I attended my first synod this last week. I’ve never been a lay delegate before. It was an interesting piece of how the polity of the Episcopal church operates. The atmosphere was combination of extreme civility and strange undercurrents.
So how to begin – a lot of the character of this synod can be summed up as a statement on the whole of our diocese. We are a traditional diocese in the midst of a widely varied communion. We have more traditional brethren and more liberal brethren. We have some who seek to have the church reflect their politics rather than their politics reflect their church.
Here are a smattering of the sticking points – we (Episcopalians) support the idea of sacred life. We are creations of a divine being and that is no trivial matter. However that is not the same thing as being specifically politically pro-life or pro-choice. Both views exist within the church and occupy the same pews within the same Eucharistic communities. [As a side note- Episcopalians define the church as the people of the church, not a set of buildings or administrative structures]. So, it is difficult for some members to feel comfortable tithing when the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (see this definition) or DFMS is a major beneficiary of said tithes. The feeling is that DFMS falls to the liberal and pro-choice side of the spectrum. Some congregants feel strongly enough about this that they wanted another avenue and so created a line item in the budget for supporting the counter political side. I was pretty saddened to see such continued contention. I would prefer that we focus on what we all believe (sacred life) and not which political ideological name buzzes our personal buttons. In the absence of that it does feel a bit like by standing for both political views we essentially stand for nothing. Another sticking point was the designation of money to local outreach as opposed to DFMS. I learned that back in 2003 some fairly unhappy folks had voted to split the money set aside for DFMS support and create a local outreach fund for ministries and services with which they felt less controversy. 2003 is a four letter word in Episcopal circles due to a division of assets which turned into litigation. Like a contentious divorce, those who were involved are still hurting and in need of divorce recovery counseling. The decision in this case was to throw support back to DFMS in the hopes of greater reconciliation. I’m still pondering this quirky turn of events as my personal stake has nothing to do with 2003 and everything to do with a wish to support local outreach. It’s a bit puzzling that this came down to an either/or.
Another eye-opener for me was the political machination of it all. For example, when a sticking point was identified, the time at which we ended became of paramount importance and since no resolution was imminent the question was called in order to end the debate. In this case the plea was to find a middle ground in the rules surrounding voting rights for military chaplains. The gentleman who spoke, CMDR Mark Wingard, had hoped that a constitutional change might resolve and allow him, a canonical long time resident of the diocese, but not a personal resident of the diocese to have a vote in this instance. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, this was a sticking point because in a former election cycle someone (a former bishop I think) had attempted to stack the deck by commissioning a number of military chaplains to the diocese to sway the vote. How weird to see Chicago style politics at play in a church setting, and yet there they were. I feel badly that a resolution for Fr. Wingard could not be found, and wonder what it says to such faithful servants when we can’t wordsmith our way to a solution. My personal feeling is that something in the canonical wording which is being revised for next synod related to defining Eucharistic communities could resolve this issue, but my priest is of the opinion that this will likely not get resolved. Sounds like a challenge to me 😉
On the positive and uplifting side of the synod, some much needed streamlining to the diocesan constitution were accomplished for a first reading. In addition, I had the privilege of meeting Bishop Elias of Tabora for whom I’ve been praying for years. He and his wife Lucy spoke and were eloquent in their thanks for the continued relationship. In his diocese they are working hard to make education for girls a priority and constructing a hostel for girls as they attend schools to keep them safe. In today’s world this work is of vital importance and it was great to see a grant of love from the ECW of our Diocese to Tabora or a bit over $10K for this hostel.
I also connected with a colleague whom I have to admit I had no idea was Episcopalian until we met there. I knew I liked her 😉 I got to speak with a few of the people whom I hope will be my future clerical colleagues. Deacon Chris and Mother Beth have been so encouraging. Deacon David whom I first met at his ordination is now halfway to his year before being ordained as a priest. Fr. Ben whom my local eucharistic community supported through seminary is now serving his own community and taking on a role over several of the diocesan youth programs. Its a family, complete with it’s crazy uncles and aunties and the couple of outlaws, and I’m happy to say it feels like my family.