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Newark deputies aim to shape policy at General Convention

General Convention 2018
Kirk Petersen

The Diocese of Newark will be well-represented in Austin, Texas, at the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, July 5-13. The triennial convention is the most senior governing body of the church – and it’s a nine-day legislative maelstrom of activity, with 153 bishops and 843 deputies registered from throughout TEC.

The Newark contingent will attempt to shape policy on issues including: potential revisions to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer; same-sex marriage rites; women’s issues, such as pay equality and a “stained-glass ceiling” faced by female priests; gun violence; and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Bishop Mark Beckwith, who is one of the conveners of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, said the group will be holding five-minute worship services in the hallways every day, and giving away 90 crosses – symbolizing the 90 people who die by gun violence every day.

He also serves on the Program, Budget & Finance committee, where “we’re going to have to do the Solomon work of sorting through what we can afford and not afford.”

Laura Russell of All Saints, Hoboken, lay co-chair of the Newark deputation, said she is focused on Palestinian rights and gender equality issues. She will serve as secretary of the legislative committee on Social Justice and International Policy, so she’ll have a chance to make her views known.

The Rev. Canon Greg Jacobs, clergy co-chair of the deputation and Canon to the Ordinary for the diocese, talked about efforts to revise the Book of Common Prayer to make it “more culturally sensitive and inclusive” – a process that will take a decade or more if it happens at all. “There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. The convention will be considering two separate proposals that would lead toward a new prayer book.

Jacobs is also serving as the deputy chair of the legislative committee on Congregational and Diocesan Vitality.

“I would hope that the church can take a stronger stand against gun violence than we did at the last convention,” said the Rev. Gary Commins of Incarnation, Jersey City. He is one of a number of non-deputies attending the convention because of their passion for particular issues. Commins also is focused on resolutions restoring UN aid to the Gaza Strip and “bringing economic pressure on Israel in response to the occupation.” He noted that for many years the church has been on record condemning violence by either side of the conflict.

The Rev. Diana Wilcox of Christ Church, Bloomfield/Glen Ridge, is an alternate deputy and one of 42 women who were appointed earlier this year to a special committee on sexual harassment and exploitation in the church. She wrote a resolution “very similar to what the diocese has already passed, on requiring anti-sexism training, in the same way that we require for anti-racism.” She said “our diocese is actually ahead of the game. What we passed in January [at the diocesan convention] is some of what The Episcopal Church is just now talking about.”

The Rev. Carlye J. Hughes, who was elected XI Bishop of Newark in May, happens to be a deputy from her current Diocese of Fort Worth. In addition to serving her duties in that role, she expects to have multiple opportunities to meet with and get to know the Newark deputation.

All bishops are eligible to attend to attend the House of Bishops at General Convention, even if they are retired. For the House of Deputies, each of TEC’s 109 dioceses is entitled to send four ordained deputies and four lay deputies to convention. (Some dioceses have financial constraints that result in smaller deputations.) Newark’s deputies are:


  • The Rev. Canon Gregory Jacobs, co-chair of the deputation and Canon to the Ordinary for the diocese
  • The Rev. Deacon Erik Soldwedel - St. Paul’s, Paterson
  • The Rev. John Mennell - St. Luke’s, Montclair
  • The Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber - Atonement, Tenafly


  • Janelle Grant - St. Paul’s, Paterson
  • Sue Morgan - All Saints, Glen Rock
  • Sidney King - Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City
  • Laura Russell, co-chair of the deputation - All Saints, Hoboken

“We’re also very excited to have a group of young people representing the diocese,” at General Convention, Jacobs said, potentially part of the next generation of leadership in the church.

The Rev. Sheelagh Clarke, the diocese’s Interim Coordinator for Youth and Young Adult Ministries, will be one of five adult chaperones for 13 high school students who will attend part of the General Convention. They are sponsored jointly by the diocese, the individual church and the student’s family.

The 13 students include:

  • Ben, Eron, Iheoma and Lena - St. Luke’s, Montclair
  • Jillian and Shelby - Christ Church, Newton
  • James - Church of the Savior, Denville
  • Donald - Grace Van Vorst, Jersey City
  • Patrick - Church of the Epiphany, Orange
  • Rebecca - Christ Church, Short Hills
  • Shayla - House of Prayer, Newark
  • Rosemarie - St. Martin’s, Bridgewater
  • Nico - St Alban’s, Oakland/Franklin Lakes.

(It is the policy of the Diocese of Newark not to publish the full names of minors.)

Clarke said the youth will participate in the daily deputation meetings and will break into pairs to “shadow” different deputies as they participate in legislative hearings. There will also be reflections and bonding activities, including a “smartphone scavenger hunt” in the massive exhibition hall.