I just returned from State College, PA where the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania met in Convention for the 142nd time. It was a whirlwind experience. What had been an event that occurred over the better part of three days has, over the year, been winnowed down to what we had this year: a single day packed with all the necessary business of the diocese. Some Conventions in the past had been contentious ones where very controversial issues were debated with great conviction. This year was not one of those. Instead, the delegates gathered in a genuine sense of godly respect for one another, which testified to the unity of the diocese in essential things.
I know that the bishop has been working toward this spirit for quite some time. In his address to the Convention, Bishop Baxter called us to a spirit of revival. He asked us to turn away from a way of thinking that sees only decline (members, finances) to examine and discern what we have in our possession – all gifts of God given for the work of God. He called us away from an attitude of apology where we are unsure of our Episcopal traditions and teachings toward a spirit of pride that recognizes the unique gifts we have as an Episcopal Church in the Anglican Tradition: particularly our unique way of discerning God’s call for us in the work of evangelizing a world that still awaits the full revelation of Christ.
As part of this call, Bishop Baxter outlined his intended response to the Resolution C056 from General Convention 2009 that called for a “generous pastoral response” to those persons in our congregations who are gay and lesbian and who have chosen to enter into a life-long, mutual, faithful and faith-filled commitment to one another. He told those gathered that should General Convention 2012 approve a liturgy for the Blessing of Covenental Relationships as proposed, we would approve its use for the parishes and clergy of the diocese under certain guidelines. He wished to emphasize, however, that because there is not unanimity on this matter, that all persons would be respected and honored, whether or not they agreed with this decision. No parish would be coerced or forced into implementing the trial liturgy and he would approve its use in a parish only after petition from the clergy and vestry of a given parish. Once General Convention takes action (an affirmative vote is most likely), he would publish guidelines that would guide the implementation of the liturgy and guide its pastoral application in parishes of the diocese.
The Convention took another positive step for inclusion in the daily life of the Church by approving a resolution calling for a formal “youth representation” to be seated at future Conventions in the diocese. The resolution called for the Canon for Children & Youth and Development to create the process for selecting the representatives and offer appropriate training. As one delegate commented, “For a long time we have heard how our youth are the future of the Church. They are not the future of the Church, they are the Church TODAY!” At that comment, the entire assembly broke into applause.
Other business included the approval of the operating budget for the diocese for 2013, the election of officers for the diocese in the coming year, and election of members on various canonically required bodies (Standing Committee, Council of Trustees, Disciplinary Board).
There was much more – it was a packed schedule – but we ended as we began, in prayer. Bishop Baxter led our closing Eucharist and bid peace and safe travels to all who had gathered. Next year’s Convention will be held at State College on June 8th.