The stakes were high, and everyone knew it. The substitute for A068, the resolution initiating revision of the Book of Common Prayer, was a compromise carefully constructed to attend to a variety of anxieties and possible futures.
Following the deliberation of the Deputies on the substitute passed by the House of Bishops, the bishops on the committee returned to the room to receive the verdict. Was this an acceptable compromise?
The relief was visible on their faces the moment The Very Rev. Sam Candler told the bishops that the Deputies had passed the new A068 without amendment. Smiling, Bishop Lee of Chicago remarked, “It turns out conciliarity works.” The new A068 would go on to be passed by the House of Deputies, initiating a new period in our life of common prayer.
It turns out conciliarity works. Ephraim Radner points out that the word “conciliarity” has multiple roots, both essential to its meaning. “Counsel” simply means to bring a diverse group of individuals into one place. “Council” means to call together for a purpose. And so conciliarity works for the Church when a diverse group of individuals gathers in one place, called together for a holy God-given purpose, that is, love lived out through communion.
I have been going to General Convention since 2009. That may make me sound old, but, in fact, I was just precocious. The first time I attended General Convention, I went with the intention of seeing my side win. I had joined the Episcopal Church in 2004, just after The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson was elected, in part because I had the sense that the Spirit was doing something new and good in The Episcopal Church. My Christian friends and family in the LGBT community needed a win, and here was a church that was opening new doors. So, when I went to Convention in 2009, the highlight for me was the defiantly joyful Integrity Eucharist. This is love lived out through communion, I thought. Conciliarity works. We are bringing a diverse group of individuals together for a holy purpose.
Then, I looked around and saw who was missing. Following that experience I began to be more intensely aware of the struggle and alienation within the Church, and I began to wonder whether our practice of conciliarity actually did work for us. Each subsequent Convention I attended felt like a battle as “traditional” voices started to fade. In 2012, I watched all but one of the deputies from South Carolina walk out. In 2015, I was elated and joyful as the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage was announced during the Convention, but I saw others who were wondering whether there was still a place in this Church for them. I came to this Convention expecting the battle to begin again, exhausted by the thought of doing this every three years from here on out or until a Prayer Book revision would consolidate the triumph of one side and the alienation of the other. Having worked with Spanish-speaking congregations for about five years, my ears were better attuned to the voices of people in Province IX and in congregations within churches in the U.S., who worried about whether they would just be handed a book in about twelve years which wouldn’t work for them. I was concerned that we had come together to have a conversation that we were not prepared to have, and that true conciliarity would be unachievable in this setting.
Today, I feel joyful and hopeful. Call me naïve, but today I believe with Bishop Lee that conciliarity works and that we have seen it at work in this General Convention in ways that might liberate us from some destructive patterns. A068 takes winning the prayer book revision off the table, and it creates avenues for the growth and deepening of our life of common prayer, even we head out into diverse missional contexts and new voices come to the table. B012 makes a way (for many) where there had been no way for same-sex marriages to be celebrated, where all marriage should be celebrated – in the context of one’s own community of faith.
Conciliarity works for the Church when a diverse group of individuals gathers in one place, called together for a holy God-given purpose, that is, love lived out through communion. To the bishops who came together to hammer out a complex compromise because you knew that the Spirit desired us to be together in our diversity, thank you. To the deputies on lucky Committee 13 and in the House of Deputies, who chose a still uncertain path forward because you knew that the Spirit desired us to be together in our diversity, thank you.
May we remember and not forget how life-giving and liberating true conciliarity is, and may it deepen its work in us by bringing us through love into communion with each other and our God.