Friday, April 14, 2006

The Episcopal Church on Health Care: Convention 2006

I’ve written a series of posts about actions of past General Conventions of the Episcopal Church with respect to health care. In posts to come I will say more about those past actions, and about positions expressed in General Convention resolutions. So, you can imagine that one of my first steps when The Blue Book became available was to see what might be in there about health care.

Oh, what is the Blue Book? There are four sources for resolutions to General Convention: individual bishops; individual deputies; actions of dioceses; and Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (“CCAB’s”) of the General Convention itself. The CCAB’s meet between General Conventions, and prepare reports to General Convention, along with proposed resolutions. Those reports and resolutions are published before Convention as “The Blue Book.” (Reports are that this year The Blue Book is green. That won’t change the name; after all, we are Episcopalians, and it is a tradition.)

So, I went to The Blue Book, to take a preliminary look at what might be available. I looked first at the report of the Standing Commission on National Concerns. That’s where health related issues normally come up. I was initially disappointed. The Health portion of the report is brief. It does make reference to two organizations that have valuable resources for health ministries in the parish: National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM), and The International Parish Nurse Resource Center (and both are good resources). There is also a discussion of Futile Care and institutional policies on futile care. This is, of course, an important discussion, one on which I’ll have more to say another time. On the other hand, there are no resolutions rising from either section, and no health resolutions in the report.

But then I found something exciting. I found it in, of all places, the report of the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church. The larger theme of that report was a plan to streamline and standardize characteristics of all of the CCAB’s. Within that theme I found two specific points that excited me.

First, the report calls again for the reestablishment of the Standing Commission on Health. According to the report,

It shall be the duty of the Commission:

1. to recommend policies and strategies to the General Convention for the development, affirmation and exercise of the ministry of all the baptized;
2. to encourage and facilitate networks of individuals, institutions and agencies engaged in education, training, deployment and formation for ministry by all four orders;
3. to study the needs and trends of theological education for all four orders with this Church, including issues of recruitment, training, deployment, evaluation and continuing education; to make recommendation to the several seminaries, the Executive Council and the General Convention; and to aid the General Board of Examining Chaplains in the exercise of its function;
4. to discharge such other duties as shall be assigned by the General Convention.

Of course, this interests me as a hospital chaplain. Beyond that, health issues are important for us all socially, morally, and politically. Health care has been explicitly a part of every national political campaign since the first Clinton election; and periodically for long before that. I have shared my thoughts on recent legislation in Massachusetts, which is one experiment in that ongoing discussion.

Now, the 2003 General Convention also called for the reestablishment of the Standing Commission on Health. However, no funding was provided. That was the second exciting point for me. The report includes two resolutions: one to fund the Commission, and the second to assign HIV/AIDS ministries to the Commission. Thus, if the report is accepted the Commission would be reestablished with both funding and some ongoing responsibilities. Both of those give me sense of a Commission reestablished with substance.

I’m looking forward to General Convention (yeah, I know I’ve said that before). I am certainly interested in the issues that will get a lot of attention: the election of the Presiding Bishop; the response to the Windsor Report and the report on Communion; and the confirmation of newly elected bishops. However, I am also very interested in where the Episcopal Church stands on health issues. I believe reestablishing the Standing Commission on Health, with both funding and some immediate responsibilities, can greatly improve our capacity to speak on these issues within the Church, and beyond the Church, in the world.

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