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'I move to table the motion'.
'I rise to speak against the amendment to the amendment'.
'Most Reverend Sir, may I ask the mover to accept a friendly amendment?'
Does the Holy Spirit work through Robert's Rules? Sure, the Spirit can work through anything, anybody, even me. And yet there are times when the legislative process, so slow, laborious, with its rules devised to prevent the assembled from running amok and slaughtering each other, really seems to conceal God. Deus absconditus, 'the God who has absconded', the ancients might have called this.
The mighty machine of the Constitution and Canons, Rules of Order, resolutions screened by huge lots of legislative committees, rolls on, oblivious to my concern. We consider all sorts of issues willy-nilly, as they pour from the committees into the maw of the order of business. I reflect for a moment that the same thing is going on in the House of Deputies, only with four times as many participants. Where is God in this great thing?
One place I have found God here—at my first General Convention as bishop—is in the moments sitting at my table during the Eucharist. The music is unfailingly lovely, the ritual outwardly sober yet richly designed, and the preaching is excellent. The Presiding Bishop in his precise tones, President George Werner in his 'I'm-just-George-from-the-block' style, Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, in his characteristic blaze of rhetorical pyrotechnics, so far the sermons have been spectacular. The reflections immediately following have also been sometimes deeply engrossing, as my table mates and I, chosen in seemingly random order from the wideness of the whole church, speak and listen about what was said.
God is also in the conversations around the table in the House of Bishops, where I sit with my mates and serve as their facilitator. I am the junior bishop, yet I am asked to get them to talk to each other during 'click time', when we file our papers with loud clicks of our binders (D-rings, no less). Believe me, a bishop who has attended sixteen of these shindigs has a lot of wisdom to impart to a newbie.
And there are moments in the legislative process, moments of humour. Fresh from Bishop Curry's sermon about wolves and lambs lying down together, Bishop Lamb (Northern California) and Bishop Wolf (Rhode Island) made all the bishops and the packed galleries laugh as they stood together as 'living sermon illustrations'. Moments of joy, as newly-confirmed bishops-elects receive a standing ovation as their confirmations are announced, and they take their place at their numbered table, where they shall sit theoretically until death. Moments of deep emotion, as bishops rise to speak and people become passionate...
...all bounded by the legislative process. I feel the Spirit is at work around all the edges, inside the hearts of all, in the talk and the mountains of paper, so carefully shepherded by an expert staff.
As we go into the deliberations today about the Bishop-elect of New Hampshire, it is good to stop and reflect a moment: 'Is the Spirit at work here?
Bishop Whalon welcomes comments or questions about this note. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.