Thursday, July 30, 2009

Impressions of General Convention 2009: the How of It

I’ve been asked by a number of folks for my impressions of General Convention. In one sense, I think I’ve been sharing a lot. There were the posts here during Convention, some from the floor of the House of Deputies. There were the reports I wrote for the web site of the Diocese of West Missouri (the days that don’t have flight titles are mine; but those were written by a colleague, and also worth reading). Finally there was the comment posted since Convention at Episcopal Café.

Still, General Convention is a multifaceted experience, and my impressions and memories are multifaceted as well. So, let me do some further reflection.

General Convention is a marathon. My days began before 6:00 a.m., and usually ended somewhere around midnight. Perhaps I had more to do than some folks. We would wander in and out of the diocesan Conference Room for breakfast. The diocese paid for the room, and one of the alternate deputies kept it stocked with breakfast and lunch fixings. That saved the diocese money, and made it easy to eat within our tight schedules. Legislative committee meetings began at 7:30, and even those of us who were not members of committees had issues and resolutions we were tracking, and so all of us were off.

Committee meetings offered the opportunity to testify about specific resolutions, and there were several I had an interest in, and so spoke to. In addition, I had committed on behalf of the diocesan deputation to follow the resolutions about the denominational health insurance plan, and other health related issues. And, since the various resolutions were distributed among a couple of different committees, I was at different meetings different mornings. Once or twice I found myself trying be in two places at once, or at least in close succession.

Committee meetings ended at 9:00 and the first legislative session each day began at 9:30. That made just enough time most days to indulge in another cup of coffee, and sometimes a fancy one, and then get to our place on the floor of the House of Deputies. I found myself chatting much of the time with a deputy from Milwaukee, with whom we shared tables. He was experienced at Roberts Rules, but new to General Convention. Between my experience and his appreciation of legislative structures, we had some interesting perspectives on the process.

Eucharist would begin at 11:30. The schedule usually indicated the legislative session would end at 11:00 to allow for transition; but usually we didn’t allow ourselves that kind of time. At each General Convention the host diocese imparts a certain character to the worship. At the same time, there were certain characteristics expected and provided: lots of music and lots of diversity of language and culture. I will admit being somewhat disappointed at times this year with the music. I won’t go into excruciating detail (those who know me best, who know my capacity, will breathe a sigh of relief). I will note, however, that I would never hire an organist, however fine a performer or choir director, who didn’t understand that the job is to lead the congregation. Also, not every hymn of the church benefits by being reinterpreted with a gospel sensibility.

After Eucharist we would scatter for lunch. We would gather again in the diocesan conference room for sandwich makings. The deputation, both deputies and those alternates who had come, would be there, as would the bishop. We would also have the diocesan delegates to the ECW Triennial, and at times others from the diocese. One of the members of the official Youth Deputation was from our diocese, and she was sometimes there. We had a group of diocesan youth come out for several days, and they would join us, and for a couple of days we had several clergy who had come out simply as visitors to the Convention. And there were other visitors, usually folks who had some connection in the past with the diocese. We even had the team from one of the national news outlets because one of their runners had done CPE in my health system. We would discuss events in both Houses, and would catch up on specific resolutions. The gathering would leave us perhaps half an hour to put our feet up.

Then it was back to the House at 2:00 p.m. That session would continue until 6:00, making for a long afternoon. Of course, there were something over 420 resolutions, most of which we would actually have to do something with. And there were interruptions: an intermittent parade of guests, each of whom had something to say, sometimes even something interesting.

There were daily prayers and meditations in the House, including an intercession list. The Chaplain to the House did a wonderful job, both in his daily duties and when called upon to pray for a special concern. And that was often enough; for in almost any difficult moment some deputy would ask as a point of personal privilege for prayer from the Chaplain.

The House would end its work each day more or less on time around 6:00. That would allow time for dinner – that is, unless one was involved in evening events. Some of those were special events, such as the Integrity Eucharist, or the U2charist (with a remarkably accurate Bono impersonator; I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t “the real thing,” but he looked so good his American accent gave me pause, even face to face). For some of the more committed legislative committees there were evening sessions in addition to the morning sessions.

And dinner wasn’t that easy. With bishops, deputies, alternates, exhibitors, and visitors all coming out at roughly the same time, restaurants filled up fast. By the time one had gotten back to the room to drop the paperwork and gotten back out to eat, it was 7:30 or so. Too, almost all of us had some sense of budget constraint. I tended to move from fast food one night, with a preference for something small and local, to something more upscale. Of course, the fact is there wasn’t much “in the middle.” But, then, this was resort California.

Some deputations, including ours, had a view from one room or another overlooking Disneyland. During the day, who cared? We weren’t there; and at half a mile even Disneyland lost some of its image. However, each might at 9:20 p.m. there were fireworks, and those rooms gave a wonderful view.

That made for a nice break before I began to write. Granted, there were some things written during the day from the floor of the House. But most of what I wrote, I wrote after the fireworks. (I just hope it wasn’t too evident in what I wrote.)

And so the days went on. As legislative committees completed their work, it got easier. I found time, too, to network with various folks about chaplaincy issues in the Church and AEHC. By the middle of the second week I was dragging, as were many of us. Perhaps that’s indicated by a daily report titled, “A Hard Slog.” However, we did finish. In fact, for the first time anybody present remembered, we not only addressed everything that made it onto the legislative calendar, but we finished more than an hour early. The marathon was done.

And why was it worth it to put ourselves through all of that? That, beloved readers, will be the topic of another post.

No comments: