The disciplinary canon revisions move forward

Eyes on the Floor: Title IV Moved and Moving

By Richard Helmer

This morning, my journey tracking revisions of the disciplinary canons, Title IV, through the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons came to an end – but one that turned out to be quite moving.

I wrote recently that legislative process can be dry, nitpicking, and sometimes thankless work – sausage-making of a kind – especially as committees carefully dissect and chew over language; as discussion can plumb the arcane depths of procedures for long, arduous hours.

What was both startling and refreshing this morning – as Title IV amendments in the commission came to their final form – was a palpable sense of accomplishment and grace.

Over the past few days, the well-organized and attentively led commission had reached with prayer towards consensus. Members of the commission had initially approached the Title IV revisions with a mixture of skepticism and hope – recognizing the influence that disciplinary canons have over the life of our cherished communities and leadership, especially during periods of their greatest vulnerability and deepest hurts. Now all the members of the commission were fully on board with the revision both broadly-speaking and down to its most rudimentary details.

It was a testament on the one hand to the power of our process at its best: a process of careful listening and intentional, prayerful engagement with questions, stories, and concerns, and how they inform and shape our central structures as a Church. On the other hand, it revealed the profound passion of the Spirit behind the thoughtful intensity of the deliberations. This passion most visibly emerged when at long last, the commission moved the Title IV revisions for adoption on the floor of the House of Deputies. Some members of the commission, along with two task forces, had been laboring on these revisions for over nine years. A number of them shed tears of relief and joy as applause broke out in the meeting room.

What’s coming to the floor of the House – probably this weekend – is truly a watershed moment in the life of The Episcopal Church. It may not garner the media attention of other pressing matters under consideration, but if the new Title IV passes, it will help organize the future Church to face our darkest hours with a renewed Gospel-based integrity.

After the commission adjourned, the Rt. Rev. William Gregg, assistant bishop of North Carolina, told me that he felt the turning point for Title IV towards a new day begins with the first canon of the revised version:

By virtue of Baptism, all members of the Church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another. The Church and each Diocese shall support their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected. This Title applies to Members of the Clergy, who have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountabilities for doctrine, discipline, worship and obedience. (IV.I)

I, for one, am hoping Title IV revisions pass both Houses close to its present form, not only for the sake of those who have labored over them for so long, but for the sake of the wider Body of Christ and the world.

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