A Report from the Georgia Deputation

The Lay and Clergy Deputies report back to the Diocese of Georgia.

Dear Members of the Diocese of Georgia,

As the 78th General Convention concludes, your Bishop and Deputies from the Diocese of Georgia leave excited and energized by the election of the Right Reverend Michael Bruce Curry as our next Presiding Bishop. Presiding Bishop-Elect Curry has set forth a vision for the future of The Episcopal Church to go and make disciples of all peoples. The General Convention supported his vision by allocating extraordinary resources for church planting, evangelism, and racial reconciliation. (Pictured are Cissy Bowden, Kelly Benhase, Presiding Bishop Elect Michael Curry, and the Rev. Joe Bowden)

Another joyful highlight was the Convention’s approval and now the Church’s recognition of our own Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander for inclusion in Holy Women, Holy Men, our calendar of saints in the Episcopal Church.

The Convention also addressed structural changes to the governance of the Church. It passed resolutions to clarify the roles of the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council, the parties tasked with leading the Church between meetings of the General Convention. The Convention also addressed the budget process and changed the current practice of an “asking” from each diocese at a high percentage and replacing it with a mandatory assessment at a lower percentage  (much like the Diocese of Georgia has done with its own budgetary process). The Diocese of Georgia, lead by Canon Frank Logue, took a leadership role in this work (Canon Logue is shown here addressing the House of Deputies).

On the issue of same sex marriage, your Bishop and Deputies were very cognizant of the input received at the multiple listening sessions held around the diocese before the Convention. As you may have read in our daily blog posts or from the media, the Convention approved for trial use, rites for marriage that could be used for the marriage of same-sex and different-sex couples. The use of these rites in the Diocese of Georgia will be subject to the approval and supervision of our Bishop and are not effective until the first Sunday of Advent, 2015. The votes among your deputation were divided on the implementing resolutions, as reflective of the input received from around the diocese. Our Bishop will be consulting with the Chancellor and leaders of various diocesan bodies before making a decision as to how these resolutions will be implemented in our diocese.

Nine legislative days running from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. obviously addressed many other issues, too numerous to address in this letter. Additional information on passed legislation is available at www.generalconvention.org. Your deputation appreciates your confidence and prayers in allowing us to represent the Diocese at the 78th General Convention and will be happy to address any questions that members of the diocese may have about the actions of General Convention.

The Deputation of the Diocese of Georgia
at the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church


Reporting on Marriage Vote at General Convention

In a respectful debate, set in the context of prayer, deputies of widely varied opinions shared freely in the discussion.

The House of Deputies concurred with a vote of the House of Bishops to approve two resolutions related to same sex marriages. After a respectful debate, set in the context of prayer, changes were approved for both Resolution A052 and A036.

About the Resolutions Approved
Resolution A052 is focused on liturgy and making liturgy available. It builds on the work of the last Convention, which made some materials available for use in dioceses where the materials were permissible by the bishop. This resolution calls for the updated rites to be available church-wide for “trial use.” Ultimately, this is a process that can lead to inclusion in approved texts for use alongside the BCP or in a future revision of the BCP. At the earliest, these liturgies will not be official until 2018. That will require they be voted on again, without change, by the next General Convention. The language of the resolution preserves the right of a bishop to choose not to use the rites, but also ensures that such bishops will provide people with access to them via another route. This upholds the church-wide intent of the trial use path.

Resolution A036 involved a rewording of church canons around marriage. Most notably, and creating the most controversy, the canonical change removes the specific definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Other canonical changes seek to bring the theology in line with the 1979 BCP theology, and strengthen the Declaration of Intent that couples must sign before they are married.

Diocese of Georgia Votes
After convention, additional communication will be provided on the votes. The following is a high-level breakdown of the Diocese of Georgia votes:

• In the House of Bishops, the Bishop voted in favor of the liturgical rites and abstained on the canonical change, which counts as a single no vote.
• In the House of Deputies, Clergy Deputation voted 3-1 in favor of both resolutions, which counts as a single yes vote.
• The Lay Deputation voted 2-2 and was recorded as a divided vote, which counts as a single no vote.

The overall vote on the liturgical rites (A054) was Clergy 94 in favor, 12 against, and 2 divided; Lay 90 in favor, 11 against, and 3 divided. For the canonical change (A036) was Clergy 85 in favor, 15 against, and 6 divided; Lay 88 in favor, 12 against, and 6 divided.

These resolutions become effective the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29, 2015. The resolutions affirm the Bishop’s authority to determine which trial use rites will be authorized for use in the Diocese of Georgia. The conscience of all clergy is protected. No clergy are required to officiate at any same sex marriage. The conversation does not end here. The trial use rites will come back for further approval during the next General Convention. There is still much that needs to be reviewed. The Bishop plans to work with his Chancellor and other Diocesan leaders to determine the next steps for the Diocese of Georgia. Please be on the lookout for further communication.


Blessed Deaconess Alexander Honored by Episcopal Church

The General Convention voted to add Deaconess Alexander of Georgia to Holy Women, Holy Men.

Today, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church added Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander (1865-1947) recognizing her as a faithful witness of our faith in Christ by including her in Holy Women, Holy Men. Her feast day will be September 24.

Anna Alexander was born to recently emancipated slaves on Butler Plantation in MacIntosh County, Georgia. She became the only African American set aside in the order of deaconess in The Episcopal Church. Deaconess Alexander labored long and hard for the education of poor blacks in Georgia’s Glynn and MacIntosh Counties. She helped establish Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Pennick, which is west of Brunswick, Georgia. She also established and helped run the St. Cyprian’s School at St. Cyprian’s Church, Darien.

She taught children to read—by tradition, from the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible—in a one-room schoolhouse. The school was later expanded to two rooms with a loft where Anna lived. She ministered in Pennick for 53 years, leaving a legacy of love and devotion still felt in Glynn County. Deaconess Alexander served in difficult times, however. The diocese segregated her congregations in 1907 and African-American congregations were not invited to another diocesan convention until 1947. Similarly, it was only in the 1950s that a woman set aside as a deaconess was recognized as being in deacon’s orders. However, her witness—wearing the distinctive dress of a deaconess, traveling by foot from Brunswick through Darien to Pennick, showing care and love for all whom she met—represents the best in Christian witness.

The propers for celebrating this feast day are online here: Deaconess Alexander Propers.


Turning Toward Debate and Decisions

The work of the General Convention turns from committees to the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops on this fifth legislative day of the meeting.

The Very Rev. William Willoughby, III is projected on the screens at the front of the hall as he addresses the House of Deputies. Below, Mary Willoughby speaks to another resolution.

On the fifth legislative day the work of the House of Deputies is shifting from a focus on legislative hearings and the crafting of budget and resolutions to the work of hearing, debating, and voting on resolutions as a House of more than eight hundred members.

The Diocese of Georgia has been represented in several committees: Formation and Education for Ministry, Program Budget and Finance, Credentials, Evangelism and Communications, and Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

Deputy Molly Stevenson shared her enthusiasm for the work to date noting that The Evangelism and Communications Committee has worked diligently and efficiently to produce resolutions that encourage approaching evangelism in a 21st century way employing social media and technology and equipping both clergy and laity in its use.


Cherau Elected to United Thank Offering Board

Cherau elected UTO Vice President.

The United Thank Offering Board elected Marcia Cherau as its Vice President during a meeting held in conjunction with the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Cherau, of All Saints Tybee Island, was serving as the Province IV UTO Coordinator at the time of the election. The General Convention Eucharist on Sunday, following a long-standing tradition, included the official ingathering of the UTO. Representatives from each diocese (and several non-diocesan ministries) came forward to present the funds that had been collected in the famous “blue boxes” over the past three years. Cherau announced the Province IV dioceses and the total amount, of more than $800,000 gathered in the Province. Suzanne Harrow of Atonement, Augusta, represented Georgia at the ingathering.

Known worldwide as UTO, the United Thank Offering grants are awarded for projects that address human needs and help alleviate poverty, both domestically and internationally. During the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) Triennial Meeting, which takes place concurrently with General Convention, there are a number of major celebrations. The United Thank Offering (UTO), which grew out of the same organization as ECW, held a dinner on Friday night to celebrate their work. Bishop Michael Curry (now Presiding Bishop-Elect) was the keynote speaker. The group also heard from three of the outstanding young adults who received special ministry grants as part of the 125th Anniversary celebration of UTO.


Marching Against Gun Violence

Georgia Episcopalians march against gun violence in Salt Lake City

Episcopalians from the Diocese of Georgia joined together with the group Bishops United Against Gun Violence for a prayerful procession through the streets of Salt Lake City. The gathering, held as a part of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, urged people of faith to seek common ground in efforts to curtail gun violence–such as through encouraging background checks.

The event, called Claiming Common Ground Against Gun Violence, lasted roughly one hour and covered a one-mile route, including opening prayers, a stop for testimony in nearby Pioneer Park, and concluding prayers outside the Salt Palace.


The Georgia Deputation on the Presiding Bishop’s Election

Bishop Benhase and Georgia Deputies share their thoughts on the election of Bishop Michael Curry as 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

A palpable sense of joy filled the General Convention today as the President of the House of Deputies announced news of the bishops’ choice for the next Presiding Bishop. The House of Bishops elected Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina as 27th Presiding Bishop by a wide margin on the first ballot. The House of Deputies then confirmed the election. Here at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, the Georgia Deputation joined in the joyous celebration of the election and confirmation.

Bishop Benhase said, “I’ve known Bishop Curry for 20 years. I served with him as my Bishop in North Carolina. I love him as a brother. I am beyond joy at his election as our Presiding Bishop. He will lead us to take the Gospel of Jesus into our communities. It is time.”

Deputy Mary Willoughby said, “The overwhelming consensus of the bishops and near unanimous affirmation of the house of deputies only hints at the energy, enthusiasm, and optimism expressed in the hall today. We are blessed in our leadership and it is my hope that we move forward together with the grace-filled energy expressed today.”

In reaction to this election, the Rev. Sierra Wilkinson Reyes, a clergy deputy, said, “What the Church needs now is the courage and compassion to proclaim by word and example God’s love to every corner of our society. Bishop Curry has a passionate Christ-centered fire for evangelism, public service and social justice. It’s now the Church’s time to joyfully and soberly confront the work God has given us to do. I’m so thankful to have the prophetic voice of Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry to give vocabulary to our common mission as Christians in the Episcopal tradition.”

For more on Bishop Curry and his election, please see the Episcopal News Service article North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry elected as 27th Presiding Bishop


Staying Focused on the Work Before Us

A Saturday morning update from the Georgia Deputation.

Clergy deputies from Georgia discuss restructuring questions with deputies from Arkansas during a joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops on Friday, during the General Convention.

News of the real world continually filters into the bubble that is the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. We learn of not just the ruling of the Supreme Court on same sex marriages, but also a beheading in France, a mosque bombing in Kuwait, the Confederate flag’s removal in South Carolina, and the wife of a deputy from another diocese suffering a stroke. News filters in and it is part of what informs our work, yet we focus on the tasks that are before us in this meeting.

For the Very Rev. William Willoughby, III this focusing on thne task at hand means partnering with other churches such as the Church of Sweden, through his work on the Ecumenical Relations Committee. For Molly Stevenson on Evangelism and Communications the committee created  a resolution Energizing the Church: Gathering and Evangelism Resources, which among other things will lead to an Evangelism Summit. Canon Frank Logue is working on the Budget for the coming three years as a part of the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee.

This morning, however, in our worship, we sent off our Bishops to St. Mark’s Cathedral where they will prayerfully discern and elect our next Presiding Bishop. We await that news as well.

Kelly Benhase is volunteering at the Convention. here she is pictured giving directions. at right, Diocese of Georgia lay deputies talk about church structure with deputies from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The Rev. Jason Haddox volunteers in the Exhibit Hall. At right, Molly Stevenson is pictured with Kaycee Reib of NE Pennsylvania. Kaycee’s brother Charlie Hough is very active in the Diocese of Georgia.


Statement on Supreme Court Decision

A statement from Bishop Benhase on the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriages

From the Bishop of Georgia

Today the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling on same sex marriage, making a way for same sex couples in all states to marry. I rejoice in this decision in that it grants a basic civil right to all couples under our civil law. The Court has determined that our Constitution requires that the government must treat all couples equally, regardless of sexual orientation. A civil right, nonetheless, is not the same as a sacramental rite. Our General Convention is currently discussing how we will respond as The Episcopal Church.

Until our Church discerns how we will proceed, the guidelines I put forward in the fall of 2012 are still in effect, but with a few changes. Same sex couples may now get legally married by the local civil authority and then come to the Church for a blessing upon their relationship. In my previous guidelines, I required each congregation’s vestry to endorse these blessings if they were to be done on church property. Presbyters, however, were free to provide such blessings without vestry endorsement if they were to be offered elsewhere. This guideline is still in effect. My rationale for maintaining such endorsement is the basic reality that faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the Church’s role in blessing same sex marriages. However, creating divisions among clergy and lay leadership in a congregation serves no useful purpose for God’s mission.

After General Convention is over, I will write more to the Diocese of Georgia on the decisions that we make here. I continue to hope that faithful Georgia Episcopalians can view whatever differences we have in light of the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of all, and whose resurrection promises eternal life for all who place their trust in him.





Committee Work and PB Candidates

Legislative Committees began work in earnest on Tuesday and a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies spent three hours getting to hear the Presiding Bishop nominees speak to issues.

Bishop Benhase and Canon Logue each offered testimony to the Evangelism and Communication Committee on Wednesday on behalf of a Digital Evangelism Resolution both proposed to the General Convention.

The work of the General Convention is underway as the 22 Legislative Committees consider the resolutions filed for this General Convention. Each resolutions is offered a public hearing where interested Episcopalians (not just deputies and bishops) may address the committee on the resolution. Some of these hearings, such as the one on the work of the Marriage Task Force, are large events attended by hundreds as witnesses line up to address the committee on a given resolution. Most committees are more sparsely attended, yet still provide an opportunity for a committee to hear interested persons speak to the value of a resolution.

Opening Remarks
A joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies began with opening remarks from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings. The joint session, coming a day before the General Convention’s legislative business officially begins on June 25, is intended to set the tone for the work of convention. The Presiding Bishop played with language taking the work of TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) and then using metaphors and references to the TV show Star Trek saying, “There is abundant adventure ahead on this heavenward trek, and it asks our courage to engage unknown beings, new challenges and unexpected opportunities. We’re bound for the galaxy called Galilee and the edges of the known world, because that’s where Jesus sent us and that’s where he promises to meet us.” The text of her remarks is online here or you can watch the video of her address here: Webcast of the Presiding Bishop’s Opening Remarks)

The President of the House of Deputies took the readings from the day, which mark the birth of John the Baptist and so referenced the biblical story of Zechariah, “Just like Zechariah, we are standing on a boundary between the old and the new,” she said. “Gathering here to wrestle with the future of our beloved Episcopal Church, we are standing on holy ground, straining to hear God speaking above all the noise…” She went on to say, “Let’s turn down the volume on the Pew Center’s statistics about the decline of the institutional church, the endless online arguments about what millennials really want and what one tweeter recently called the ‘church decline industrial complex.’ Let’s quiet our souls.”

The text of her remarks is online here or you can watch the video of her address here: Webcast of the President of the House of Deputies Opening Remarks.

The two houses then met separately for an orientation to engaging the technology of the paperless convention which is very iPad dependent. The House of Deputies also offered orientation to the rules of order, parliamentary procedure, and electronic voting.

Introducing the Presiding Bishop Nominees
In a first of its kind event, the nominees for Presiding Bishop joined in a session for both bishops and deputies to hear both formal presentations and answering questions on a wide variety of issues. Bishops Thomas Breidenthal, Michael Curry, Ian Douglas, and Dabney Smith introduced themselves separately by a two-minute self-produced videos. Each then offered an opening statement. After that, they took questions first from the Joint Nominating Committee, and next from those submitted in advance from across the church. Questions fell into several categories. There were seven “rounds” of questions. After the questions, the nominees had the opportunity to make another brief remark. The Episcopal News Service article summarizes the events and quotes some of the nominees answers: Historic session lets bishops, deputies meet presiding bishop nominees. You can also see the session online here: Webcast of Presiding Bishop Nominee Presentations.

Diocese of Georgia Photos
The growing photo album of the Diocese of Georgia at General Convention is online here: General Convention Photos These may be used in parish newsletters without further permission as you share news of the convention with your congregation.

Above, Georgia Deputy Jody Grant assists in registering deputies and alternates as a member of the Credentials Committee and the Georgia group gathers for a photo following Compline on Tuesday evening.

Kay and Sarah Riggle of St. Barnabas Valdosta staff the Integrity booth and Sisters of the Order of Saint Helena pose for a photo with their booth in the Exhibit Hall.