It’s General Convention time!
By the time you are reading this, I will be riding Amtrak on my way to Austin, Texas! Some of you might wonder what the big deal is and why some of us get so excited about what we’re doing. One of our deputies, the Rev. Phil Dimwidde, wrote up a great description of General Convention for his deanery:
When is General Convention?
The 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) takes place on July 5-13, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
What is General Convention?
The General Convention is the body (of nearly 1200 persons) that is empowered to speak for the Episcopal Church and together to guide the Episcopal Church in every area, including liturgy, budget, and the writing and editing of the Constitution & Canons.
How is the work accomplished?
Every three years a General Convention is held for approximately 10 days. To the General Convention come 4 lay deputies and 4 clergy deputies from each diocese (plus at least the first alternate), and all non-retired bishops. (Retired bishops are canonically welcome, but they rarely show.) The deputies are elected by the dioceses to vote according to their consciences; thus they are not representatives or delegates, but people who have been deputized by their diocese to act for the good of the church.
Deputies meet to vote in a very large hall. The number of deputies is often over 1000. Deputies receive electronic voting machines, so that tallies can be very quickly made. Discussion happens at numerous booths with microphones, where the speaker is also projected by camera onto giant screens for all to see. Votes are generally won by a simple majority, but if a “vote by orders” is requested, particular legislation must pass a majority of lay persons and a majority of clergy.
Bishops meet in a separate space. Because of their smaller number (perhaps 150-200) and because they meet often through the year the House of Bishops has a more intimate feel. The HOB has its own rules of order which are more flexible. Each round table has a microphone so any bishop can easily speak as they feel led.
Legislation is the primary way that General Convention accomplishes its work. Legislation must pass both houses in the same language in order to become official. Some legislation is first sent to the House of Bishops, while other legislation is first sent to the House of Deputies. But before any legislation is sent to any house it is first considered by a Legislative Committee.
All bishops are on legislative committees. Not all deputies serve on these committees, primarily because there are so many deputies it is not possible to do so without hindering the work of the committees by making them too large. During the first part of the convention much work is done in these Legislative Committees, where all legislation that has been sent to General Convention is considered by a group of 20-40 persons, including Deputies and Bishops. The work of the legislative committees is to discuss and perfect legislation to be sent to the floor of the houses. The committee has the power to change any language of any resolution. Only the titles cannot change, simply to enable legislation to be easily tracked.
Each legislative committee holds hearings on each piece of legislation before them. Some people travel thousands of miles to attend General Convention simply to testify to a Legislative Committee in favor or in opposition to a piece of legislation.
The last part of Convention includes lots of time on the main floor discussing and voting on legislation that has begun coming out of committees. You can imagine the sense of urgency—anything that is not accomplished before the final bang of the gavel must wait another 3 years.
Who are our Deputies?
Steven Ott, esq.
alt: Edie Wakevainen
Susan Anslow Williams
alt: Paul Castelli
What are the Legislative Committees?
01 – Rules of Order/HOB
01 – Rules of Order/HOD
02 – Constitution and Canons
03 – Safeguarding and Title IV
04 – Governance and Structure
05 – World Mission
06 – The Episcopal Church in Cuba
07 – Social Justice and International Policy
08 – Social Justice and United States Policy
09 – Racial Justice and Reconciliation
10 – Congregational and Diocesan Vitality
11 – Evangelism and Church Planting
12 – Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music
13 – Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169
14 – Christian Formation and Discipleship
15 – Ministry
16 – Churchwide Leadership
17 – Church Pension Fund
18 – Stewardship & Socially Responsible Investing
19 – Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations
20 – Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation
21 – Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance
22 – Dispatch of Business/HOB
22 – Dispatch of Business/HOD
23 – Certification of Minutes/HOB
23 – Certification of Minutes/HOD
24 – Privilege and Courtesy/HOB
24 – Privilege and Courtesy/HOD
25 – Credentials
26 – House of Deputies Resolution Review Committee
What are key issues facing General Convention this year?
- Revising the Prayer Book: After three years of study the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is proposing two options to be considered at the 2018 General Convention. The first would begin the process of full BCP revision, which would take a minimum of 9 years, and probably 12, maybe 15 (because texts would need to be developed, proposed, adopted, used, and edited, and then approved in a final form without any changes in two subsequent General Conventions.) The second would begin a process of “living more fully” into the 1979 BCP. In this latter case one presumes that new liturgies would continue to be developed, but they would be offered alongside the BCP as secondary options, which could be used or prohibited by priests or bishops.
- Budget: How best can the top administrative structure of the Episcopal Church use financial resources to strengthen the church and carry out God’s mission in the world? The 2016-2018 budget was $125M. Read more about the current budget here: https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/13858
- Racial Reconciliation, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Exploitation, Gender Bias and Gun Violence: Each of these important issues in our society invite a Christian response. Each of these social issues also have an impact in our churches. Resolutions related to each of them will come forward to General Convention. Some may call the church to new practices, trainings, or policies. Some may lead to the development of task forces to consider a certain topic in depth and report back to the 2021 General Convention.
- Salary for the President of the House of Deputies (PHOD): In our polity we have two legislative houses, somewhat like the Senate and House of Representatives. Our House of Deputies is led by the PHOD (President of the House of Deputies), and our House of Bishops is led by the Presiding Bishop (PB). Our PB has been a full-time paid position for 80+ years, but the PHOD has never been a paid position. To pay or not pay the PHOD has important practical and symbolic implications. To some, payment would suggest that we have two co-equal leaders (is that really the case? It hasn’t been.) To some, the question of paying suggests that the PHOD is doing too much and should do less. To some, paying the PHOD would be a triumph in symbol, demonstrating the lay and clerical are co-equal in ministry. To some, paying the PHOD would suggest we are losing track of our guiding principle that we are synodically governed but Episcopally led. This question will come before this General Convention.
- Cuba: Before Castro took over leadership, Cuba was part of TEC (the Episcopal Church), alongside many other nations that are a part of our church, including several European countries, Honduras, Dominican Republic, etc. All told, TEC includes 16 countries. With relations warming with Cuba, should an Episcopal Diocese be re-established? How would this work?
- Marriage Rites: As it stands diocesan bishops can withhold the clergy of their dioceses from performing marriages of same sex persons. At this General Convention those marriage liturgies will be proposed as “first readings” of a BCP revision that would involve the incorporation of those liturgies into the Book of Common Prayer. If adopted, and if the liturgies are also approved in 2021 they would become official liturgies of TEC, which no bishop could disallow (but which clergy could choose not to use according to their own discretion, as with any marriage). Also a liturgy is being proposed for people who want to bless a lifelong relationship, without having it involve the legal combination of property, finances, etc. This liturgy would be for use by people in jurisdictions where marriage of same sex persons is not allowed, or for elderly persons who choose not to legally marry because of issues related to pensions, inheritances, health concerns, or other personal reasons.
Where can I learn more?
The Virtual Binder will let you look at resolutions, schedules, etc: bit.ly/GCVirtualBinder The website generalconvention.org will be updated with all details related to convention. episcopalnewsservice.org is a good source of information related to the Episcopal Church.
This write-up used a number of sources in its preparation, including the newsletter of the Diocese of North Carolina found here: http://www.dionc.org/dfc/newsdetail_2/3191720
This gives you great information about General Convention but doesn’t explain why I find this exciting. To me, General Convention is an amazing opportunity to gather with brothers and sisters from all around the world to work for God’s mission for the Church and the world. We will consider over 300 resolutions during the time we are there which may sound incredibly tedious for some of you – and that’s where I was a few years ago. Now, I see these resolutions as evidence of the passions and concerns of my greater church family and I know that each of the resolutions impact the lives of people in some way. I am eager to pay attention for all those who have spent hours working on the resolutions and for those whose lives will be touched by them.
When we’re not in legislative hearings or sessions, we have the chance to explore the exhibit area where we can find all things Episcopal: books, gift items, vestments, etc, as well as booths for a multitude of ministries: Church Pension Group, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Forward Movement, Episcopal seminaries, religious communities, and so very many more.
We also have the privilege of coming together for daily worship. Sharing Holy Eucharist with 1000 of our brothers and sisters gives me a tiny glimpse of what the Kingdom of Heaven might be like. The music, the preaching, the joy evident in the room is life-giving!
Bishops United Against Gun Violence is sponsoring a Public Witness Event on Sunday, July 8th, at Brush Square Park featuring speakers Philip and April Schentrup whose daughter Carmen was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and Abigail Zimmerman, a rising 9th grade student, who co-led a school walk-out in March to remember the victims of the shooting in Parkland. Some of us may also attend a prayer service held outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, where families seeking asylum are being housed.
And of course, there’s social time together sharing meals, attending seminary receptions, lunch with our diocese’s youth presence, the Union of Black Episcopalians 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala, and The Diocese of Texas’ Backyard Barbecue.
That’s General Convention in a nutshell. For more details, you can find lots of info on the Episcopal News Service General Convention webpage. And please check out the Nuts and Bolts Facebook page for updates and photos. Even more important, please pray for your deputies. Our days are long – often running from 7:00 am legislative hearings until 9 or 10 o’clock at night – and, although there are relaxing moments, we will be working hard to represent EDOMI with the Holy Spirit’s guiding.
Let us pray –
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and
understanding, be present with those who take counsel
in Austin for the renewal and mission of your Church.
Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide
us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to
pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council