November 12, 2007

White Smoke, of sorts

The Episcopal Diocese of New York held its 231st Convention this past Saturday, some four hundred voting clergy and laity plus about an equal number of alternates and supporting folk, and visitors from Africa, India, and England -- pressed together and packed down a bit in the half-closed-off and under-renovation but still humongous Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

We heard some stirring addresses: in particular Bishop Sisk challenged the state of the state we are in, when leaders of state seem not to know what is or is not torture. A resolution strongly condemning such equivocation was overwhelmingly adopted.

On the white smoke front, I am pleased to report that I was elected to an additional term as a Clergy Deputy to General Convention (2009) and also as a clergy member of the diocesan Standing Committee. The former will allow me to continue to be a burr under a few prelatical saddles, and contribute what I may to the ongoing life and direction of The Episcopal Church at a national and international level. The latter will allow me to address the interesting paradox of having a seat on a standing committee. I imagine it saves a good deal of wear and tear on the chairs, and keeps meetings short and to the point.

Tobias Haller BSG


Ecgbert said...

We heard some stirring addresses: in particular Bishop Sisk challenged the state of the state we are in, when leaders of state seem not to know what is or is not torture. A resolution strongly condemning such equivocation was overwhelmingly adopted.

We're singing from the same hymnal on that one.

June Butler said...

Tobias, you made me laugh out loud. I offer my heartfelt congratulations on being elected to your position as Burr Under the Prelatical Saddles and your seat on the standing committee that you don't get to sit in.

I'm sure that, having acquired those powers, you will set all to rights in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I'm expecting great things from you.

Seriously, I will pray for you.

Anonymous said...

Woo-hoo! Congrats on both counts!

We're very fortunate to have you in our diocese, sir.

Anonymous said...

May God bless you in your continued ministry of being a pain in the buttocks. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. :D

Anonymous said...

Tobias, if I am correct that your General Convention is the highest authority in TEC, and gives directives to your bishops rather than taking them, it seems to me that you yourself will be riding the horse rather than being a burr under the backside of anyone else, yes?

Thomas Williams said...

At least you were spared the still deeper paradox of being a chair with a seat on a standing committee.

I'm glad Bishop Hobart's diocese remains in good hands.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


No; you are incorrect.

The House of Bishops is one of the two Houses of the General Convention. I have been elected to the House of Deputies, which consists of the clergy and lay deputies of the dioceses. The House of Deputies can no more "give directives" to the House of Bishops than vice versa. All acts of General Convention must be adopted by both Houses. Either house has effective veto power over any legislation, but neither can "give directives" to the other.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the two houses together, General Convention, is the highest body, from which there is no appeal.

I would imagine by 2009 the dissenting bishops will be long gone, other than as parties to lawsuits over who gets the silver. But for those who remain, the decision on those issues controversial today will in all likelihood be decided by your GC in 2009, and will be binding on all, including individual bishops. That's what the "yes?" was about, not one house of GC dictating to the other.

So your class, the delegates to the two houses, will be making the "magisterial" decision, up, down, local option, whatever. My only observation was that that deprives you of the wonderful luxury of being a gadfly. It is white smoke, indeed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I know it must be hard for you to understand the polity of the Episcopal Church. As I understand it, you went from Presbyterianism to Papalism. Our polity is neither, being in many ways closer to the polity of our national Congress.

I, as a Deputy (not delegate) am no more in position of having my opinions ratified by both Houses than any other Deputy or Bishop. This is the nature of a democratic polity with a bicameral legislature. Each deputy, and bishop, is simply one participant in a process that, yes, results in the whole agreeing to abide by the decisions of the whole, even when they may disagree with those decisions. But that's precisely where being a gadfly comes in, as I can guarantee you that I do not agree with all of the decisions of the last General Convention, though I am bound to observe them. I voted No any number of times in which I was in the minority. I also spoke against actions which eventually passed. I am in exactly the same position as any of the other Deputies or Bishops -- I alone can only express my opinion.

Having been reelected, I have been called upon once again to do so. But that by no means guarantees either the people will listen, or if they listen, concur. William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament for many decades before he finally succeeded in overturning the slave trade laws. John Jay did the same on these shores, particularly in the state of New York. Being a gadfly often means being in the minority -- which, I can assure you, I often am.

Clear yet?

Allen said...

First, congrats on both posts.
The House of Deputies can no more "give directives" to the House of Bishops than vice versa.
No, but B033 was the results of pressure on the House of Deputies by, if not the House of Bishops, certain individual bishops (at least insofar as I understand what happened, and I think it was improper pressure at that.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I agree entirely. B033 was passed in violation of the Rules of Order of the House of Bishops, and only by suspension of the Rules of the HoD. Great pressure was brought to bear. I am happy to say I voted against B033, and hope that action will be taken in 2009 to rescind its effects -- if that is deemed necessary. It may well be moot by then.

Anonymous said...

Many congratulations and thanks for your ministry in Dio NY and in TEC! I am glad that you will be at GC again. You have contributed much and help keep things focused in a sane way. Good to hear about convention as well. My prayers are with you (and JT, BSG.) as you continue to be a light in this church.

Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

Congratulations. I must make one point, and I'm sure I will sound way too heartless.

I'm really beginning to wonder about the usefulness of the Episcopal Church (or its dioceses) declaring things like the condemnation of torture. What I mean is not that we shouldn't condemn such horrible things, but rather we give the impression that our primary reason for being is to take certain stands about justice. If that is what we are, we are deluding ourselves. We are not a social justice club or a political action committee and we can only really hope to effect change through the human heart. If the overwhelming majority of our time and energy are not spent on spiritual formation, right administration of the sacraments, pastoral care, and the work of prayer, the church has no reason to exist.

Anonymous said...


Knowing you and loving you as I do, makes me wonder if those voters in Saint John the Divine had any idea of what they were about to release upon the Church when they re-elected you!!!

Go, dearest Brother, and speak for me and all the rest of us who have no voice....while I shall do my best to embrace you earnestly in prayer during the whole session.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Jeffrey and John-Julian. Your prayers and encouragement are much appreciated.

First Apostle, I do not disagree with you in principle. Indeed, I am often distressed to see our General Convention spending a good deal of time condemning the obvious (war, torture, etc) as if anyone thought the church approved of such things.

But in this present instance (and perhaps I should have given more context) the resolution in question was rather precise and involved committing the Diocese of New York to participate in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The debate and voting took only about fifteen minutes, out of a long day that involved much else in the life of a very complex diocese, that does indeed seek to balance those other important values of pastoral care and sacramental life.

Would it were unnecessary for the church to make such witness. In the present case, however, it seems our national leadership has lost its sense of direction; and it is appropriate for the churches to stand in the capacity of a speaking conscience. To that end, I feel such actions are appropriate and fitting.

Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

Thanks for the clarification, Father. Your perspective is much needed in the administration of our church. Every blessing in your new duties!

Jane R said...

Oh, I am so glad to hear of both appointments! Go ye and be a burr. As a lowly delegate to Diocesan Convention (elected while I was on a trip during our Annual Meeting, that'll teach me) I salute you. And, of course, send prayers.