Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day One Update from Phil Soucy

OK, it seems such a short time since the last churchwide assembly, as if it was just 6 months ago. But, no, it was 2 years ago. And this time we are in Minneapolis, the home of so many Lutherans that you have to call ahead to have the supermarket put some jello aside for you.

There are some similarities to the Chicago churchwide assembly. In Chicago we were in hotels distant from the convention center and had to use busses to get there. Here we are in hotels distant from the convention center and walk to get there. Good for the waistline.

Oh, and remember that I mentioned the air conditioning in Chicago, that you could actually have stored meat in the open. Apparently the guy responsible for that has moved to the Twin Cities and has a job in the convention center in Minneapolis. It is a lovely facility with very helpful people, nimble considering they're wearing parkas. Ok, I exaggerate, a little, but it is more than just chilly: there was a run on copies of the agenda for the assembly. People were not carelessly losing them - lighting fires they were.

It is, in fact, a wonderful facility. Very modern and functional. Registration and reception of participants in the assembly was well-organized and quite efficient.

We have set up Goodsoil Central in a series of rooms on the second floor of the Convention Center. The main part of our space is a large open facility, divided loosely by hangings of stoles from The Stoles Project. A large screen monitor projects the proceedings from the assembly hall through webcast, both the plenary sessions and any press conferences the ELCA holds. Other rooms along the hallway house education and training, as well as a meeting room and administrative space.

We are having meetings with voting members who are supportive of full inclusion. We are helping our volunteers understand grace-ful engagement and how to tell the stories of their faith so that people realize the impact of a lack of full inclusion.

The assembly opened with worship. A joyous Eucharist celebration full of music, singing, and prayer. Bishop Hanson was the celebrant and preached about fear, fears, and how to overcome them through lives lived in imitation of Christ.

After dinner, came the first session of the assembly. Opened with greetings from the two bishops who serve as the twined hosts from the Twin Cities - Bishop Craig Johnson of the Minneapolis Area Synod and Bishop Peter Rogness of the Saint Paul Area Synod. In his welcome, Bishop Rogness spoke of the church sometimes sounding like musicians, none of whom were playing the same thing. But, instead of that being cacophony, jangling and disruptive, he demonstrated using music that the same disharmonies placed in the right juxtaposition could produce wondrous harmonies, a sonorous fugue of stunning beauty. He compared that to what was possible living together amidst disagreements, the roles that traditionalists, progressives, prophets could play, each contributing a necessary component to lift the music of a living church up from dull repetition into something with power, richness, and purpose.

Then the assembly got down to brass tacks, The Rules. This was the session in which the assembly decides upon the rules that govern its proceedings.

In 2005, this session was extremely contentious and went into the night past midnight. There are no attendees to that churchwide assembly who ever want to repeat that session. This session was long, but finished well before midnight.

The actions to come before the assembly this are on subjects about which people on both sides hold strong opinions. Specifically, the Social Statement on Human Sexuality and the separate Recommendation on Ministry Policies attracted all the heat tonight. It was announced that the four resolutions that comprise the recommendation on changes to ministry policies would be handled individually one at a time as they are in the order of business, the same fashion that the Church Council considered them in March 2008.

Voting members could ask that particular rules be pulled out from the general "pile" of rules for special discussion, amendment, or the addition of new rules or conditions. Pulled out for attempts to change or add provisions were the rule on the length of speeches, the rule regarding termination of debate on a given issue, the rule stating that the four resolutions in the ministry recommendation would be considered one at a time, and the rule requiring a simple majority for adoption of the recommendation to change ministry policies to allow ministers to be called who are in committed, monogamous, lifelong, same-gender relationships.

The Social Statement on Human Sexuality requires a 2/3 majority, a super-majority, for adoption because the constitution dictates that for social statements. This cannot be changed by simple action of the assembly, and no attempt was made to do so.

An attempt was made to impose a 2/3 majority requirement on the Recommendation on Ministry Policies. As well, an attempt was made to have the four resolutions of the recommendation on ministry policy change considered by the assembly in a stairstep fashion: each succeeding resolution being considered only if the preceding resolution had passed.

After lengthy debate, both of those attempts failed to pass. Likewise, an attempt to require that no motion to terminate the debate on a point, by Calling the Question, for instance, would be in order unless at least 3 persons had spoken on each side of the issue, and an attempt to limit each speaker to 2 instead of 3 minutes at the microphone in a debate, both failed to pass. Hours after the scheduled end of the rules session, every attempt to amend or add requirements to the rules had been defeated and the assembly was back to the rules as printed in the first place. They passed by an overwhelming margin.

So it is, in the end, as proposed by the Church Council: a 2/3 majority requirement for the adoption of Social Statement as is stated in the constitution and a simple majority requirement for the adoption of the changes to policy that will allow ministers to serve who are in committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships. These are outcomes to be grateful for, and to thank those who stepped to microphones and spoke eloquently, passionately at times, and thoughtfully in keeping the rules fair.

Still to come: the rest of the week, all the debate on the substance of the Social Statement and the Recommendation.

God's Grace, and Blessings to you all. Please continue to hold ALL at the assembly in your thoughts and prayers. We are one church, one faith, one Christ.

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