The Episcopal Church just completed the triennial General Convention. It’s the legislative body for our whole church: they meet for eight days, and go through hundreds of pages of resolutions. There are exciting moments, dull moments, tense moments. There is daily Eucharist, plus worship services organized by all sorts of other associations. There is an official youth presence, as well as visiting youth and young adults. There are exhibitors and sponsored receptions and gatherings and seminary dinners and committee hearings and diocesan gatherings and hospitality suites. Its not the best display of self-care we’ve ever done – deputies often get only 5-6 hours of sleep between all the meetings and sessions and planning and meetings. Naturally, there is never-ending commentary about almost everything done at the convention. I find Episcopal Cafe, Crusty Old Dean and Center Aisle to be good sources of commentary and news.
Some decisions tend to get more press than others. This year, there were a few things inside the church getting a lot of talk time: our convoluted budget process; resolutions about how to rework the structures of the church; whether we ought to be explicit about the “pastoral exception” of inviting non-baptized folks to the table. The resolution that got the most press outside of the church (and plenty within) was the approval of a provisional liturgy for blessing a same-sex relationship. Whoo, did this get a lot of coverage.
For the record, I’m thrilled. I happen to live in a place where the “local pastoral response” has been “we bless same-sex couples” for a while. And gay marriage is still going to be a long time coming, in Michigan and in the Episcopal Church methinks. There will still be plenty of bishops that won’t allow the liturgy to be used by clergy in their dioceses. There are quite a few who have been waiting for General Convention to take this step, and will now permit blessings. It’s still not marriage, it’s still not equal. For those of us who believe equality is part of God’s vision of justice, the kingdom has not arrived. There are plenty who don’t hold that belief. I get that.
Here is where I’ve been a little baffled: there are some whose reason for saying we should’ve voted against is because having this liturgy will make some people mad. I’m not doubting that’s true – I already know it makes people mad. But honestly: in our congregations, how often would we stop a liturgical practice (or formation or stewardship or finance or outreach, etc) that the leadership felt strongly about because it might make people mad? I know very few clergy who have managed to do their jobs in a faithful way without making people mad. I know very few clergy who aren’t troubled by this part of the job – it’s not fun to make people mad, and we care about our people – but “not wanting to make people mad” as a guiding principle in church leadership is a recipe for disaster.
This isn’t to say that when people get mad, we shrug our shoulders and say “oh well.” There is listening to do, maybe there is teaching to do or maybe not. But reconciling can’t always mean “the mad people get their way.” It’s true when we use purple instead of blue in Advent or vice versa. Its true when we won’t allow deacons to do “deacon’s mass.” It’s true when Mrs. Smith’s granddaughter wants to get married in the church but refuses to participate in marriage preparation. And it’s true here.