific commission we have from Jesus for the Church: to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). It is baptism that is the truly transformational truth about Christian life, and we have an energizing opportunity at this convention for the breadth of our Church to witness to that fact.
Few General Conventions have afforded the Episcopal Church the opportunity to address such a range of essential issues. Convention 2012 is absolutely the stuff that promotes the faith and enlivens our witness. God be with us and bless us all.