July 5 – 13 Southland Episcopalians will join an estimated 10,000 people — bishops, deputies, volunteers, media, guests, exhibitors, vendors, Episcopal Church Women and others — deep in the heart of Texas at the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Austin.
Along with counterparts from 108 other Episcopal Church dioceses in 16 countries, bishops and deputies will hear testimony and deliberate about hundreds of proposed resolutions, fine-tuning official church policies and positions on the environment, ethical divestment, racial reconciliation, Israel-Palestine, gun violence, revising the prayer book, the budget and a multitude of other issues.
They can expect busy days, with joint and individual sessions of both Houses — Deputies and Bishops — sandwiched between early morning and late night legislative committee meetings. There will be 95-degree daily temperatures with humidity peaking at about 88 percent, and opportunities for entertainment as Austin, the state capital, is also known as the live music capital of the world.
It will be the ninth such “family reunion” for Jim White, chair of the Los Angeles deputation, whose LGBT-rights activism involved him initially in 1997 at the 72nd General Convention in Philadelphia.
He has attended every subsequent convention, as a “Claiming the Blessing” exhibitor in 2000 and serving since either as an alternate deputy or a deputy.
His love of all things General Convention — anticipating renewed and new relationships, crafting church policy and experiencing huge worship — resonates in the city of about a million people whose unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird.”
“I just love it,” White says laughingly of the gathering the Episcopal Church has hosted every three years since 1785.
“General Convention for me is like summer camp. I know, it’s weird, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Angelenos will be widely represented in a variety of roles at General Convention.
Bishops: Racial reconciliation and ‘holy work’
It is Bishop Diocesan John Harvey Taylor’s first convention as a bishop, and he will serve on the Racial Reconciliation Legislative Committee, which has been already been assigned several resolutions regarding funding anti-racism training and other initiatives.
After a conversation with Rochester (New York) Bishop Prince Singh, who co-chairs the committee, Taylor said, “We compared notes on his growing up in Chennai, India, in the shadow of the caste system and, in my case, 1960s Detroit as it grappled with the sin of segregation.
“In Los Angeles, our dream is to move beyond diversity toward a true gospel of understanding of our unity and accountability in Christ as a diocesan family,” he added. “That means owning up to our social polarization — by region, race, language, culture, politics, and especially social-economic status … and we will be seeking resources to aid that effort.
“I’ll also be following Israel-Palestine closely, hoping we can speak both prophetically and constructively into the region’s almost infinitely complex historical and cultural dynamics.”
While he is “proud to represent the Diocese of Los Angeles, a progressive leader in many respects,” he is also looking forward to fellowship, community and collaboration, and to continuing to learn from experienced hands in the House of Bishops … “including our very own secretary to the House, Bishop Bruce.”
Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce said she is excited to again gather with Episcopalians from across the globe. She is assuming the role of Secretary to the House of Bishops this year, “so my focus will be making sure everything is running smoothly for our time together,” she told The Episcopal News recently.
“It is an interesting perspective, sitting on the dais versus the tables we normally sit at. While we are engaged in the conversations regarding various pieces of legislation, we have the added burden of ensuring everything is in ‘good order’, and that nothing is missed. It is holy work in this time together.”
Deputies: Steady, deliberate work at a dizzying pace
For many General Convention deputies, the pace of work can seem ploddingly slow and steady at convention’s start, then shift into free-fall overdrive near its end, as committees race to move resolutions to the deputies and bishops for final approval before the last legislative day.
Southland lay and clergy deputies represent a range of experiences, from first-time conventioneers to others who have attended for nearly two decades. Most are from Los Angeles and Orange counties. All are excited and honored to serve.
The Very Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger, rector of Ascension Church in Sierra Madre for 32 years, a second-time clergy deputy, is assigned to the Ministry Legislative Committee. He also is a member of the General Board of Examining Chaplains, which creates, administers and evaluates the General Ordination Exams for those seeking to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.
Bamberger plans to track legislation concerning marriage, compensation for the president of the House of Deputies (currently a full-time volunteer position) theological education and the ordination process.
“I’m excited about Bishop Curry’s leadership,” he added. “It will be fun to watch Bishop Taylor engage at his first General Convention. And Austin is a fun city, even in the middle of summer.”
Canon Julie Dean Larsen, vice chancellor of the diocese, parishioner at St. Margaret’s, San Juan Capistrano, and a firsttime lay deputy, is “more excited than an eight-year-old planning for Christmas” as she prepares for convention.
“I have reviewed and summarized blue book reports, thought carefully about what to pack (bug spray cloths are essential), and studied the deputation list for people I know. Because of the humidity, I let my hair grow so I can braid it and put it up. Easy hair care is a huge reason to live in So-Cal if your hair is curly.
“I am ready to represent the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and will endeavor to post a report each night.”
She aims to track Title IV (clergy disciplinary) legislation “because I believe there are many provisions which are biased or an anathema to our goals. For example, opening a Title IV proceeding for public comments does not promote truth or justice.”
The Rev. Lester Mackenzie, priest-in-charge under special circumstances at St. Mary’s, Laguna Beach, a three-time clergy deputy, is assigned to Legislative Committee 9, Racial Justice and Reconciliation.
Mackenzie, hugely popular as chaplain to the House of Deputies at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City, considers “a privilege” the invitation to serve in that capacity a second time.
He is pondering “how do I let us go deeper, for those who’ve been there before” while reaching those who are new. “It’s a tightrope of putting, once again, Jesus as our center in the work we do and reminding us that we do this together. That we are one together.”
Weighing themes of unity and love after Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon went viral, he wonders what they mean, “for us, as a deputation? For us, as a church … and what does the next phase for the church, the organized church, look like as we try to stay and live out the Gospel in a structured way, in church business, church structure and ecclesiastical structure?”
The Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of Los Angeles and a second-time clergy deputy, plans to track Title IV revisions and follow up on resolutions involving racial reconciliation, church growth and climate change.
“The beautiful thing about not being on a committee, I get to visit lots of committees and see the work people are doing. I get the view the breadth of the work that’s going on throughout the Church.”
She also wants to focus on legislation targeting violence and weapons. She is looking forward to Austin because “it’s the only time that the leadership of the church is gathering in one place, being together as one. Relationships are formed. Connections are made in ways that do not happen if you meet electronically or not at all,” she said.
Kathryn Nishibayashi, lay leader and parishioner at St. Mary’s, Mariposa in Koreatown, a third-time deputy to convention, is assigned to Committee 14 — Christian Formation and Discipleship.
Nishibayashi, a third grade teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, enjoys the “family reunion aspect” of Convention and hopes to follow several “hot topics” like prayer book revision and compensation for the president of the House of Deputies.
“There are going to be more joint sessions of both houses this time around focusing on Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism, and Creation Care, which were the identified priorities for The Episcopal Church in this triennium,” she said.
“I’m excited that this will be the first convention for Presiding Bishop Curry,” she added. “I would have been excited even before he became the breakout star of the royal wedding, but now I’m really hoping that the large gathering of Episcopalians can channel the energy, enthusiasm, and interest that was generated by his sermon into figuring out ways to reach out to the world.”
The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, senior associate rector for communications at All Saints, Pasadena, is a three-time clergy deputy and 10-time General Convention attendee. She is assigned to Committee 13, Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169.
“Having served on the Task Force on the Study of Marriage I’ll be certainly be following the work of that task force and our three resolutions — particularly A085, which would continue the trial use of the marriage rites we adopted in 2015 and take a step further to make them available in all dioceses,” Russell told The Episcopal News recently.
“Currently eight out of 101 domestic dioceses do not have access to the rites, in spite of language in the 2015 resolution mandating that bishops with jurisdiction “will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies” (2015-A054). We hope to end what is de facto sacramental apartheid in those dioceses — excluding a percentage of the baptized from a percentage of the sacraments,” she said.
A longtime LGBTQ activist, Russell plans to monitor legislation about LGBTQ concerns, resolutions coming from the Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation, gun violence resolutions and, “as a member of the Diocesan Sanctuary Task Force [I] will be advocating for anything coming forward on support for immigrants and refugees,” she said.
She supports compensation for the president of the House of Deputies, and is hopeful that “this will be the year we finally end the inclusion wars and move forward together as a church where the question of whether LGBTQ people are full members of the Episcopal Church is answered with a strong ‘yes’ once and for all.”
Also enthusiastic about the energy for evangelism and outreach under Bishop Curry’s leadership, she hopes “this General Convention will be one where we are united in our vision of taking God’s love out into the world — and challenging any powers or principalities that oppress or marginalize any member of the human family.”
And, she added: “I’m hoping to get some Texas barbecue.”
Dan Valdez, parishioner at All Saints, Highland Park, six-time lay deputy, is assigned to the Committee on Social Justice and United States Policy.
Immigration will be a primary focus of the committee, he said, “and we understand that there’s going to be similar legislation coming up in the Social Justice and International Policy Committee. So there is going to be a joint committee hearing scheduled.”
The other major topic the committee will take up during its work is gun violence, he said. “Especially since the last time we met [in Salt Lake City in 2015], the first piece of legislation [A302] that came out of our committee was the church’s formal response to the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
Resolution A302 expressed solidarity for the community and sorrow after a 21-year-old white supremacist killed nine African Americans at Emanuel AME Church during a bible study.
“We talked much about gun violence and here we are again, three years later. Obviously, we haven’t spoken loudly enough. It’s ridiculous.”
Canon Jim White, a lay leader and parishioner at All Saints Pasadena, is assigned to Committee 10, Congregational and Diocesan Vitality, and is interested in updating parochial reports to include emergent congregations such as Holy Spirit in Silver Lake, where he attends on Thursday evenings.
“We have at least 20 people for whom that is their only church home, yet they are not counted. We need to find a way to include them,” he said.
He also hopes the reports can be amended to include the “reach” and vitality of small congregations. “For example, there are places with 25 members who reach 300 people every week through their efforts in outreach and soup kitchens.”
Israel-Palestine, Title IV changes, racial reconciliation, church growth, climate change and gun violence-related legislation are also on his radar, he said.
Episcopal Church Women Triennial
Canon Martha Estes, a lay leader from Transfiguration, Arcadia, will be installed as Province VIII vice president/representative to the ECW National Board during the Triennial — the every-three-years gathering of Episcopal Church Women held concurrently with General Convention.
She will be among several others representing Los Angeles at the Triennial, including Christine Budzowski, president of the diocesan ECW; vice president Martha Watson; and United Thank Offering chair Diane Askren. The Rev. Julie Bryant, rector of Transfiguration, Arcadia also will attend as a delegate.
The Los Angeles diocese was represented during the June 20 – 24 Daughters of the King Triennial by co-presidents Gloria Flowers and Amy Sisson.
The Rev. Jo Ann Weeks, vicar of Grace, Moreno Valley, was gifted with hand-painted vestments “in gratitude for … her many years of service as chaplain to the Daughters in the Diocese of Los Angeles,” said Budzowski, a member of the churchwide DOK council.
Mikaela Sesler, Alethia Winley, and Tessia Winley have been selected to represent Girls’ Friendly Society in the Diocese of Los Angeles. The girls will assist at meetings and presentations, participate in music presented by Triennial musician Linda Patterson, and work at the GFS booth in the Exhibit Hall.
Keeping track of General Convention
Diocesan development officer the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija is slated to anchor “Inside General Convention,” a daily TV broadcast beginning July 3, aimed at both humanizing and illuminating the workings of General Convention.
Aided by a team of reporters, “we go live at 4:30 p.m. Central time in English and 6:30 Central time in Spanish,” Lebrija told The Episcopal News. A one-minute daily segment, “What to Look for Today” will air each morning.
Lebrija, a former journalist, said his first experience of convention in Salt Lake City in 2015 “was a hoot to watch and be a part of.” It inspired him to want to tell the church’s story “and “to bring that wonder of people gathered together to do mundane tasks all while seeking to discern where the Holy Spirit might be edging us along.”
The Rev. Canon Eric Law, founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, and also an exhibitor at General Convention, will also be featured in a July 6 Facebook Live teaching session on issues of racial reconciliation.
Law, along with the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary (EDS), and Bishop Jeff Fisher, regional bishop of the Eastern Region of the Diocese of Texas, will share their experiences of doing racial justice work in the Episcopal Church.
View the session at www.facebook.com/episcopal.divinity.school at 12:30 p.m. Central Time, or 10:30 p.m. PDT.
Additionally, Canon Janet Kawamoto, Episcopal News editor, will file daily reports from General Convention, focusing on the Los Angeles deputation. All regular subscribers to the Episcopal News Update weekly newsletter will receive the updates. To subscribe, visit www.episcopalnews.com and select “Contact/Subscribe.”