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GC2015: SALT LAKE CITY: From my Ear to Your Ear

GC2015: SALT LAKE CITY: From my Ear to Your Ear

By David W. Virtue in Salt Lake City
June 24, 2015

"Its show time," proclaimed Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention, a gay man who was turned down as Bishop of Newark in 2006 -- largely because of the damage Gene Robinson's consecration had caused the Episcopal Church in 2003. He clearly enjoys his new role here and the importance that comes with it as he introduced Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to delegates to GC2015. It is show time! Judging by the plethora of social issues on the roster, there is no shortage of argument and angst to go around to keep delegates busy for the next 10 days.

My colleague Michael Heidt and I were walking along one of the halls of the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City when the evangelical bishop of Central Florida Greg Brewer came towards us. Either he saw us (or didn't), but as I began to move over to greet him, he suddenly took off hobbling fast with a walking stick in one hand and headed for Jefferts Schori on an escalator, all smiles to greet her. We had just finished a press conference and she was behind us as we left the press room. Both Michael and I were stunned, not just because he ignored us, but because he is so enamored of her that he would make a fast beeline to see and greet her. He has gone completely grey, and is hobbling along with a walking stick looking pretty ashen. So why the need to grovel before the outgoing PB! In other news Brewer resigned from the Board of Trustees of the Trinity School for Ministry (TSM) in the wake of the controversy over the baptism of an infant presented by a same-sex couple at the Cathedral Church of St Luke in Orlando.

The Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Springfield, Daniel Martins passed us in a corridor and did not notice us. A friend says he is an introvert and was probably deeply involved in thought. He gets the benefit of the doubt. He might also be reflecting on recent statistics regarding his diocese that show a serious decline in ASA. In 2003 the ASA was 2,816; in 2013 (last reporting year) it is now 1,620 -- a decline of 42.5%! This does not bode well for the future of his diocese. In fact the whole Midwest is suffering major losses in Episcopal attendance. The two Kansas dioceses will be forced to merge in time while the diocese of Northern Michigan is barely keeping the lights on.

Saw Ian Douglas, Bishop of CT, passing through an exit. We briefly shook hands. He's one of four candidates to be the next PB. Truth be known, it is basically down to him and North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry, the first African American bishop to lead a southern diocese of the Episcopal Church, as to who will run the Church for the next four years.

Overheard on Broadway in Salt Lake City:
"And then there's Bishop Douglas...
"Oh yes, he's way out there.
"In space."

Saw John Chane, former Bishop of Washington at breakfast this morning. Why is this retired bishop here? We suspect he is one of the 200 bishops present who want to make sure that the Marriage Equality canons get pushed through and that he wants to be a part of history. Ironic, when you think about it. His successor, Mariann Budde, a true marvel of ditziness (she can't affirm the Trinity only God), is publicly admitting that the diocese can barely keep the lights on. In The Washington National Cathedral at an ordination she announced that the diocese now struggles even for minimal survival. According to one insider, the Diocese of Washington and the Cathedral appear desperate for cash as it struggles to pay its massive parking garage debt. When she was asked about the state of the Diocese of Washington, she said that she has to take a "deep breath" before she answers. She says there are good days, but then ends by saying in an anxious voice, "There are bad days." Suddenly, Chane, who regularly berated the Global South for its homophobia and hated orthodoxy in general when he was in office, looks good.

A daily opinion journal put out by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, called Center Aisle, is claiming the middle ground on some of the hot button issues, but a close reading reveals that it is anything but centrist in its approach. On Marriage Equality, Center Aisle believes that the strongest witness to marriage equality would come from the constitutional process of changing the Book of Common Prayer. This approach would require approval from two successive General Conventions. So much for centrism.

Bishop Shannon Johnston, in a letter to Center Aisle, had the gall to say that TREC and the calls for reform and innovation and how marriage should be defined in the 21st century should be seen as how all this will impact fellow provinces in the Anglican Communion! Really. One hates to remind the bishop that that boat sailed a long time ago; they know what TEC thinks and they also know how he has behaved towards fellow orthodox priests and parishes in his diocese and the wreckage he has caused the diocese.

Also spotted cruising the corridors was the once feared and hated Charles E. Bennison Bishop of Pennsylvania. He was not in clericals, but he had the usual ineffably stupid grin on his face, still unaware of the damage he has done, the money he spent, the lawsuits filed, and the priests' lives he ruined.

Also bumped into Bishop Ed Little of Indiana, who shook my hand and looked me right in the eye. Nice change. With him, sadly, was Philip Groves who fled London where he facilitates the infamous "Listening Process" for sodomy for his paymaster The Episcopal Church. He feels at home here; these are his people and he knows it.

Both PB Jefferts Schori and Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president, are hoping to pull a rabbit out of the hat over the next ten days...reinventing (or reimagining) the church, even as it declines, and hoping that marriage equality will bless the church and the world and not result in even further decline. There is something in Scripture about reaping and sowing; TEC it seems has sown to the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind with the loss of some 200,000 folk between 2003 and 2013. Leaders here are hoping against hope that talk of Star Trek and new galaxies and horizons and new ways of doing business will give the church a much-needed boost, but don't hold your breath.

Jefferts Schori is dropping the word "interdependence" all over the place as the new nomenclature to explain where the church is or ought to be going. She says she is willing to do business with anyone (Muslims, Jews, other denominations) who sees the world and the future the way she does, which of course does not include orthodox Anglican believers who have an opposite view of the church, its message, and how it grows.

In her opening remarks about the 17 nations -- present or coming to General Convention to vote or as observers -- there were two stand-out names that VOL found shocking. One was the Archbishop of Central Africa Albert Chama, who was installed in 2011, succeeding Bernard Amos Malango who retired in 2007. This was a solid Anglo-Catholic province under Malango whom I knew personally. Where is it today theologically? The other is the Primate of West Africa, Daniel Sarfo, who took over following the sudden death of Solomon Tilewa Johnson. As I know more, I will let you all know.


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