GC97 Day 1: The Lay of the Land/Overview

Philadelphia: Thursday, 17 July 97

Dear Friends--

Day 1 of the official 72nd General Convention is now over--a day filled with incident, but without gross accident so far, depending upon one's point of view.

Civility so far reigns--more than anything else, a feeling of love is present--a willingness to listen. Even forces who have been--and remain so--deeply divided are clearly working to see God in one another. This may change... but spirits are high. The cavernous spaces for most of the largest meetings resemble nothing so much as airplane hangars--networks of steel girders high high above the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops span the space high above the speeches, the setting up of mechanisms for discourse.

I awoke to the dulcet tones of Pepper Marts, a member of his deputation (Rio Grande) and of the Anglican@American.Edu List, who breezed into the room I share with the delightful and witty Mary Jane Anderson, also a beloved of the Anglican List, and a Deputy for Chicago. For lo--Pepper of Albuquerque is _not_ rooming with us, but has stored a large box of printed materials, pertinent & necessary to the "Beyond Inclusion" booth in the Exhibitors Hall, to our tender care. So--8 a.m. and all was well indeed. Somewhat muddledly, your reporter sauntered the carpeted and marbled halls to worship, the opening Eucharist of this 72nd General Convention of the [P]ECUSA.

Many of you perhaps are acquainted with the Convention Center here... It is a grand and glorious conversion of the former train station and retains its grand feeling of welcome and urgency. The spaces are huge--high arcing spaces that ricochet with the sounds of hurrying Episcopalians struggling for some clue as to where they are supposed to be, books and papers flying. Many pieces of art--sculptural, painted, and photographic--line the walls and even impede one's progress from time to time. It seems that this artwork, some of it rather strange btw--has been placed where it has been placed simply to break up the monotony of the miles and miles of corridors, to fool the eye into believing that objects are closer than they appear. Unfortunately, the burden upon the art is too heavy--one of the main topics of conversation among Bishops, Laity, and Clergy alike, is ankle-swelling. Distance is a great leveler--and so also, apparently, is miles and miles of marble.

Some folks have been complaining that the water wall is not on. In my opinion, there is nothing more thrilling than the sound of thousands of Episcopalians at worship, bellowing away. One imagines that these here are the ones who struggle manfully and/or womanfully to lead their home congregations in word and song--and are usually pretty well resigned to being the loudest person there, at home. The cumulative effect of this willing leader spirit is strong, at times even deafening. (Who said that?!) So the sound is physical--a mighty rushing wind of voices that almost presses against the skin, a sound filled with yearning and a not-unpleasant ferocity of purpose.

One enters the worship space (a bleachered amphitheatre roughly the size of Madison Square Garden in N.Y. ) gratefully, for tremendous care has been taken to assure that all here remember who and why we are here--that what unites us is so much greater than what separates us. The heart of this shared endeavor hinges upon Worship, and the bridges that can and may keep us whole are forged in this space.

The altar is central, flanked on all sides by hundreds of round folding tables, and chairs--each table with a copy of the book of the Anglican Cycle of Prayer and various flyers pre-placed there by enterprising individuals. The long walls of the cavernous space are bleachered--and most people go right to the bleachers, since the extra height increases the chance of actually being able to see something.

Over the red-draped altar, suspended from the ceiling, is a huge circle of flowerlike stuff. It looks nothing so much like a bridal head-wreath for a gargantuan invisible bride, and four swaths of red material issue from this bridal crown off to four pillars.

(If one had not had enough coffee, for example, this crown might have looked like a giant misplace basketball hoop--with spectacularly underrehearsed players milling confusedly beneath it. Your mileage might have varied. I cannot possibly comment, of course.)

The Presiding Bishop, our soon-to-be-released +Ed Browning, seemed lit from within, more happy and relaxed than he has seemed in years. Archbishop Robin Eames of the Church of Ireland was the preacher for the opening Eucharist, and spoke movingly of the need for us all to become "an Easter people... touched by Good Friday, who live encapsulated in the warmth of Easter." He reminded us all that although we all love peace, we must also _make_ peace: a shared work. +Eames specifically challenged and encouraged the assembled 3,600 General Convention deputies, bishops and visitors to remember the realities of the whole world in which we all move and have our being--remembering our deep relationality as people of God. The Princeton Singers, under the skilled hands of their Director John Bertalot, sang clearly and beautifully... However, due to the immense size of the hall, not everyone in all parts of the space were able to hear the words of the prayers and preacher with equal clarity. Some grumbling was heard in addition to the mumbling.

After the Eucharist (which was accomplished with startling grace and speed!), the legislative Day began.

Perhaps it needs repeating that _this_ reporter will not provide the "hard" news concerning legislation, etc.--there are many sources for this information, much better ones, in their focus on News, than me... What I will try to provide is a wanderer's view of the shared life of this group for the whole ten days--how it _feels_ to be here, to listen, to participate, to watch the unfolding of many stories....

But, some hard news will sneak in from time to time--such as the remarkable and historic vote in the House of Bishops--after a mere TEN MINUTES of discussion/debate--approving the Concordat of Agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Of course, discussion upon the Concordat has been intensive, and has gone on both publicly and privately for a very long time, but the speed of decision was still a surprise. Many here credit Bishop Frank Griswold of Chicago--and his helpful streamlining of procedures in the House of Bishops (including the newer way of meeting and deliberating in tables rather than in lines--such small things _do_ make a difference in holy conversation--it is good for us all to see each other's eyes, for example!)--BUT, although Bp. Griswold is wonderful, I must also credit the excellent work and gentlemanly skill of my former Vicar, Bishop Herb Donovan. Anyway--it was a surprise that Concordat passed so quickly among the Bishops. Bp. William Wantland was the sole dissenter--as it was told to me--but his decision was gracefully and prayerfully reached. By any measure, however, this action is "an ecumenical event without parallel." The Concordat now proceeds (today, 7/17) to the House of Deputies for consideration and vote. Many Lutheran Pastors are in attendance as Visitors, observers, commentators, etc.

Suffice it to say that yesterday at least, the Hall of Exhibits was considerably more interesting--and more FUN--than the House of Deputies. I obeyed my inner and best imperatives and sat for a long long long while in the Hall of Deputies--listened to Dr. Pamela Chinnis (who is one of this reporter's favorite people on this planet, btw), the President of the House of Deputies speak, then others speak, then others, etc.... This is no aspersion upon the Deputies nor the Deputations--Nay! ---but introductory material, procedural material, etc. remains introductory and procedural. No real surprise, then.

But--for the first time in Convention history, Youth has been seated and given voice here... Which is, of course, wonderful --but I heard some muttering such as, "...fine, good.... but define 'Youth' please...." I saw a section of Youth corralled in their own little area--but I was later told they managed to escape their corral and infiltrate the Aged, or whatever. You Go, Youth!!! You Go!!

Noteworthy news item--and _not_ a secret, btw--the Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa, who has long worked in Youth Ministries and is the point person at 815 (the Episcopal Church Center--still, as of this writing anyway, located in New York, btw) has accepted a position as Professor in Pastoral Theology and other good things at EDS (Episcopal Divinity in Boston/Cambridge Massachusetts) come this Fall. Sheryl+ has always been a dynamo and a mega-empowerer . So--an early aloha.

By evening, things started to heat up a bit--although the weather outside continues to alarm with its extreme heat and humidity.... but, few of us here have much time or opportunity or inclination to go "Outside". We do hear reports that the "Outside" does continue to exist.

Much of the most difficult work of the Church Assembled is accomplished in smaller rooms--in many of the hundreds of small meeting rooms that are everywhere in this complex of conjoined Hotel and Conference Center.

I will later today tell you of an extraordinary worship service --the Integrity Holy Eucharist celebrated by the Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning at the beautiful and nearby Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany (Episcopal. duh.). Might I now add that this location was indeed "outside" and... NOT air-conditioned....? And that the house was PACKED.... and that much Baptist-like Fervor was in evidence during the singing of hymns such as "Blessed Assurance", and "Amazing Grace" and "Just As I Am" (the SECOND time of the day this hymn appeared) and "Lift Every Voice".... and that the organist, the estimable Jonathan M. Bowen, let the tremolo gallop a little...?

AND--that the Rev. Canon Elizabeth M.C. Kaeton PREACHED the WORD like a Woman afire with LOVE --???? Well--no matter which side one is upon--or wherever you are, or you stand or sit, dear Reader, suffice it to say --*for now*--that CHURCH HAPPENED in that place! --and that the public outpouring of Love and Joy towards and surrounding a beaming +Ed Browning was something I shall never forget as long as I live.

St. Sam's was well represented--to put it mildly. My pew alone was ALL St/ Sam'ites!! (Pepper Marts made up a few lovely Bass parts, btw ---Sr. Elias sang high soprano; I screamed in my fashion.... And it was HOT HOT HOT in there. Oy! But, alive with love....)

AT LAST I am in control of the technology glitches hich plagued my first 24 hours here. Soon you will remember my former silence with wistful fondness--for now I cannot and will not shut up.... Soon, and soon again; then, more.

The BEST THING about being here is watching long-lost friends reunite noisily and tearfully--thankfully and blessedly--everywhere you look... I am gathering impressions from all who will speak, or have time to do do...

much love, Deb

Copyright © 97 Deborah Griffin Bly.
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