General Convention Summary 1979

Episcopal News Service. September 27, 1979 [79268]

Howard Freeman

Denver -- The Episcopal Church ended its sixty-sixth General Convention here Sept. 20 with a new Book of Common Prayer officially adopted but leaving in its wake a potential controversy centering on the ordination of avowed homosexuals.

By overwhelming votes in both its House of Bishops and House of Deputies, the Convention, the supreme legislative forum of American Anglicans, gave second and final approval to the 1979 Prayer Book while agreeing that "liturgical texts" from the replaced 1928 version may continue to be used under guidelines administered by the diocesan bishops.

The "bitter" conflict over adoption of the 1979 book forecast by some failed to materialize, with both proponents and opponents approaching the issue in a spirit of purposeful reconciliation, reflected in the assent of both houses to resort to the 1928 work "in worship under the authority of the bishop as chief pastor and liturgical officer and subject to the guidelines of this convention...."

Adoption of the 1979 book, first approved three years ago at the Minneapolis convention but requiring second reading under the Church's constitution, was achieved in the House of Bishops by a voice vote with only a scattering of "nays". In the House of Deputies, the vote was 107 "yes," one "no" and two divided on the clergy side, while the lay representatives cast 99 "yes," two "no" and had six divided delegations.

The resolution giving final adoption made clear that "this action in no way sanctions the existence of two authorized Books of Common Prayer or diminishes the authority of the official liturgy of this Church as established by this Convention."

In this connection the Convention recommended that among congregations there be continuing study of the new book, that individual worshippers participate actively in the liturgy and that congregations develop Worship Committees to work with and advise their rectors or vicars.

An accommodation of disparate views on the matter of ordaining professed homosexuals to the ministry was not so easily forthcoming, and here the only genuine rift to surface in the Convention was apparent.

What came out of long hours of often intense and passionate debate was adoption by both Houses of a resolution which carried with it the clear sense that the Church is still not prepared to welcome practicing homosexual men and women into the ordained ministry.

The key language of the resolution, which is not legally binding upon individual dioceses and local congregations but which, in the opinion of most delegates, will nevertheless be regarded as morally controlling, was the final paragraph in the report of the Bishops' Committee on Ministry:

"We re-affirm the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage, marital fidelity and sexual chastity as the standard of Christian sexual morality. Candidates are expected to conform to this standard. Therefore, we believe it isn't appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage. "

The Bishops had adopted this report as a policy resolution on Monday, overriding the recommendation of the Church's Joint Commission on Health and Human Affairs that "no human condition be made an absolute barrier to ordination."

Within hours 21 bishops, whose number later rose to 23, had issued a "statement of conscience" affirming their intention not to abide by the recommendatory action but rather to deal with ordinands on an individual basis according to qualification. Among those signing the declaration was the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Bishop of New York, who some time ago ordained a professed lesbian to the priesthood in his diocese.

When the resolution reached the Deputies for concurrence, they had before them a recommendation of their Committee on Ministry that it be adopted but with the final sentence of the resolution deleted.

Five hours of far-ranging debate, interspersed with efforts to amend, table and postpone, came to a climax late Tuesday, the 18th, when the Deputies, having defeated the effort to strike the sentence, voted by orders to concur in the Bishops' resolution. The vote was 72 "yes" and 18 "no" in the lay order, with 13 divided and 55 needed for passage, while among the clergy, with 56 required for adoption, 70 delegations approved, 29 were opposed and 11 divided.

Shortly after the vote an Eastern Oregon clergyman, the Rev. Jeffrey E. Sells, announced that he was associating himself with the dissenting bishops and asked other rectors and vicars to join him. More than 150 clergy and lay persons signed the statement.

There was substantial disagreement among many delegates as to the lasting effect of the split over the ordination issue, with most voicing the belief that it probably would not materially change the attitude or course of local bishops since those favoring ordination of homoxesual persons could properly cite the recommendatory nature of the action.

Meanwhile, other business of the Convention proceeded at a pace and spirit in marked contrast with the hectic sessions of 1970, 1973 and 1976. With the ordination of women settled at Minneapolis three years ago, the Prayer Book issue and question of ordination of homosexuals remained the only real sources of potential difficulty in Denver, and that difficulty simply failed to develop on a major scale.

As an example of the equable climate of this meeting, the program budget for the Church for 1980, totaling $15,823,935, was adopted by both Bishops and Deputies virtually without debate. It reflected an increase of $1. 2 million over the 1979 allocation.

The three black colleges of the Church -- St. Paul's, St. Augustine's and Voorhees -- gained restoration of $100,000 that had been cut from their appropriations by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. Other increases over 1979 included $281,000 more for Education for Mission and Ministry, $387,000 in addition for the National Mission in Church and Society, $142,000 more for World Mission in Church and Society and increases for operating and administrative needs of the national Church.

Basic source of income to finance the budget is the $14,360,935 in apportionments assigned the domestic dioceses of the Church. However, the Budget and Finance Committee is basing its projected expenditure allocations on an expected actual receipt from that source of $12,987,935. In 1981 and 1982 the Executive Council will set the national Church budget in accordance with the formula set down by General Convention.

The Convention continued to give affirmative support to ecumenical programs seeking to close the separation from other communions, notably the Roman Catholic.

First, it adopted a statement on the "nature of the unity we seek," declaring that it must include "one eucharistic fellowship" and a "communion of communions based upon catholicity and apostolicity." In such "organic relationship," the statement affirms, "all will recognize each other's members and ministries. All will share the bread and cup of the Lord."

The Convention also affirmed documents on Eucharistic Doctrine and Ministry and Ordination as "the statement of faith of this Church" upon which to proceed "toward unity with the Roman Catholic Church. " In this same area, Convention adopted the statement on the "Purpose of the Church" produced jointly by the Episcopal and Roman churches in the United States, and asked its own Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations to invite the Roman Catholic Bishops' Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs to sponsor an Episcopal-Roman Catholic conference to study the various statements and proposals and "what can be done to implement them."

The Convention also recognized the Consultation on Church Union as the principal area in which Episcopalians can engage in serious dialogue with the nine Protestant bodies constituting the group, organized to explore avenues leading to possible unification. It received the first six chapters of the work, "In Quest of a Church of Christ Uniting" -- the proposed name for the united denominations -- and recommended their study to theological schools, diocesan ecumenical commissions and parishes.

An intensified dialogue with the Lutherans was also urged upon the Church's Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations.

The Convention reflected its strong support of theological education by approving in principle a form of regular support for the purpose, at the same time asking the Board for Theological Education to come to the next Convention with a plan for funding of seminaries. The proposal also seeks consideration of a plan which would require each parochial unit of the Church to allocate an annual percentage of its non-capital income to such funding.

In this general area the Convention stressed the importance of ecumenical participants without vote in national and diocesan bodies of the Episcopal Church and directed the continuance of this kind of interaction.

In keeping with this spirit, Convention reaffirmed its acceptance of the Anglican Consultative Council's constitution and clarified its function as an advisory though not legislative body. It also adopted criteria for Episcopal Church representation on the Council.

The Church also dealt actively with national and international affairs in a series of resolutions and actions.

It restated its commitment to the alleviation of hunger and malnutrition throughout the world and commended the work of the National Hunger Committee. It urged that those dioceses which have not already done so establish hunger committees with local parish programs, and generally offered encouragement to Episcopalians to become active in promotion of legislation promoting the alleviation of hunger.

Continuing the life of the Executive Council's Task Force on Energy and the Environment, the Convention called upon every member of the Church to "exercise a responsible life-style," including conservation of energy, dedication to simpler eating habits and family planning. Emphasizing the Task Force's concern with the world's limited resources, Convention asked all agencies of the Church to give priority to that concern in meetings and conferences of its various bodies.

Endorsing passage of the Equal Rights Amendment by those states not yet on record, the Convention proper took a stand incongruously contrary to the action of the Women of the Church who, in their concurrent Triennial, reversed their own approval of the amendment of three years before and opposed its passage by a substantial margin.

At the same time an effort in Convention to switch the 1982 triennial general gathering from New Orleans because Louisiana has not passed the constitutional amendment failed. In related action, the Convention selected Detroit over Louisville for its 1988 convention site; it had already voted in 1976 to meet in Anaheim, California, in 1985. It had met previously in Louisville in 1973.

With an almost complete lack of opposition, Convention established a Joint Commission on Peace with a mandate to implement the 1962 pastoral letter from the House of Bishops on "Peace and War. " The commission will include three bishops, three presbyters and six lay persons.

In this same area, Convention encouraged youthful Episcopalians who are conscientious objectors to register their convictions with the Executive Council, which was at the same time to maintain an ongoing program of draft counseling should Congress reintroduce military conscription.

Bishops and Deputies both stressed their concern over the plight of many of the elderly by authorizing the Episcopal Society for Ministry to the Aging to initiate and implement programs to assist older adults in meeting the problems brought on by passing years. Both clergy and lay resources were recommended in development of training and support programs involving social issues dealing with the aging, and all members of the Church were asked to help in this work.

Reflecting its continuing determination to articulate opposition to discrimination based on sex, Convention updated references relating to gender in the Church's canons, as a further means of demonstrating "the reality of all forms of ministry being open to both men and women." This it did by changing "man" to "person" wherever it occurs in the canons, "clergyman" to "member of the clergy", "clergymen" (in the plural) to "clergy" and "laymen" to "lay persons." It also authorized a general canon to make clear that the masculine pronoun where it occurs refers to the feminine gender as well.

Convention also dealt with a broad range of structural and internal matters, some of considerable importance to the Church in terms of polity and personal leadership.

At their concurrent Triennial Meeting, the Women of the Church announced that they had authorized distribution of grants to various programs and projects throughout the Church totaling $1,864,650. At the same time "ingathering" funds received by the organization came to $1,917,789.47, representing a source of assistance without which numerous Church and Church-related activities would either cease or be seriously hampered.

The Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico was set free by Convention, under the interim authority of the president and synod of Province IX, to shape its own future. Although some bishops expressed uneasiness over what they termed the "premature" nature of the move, both houses approved a resolution under which Presiding Bishop John M. Allin will make the transfer of autonomy as quickly as the diocese has endorsed the Convention covenant and it has been approved by Provincial leaders.

Organization of two new dioceses was ratified by Convention -- El Camino Real, consisting of the geographical southern half of the present Diocese of California along the central coast of that state, and Western Louisiana, divided from the eastern portion of the present Diocese of Louisiana.

Election of three bishops and resignation of six others was confirmed by Convention. Those confirmed were William G. Black as Bishop Coadjutor of Southern Ohio and B. Sidney Sanders as Coadjutor of East Carolina, and Walter Dennis as Suffragan Bishop of New York. Resignations were accepted from Bishops Joseph Harte, Arizona; James Duncan, Southeast Florida; C. Kilmer Myers, California; William Brady, Fond du Lac, John Baden, Southern Virginia, and William B. Spofford, Eastern Oregon, the last for reasons of mission strategy.

At the same time Convention gave consent to elections of Bishops Coadjutor in the Dioceses of Fond du Lac, Central Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The Diocese of California earlier had chosen the Rev.William Swing of Washington, D. C., as Bishop Coadjutor to succeed Bishop Myers at year-end.

Convention also voted to authorize the presidencies of its nine provinces to be filled by persons other than bishops but with the proviso that when this occurs, a bishop must be chosen as vice president and also serve as president of the provincial House of Bishops.

Ten persons -- two bishops, two priests and six laypersons -- were elected to six-year terms on the 44-member Executive Council, which functions for the Convention between meetings. They were the Rt. Rev. A. Donald Davies of Dallas; the Rt. Rev. Walter C. Righter of Iowa; the Rev. Herbert A. Donovan, Jr., Newark; Pamela Chinnis, Washington; John L. Carson, Colorado; Robert F. Gaines, Northern California; Harry Griffith, Central Florida; Harry W. Havemeyer, New York; Dixie Hutchinson, Dallas; and the Rev. Maurice M. Benitez.

Dr. Charles Lawrence was re-elected president of the Convention's House of Deputies, as was its vice president, the Very Rev. David Collins. The Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. John M. Allin, presides over the House of Bishops. Also returned to office were Kenneth W. Miller as treasurer and the Rev. Canon James Gundrum as executive officer of General Convention.

In other matters the Convention designated the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church as custodian of its archives, and authorized optional use of the Book of Occasional Services. The House of Bishops affirmed a covenant with the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Majabar.

In one of its last actions Wed. the House of Bishops concurred in a resolution previously passed by Deputies, dealing with Middle East problems. The resolution noted "with thankfulness" the signing of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and affirmed Israel's right of existence while supporting "the opportunity to establish a free and independent Palestinian state" recognizing Israel. It also urges a solution guaranteeing free and secure access to Jerusalem "by people of all faiths."

An effort to place the Convention on record in support of the SALT II treaty with Soviet Russia failed when the two houses could not agree on its wording.

Also lost were two proposals dealing with the size and voting procedures of Convention itself, both by action of the Deputies. One would have reduced diocesan representation from eight to six members and the other would have reformed the controversial divided vote system. Under the latter, deputations whose votes are evenly divided in either order have the effect of counting as negative, because rules call for passage of actions by a majority of all voting. Efforts over the years to change the method have been unavailing.

One piece of offered legislation caused some introspective consideration before being rejected. It was a resolution proposing that Episcopalians declare a one-year moratorium on the consumption of spirituous liquors. It passed in the Deputies, but in the House of Bishops it was lost, with one member observing the vote was taken "with hardly a dry eye in the place."

Meeting Thursday morning in joint session for simple devotional services, the two houses then went into final deliberations before adjournment. Most of the morning was taken up with last-minute house-keeping matters and concurrences with legislation coming from one house to the other. A notable exception was the traditional pastoral letter from the Bishops, entitled "Toward Tomorrow."