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Challenging Ourselves to Change: Executive Council Opening Remarks

President Jennings made these remarks to the opening session of Executive Council on October 15:

Good morning, and welcome to beautiful Chaska, Minnesota. I’m delighted to be starting a new triennium with all of you, especially those of you who are attending your first Executive Council meeting. Thank you for your willingness to serve the church in the ministry of governance.

Speaking of governance:  It’s been three months since we left Austin, Texas, after the close of the 79th General Convention. Are you craving Voodoo doughnuts yet? Maybe we can arrange a delivery to Chaska! As long as they don’t send the pigeons along with them.

This was a General Convention in which we made great progress on some issues of vital importance to the life of the church:

  • The 24 resolutions and one memorial proposed by members of the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation urged the church to address issues of abuse, harassment, inequality and discrimination that too many church leaders have refused to acknowledge and that have only become more urgent since convention concluded. Thanks to the special committee and the hard work of a number of legislative committees, the work toward gender equity and truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation will be a central focus in this triennium. I am grateful to all of the leaders who have agreed to serve on the task forces and committees that will carry on this essential work.

 

  • Thanks to the Israel and Palestine Working Group, which the Presiding Bishop and I appointed early in the year, we had a more productive and informed discussion about how the church should respond to issues of peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. That’s not to say that everyone, or even anyone, is perfectly content with the actions of convention on these issues. But, as Deputy Sarah Lawton said not too long before convention began, “It’s complicated, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not expected to actually do it. That’s why we’re elected as deputies—to take on these hard issues.”

 

  • On July 11, we made history when we ended a 52-year separation by voting sí to admit Cuba as a diocese of The Episcopal Church. When Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio spoke to the House of Deputies, she asked us to remember those who experienced “so much pain because of the separation. … Right now that I know the Holy Spirit is blowing on this entire convention,” she said, and she was right. Since convention, an internal staff working group has been working on a legal and canonical checklist in the hope that the final process of readmission can be completed in time for the Diocese of Cuba’s 110th Synod in February.

 

  • On Sunday of General Convention, we gathered first in Brush Square Park and then outside of the Hutto Detention Center to hold vigils advocating against two of the greatest evils of our time: gun violence and the separation of families seeking asylum at our border. The Presiding Bishop and I are grateful to all of the faithful Episcopalians who bore witness at these events, especially Philip and April Schentrup and their family, who spoke to us about their daughter, Carmen, who was killed in the massacre in Parkland, Florida, and to Abigail Zimmerman, a ninth-grader from Waco, Texas, whose powerful testimony gave us all hope for the future. That young woman can preach—look out, Bishop Michael!

This was also a General Convention at which we challenged ourselves to change, to try some new things, to stretch our limits. Like any shake up of old ways and old patterns, some things worked and other things didn’t.

I was delighted to appoint young and emerging leaders as assistant secretaries to many deputy legislative committees as a way to continue building the capacity of a new generation of leaders. That definitely worked. The schedule, worship, and legislative committee structure of General Convention was changed in some significant ways for this convention, and while some of those innovations worked well, others didn’t.  In the coming months, the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements will need to evaluate what we learned in Austin and how we can make the 80th General Convention in Baltimore even better.

We also need to consider how General Convention needs to respond to new leaders and new realities. This convention received more than 500 resolutions—a record—and our structures for processing, translating, and disseminating those resolutions strained at the sheer volume. The staff and volunteers in the General Convention Office, especially the deputy for legislation, Marian Conboy, did an amazing job with the tsunami of legislation. More than ever before, we are a multilingual church, and a just General Convention must provide real time access to legislation and legislative materials in several languages, especially Spanish. Budgeting for and organizing that work is a critical issue for this triennium.

After deciding in 2015 to eliminate 12 of 14 standing commissions, this General Convention created or continued more than sixty interim bodies. Many of the task forces were not funded in the General Convention budget, which means they will need to accomplish the majority of their work electronically without financial resources. The Presiding Bishop and I are knee deep—or deeper!—in appointing faithful Episcopalians to these groups. Ensuring that they all receive the support and guidance they need to be effective and productive will be a major focus of this triennium and I know the executive officer of General Convention, Michael Barlowe, will find creative ways for the work authorized by General Convention to be done. Thank you, Michael, for all that you and your staff do on our behalf.

We must also organize General Convention to respond even more fully to the needs that deputies have made clear—the need for parents with infants to feed their children while serving at convention, the need for transgender and gender queer people to have appropriate and dignified public accommodations, and the need for worship to reflect the full breadth of our diverse and cherished Anglican identities. Remarkable progress was made at this General Convention, but like all changes to long-held traditions, there is more work to do to reflect our commitment to effective governance and the Way of Love.

The House of Deputies is younger and more diverse than the Episcopal Church as a whole, and at this General Convention, 68 percent of deputies were serving for the first or second time at this General Convention. What we hear from deputies is a sign of things to come for the entire church, and I want to make sure we are not only ready for the necessary changes, but enthusiastic about the turnover and infusion of new energy in both houses. As our deputies and bishops change, General Convention will also change, as will other structures and ways of doing our work. Executive Council has a crucial role to play and you will hear more about that in the coming days.

This is my third and final triennium as president of the House of Deputies, but as the old man in Monty Python’s Holy Grail said, I’m not dead yet. Later today, the Presiding Bishop and I will have another chance to talk with you about our vision for this triennium, and I’m especially excited to share with you some work that we are undertaking in the House of Deputies to consider how best to foster the kind of adaptive change and transformational leadership that will lead us further into God’s mission in our congregations and communities. I may not get all the way there with you, at least as a member of Executive Council, but I am all in for the journey from here to Baltimore, and I am honored by the opportunity to serve our beloved Episcopal Church with you.

photo credit:  David Paulsen, Episcopal News Service