Thursday, July 2, 2009

Oh, Lord, I’m Not Ready

by Jim White (AKA Canon James Blair White, Chair of the Diocese of Los Angeles Deputation to the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church)

I’m sure there’s a collect in the Book of Common Prayer for this (“For Those Who Haven’t Done Their Homework?”), but I don’t have time to look for it. I’m supposed to be reading my Blue Book (pictured left).

Yes, we know it’s maroon – last time (2006) it was green. It’s the National Church – go figure. But it actually says on the cover Report to the 76th General Convention – Otherwise Known as The Blue Book – with the catchy subtitle: Reports of the Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church - Seventy-Sixth General Convention, Anaheim, California, July 8-17, 2009.

And yes, it’s the size of a major city’s phone book – 8.5 x 11 x 2 in. and all 807 pages of it weighs in at 4.25 pounds, including the CD inside the back cover that contains the complete contents in digital form. You can also see the whole thing on the national church website by clicking on the “Blue Book” link, above.

As the subtitle suggests, it contains reports from all of the Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards (affectionately known as the “CCABs”) who do the work of the church during the triennium between General Conventions. It also contains all of the legislation (“resolutions”) that those CCABs have presented for General Convention to consider.

A good deputy would have read all of that long ago. I’m kinda behind.

At the meeting of our Deputation from the Diocese of Los Angeles back in May, we went through the Table of Contents of the thing and chose which sections we wanted to review, thus divvying the work up amongst ourselves so that we all didn’t have to read the whole thing.

At our meeting last Saturday, we handed out our summaries of those sections and passed them around – some had sent them earlier by email; some brought printed copies for everyone. Others, like me, were “late with their homework.” Fortunately, all of the sections I signed up for, other deputies reviewed too, so we won’t go completely uneducated.

Fortunately for me, since I have the honor of having been elected the chair of the deputation, I can feign, “Oh, I’ve been so busy organizing all of this, I didn’t have time to read.” Whatever works. Also fortunately for me, I wasn’t alone in not having done my homework – we’re a busy people!

But that’s not all there is. Besides the Blue Book, which contains just Axxx resolutions (those submitted by the CCABs), there are also the Bxxx resolutions (submitted by Bishops – like the infamous B033 of 2006), the Cxxx resolutions (submitted by Diocesan Conventions – like our diocese’s “C036, Repeal of GC2006 B033” which our Diocesan Convention overwhelmingly approved last December) and the Dxxx resolutions (submitted by Deputies – any 3 deputies can sponsor a resolution).

All of those resolutions (that have been submitted so far – we can still submit resolutions up until the second day of convention) appear at the Archives of the Episcopal Church’s website, where they are organized by legislative committee. There is also a link on that page to an Index to Legislative Committee by Resolution, which is searchable and will show you which resolution is assigned to which legislative committee.

As with our national legislature, most of the work of General Convention happens in the legislative committees. Often several resolutions on the same topic will be filed and it is the work of the committees to take all of that in and, if it is a topic deemed worthy of action, to perfect a single resolution that will be sent to the floor. Some of us refer to this as the sausage factory part of General Convention. All of the committees’ meetings are open to visitors and in most cases, anyone may testify at the committees’ hearings on the resolutions.

The tough part is finding out when those hearings are going to be and getting someone there to do the testifying.

Of course, with the most controversial issues – say, for example, overturning General Convention 2006’s B033, which effectively put a moratorium on the election of gay or lesbian bishops living in relationships – the hearing will be in a huge hotel ballroom with a thousand or so people attending and in those cases the committee will often limit speakers wishing to testify to deputies and bishops only. It can be interesting, to say the least – and go on for quite a while. There are rosters of the legislative committees available on the national church website. ""There is also another index into all the legislation there (and I think this one is actually more current than the Archives')."

So I guess I better quit procrastinating (by writing this blog post) and get back to my reading. I hope to see you in Anaheim – there’s actually some fun that goes along with all this work. There will be the opportunity to see lots of old (and make some new) friends from around the country, to shop for interesting (and sometimes, weird) stuff – and to hang out at the All Saints booth – in the exhibit hall, and of course eating and drinking with those old friends.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to find time to post again once Convention starts, so for now, Happy General Convention! Come and see how the polity of your church works.

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