The 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is well underway now in Anaheim, California, and has been for about a week. Some observers have seen fit to note that Anaheim is also the home of Disneyland, and of EPCOT center, Walt Disney’s own personal “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” meant by him to be herald and foretaste of the future peace, harmony, and blessed union that modern American progress would surely one day bring. Whether connections are there to be drawn, of course, I cannot say.
There are any number of sites following the action, if readers of First Things are so inclined. Kendall Harmon’s venerable TitusOneNine is still the gold standard, with posts from delegates and commentators across the Anglican spectrum. Covenant is an excellent newer site, featuring not only a newsfeed but also commentary from Communion-minded delegates such as Fr. Dan Martins and Dean Nicholas Knisely. The Living Church magazine, with its long-held reputation for excellent reporting, is indispensable. From the left bleachers, Episcopal Cafe is both thorough and a good barometer of where things stand. Last but not least, the Episcopal Church’s own news service is a good way to keep tabs on events and resolutions as they come down the pike. And if you want to take a step back from it all, the theologians over at the Anglican Communion Institute for their part have produced probably the best reflections around for the occasion.
What’s at stake? For those who’ve been keeping up with it all, there aren’t any surprises in store—as expected, the Convention is set to consider whether or not to approve rites of same-sex blessing (in one form or another) for some or all of the church, and whether or not to move back from their position of three years ago, when they resolved not to elect any more Gene Robinsons as bishop for the sake of the wider Anglican Communion. Other issues are in play, of course. Like everyone else these days, the church has some serious belt-tightening to do, and budget battles have already begun. There’s a newly proposed calendar of saints, too, which includes such unlikely luminaries as John Calvin, Copernicus, and William Mayo. (This has not met with universal approval.) Another very significant resolution to watch from an ecumenical and Communion-minded perspective was proposed by Fr. Dan Martins—if passed, it would have the church voluntarily abide by the terms of the draft Anglican Covenant.
What’s the buzz? Perhaps the first thing to note is that the absence of those who left the church to form ACNA has been felt. The conservative presence, many delegates say, is noticeably smaller, and somewhat muted in tone. It is, perhaps, the natural resignation of a group that feels a Rubicon has already been crossed, and which does not feel anymore that its causes will find much agreement at the Convention. But although that may well be true, it is not the whole story. Dioceses such as South Carolina and Dallas have their eyes trained toward larger Anglican Communion matters—although the largest portion of the Episcopal Church may well choose to walk apart from the rest of Anglicanism, for their part they intend to stay the course and stick with Canterbury and the Communion. Rowan Williams, for his part, attended the Convention and signaled his support for their cause.
And what will come of it all? Of course, at this point, it’s hard to say. The Convention is divided into two houses, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (made up of laypeople and clergy), both of which must agree if any legislation is to be passed. The House of Deputies, from all reports, seems quite strongly committed to passing same-sex blessings in some form, and also to changing the church’s present position of restraint on homosexual bishops. The House of Bishops, however, may be another story. Many bishops are fresh from the Lambeth Conference of a year ago, with minds more attuned to the Communion-wide and ecumenical implications of their actions. So, too, many bishops have looked closely at survey data and demographic reports that show a sharp decline in membership following the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, as well as high levels of parish-level and diocesan conflict. Neither the Episcopal Church nor the wider Anglican Communion may be ready for further changes, they may reason. And initial reports are, indeed, that many bishops are reasoning just this way. Gene Robinson, for his part, has expressed consternation that the bishops seem not be marching in step with the House of Deputies.
And so they may not be, but only time will tell. In the meantime, gentle reader, I will continue to scour the vast recesses of the Internet for every last news report, blog post, and Twitter tweet, so that you don’t have to. The bishops and delegates still have a week left before it’s all over, and you can expect a few words from me (for whatever they’re worth) after that. Until then—does anyone out there have any tickets to Disneyland they could spare? It’s a small world, after all . . .