Do you want to be healed?
Most every time Jesus encounters someone who is wounded or ill in the Gospels, he will ask them, “What do you want me to do for you?” Or “Do you want to be healed?” I think it’s a way of preserving the person’s agency, yes—but also a recognizing that one person’s diagnosis of a problem is not another person’s. (Also: a decent set up for the Life of Brian gag where the healed leper resents being healed because now who will donate money to him at the city gate?)
This morning, the Executive Council, the Joint Committee for Planning and Arrangements, and the presiding officers met on Zoom to discuss whether and how the 80th General Convention would move forward. The meeting was called, as I understand it, by several members of Executive Council, resulting from some ongoing discussions in Puerto Rico. (I’m also aware that the blog post I wrote last week made the rounds and may have also helped.)
The two presiding officers began the meeting (which you can find here, because they chose to leave it archived) by reading separate statements which said basically the same things: “The Church has committed to having the Convention and must have it. But also, we realize that there are some problems and so we are asking Planning and Arrangements to give us a plan in which Convention becomes shorter and smaller, focused only on essential business.” The public health professional retained by the president of the House of Deputies also spoke (the document he prepared for ExecCoun is here). Afterwards, there was much (MUCH) discussion. Lots of really good questions posed by Executive Council members, and precious few answers.
The morning ended with nearly nothing decided: the Planning and Arrangements group passed a document of guidelines (which is here). But to my knowledge, there is no published timeline for when we can expect a revised schedule, an explanation of what “essential business” will entail, revision of safety protocols, details about daily rapid testing, etc. It WAS clear, however, that there will be no movement forward on any sort of virtual or hybrid option at this time—and also that options like convening a small group to suspend the rules of order, then validate what we’ve done later, are off the table.
So, that’s what’s happened. Again, check the links above for the documents and the video.
I am struck by a few things: first of all, that we seem to have had no contingency plans at all for being unable at this stage to hold a full, in-person General Convention. We’ve been in a pandemic for over two years, we already postponed the convention for a full year (which reasonably could have been used to formulate a Plan B.) I take seriously what the chancellors said at one point—that allowing for a virtual Convention would also mean deconstructing part of our self-understanding as a church—I think that’s probably true, but it also invites the question as to why, when we had the opportunity a year ago or even earlier, we didn’t begin this work thoughtfully.
Which actually points to the larger issue: who are we as a church? And who do we want to be? For a long time, part of our self-understanding has indeed been that we have this particular style of governance, that we honor all voices and orders of ministry because we gather in this particular way—and we have been led by that. Beloved in Christ, there have been signs in the sky and in the sea for a while, but that identity no longer works for us. Because in this moment, we find ourselves unable to figure out how to get our structures to meet a challenge two years in the making, and at the very real risk of harm to actual people. That way of seeing our identity is about to cause a whole lot of damage.
And at the same time, we have told ourselves that we are a welcoming, inclusive church that cares for the lost and the least (as the guidelines make clear.) We have passed countless resolutions about ending racism, honoring our indigenous siblings, and ending poverty. But in this moment, how are we actually caring for the most vulnerable if we are willing to hold an event where the retained expert has informed us that if we follow all our protocols perfectly, we can still expect at least 10% of attendees (not counting the staff we encounter) will get sick? How are we actually honoring all voices when if a deputy gets sick, they have no way to vote while quarantined? Or if someone judges it too great a risk for their own health, we tell them to give their seat to someone healthier or younger? We’re about to hold a meeting where only the healthiest, the most privileged can safely attend, and even they will have a 1 in 10 chance of getting sick.
We have got to decide who we are as a church. Do we want to continue to be a church that talks a really good game about Jesus, but will cheerfully sacrifice its members so it can gather to pass a budget because figuring out another way is really hard?
Or do we want to be brave, and actually do the things we pray about? Can we be bold enough to do something new and to invest our identity in the call God gives us instead of the way we decide things? To actually give up those things we used to do that we adored but no longer work? To believe we can live like Christ calls us to, even without the fancy structures we built to shelter us?
I don’t know what will happen with Convention—at the moment, I think they should call an audible, admit they don’t have enough time to make the needed changes, and postpone another year while they come up with an actual feasible plan.
More to the point, I really hope we figure out what church we want to be soon. I want to be the church that is healed, the church that heals in turn. But in order to do that, the church needs to realize that we have a real problem, and it won’t go away, no matter what happens in July.