For those of you following the news of Tropical Storm Debby, we're doing OK here in our pocket of Tallahassee. The rain has been falling non-stop all day, at times heavy downpours and blowing wind. This is the South's version of a Nor'easter.
It sets an interesting backdrop for the things on my mind. Yesterday's gospel lesson was the story from Mark about the raging sea, and the frightened disciples, and the sleeping Jesus who wakes up to their cries of "Help!" and calms the storm. It seems that this metaphor was appropriate as the rain blew against the stained glass windows, and as we made our way from the safety of our sanctuary to the parish hall for an update on General Convention 2012 by our rector.
There are lots of issues that will be facing the bishops and deputies of the Episcopal Church next week in Indianapolis. From the description of the budget situation, it seems there is an intent to cut many program areas at the church headquarters (environmental justice, diversity, Christian formation). From what I understand, the idea is to shift these responsibilities down to the diocesan and even the parish level. What's not clear is what kind of funding will accompany that shift. And years of covering state politics showed me, when the state decided it wasn't going to be in the business of "xx" and it would be up to the counties or cities to provide "xx", it would be up to the County and City Commissioners to figure out how they were going to pay for "xx" to continue in their communities. My guess is that is going to be the upshot of this budget cutting and shifting down to the local level. It's going to be painful. And apparently has already had its own internal pain in the process of creating a budget for the Episcopal Church as reported by Katie Sherrod, who is a member of the Executive Council, the group normally charged with carrying out the duty of drafting a budget.
There is the matter of the Anglican Covenant. Thankfully, from the description I heard the rector giving, it would seem that our deputation going to Indianapolis is inclined to vote against the document. He gave the impression that there was a resolution that would be offered which would say, "We want to continue in dialogue, but we don't support the Anglican Communion Covenant." That would sound like D007, which is what me and my fellow bloggers in the No Anglican Covenant Coalition are supporting. But I know that is not the only idea out there, and my rector couldn't tell me which resolution he was referencing. To be clear, the only option that I find acceptable is the one that politely, but firmly, says, "No, thank you; non, merci; no gracias; nein, danke (have I covered all the languages of the Episcopal Church?)" This flawed proposal, the outgrowth of the Windsor Report which was the outgrowth of fear of gay people becoming bishops, just needs to die and go away. Period.
Speaking of fear, we get to one of the biggest hot button issues: blessing same-sex unions. There was much made of the term "union" vs. "marriage" at our forum. Mainly, it seemed there was a desire to make it clear that the rites to be considered by GC2012 would allow the blessing of "unions" not "marriages." I found this a bizarre distinction given that there are states and the District of Columbia where the civil government has said it is OK for us LGBT people to get married. But whatever! Our bishop, John Howard, has again written a letter to all of us on the topic of General Convention, with extra special attention given to this particular resolution. And, again, the bishop has gone on record opposing the idea of allowing LGBT people of faith to have our partnerships recognized by the diocese of Florida. Nevermind that if we cared to get the blessing of an Episcopal priest, all we'd have to do is travel to Miami where Bishop Frade has already given the green light to bless marriages that couples have entered into in those six states and DC where it is allowed. Suddenly, it just seemed so fitting that the sky was pouring down rain on our roof as this topic was being discussed. Unless you have lived in society's margins, you have no idea how painful it is to have an institution founded on the basis of Christ's love telling you, "We want your time, talent and treasure, but we don't really want you." The church ought to be the great equalizer where no one is greater or lesser than another. Ah, but then, they don't call it an "institution" for nothin'.
I have had enough meetings with our rector to know that he doesn't share +John's opinions about same-sex unions, marriages, blessings, etc. And rather than attempt to defend or explain the bishop's attitude (beyond saying +John is a "traditionalist"), Fr. Dave offered to people that they could take hard copies of his letter and read it for themselves. And the copies quickly went around the room.
I did not take one. I didn't need it. I had already read, marked, learned and inwardly rejected his reasoning on Friday when the letter showed up on the diocesan website. If there was any silver-lining in what I saw in his words, words, words on this issue: at least he owned the opinion as his own. In 2009, the bishop sent a letter back to all of us during the convention to denounce the adoption of D025 which lifted the moratorium on electing and consecrating LGBT people to the episcopate. It was an incredibly hurtful letter which framed the argument in the "fears" of Florida's deputation and grounding the argument against gays in what "We Florida Episcopalians" know about "Christian marriage" and so on.
In a change of approach, this letter makes it clear that the opinion expressed is that of Bishop John Howard and not necessarily our deputies. My hope is that when the voting occurs in Indianapolis, our deputies will find it in their hearts to consider the faces of the LGBT people they have encountered (and you know that they have), and that they will choose to see us as the face of Christ worthy of the compassion of our Savior as expressed in Matthew 25.
And, once again, our bishop will stand firm in the quick sand of "No" as the rest of the church says "Yes." Perhaps then, Bishop Howard will realize that the storm that is sending waves crashing over the bow of his boat is not one that will drown him, or me, or any of us. Because this, too, will pass.
Perhaps by then, Tropical Storm Debby will stop raining down buckets of water on our heads and we'll see the sun again. And maybe even a rainbow.