General Convention is a many-headed hydra. More than 4,500 people registered so far, and it is expected that more than twice that number will be here for at least part of the time. There is more going on than anyone can possibly keep track of. One keeps walking, and walking, and walking, to committee meetings at the far end of vast convention center corridors, in various hotels, and I believe clear across the Great Salt Lake itself. Repeating carpet patterns start to burn themselves into one’s eyes. It becomes tempting before long to convert to Mormonism, since surely a religion that has living Apostles to settle matters would require less walking.
But God has chosen to speak in our church by way of Robert’s Rules of Order. I give you two snapshots today of how the apostle Robert has been speaking in the church.
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The Society of King Charles the Martyr (U.S. region here) has been waiting for this for a long time — since 1894, in fact. In Thursday’s meeting of the Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music committee, Bishop Daniel Martins managed to get King Charles the Martyr added to the list of names to be considered by the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music for inclusion in a new commemoration calendar. It’s not all wrapped up yet for Charles; it still has to pass in both houses. But the committee passed Martins’s amendment with little dissent.
How so? Clearly, Charles Stuart has for some time been a not uncontroversial figure. But Resolution A056, also passed with amendment by the committee, authorizes for trial use a replacement for Holy Women, Holy Men (itself a trial replacement for Lesser Feasts and Fasts), titled A Great Cloud of Witnesses. Many people will likely assume that it is just an updated sanctoral calendar, an updated list of holy people whom the church commends as icons of Christ among us. But it may not be. Some of the new resource’s drafters have made clear that the new calendar is not a sanctoral calendar, but rather more like a pedagogical resource for the church. The assumption is that “saints” are better recognized as such locally, with a calendar serving as more of a teaching tool. And who is more locally recognized than good old King Charles?
That is not to say there was no controversy in the room. There was, over A056’s proposal that non-Christians such as Dag Hammarskjöld be included when “the person’s life and work still significantly impacts the ongoing life of the Church and contributes to our fuller understanding of the Gospel.” The committee nuanced this language to re-emphasize how such non-Christian persons must nevertheless exemplify Christ.
The debate was a telling one. On the one hand, there was a desire on the part of some to lift up people who lived “extraordinary lives,” even if they were not churchgoers or believers. But one priest on the committee asked: If I tell my people to commemorate people who did not go to church, how can I ever convince my people to come to church? Doesn’t this dilute our faith?
It’s a question that grows more interesting the more you think about it. Theologians have divided into three camps regarding Christianity and other religions: exclusivist (Christianity is the only truth), inclusivist (Christianity is the fullest truth, but other religions include truths that point back to Christian truth), and pluralist (various religions including our own are just different perspectives on a larger truth). From Thursday’s discussion, it seems as if many in the room were concerned that the commemoration of non-Christians would lean in the direction of pluralist dilution of Christian truth claims. And so the committee attempted to move back to an inclusivist Christ-centered position, without ruling out the possibility of commemorating non-Christians in exceptional cases.
One difficulty with this, however, is that non-Christians will often hesitate to understand themselves in Christian terms. Are Hindu or Jewish exemplars of holiness really equivalent to Christian exemplars, for instance? Do people from other traditions understand what it means to be a “good person” who led an “extraordinary life” in a way that translates into our tradition without loss? And if the grace of God in Christ is prior to our own good works, do we not lose something essential by focusing instead on the “extraordinary lives” that some people have led?
Perhaps we have forgotten the strangeness of the saints. A saint is a person who lived her life in such a way that it would not have made any sense without the presence of the resurrected Jesus. We at least now may have one more saint who would remind us: Remember!
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Center Aisle, the newsletter of the Diocese of Virginia, makes a good point to consider in our restructuring conversation. There is, deputy Russ Randle writes, a “serious flaw” with our system of diocesan representation, one that’s both “practical and theological.” “This flaw is the grant to each diocese of the same voting power, regardless of the number of lay people or clergy in each diocese. We do so even though some dioceses have 40 times as many people and 10 times as many clergy as other dioceses.”
“Through such geographic blindness, we mute a great many voices that should be heard, while randomly amplifying other voices based on their address. … We contradict claims of equal treatment of the baptized.”
“No coherent Christian theology can justify giving one set of baptized people 40 times the voting power of another set simply because of their current residence.”
Of course, this is from the Diocese of Virginia. One might say, Virginia would say that. But I find the argument rather compelling. If the House of Deputies is meant to reflect the voices of all the baptized, then shouldn’t it do so? I love my home Diocese of North Dakota dearly. But I have been to Texas. I have seen the promised land. They have parishes down there that are larger than my old diocese. Is it fair that their voices are muted?
It is of course also important to recognize that we are not simply a church of members and congregations, but of dioceses. The principle of diocesan equality is compelling also. But cannot that be adequately retained in the House of Bishops? The U.S. Congress analogy here is instructive, with a proportional House and a non-proportional Senate.
This is, I’ll admit, a hobbyhorse of mine. As I talked not long ago with evangelical friends about the Episcopal Church’s numerical and financial challenges and our restructuring proposals, they told me: “You folks don’t have a structure problem. You have a leadership problem.” I do not have hard data on this, but my hunch is that we spend too much time propping up small and shrinking parishes and institutions and too little time planting new churches, learning from our growing churches, and paving new roads. We are led too much by our institutional inertia, and not enough by our leaders.
Should we not give a proportional voice in our councils to the leaders we do have who are growing the church and bringing fresh ideas to the table?
Perhaps the old genteel Diocese of Virginia is pointing us toward the future.
The featured image is from the Tower of London website. It is public domain.