By The Rev. Tom Sramek, Jr., July 1, 2015

As General Convention moves towards its final days, more and more legislation that has been worked out in legislative committees comes to the floor of the House  of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Since the same resolution has to pass both Houses to become and official Act of General Convention, anything that one House passes and is changed in the other must go to back to the first for final approval of the changes. That takes time, and time is  getting short, so the pace is picking up! Three items dominated this legislative day:

Presentation of the Draft Budget for 2016-2018 (presentation)

All through the early part of General Convention, the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops have been approving legislation, some of which has budgetary consequences. Programs need funding, task forces and Standing Committees need money to meet (food, travel, and lodging cost, etc…) and any new initiatives suggested ideally need funding or risk simply being shelved for lack of money to implement them. The preliminary budget is submitted to Executive Council and the Joint Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) and the early actions of General Convention and testimony regarding the preliminary budget are taken into account when crafting the draft budget to be submitted to General Convention. That budget was submitted to a joint session of the two Houses this morning so that PB&F could answer questions once rather than having to do a presentation to both Houses.

The budget is structured around the Five Marks of Mission (right) and are classified as either program (p), canonically required (c) or administrative (a). In the event of a budget shortfall, program is cut first. The budget itself can be accessed here and will be discussed, possibly amended, and voted on tomorrow. One highlight is that the diocesan “asking” will be reduced to 18%, 16.5%, and then 15% over the next three years and the amount of money exempt from that assessment will increase from $120,000 to $150,000. All of these changes will save dioceses tens of thousands of dollars.

Restructuring Executive Council, CCABs, and the Budget Process (House of Deputies vote)

Later that afternoon, the House of Deputies took up the resolutions submitted by the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). Bishop Mary sat on the task force. All structure resolutions (including TREC’s, the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions, and others) were considered by the Standing Committee on Governance and Structure and many were combined into three resolutions:

  1. Clarifying roles of Executive Council (Español) and staff and adding a Chief Legal Officer to the Chief Operations Officer and Chief Financial Officer to form three-fold management team, in addition to the Presiding Bishop (Executive Committee Chair) and President of the House of Deputies (Executive Committee Vice-chair)
  2. Eliminating almost all Standing Committees (Español) except the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons and the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music in favor of task forces and Executive Council committees, all of which  would report to Executive Council and would “sunset” (end) at the next General Convention unless renewed.
  3. Bringing the canons into agreement (Español) with the current more collaborative and open budget practice and moving from an “asking” to an assessment (required) from dioceses with a review process in case of financial hardship. This requirement takes effect January 1, 2019.

All of the above passed in substantially their original forms. The House of Bishops discussed them later in the afternoon and may have made some changes which will require that they come back for approval.

Marriage Resolution Vote Authorization of Same-Sex Marriage Rites for “Trial Use” and Marriage Canon Changes (concur with HOB)

Last, but most certainly not least, the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage presented their two resolutions which had already been amended and approved by the House of Bishops. Deputy Jeff Diehl served on this committee. The committee presented two resolutions:

  1. The first resolution was to continue to authorize the same-sex blessing rite as appropriate for use when same-sex marriage is not legal. This would have to be re-authorized again at the next General Convention in the unlikely event it was needed. The resolution also authorized “for trial use” rites for same-sex (or opposite-sex) marriage. The “trial use” designation means that the rites might eventually be included in the Book of Common Prayer. The resolution included a clause requiring bishops to facilitate the ability for any couple to marry (regardless of gender) but retained the “conscience clause” allowing them to forbid the use of the rites in their dioceses or by their clergy. They would have to make other arrangements for same-sex couples. This passed decisively. Having already passed the House of Bishops, it is now an Act of General Convention.
  2. The second resolution almost completely re-wrote the “Marriage Canon” (Canon I.18) to make it gender-neutral, meaning that it no longer refers to “husband and wife.” It also modified the “Statement of Intent” to affirm the church’s teaching without requiring the couple to affirm it, since one person of any couple can be of another (or no) faith tradition and might not be able to affirm a faith statement. This passed, though not quite as decisively as the previous resolution. Again, having already passed the House of Bishops, it is an Act of General Convention.

The upshot of the above is that same-sex marriage is now approved across the Episcopal Church except in dioceses in which the bishop does not approve, in which case he (they are all he) must make arrangements for couples to seek the church’s blessing in other ways or (more likely) other locations.

Whew! A busy day for all! Today ended with “Utah Night” at the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square where bishops and deputies were treated to a variety of stage acts from drummers to choirs to Mexican dancers, hosted by the Diocese of Utah. More tomorrow!