The Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is – in worship, mission, and governance – the work of the people. Parishes and missions have elected leadership and clergy, and also send representatives to work in the larger diocesan mission through participation in Diocesan Convention, governing bodies, committees and commissions. Diocesan Convention elects representatives to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and they in turn participate on committees, commissions, and at General Convention to further the mission of the larger church.
What does that all mean? The Episcopal Church is all of us, and you have a chance to participate in General Convention – right now!
The General Convention usually occurs every three years and is mostly an in-person event. However, as with all things, the pandemic has created a shift in time and space for this important work of the church. The 80th General Convention was to have taken place last summer in Baltimore, Maryland. It was postponed to this summer, and will occur over a shortened time period from July 7-14. Yet, just as local parishes and the diocese have found new ways to be together to continue our gospel mission, so too has the Episcopal Church.
One of the most important things that happens at General Convention is the meeting of legislative committees, who consider resolutions submitted from across the larger church. As they consider their work, they listen to testimony offered by people from all over the church who have an interest in the legislation being considered. Rather than waiting until all the bishops and deputies descend upon the convention halls of Baltimore to begin our work, the 80th General Convention is underway right now! And the best part – you can participate!
As the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, said recently in a letter to all the deputations “I know that the work of being a deputy has started earlier this year than in the past, and that many of us are balancing competing priorities and encountering new situations and challenges. I am grateful for your willingness to experiment with changes that can make our governance more efficient while maintaining the essence of our polity, in which laypeople, clergy and bishops share authority and responsibility for our beloved church.”
While President Jennings is speaking to the deputies, the same is true for all of you – we are a participatory church. You do not have to be a deputy to testify at General Convention. In fact, the first time I testified before a legislative committee I was not a deputy. But back then, I had to travel to Indianapolis to do it – this year, you can stay in the comfort of your own home!
The committees range from Liturgy & Music to World Mission, from Social Justice & International Policy to Christian Formation & Discipleship, and from Environmental Stewardship to Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations. Of course, there is also Program, Budget & Finance, which is really a Joint Standing Committee, not a legislative committee, and handles pretty much what one might expect – the budget for the next three years. To find out more, please go to this website: generalconvention.org. There you can review all the committees to find out what they do, and then click on the Virtual Binder (the legislative calendar) to find out what resolutions are being considered, when the committee is meeting, and how to sign up to testify. You must notify the committee in advance to sign up, as noted in President Jennings instructions below:
Legislative committees began meeting in December, and the first online legislative hearings began in February. Your participation will be essential to this next phase of changing the way we do General Convention work, so as we begin, here are some pointers and reminders:
- You can find the resolutions that have been filed and the schedule of legislative meetings and hearings in the Virtual Binder. (We call it that because, as incredible as it seems now, we used to do all of this with huge loose-leaf binders that every deputy had to carry around the convention center.)
- You can sign up to attend or testify at a legislative hearing. Please note that the General Convention Office asks attendees to sign up two business days before a hearing.
- Please approach online hearings knowing that not everything is going to go smoothly the first time. This is an experiment, and part of the goal is learning some things about what we need to do differently in the future. Please make it a practice to confer with your deputation frequently about your experiences of doing online legislative business. Note what worked well and what didn’t, and share your observations and input with my office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are doing our best to troubleshoot as we go, and I will also be sure to include your observations and feedback with the next president of the House of Deputies to improve the process in advance of the 81st General Convention in 2024.
- If you have questions about any of these meetings, or General Convention itself, please contact a member of our diocesan deputation. You can find a list of our deputies here.
General Convention is ON! I hope to see you all there.
The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox is a Deputy to the 80th General Convention.