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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What I Did at General Convention

This article is about the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Even if you are an economist or otherwise not an Episcopalian, read through it anyway. There's more here than church jargon . . . .

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets every three years to conduct the business of the denomination; it was in Anaheim, California, and ran from July 8 to yesterday. It may seem obvious that this gathering of people from all over the United States and several other places in the world would be much more than a business meeting. Indeed, it has many facets – a real Hodgepodge, as our Geranium Farm colleague Debbie Loeb might say. I participated in four different ways.

We went in the first instance to host the Geranium Farm luncheon, which took place Saturday, July 11. About 100 people came and ate and played in a raffle; a bunch of them went home with prizes that included souvenirs of northern Italy and some lovely arts and crafts items. Barbara Crafton was able to take more than $500 back to the beneficiary, St. James, the Episcopal Church in Florence. Barbara entertained us with stories of Italy and Peter Casparian, a previous rector there who now serves in Oyster Bay, New York, showed wonderful photographs, accompanied by Andrea Bocelli recordings. Barbara concluded by singing for us the Italian national anthem and leading us in ours. A fine time was had by all. See Debbie's Hodgepodge page for some pictures of this and other Convention scenes.

We worshipped. At the Sunday Eucharist, somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 from the Convention and the Los Angeles area came together. A tradition of the Convention, this service is the United Thank Offering Ingathering (UTO); Episcopal Church Women representatives from every single diocese trooped across the dais to present vouchers totaling more than $7 million from mite box collections since the last Convention. The collection that day added almost $28,000 more. Imagine it: something happens in your life and you feel thankful, so you drop a dime or a quarter into your UTO box. More good things happen then as a result. The Presiding Bishop is a wonderful preacher, and her sermon highlights some of the many uses this money is put to. Please do read for yourself, here.

The service was spirited and happy. A formal choir offered Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus during Communion and Elisabeth von Trapp (yes, she's who you think she is) sang Peace, Perfect Peace. We boomed out some good old hymns. We thought the closing hymn was O Zion, Haste, but after that, as we moved out of the rows into the aisles, the musicians struck up Sweet, Sweet Spirit, and we verily danced and shouted our way out of the hall.

We worked. The House of Deputies consists of four clergy and four lay persons from every diocese. There are two legislative sessions each day; at the Monday morning session, the certified attendance was 832. If you are a Deputy, but you want or need to skip a session, you authorize an Alternate (almost an equal number of those are present) to replace you. One of my Volunteer jobs was to assist at a registration desk where credentials paperwork is conducted to "certify" this switch. On Sunday, some traded off so they could go to Disneyland, then on Monday morning, they had to unswitch. Later Monday, some who had been there for a week already needed to do laundry, so our crew helped them switch again. There were about 100 switches each of those two days.

I also served one session in the House of Deputies. Only "certified" (see above paragraph) Deputies are allowed inside the gates of the demarcated "floor" of the House. Volunteers are assigned to guard the gates; not even a Bishop is permitted inside, unless they have some specific functional Convention staff role. So I was a "gate page", complete with a pink ribbon hanging from my badge, which highlighted this designation.

I was privileged to hear debate that morning about the acceptance of a new bishop for the Diocese of Central Ecuador. Debaters from Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Colombia spoke in Spanish and had their remarks translated over the loudspeaker system. Some Deputies who speak other languages were given headphones to hear simultaneous translation throughout the proceedings, just like at the U.N. That bishop's election was ratified early in the afternoon session.

We played and had fellowship. Even elevator rides in the hotel were times for chat; I ran into one of the Ecuadoran speakers in an elevator later Monday who told me the final results. And we all teased and jostled each other in good fun. Sunday evening, I went with Barbara Crafton to a dinner gathering of Episcopal Communicators, a press-oriented group; I talked with some there about the future of the New York Times and learned about the Deputies' actions that day concerning Hispanic ministries and the MDGs.

The Convention's theme was Ubuntu, an African term for our interconnectedness with each other: "I in you and you in me" the logo says. I didn't attend the "mission conversation" sessions on this concept; I was too busy, out and about, practicing a social form of Ubuntu. I saw a former rector of my home parish right away on my arrival; I saw a former seminarian who was there as a clergy deputy from another diocese; I met Mr. Schori, the Presiding Bishop's husband, who runs around everywhere taking pictures; I met associates from the church headquarters at 815 Second Avenue and from the Long Island diocesan staff. I met people from San Joaquin, the faithful ones who are renewing the Episcopal Church there after dissidents finally broke away altogether; the "remnant" are strong, determined and happy people.

Most notably, I met a young man who was politicking on the sidewalk connecting the hotel with the Convention Center. He works for Disney. He explained that Disney wants to take away their workers' free health insurance; the proposed replacement plan would cost individuals at least $500 a month, far more than those hourly employees can manage. The workers would be demonstrating Tuesday, he said, would I join them? I would be gone by then, but a number of Episcopalians accompanied these folks to the Disney offices to make themselves heard. I did sign his petition. We'll come back to this health insurance issue – and very soon – but what mattered just then was that the young man, who had his cute 3-year-old son out there with him, said that he had been oddly touched by these Episcopal convention-goers. He was a lapsed Catholic, he told me, and he had found us remarkably understanding and kind people. He could tell we have a good spirit. Maybe he'd have to find his local Episcopal church so he could get his family connected. We ministered to him – and his recognition of us and our mission moved me: I think that's Ubuntu in action.

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