General Convention Sets Course For Church

Episcopal News Service. September 19, 1985 [85176]

Andy Taylor

ANAHEIM, Calif. (DPS, Sept. 19) -- General Convention, 1985: For many of some 10,000 Episcopalians who attended the Church's 68th General Convention, its most meaningful moments came on Sunday morning when communicants of several races, both sexes and a variety of religious hues worshipped together in a moving opening Eucharist.

For all, the most important moments of the eight-day triennial gathering came just before noon on Tuesday when the House of Bishops elected on a fourth ballot, and the House of Deputies ratified overwhelmingly, Bishop Edmond Lee Browning of Hawaii to succeed the Most Rev. John M. Allin as Presiding Bishop.

Crystallizing the occasion, Bishop Browning -- who was celebrating his 32nd wedding anniversary -- responded with emotion, humor and a promising pledge for the future: "I offer you a ministry of servanthood for the whole Church."

He will begin his 12-year term with installation next January 11 at Washington National Cathedral. He will preside over his first General Convention in Detroit in 1988.

For the 1,090 deputies and alternates and 214 bishops who came to Anaheim to carry out the mission of the Convention commemorating the 200th anniversary of the General Convention, the main achievement was disposing of approximately 400 pieces of proposed legislation.

The tone of their labor was set the first day when Presiding Bishop John M. Allin offered his "accumulated will and testament" in which he denounced the "earth-shadowing idol" of national security and the arms race. He decried the sense of "self-obsession in nation and Church and urged the raising of additional funds to bolster Church ministry and presence among the oppressed at home and abroad.

Before, between and after the high points of that call, the Sunday Eucharist and the Tuesday election, the main work force debated and voted during early-morning and late-evening committee meetings and legislative sessions which ranged from being petty to ponderous, especially in the unwieldy House of Deputies.

By the end of the Convention on Saturday, Sept. 14, the representatives of Episcopal dioceses in the United States and overseas had passed most of the proposed resolutions, amending many in the process. Some revise canon law of the Church, some urge action by the national Church and by the government.

Together they offer strong support and prayer for Bishop Desmond Tutu and call for an end to racism in South Africa; urge peace through ending U.S. military aid to warring factions in Central America, and shelving President Reagan's "Star Wars" space defense program; encourage autonomy for Episcopal dioceses overseas; reaffirm approval for ordination of women as bishops; make laying-on of hands by an Episcopal bishop a requirement for accepting baptized adults into the Church; move ahead the Church's ecumenical programs, and add seven names to the Church's commemorative calendar.

The two houses also passed with little discussion budgets of $27.6 million and $5.3 million to finance, respectively, Church operations during the coming year and General Convention leading to and during its 69th triennial meeting in Detroit.

The overall effect of the Convention actions is to strengthen the Church's ministries of service, advocacy and international witness to the causes of peace and justice under an incoming Presiding Bishop who insists that his prophetic witness will continue to grow out of his pastoral concerns.

Converging on the Anaheim Convention Center with the bishops, deputies and alternates for opening day Saturday, Sept. 7, were nearly 500 delegates to the Episcopal Church Women's Triennial, which met in conjunction with General Convention; 750 volunteer workers from the host Diocese of Los Angeles; 165 exhibitors and support personnel -- and about 5,000 spouses and other visitors.

They took up 1,800 rooms at the Marriott and Hilton hotels across the street from the convention center and scores of others at nearby facilities. They were greeted by mid-60s temperatures, a break from a heat wave in much of the country, and enjoyed mostly-sunny skies.

The convention drew as speakers former First Lady Betty Ford, who was commended for her work in alcoholism; economist John Kenneth Galbraith; California Governor George Deukmejian. Rosalind Runcie, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, presented a piano concert to raise funds for the Church Periodical Club.

The Sunday Eucharist-in-the-round in the center's arena drew an overflow crowd of more than 10,000. Many nearby Episcopal churches forewent main services to let parishioners attend the convention Communion.

Seventy-five stations, a bishop and a priest at each, were used to administer the sacrament in the main arena. There were 12 more stations in a room where more than 1,000 watched the service on closedcircuit television. Another 300 celebrated at quickly-organized services outside.

It was a moving service. Episcopalians were joined by guests from other denominations: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Polish Orthodox, and from other faiths: Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim.

Presiding Bishop Allin was the celebrant. The preacher was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Robert Runcie, who told the diverse congregation: "we belong to the whole Catholic Church of God, which has a breadth and an enduring strength greater than that of any individual or particular church."

There were impressive moments when women of the Church, one by one, came to the altar bringing Allin United Thank Offering gifts totaling $2.8 million and when the intercessions were read in a succession of languages.

Most gripping was the reading of the Gospel, St. Mark's verses about the healing of a deaf man. In front of the pulpit stood a "signer," with rhythmic and graceful gestures interpreting for the deaf in the congregation.

A priest from the Diocese of Southeast Florida put the services into perspective succinctly: "It was thrilling to me because here we had the Church gathered in all its diversity, yet with a common voice praising God," said the Rev. Don Krickbaum, Church of the Good Shepherd, Tequesta, Fla.

Tuesday was the convention's momentous day. It began with a 7 a.m. bus ride for the bishops to St. Michael's Church, a few blocks from the convention site, where Allin celebrated the Eucharist and the balloting for Presiding Bishop began. The first two ballots failed to produce a majority, and the bishops broke for a light breakfast served by the parish women.

Because the House of Deputies was not due to convene until 10 a.m., the bishops were unhurried. They agreed upon Bishop Browning on the fourth ballot, broke into applause and sang the Doxology.

Then they sent a sealed envelope to the senior house, where it was delivered to the podium by two deputies carrying a purple balloon. Business stopped and applause broke out. It took the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops only minutes to report its unanimous recommendation for concurrence.

Only one "nay" was heard as the deputies ratified Browning by voice vote.

The Hawaiian Convention and Triennial delegations escorted their bishop to the podium with his wife, Patti, and one of their five children, Peter. The 56-year-old native of Texas held back tears, waved and made a two-handed thumbs-up sign to the joint session of deputies, bishops and Church Women. He told a press conference the gesture was a Hawaiian one for "hang loose."

"I do believe I am here because of the will of God. I offer you a ministry of servanthood for the whole Church," the Presiding Bishop-elect said.

Facing the media shortly afterward, Browning chided President Reagan for failing to impose stronger sanctions against South Africa; said his "personal friend" Bishop Tutu has his full support; reaffirmed his support for a strong role for women in the Church, and for the rights of homosexuals among the clergy; and said he could not go along with Allin's implied suggestion that divorced clergy should give up the priesthood.

Asked to describe the mood of the Church he would like to see, he replied: "There are tremendous global issues that face us all. My hope is that the Church can continue to hold these issues before the full membership, as well as society, to bring about some well-being for all. I think the Church has a role in being both prophetic in holding up issues, and using all its influences to try to bring about better conditions for the poor, the hungry, both in this country as well as in the global village."

In a speech to a joint session later in the week, Browning reiterated his call that "there will be no outcasts in the Church, told of plans to visit Central America soon and announced that he has invited Bishop Desmond Tutu to his installation.

The House of Bishops was quick to put the convention on record in its backing of Bishop Tutu. A cable expressed "loving greetings and assurance of our continuing concern and whole-hearted support" for his leadership of the campaign to dismantle apartheid in South Africa.

Continuing and strengthening the peace-making posture of the Church expressed by the 1982 convention in New Orleans, the Anaheim convention passed resolutions opposing President Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative; opposing U.S. aid to "Contra" insurgents in Nicaragua, as well as both open and covert activities in support of warring factions elsewhere; opposing production of chemical weapons or nerve gas; calling on individual Episcopalians, as well as the national Church, to make peace a priority.

Emphasizing its opposition to apartheid, the convention ordered the Church's Executive Council to divest itself of $7.5 million worth of holdings in companies doing business in South Africa.

With the observation of Bishop Robert Atkinson of the Diocese of West Virginia that "They are growing up and leaving home," the convention passed resolutions encouraging autonomy for dioceses in the Philippines and Central and South America which now operate under special provincial structures. Also approved was formation of a Central Region of America to include dioceses embracing Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Reaffirming the action of the 1976 General Convention, which first declared women eligible for ordination, the House of Bishops passed a new resolution supporting the role of women in the Church. Putting the bishops on record, it says, "The majority of the members of this house do not intend to withhold consent to the election of a Bishop of this Church on grounds of gender..." It calls on the Presiding Bishop to communicate this to the heads of other churches in the Anglican Communion.

The bishops, however, defeated in short order resolutions proposing experimental use of lectionaries revised with "inclusive language" eliminating reference to gender. Bishop William Wantland of the Diocese of Eau Claire objected to "experiments on liturgies already in place."

Canonical revisions approved by the convention include one which Bishop John Coburn of Massachusetts said "strengthens the role of bishops." It requires that any baptized adult being accepted into the Church receive the laying-on of hands by an Episcopal bishop. Present canons do not specify this pastoral welcome by a bishop of apostolic succession.

The convention also approved "stretching out the altar rail" -- as Bishop Wesley Frensdorff of Nevada put it -- by permitting lay persons to take Communion to shut-ins and the sick who are unable to attend services.

With some muttering in the House of Deputies, convention passed the painstaking, three-year work of the Council for the Development of Ministry, revising Title III canons under mandate of the 1982 convention. Opponents argued the revision is not thorough enough -- it amounts to no more than "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," complained Robert Maule, Chancellor of the Diocese of South Dakota. But Robert C. Royce, Vice Chairman of the Committee on Canons, said, "It's not the best document, but it's better than the document we've got. Let's move forward."

The convention moved forward with the Church's ecumenical program as well, endorsing the Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) as sufficient to "justify further conversation." Also endorsed was intensification of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations' three-year campaign of ecumenical emphasis.

The convention turned a deaf ear to the Prayer Book Society's charge that there was a conspiracy to dissolve the Episcopal Church in COCU -- Consultation on Church Union. Approved with little discussion was the document, "The COCU Consensus: In Quest of a Church Uniting."

In a related action, the convention further strengthened relations with the Orthodox Church by approving deletion of the "filioque" clause -- the words "and from the Son" -- from the Nicene Creed, contingent upon the endorsement of this by the 1988 Lambeth Conference.

The convention extended the list of commemorative days in the Prayer Book by adding the names of seven church leaders and groups of the distant and not-so-distant past, and also assigning April 4 to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In other notable action, the convention:

  • observed a lunch-to-lunch fast day September 10-11 to focus attention on the plight of the world's hungry.
  • brought together for the first time representatives of all nine provincial synods of the Episcopal Church, described as the "middle management" level of the Church's administrative structure.
  • avoided an expected debate on abortion by passing a resolution continuing support for the Church's present moderate stand but urging dioceses to initiate "a study process" as a step toward redefining this stand.
  • welcomed a Youth Presence representing all nine provinces, as ordered by the 1982 convention, and continued it by mandating that youth also be on hand in Detroit in 1988, and that they be given floor space of their own if possible.
  • passed a resolution asking the Presiding Bishop to appoint a task force to study the problem of AIDS.

The House of Deputies elected as its next president the Very Rev. David B. Collins, dean emeritus of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta, who has been Vice-President since 1979. He succeeds Dr. Charles R. Lawrence. Pamela Chinnis of Washington, D.C., was chosen as the first woman Vice-President in the history of the senior house.

The Church Women's Triennial overwhelmingly approved restructuring the organization as a legal entity with officers elected by the membership, returning to the structure which the women voted out in 1967. The action opens membership to every national church women's group.

Triennial President Sylvia Corey said the action should greatly increase effectiveness of the women's work in the Church.

"We do not legislate, but we can educate about child abuse, low pay scales, hunger, silent violence and more. I believe we can play a role in educating large groups of women and assisting the Church at large," she said

Elected Triennial officers for the coming three years were: Marcy Walsh, Diocese of South Carolina, President; Evelyn Keddie, San Joaquin, First Vice President; Jeannie Self, Alabama, Second Vice President; Susan Young, Indianapolis, Secretary; and Barbara Stebbins, New Hampshire, Treasurer.