Episcopalian Activist Says That Leaders Are in Tune With Flock : For the Faithful, a Sense of Renewal

Times Staff Writer

By the time Betty Connelly took the podium late Saturday afternoon, the eighth and final day of the Episcopal Church’s 68th General Convention, some of the deputies were already drifting toward the exits of the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.

But the out-migration--not unlike the departure of fans in the late innings of a lopsided Angels game--did not dismay the Newport Beach lay leader, who was addressing the gathering as head of the Committee on Privileges and Courtesies. Connelly took note of her largely ceremonial task, prefacing her recitation of honorary resolutions and thank-yous with some gentle, self-deprecating humor.

Light Bulb Joke

How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? she asked rhetorically. Five, she replied: one to change the light bulb and four to write a resolution thanking the old bulb for its years of faithful service.

When Connelly had addressed the body Friday, this time from the floor of the convention, she was considerably less lighthearted and more substantive. She spoke on behalf of a resolution she had drafted calling for the creation of a commission to study the status of women in the church.

“Women have indeed come a long way on the road to equality” in the Episcopal Church, she said, “and it will be interesting to get an idea of just how far. However, even more important, it is very necessary for our church to hear from those who do not feel affirmed in their ministries, and to discover ways to help them find their place in the Body of Christ.


“I would hope that the members of this House would make their wishes known so that there will be no delay in the appointment of this commission and they may begin work.”

Connelly’s resolution passed on a voice vote, making her record for the convention 1 for 2. Another resolution, calling for reactivation of the “Church Army,” an evangelical group founded in England in 1882 and brought to the United States in 1927, was taken off the agenda when time grew short.

Both resolutions speak to Connelly’s special interests within the Episcopal Church: spirituality and the role of women. Connelly, a member of the church’s 40-member national executive council (which oversees church affairs between the triennial General Conventions) and the only Orange County resident attending the Anaheim gathering as a regular deputy, is a member of St. James Episcopal Church of Newport Beach.

‘On the Road’

“I’m not home a lot,” she said of her church work. “I’m on the road most of the time.”

Most recently, she was in Nairobi, Kenya, attending the United Nations Decade of Women Conference as a representative of the church.

Connelly leaped to her feet and applauded enthusiastically when the election of Pamela Chinnis to the vice presidency of the general convention was announced, saying she was “thrilled to death” by the election of a woman who is also a friend.

Connelly said that the Episcopal Church, in Orange County at least, is experiencing a rebirth. “We’re gaining people, definitely,” she said, attributing the return to a number of factors, particularly the rise of charismatic congregations and the establishment of charismatic services within established churches, like St. James. The trend, she said, began slowly about five years ago in the county’s 20 parishes, which are part of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and has gathered speed since. “Faith is catching,” she said.

Nick Serfes, an alternate deputy from Buena Park who spent all eight days at the convention and for two days sat with the Los Angeles delegation, agreed. He is active in the Renewal Movement at Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Fullerton, a charismatic congregation.

Membership Going Up

“Churches are moving toward having Jesus Christ as the center of the church,” Serfes said. “People are experiencing a new relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Membership in our church is going up because it’s a Renewal church,” with many of the new members coming from more traditional Episcopal parishes.

Connelly acknowledged that “people just left in droves” in the late 1960s and ‘70s, often as a result of the church’s controversial positions on social issues, such as civil rights, and foreign policy matters, such as the Vietnam War. “The largest majority did not come back,” she said. “This wave is second-generation Episcopalians or new Episcopalians.”

In many ways, she said, the church is still “outward-looking” in many of its concerns, which doesn’t seem to hurt it in Orange County, which is sometimes considered conservative and “inward-looking” in its concerns.

How does she defend the church’s more controversial stands these days?

“I don’t defend them,” she said with a hearty laugh. “I learned that a long time ago. If we can disagree in love, disagree without being disagreeable,” that is enough.

Communion for Shut-Ins

Serfes was pleased with the outcome of the convention. A resolution permitting consecrated wine and wafers to be taken from churches by lay people to offer Communion to shut-ins was approved by the convention, also by a voice vote. That vote, he said, was “a key one in my parish” and its passage “makes me very happy.”

Overall, Serfes said, he was “pleased with everything that’s happened at the convention. I liked the whole proceeding. The system allows everyone to be heard. They approach everything in a studied manner. The things I would have us do were done here.”

“I feel like we are a church united behind our new leaders,” Connelly said.