Ubuntu: The 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church will not begin until July 8 (July 8 -17 in Anaheim, CA), but according to the Episcopal News Service, Diocesan Conventions have already begun submitting issues for the General Convention's consideration.
Several dioceses have submitted measures requesting that the convention revisit Resolution B033 which was adopted at the 75th General Convention in 2006:
The 75th General Convention calls upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint in consecrating candidates whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.
Some dioceses (the Diocese of Maine among them) have asked for B033 to be repealed outright. Others (including the dioceses of Newark, Rochester (NY), and El Camino Real have asked the General Convention to affirm that "standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction are bound only by the rules set forth in the canons when considering consents to the ordination of any candidate to the episcopate."
Another issue receiving early attention is the church's position on blessing same-sex relationships. At least six dioceses (Newark, El Camino Real, Atlanta, Bethlehem (PA), Massachusetts, and Vermont have submitted resolutions calling for the recognition of same-sex relationships or the development of rites for blessing same-sex relationships.
Among the "liturgical resolutions" are a proposal encouraging churches to observe a four week liturgical season to celebrate the sacredness of creation. The Diocese of Montana will ask the General Convention to develop prayers of thanksgiving for the life of and to observe the loss of a companion animal.
The theme of the General Convention is Ubuntu, a concept of the relationship between the individual and society that is borrowed from the Bantu languages of Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has characterized ubuntu this way:
A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
Hermaphrodieties: From our friends at TransFaith Online we learned that a new edition of Raven Kaldera's book Hermaphrodieties: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook (Asphodel Press, Hubbardston, MA) has been released. Hermaphrodieties explores both the spiritual history and modern predicaments of transgendered people. The book outlines a contemporary spiritual path for those who don't fit into the conventional gender categories society offers. The revised and expanded 2nd edition features third gender myths, deities, personal and group exercises, community service project suggestions, rituals, and interviews with people across the entire transgender spectrum.
The Conviction of Things Not Seen: Our network of far-flung observers submits a pointer to a civil court judgment rendered on January 23 by The Honourable Mr. Justice Ian C. Meiklem of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the matter of Lutz v. Faith Lutheran Church of Kelowna (2009 BCSC 59). The judgment tells a very sad story of church conflict, and we retell it not to embarrass or to criticize anyone, but in the hope our readers will take the story to heart, cast themselves in this or that role, and imagine not only how things were but how they might have been otherwise. We recommend reading the entire court summary.
The judicial ruling is a response to a conflict that began in 2007 at Faith Lutheran in Kelowna, B.C. as some members of the congregation sought to constrain their pastor's vote on issues (particularly the issue of blessing same-sex relationships) that would come before the National Convention of the
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Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. (In ELCIC polity, the voting members for the National Convention are elected by conferences and by individual congregations.)
In February, 2007, the congregation adopted a resolution which read in part:
[W]hen there are motions brought forward for vote at the national convention, the congregation be made aware of the motions so that the delegate knows how the congregation feels and votes according to the congregationís wishes
Subsequently there were differences of opinion about how that resolution would be implemented with some members of the congregation believing that no further action was needed and others expecting a congregational meeting as a forum for fulfilling the resolution. When it did not appear that the church council would schedule such a meeting, some members set about collecting signatures on a petition to convene a special meeting of the congregation to require the pastor to:
vote and vigorously promote and support all motions &/or resolutions as indicated by the majority vote of the congregational members present and voting at the Special Congregational Meeting.
The petition was presented at a church council meeting on May 10, 2007 and took the pastor by surprise. She reacted immediately and strongly in the following Sunday's worship service, apparently rebuking the members who organized the petition (the pastor's remarks at this worship service are not included in the court's summary of the case).
Shortly thereafter, the pastor took medical leave, an alternate delegate to the national convention was selected, and the ELCIC convention rejected a proposal to allow its churches to bless same sex unions.
On the pastor's return from medical leave in August, 2007, seven organizers of the petition drive were named in a disciplinary proceeding in the congregation, and ultimately given letters excluding them from the congregation.
Four of the people excluded from the congregation filed a petition in civil court arguing that the disciplinary proceedings had not followed the procedure set out in the congregation's By Laws. (The civil court has jurisdiction in this matter because the congregation is registered under British Columbia's Society Act.)
Reviewing the events in the disciplinary process, Judge Meiklem found that there were serious departures from the disciplinary procedure described in the by-laws and that the pastor's dual role as accuser and member of the disciplinary committee compromised the principle of procedural fairness. Judge Meiklem quashed the expulsions and noted:
In the interests of reducing potential strife following my order, I would urge the parties to apply the utmost tolerance, open-mindedness, and good faith to understanding each otherís perspectives at the initial stages of any new discipline administered under the Bylaws. This unfortunate conflict might not have escalated if the proponents of the Special Congregational meeting called for in May 2007 had simply been more transparent and informed the Pastor directly that they were requisitioning a Special Congregational meeting, as they were specifically entitled to do under the Bylaws. This could have avoided any misinterpretation of their actions as an attack on leadership or the Pastor.
Presbyterians Pick Panel: On February 4, the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) named 13 Presbyterians to the General Assemblyís Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Unions and Christian Marriage. Of the committee's 13 members, three are under 36 years of age, three are 36-45, six are 46-55, and one is over 55. The Rev. James Szeyller of the Charlotte Presbytery will chair the committee.
In 2008 the 218th General Assembly directed Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow (pictured) to appoint a special committee representing the diversity and theological balance of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The committee's charter is to study:
The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates;
How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition;
The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage;
The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children;
The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.
The special committee will make its report to the 219th General Assembly (2010, in Minneapolis).
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