This year’s General Convention is attempting to create opportunities for Deputies and others to engage in dialogue that is deep and fosters real listening. This may seem puzzling to those unfamiliar with General Convention. After all, I can hear some asking, weren’t they listening to one another before. The answer is, yes and no.
The fundamental task of General Convention is legislative. Resolutions are placed before both the House Bishops and the House of Deputies. In this manner, resolutions produce debate, rather than dialogue. As a result, one tends to listen for points and either agree with and accept these points, or disagree with and reject them, voting on resolutions accordingly.
Dialogue occurs outside of the legislative process and encourages listening that focuses on sharing and building relationships. The focus is both on the content of what the other person is saying and on the underlying feelings. In dialogue the object is not persuasion, but understanding. I think this is important because I believe a lot of people, and I certainly include myself, have not taken enough time and care, to fully understand the other, especially persons who hold different opinions on important matters.
At the 75th General Convention, held in Columbus, Ohio in 2006, at which I was also a Deputy, Resolution D043 Dialogue on the Mission of the Church was passed calling upon Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and the planning committee for General Convention to build into the 76th General Convention an opportunity for members of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies to engage in “mission based, participatory dialogue on the Mission of the Church.”
To fulfill the mandate of this resolution, and in order to bring about a process of respectful listening about the mission of the Church, the 76th General Convention is engaging in a process that is called Mission Conversation Through Public Narrative. This process, which is also integrally related to Ubuntu, the theme of this General Convention which emphasizes the interdependence of all persons (“I am because you are”), was developed by Dr. Marshall Ganz of the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations at Harvard University. On Tuesday, when General Convention gathered in the worship hall for the first time, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori and President of the House of Deputies gave their opening addresses (see my previous blog entry). Following this introduction, Dr. Ganz introduced us to the concept of “public narrative.”
As the introductory materials provided by Dr. Ganz indicate, “Learning the process of public narrative can help us articulate a commitment to mission that is rooted in each individual’s own journey, the shared values of our community, and claim the world makes upon us to act.”
More about how this process unfolded in my next entry. Right now, I have to run for a meeting. That is the story of my life during General Convention!