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GEORGIA: Bad News from the 82nd Diocesan Convention

REPORT ON THE 182nd CONVENTION OF THE DIOCESE OF GEORGIA

By Les Wilkinson

February 7, 2004

I am taking this opportunity to report to the members of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on the events of the Diocesan Convention, which ended today. This report is from my recollection and my notes. I have not sought the input from the other delegates.

I would like to thank the Rector for his having all of us as his guests for dinner Thursday night. He is a most gracious host.

The events I am reporting will sadden some of you and perhaps some of you will not care, but the happenings at the convention should be a grave concern for all of us. They are to Marcy and me, if not to others.

Each of you should have received The Episcopal Church in Georgia’s pre-convention newsletter; we received ours on Wednesday. It lists the proposed canon changes and the resolutions that were to come before the convention.

Friday morning, the convention began on time, and one of the first items was the approval of the agenda including the time for the discussion and “debate” of the proposed canonical changes and the proposed resolutions, scheduled for the afternoon session.

There were 151 voting lay delegates and 84 voting clergy registered at the Convention.

At the convention, all delegates, including alternates and guests who had registered were assigned seats at 39 different tables. None of our delegations were seated together. At each table was a moderator whose exact function was unclear, and at my table, he was just another voice. The idea for the tables was to have delegates from different parishes discuss each of the proposed changes and resolutions among themselves and then to allow those who wanted to address the convention to do so. Well, that was the idea, and that concept would have worked had not Rev. Parker of St. George’s in Savannah moved to halve the time for discussion and microphone debate because it would otherwise cut into repast and planned night festivities. What is more important to the Diocese – dinner and dancing or moral standards and conduct? His motion passed over my voiced objection.

The first canonical change discussed and voted on was that concerning ecclesiastical standards for aspirants, postulates, and those accepted to orders. The change to Title IV, Canon I, Section 1 reads as follows:

“Aspirants, postulates, and those accepted to holy orders shall accept and conform to the following standard: `Marriage between a man and a woman or abstinence from sexual activity are the only acceptable forms of sexual behavior for a Deacon, Priest, or Bishop in the Diocese of Georgia’”

As we were beginning to vote, Sister Elena, called for a division of the house, which means that lay delegates and clergy vote separately, with a negative vote by either house defeating or vetoing the proposal. It was ruled that her call was untimely and without the 6 signatures necessary. That ruling was not lost on some of the delegates, especially some of the clergy.

I am happy that the above change to the canons was approved, but not by much. The delegates in favor of the resolution stood, and that included The Rector and me. I did not look around to see who from our delegation had stood, but from our previous discussion, I believe they all did. I noticed The Rector because he was at the table to my left. Those who were against also stood, and I can tell you the vote was close. The actual vote count was not announced, but the edited minutes of the meeting may have that count.

The proposed change to the canons to apply the above standard to those called to be Rectors was also approved.

Now for what I consider a serious mistake by the Convention and that dealt with the acceptable marriage rites in this Diocese. The proposed canonical change read as follows:

“The only acceptable marriage rites in the Diocese of Georgia are those of marriage between a man and a woman, the renewal of marriage vows between a man and a woman, and the blessing of a civil marriage between a man and a woman. No other rites of marriage, celebration of unions or other such ceremonies shall be created, solemnized, blessed, practiced or recognized.”

You would think that this was a “no-brainer”, especially in the Diocese of Georgia, which I would have considered to be conservative in the area of “same sex” unions. Was I ever mistaken?

One priest said that everything we need to know about marriage was in the Book of Common Prayer, and it allowed only marriage between a man and a woman, and this canon change would be superfluous and thus was not needed. I went to the microphone and spoke on this proposed canonical change. I said that if the Book of Common Prayer was the “end all and be all” as claimed, then other dioceses would not be blessing these “unions”. I said that this issue had been dogging the national church for 30 years and would dog this Diocese unless we approved it. I was followed by a gay fellow who said he and his partner had been in a monogamous relationship for 20 some-odd years and all their other friends were dead; he ask where he would go if this change were passed. He missed the point for the proposed canonical change was not to ban them from the Church, but to prohibit “rites” of marriage, celebrations of unions, blessings of unions, or the recognition such in this Diocese. The time allotted for microphone discussion for this important issue was only 10 minutes.

Anyway, those opposed to this canonical change had learned their lesson from Sister Elena’s attempt to vote by orders. When there is a division of the house, if a majority of the clergy votes “no” and even if every lay delegate votes “yes”, the proposal will be defeated; likewise, the lay delegates can veto a proposition approved by the clergy. This is why a division of the house is important. Before the vote on this canonical change was called, a priest called for a division of the house, and he had the required signatures. Rather than standing and having others know how each voted, the division of the house was by secret ballot. I voted in favor of the prohibition of “same sex” blessing, unions, etc. I can speak only for me.

Voting for the ban were 75 lay delegates and 28 clergy. Voting against the ban were 71 lay delegates and 47 clergy. Five lay delegates and 9 clergy did not vote.

The motion to ban “same sex” unions or blessings failed at convention. This bodes very ill, I fear, for our Church and the Diocese of Georgia. What this tells me is that if 47 of 84 clergy or 47 of 75 that bothered to voted are either in favor of “same sex” unions, or do not opposed them, or do not support a ban on such rites, we, the Church, and our Diocese are in deep trouble. Also, even after the Archbishop receives his report from the Primates this fall, any attempt by the lay delegates to associate with other parishes, or to seek oversight from other bishops, or to join in another Anglican province will be defeated by the clergy in a “division of the house”.

If this were not enough, I have some other disturbing news, at least to me, but others may see it from a different perspective.

It was announced that we would vote on the resolutions listed in the diocesan newspaper in the following order: (1) Affirm the Bishop: (2) Reaffirm, Profess Membership; (3) Affirm Primates’ Statement; (4) Saddened by Recent Actions; (5)Repudiating Actions; (6) Redirecting Funds: and (7)Ties That Bind Us Together. The resolution “Regarding Budget Shortfall” was withdrawn.

After a substitute resolution praising Bishop Louttit was passed, a priest made a motion to table all the other resolutions because they “needed more time” for study. The vote was called for and a lot of delegates stood up to vote for tabling the resolutions; no actual count was made. Those against the motion stood up, and I stood up to oppose the tabling the resolutions. I thought and still do that these resolutions needed action to show our strong disapproval of the actions of General Convention. I looked around, and we had as many standing to oppose the tabling as those supporting the tabling; no actual count was made. The Bishop announced, “The ayes” have it.” The resolutions were tabled. One priest asked that a recorded vote be taken, and the Bishop announced that according to Roberts’ Rules of Order, two-thirds of the delegates would have to approve such a measure. Obviously, that would have been futile.

I was very disappointed in the outcome of the Convention, not only with the fact that so many of the Diocesan clergy opposed a canonical change to outlaw or ban “same sex” blessings or any type of such rites, but that the resolutions addressing the controversy surrounding Gene Robinson, the General Convention, and others never made it to the floor for discussion or vote. By slight of hand, in my opinion, the Diocese did nothing.

I might add that at the end of the business, the Bishop asked for and got permission for the secretary to edit the minutes of the meeting so I do not know how these events will be reported. I wanted you to get my impressions and recollections while they are still fresh in my mind.

I have been a lifelong Episcopalian. Marcy and I have attended St. Augustine’s since the late ‘70s. We have many close friends here. St. Augustine’s is more than a parish; it is a part of the Diocese and the national church. What the national church and the Diocese do affects us at St. Augustine’s. Their moral leadership or lack thereof affects us and how others think of our church.

It is with great sadness that Marcy and I will be celebrating our last Sunday with you at St. Augustine’s. We cannot continue in the course the Church is taking. This is something we have been thinking about with great thought for many months, always hoping that the Diocese of Georgia would take the right course.

Whatever the future, may the Peace of the Lord be always among us.

Les Wilkinson

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