Note: The 78th Episcopal General Convention met in Salt Lake City June 25–July 3, 2015. The General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church that meets every three years. The Convention is a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. The work at Convention is carried out by Deputies and Bishops representing each diocese. During its triennial meeting, Deputies and Bishops consider a wide range of important matters facing the Church. This year the election of a new Presiding Bishop was on the agenda. St. Philip’s Rector, the Rev. Canon John E. Kitagawa, was one of the Deputies from the Diocese of Arizona. He also served as vice-chair of the Social Justice and International Policy Committee. Below are his notes, posted during General Convention, with occasional editorial clarifications.
General Convention I, 06.25.15
Yesterday, in a joint session with the House of Bishops, the four Presiding Bishop (PB) candidates were presented, given the opportunity to make statements and to respond to some statements. The format was a bit on the scripted side, but the afternoon was informative. I appreciated this first effort to include the House of Deputies, even though we only get to vote to confirm the election of the House of Bishops. My reflections: 1) all the candidates are qualified to lead the Church. 2) In a time when we are trying to “reimagine the church,” I favor Bishop Michael Curry. I believe he has the spiritual gifts that would help us be grounded in Scripture, and focused on mission. It could be easy to allow the discussions about structure to obfuscate who we are and what we are called to be and do. I also believe a wide segment of the Episcopal Church is in a negative psychological, emotional, and spiritual place — spooked by the statistical/demographic data for the Pew research. No doubt we are losing members and influence, but there is so much potential for fruitfulness born of faithful living and faithful relationships and faithful action. When a parish priest, Bishop Curry had annual revivals in the parish that attracted Episcopalians, neighborhood people, and many others. I think Bishop Curry would bring infectious inspiration and hope. Full disclosure — I have known Michael since Hobart College days, and worked with very closely when we were in the Diocese of Maryland.
As always, one of the best aspects of General Convention is the strengthening and/or renewing of relationships. Where else am I going to meet so many fellow workers in the vineyard?
General Convention II, 06.25.15
Most of my energy today went into Legislative Committee #7 — Social Justice and International Policy. We had hearings on seven different resolutions having to do with Middle Eastern (read Israel/Palestine) issues. One of the major lines of discussion was on the Boycott and Divestment strategy. We heard eloquent testimony on many aspects of the issues. There is clearly agreement that the situation is untenable, and that Palestinians are suffering a great deal. After that there is no consensus. It will be up to the Committee to discuss and decide which resolutions go forward to the House of Bishops (house of initial action). That discussion begins tomorrow.
We had our first community Eucharist this morning — PB Jefferts Schori celebrating and preaching. I’m always inspired when worshipping with a huge congregation full of the Spirit.
Both Houses got organized and moving. House of Deputies’ biggest accomplishment was to pass a new set of Rules of Order. It was not the most scintilating discussion, but necessary changes are now accomplished.
Managed a brief stop into a reception by the American Committee for KEEP (I used to chair the Board). Good to see old friends and reconnect with good work.
(Note: American Committee for KEEP [Kyosato Educational Experiment Project] supports the work in agriculture, education, health and Christian democracy begun by Paul Rusch, an American lay missionary, in rural Japan in 1938. ACK seeks to promote world peace through building bridges of understanding among rural people of Japan, the Philippines and the USA.)
General Convention III, 06.26.15
I was in a Committee Meeting (Social Justice and International Policy) when my phone started buzzing like crazy. I was receiving messages and posts about the SCOTUS 5-4 Decision. I asked for and was granted a Point of Personal Privilege to share the good news. Joy spread through the room and on my colleagues’ faces. Realistically, everything for the rest of the day was kind of anti-climactic—though I was able to embrace Gene Robinson and tell him I was sure that courageous people like him made this day possible.
The Committee worked on A-047 on Moral Injury. If you can find this resolution, it has been significantly edited, but the original text will give a good idea about the intent. I think this could be an important one.
The Committee also started to wrestle with the Middle East resolutions. Stay tuned.
Kathy and I actually had dinner together tonight!
General Convention IV, 06.27.15
Today was undoubtedly one of the best days of General Convention (GC) in my experience. My first GC was 1976, when I represented my seminary in Minneapolis, and witnessed the favorable vote for the ordination of women. I have been to every GC since — this is eighth as Deputy (Diocese of Maryland and Diocese of Arizona). Some other hightlights were in relationship to opening the Church to LGBTQ, same sex blessings, Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat, election of Katharine Jefferts Schori to be PB.
The big headline today, of course, was the election of Michael B. Curry to be our PB. He will be the first African-American PB. This is another historic step for the Episcopal Church. As I said in a previous note, he will keep us Bibically grounded and spiritually focused as we work our way through issues of structure and re-imagining the Church. At a personal level, it feels so good to have my leader be a friend.
Less in the news was the honoring of past Presidents and Vice Presidents of the House of Deputies. One was Dr. Charles Willie who was the first African-American Vice President of the House of Deputies. He resigned as a principalled stand when the GC failed to move more expiditiously on Women’s Ordination. He was the preacher at the Philadelphia 11 ordinations. (Note: The Philadelphia Eleven are eleven women who were ordained as the first female priests in the Episcopal Church on July 29, 1974, two years before General Convention affirmed and explicitly authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood.) He was a little amazed when I introduced myself as Daisuke Kitagawa’s son. They were good friends. I later had an opportunity for a warm conversation with Charles and his wife, Mary Sue. In a sense, Michael Curry stands on Charles Willie’s historical shoulders. I had one of those arc of history experiences.
We did other things, but it was pretty anti-climactic.
I have to say that my sub-group is doing great work on Middle Eastern resolutions. I hope the full committee will approve Monday morning.
General Convention V, 06.28.15
Lots of people showed up for the Bishops’ March Against Gun Violence at 7:15 am. It was well worth it. The speakers were inspiring, and the large crowd was upbeat and positive despite the tragedies. I hope we will all return to our communities and work on this!
The music at today’s Eucharist was much more traditional — choir, brass, organ. Beautiful, but quite a difference from yesterday’s native american drum circle and flute, and the jazz ensemble the day before. A lesson was read by a Navajo college student from the U of A — Byron Sloan. He stutters a little, and did a great job. The congregation was 100% in support. PB Jefferts Schori seemed much more relaxed. Preached a great sermon with much more affect and personality.
I had lunch with many people from the EAM — Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries. Lucked out and sat next to Bishop Uematsue, Primate of the Nippon Sei Kokai. We have met before, both here and in Japan. On the other side was Jennifer Corwin, Exec for the American Committee for KEEP. I used to chair that Board. GC is always great for renewing relationships.
The afernoon legislative session was fairly unremarkable. No committee meetings today! Woohoo!
General Convention VI, 06.29.15
This was another long day, starting with a Diocese of Arizona Bishop and Deputation meeting at 6:30 am (with breakfast). These are useful despite the early hour. We get to learn about what has been going in Legislative Committees, and what will be coming to the House of Bishops or Deputies. Following this, I had my Committee #7 meeting in which we perfected resolutions on Holy Land — one basically a solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land, and one dealing with positive investment in the Palestinian economy and infrastructure, calling for restorative justice and building relationships, with some funding for Israeli and Palestinian joint peace and reconciliation projects.
At lunch time, I had an appointment with the Church Pension Fund to do a “check up” on my Retirement benefits. I was pretty sure about status, but it was good to hear their affirmation of my thoughts.
The Legislative Session was for 4 hours! We actually got some things done! We passed I think three kinds of evangelism resolutions, including one for new church plants. One of the hightlights was the Mississippi Delegation getting up to endorse a resolution to remove the Confederate flag from churches, public and private buildings, facilities, etc. We also voted to continue the work of the Executive Council’s Anti-Racism Committee (which I chaired a while back). We voted to concur with the Bishops on continuing the Marriage Study. An important resolution had to do with a task force to look at the process of Episcopal (bishop) elections. We also voted for a resolution to reduce gun violence. All this happened with a minimum of rancor, and a generally positive spirit. Of course, we occasionally got bogged down in parliamentary procedure, but generally things passed with strong backing.
I had a quick dinner with fellow Deputies Susan Snook and Dan Packard.
I had a committee meeting from 7:00 pm to almost 9:00 pm.
General Convention VII, 06.30.15
It occured to me during worship this morning that there are indeed more young Deputies than in previous conventions. This is not just a demographic fact. It is also the case that they are making great contributions (note today’s preacher and the Navajo woman who preached as examples). Perhaps more importantly, they are by their very being bringing a fresher, newer, and more contempory life experience, perspective, and approach to ministry. This is really cool. I’ve been reflecting on the arc of history, longevity of service and the positives that come with these. I think I’m now seeing a more balanced view of the Convention.
The Joint Session included a brief farewell and thanks to PB Katharine Jefferts Schori for her 9 years of amazing ministry. Former PB Frank Griswold came to pay tribute to her. Ray Suarez, formerly of PBS, was the MC. St. Philip’s was greatly blessed by PB Jefferts Schori’s visit on our 75th Anniversary in 2011. I was honored to be a part of the Interfaith Pilgrimage to the Holy Land that she led in January. (Read about that trip here.)
My committee labors on. We got more done in an 8:30 to 10:00 pm meeting. We’ll be back at at 7:00 am. We have to finish up in order for things to get to the originating house of action (House of Bishops) then hopefully to House of Deputies without amendments.
Fatigue and certain amount of crankiness is settling in among the Deputies, but I believe we will get the important work done.
General Convention Reflection, 07.01.15
My Committee — #7 Social Justice and International Policy — finished its work this morning with work on a third resolution regarding Israel/Palestine. The final product could be seen as leading towards divestment, though it does not say so explicitly. This will go to the House of Bishops first. The Committee could be called back into meeting if the House of Bishops changes any of the resolutions we sent to them. This would require the HOD committee to decide what to then recommend to the HOD.
The celebrant at the Eucharist was the Rt. Rev. Scott Hayashi, host Bishop of Utah. The service prelude was done by a Taiko drum “band.” They also played a little during the distribution of Eucharist. I first heard them as I came down an escalator outside the worship space. I immediately knew what was going on. Later, I asked the President of the HOD for a point of personal privilege. When recognized, I said something like: “Thank you, madam Presdient. Kitagawa, John of Arizona, son of Kitagawa, Daisuke, grandson of Kitagawa, Chiyokichi of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai. I wish to thank the convention planners for including Taiko drums in worship this morning. It was for me a holy sacramental moment — an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of community and inclusion. Thank you.” It was a very special experience.
This afternoon, the HOD concurred the two significant and historic HOB resolutions. The first made it possible to use two different marriage rites. The blessing rite authorized in 2012 is now official and may be used by same sex and heterosexual couples. The Prayer Book marriage rite may also be used by same sex and heterosexual couples, with some minor language changes. The second resolution was a canonical change to make the above possible. The debate was respectful. I thought we comported ourselves well.
I do not have to go an early morning committee meeting tomorrow! Woohoo!
What Happened in Salt Lake City Must Not Stay in Salt Lake City — General Convention Reflection, 07.03.15
Sorry about not writing last night. I was very tired.
The House of Deputies finished its business about 6:00 pm. Bishop Smith treated Deputies remaining and spouses to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. We each shared hightlights. Here are some of mine:
- The election of Michael Curry to be the next Presiding Bishop. Nine years ago we made history electing the first female Presiding Bishop and Primate, (Katharine Jefferts Schori) not only for the Episcopal Church, but also for the Anglican Communion. Now we’ve elect the first African American Presiding Bishop (Michael Curry).
- As I wrote a few days ago, the Taiko drumming struck a deep chord within me. I called it an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of community and inclusion.
- The train of restructuring and reimagining the Church has left the station with some structural changes, a commitment to evangelism, new congregation starts, and the eradication of racism. We should figure out more ways to be visible on an important issue at General Conventions — get out our navel gazing, and make a public proclamation.
- I served as Vice Chair of Committee 7 on Social Justice and International Policy. I thought we did a lot of good work. Heard some powerful testimony, and came out with a wide range of resolutions that have potential for making a differende in people’s lives.
- The technological innovations and new Rules of Order served us well. The House of Deputies ran pretty smoothly. Even worship using the Virtual Binder worked really well.
- Worship and music were amazing.
- A priest whom I had never met approached me and thanked me. He said that St. Philip’s had done a Memorial Service for a parishioner’s mother, and that we had treated the family like they were long-time members. He really did not have to seek me out.
- Another priest approached me because I had helped him a lot when he had gotten into some problems when he was rector of a parish in Diocese of Maryland. I did not recall the experience until he shared some of the details. That was a long time ago.
- Turns out the House of Deputies Chaplain, Lester MacKenzie, was once a student of St. Philip’s former Music Director, Garmon Ashby, at Bishop’s Public School in South Africa.
- I had a great time renewing relationships with Deputies from the Diocese of Maryland, and forming new ones with some of the newer Deputies.
- The GC was younger, but it was not just a demographic fact. Younger deputies contributed a lot and showed a lot of leadership. The spirit of the convention was very positive and even when there were disagreements, I thought there was a lot of mutual respect and unity. The Holy Spirit is blowing through this Church. God is not done with us.
My final comment tonight — What happened in Salt Lake City must not stay in Salt Lake City. Those of us who were here must take this work home, spread the word and follow up by implementing the commitments and policies we made. I feel renewed spiritually, and I’m all in.
—The Rev. Canon John E. Kitagawa, D.Min.
Photos by John Kitagawa and Nicole Krug