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Episcopal Church General Convention July 2018

General Convention 2018

On July 2nd I will be traveling to Austin, Texas for the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This will be my 5th convention; I began in 2006 as an alternate in Columbus, OH. We are called deputies not delegates as we are charged to vote according to conscience rather than representationally.  

Convention is a bicameral system with a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies. The latter is made up of 4 lay and 4 clergy from each diocese. Legislation is fed to these houses by 25 legislative committees. All resolutions must pass both houses in the same wording to be approved. My assigned committee is Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music. We have a lot to do so we are split into subcommittees. I will work on a revision of the Book of Occasional Services. There are 10 days of legislation though I will be there early as our committee begins work before the sessions start. The days begin with committee meetings at 7:30 and often go well into the evening.

The House of Bishops is much smaller, under 200. They usually sit at small tables facing each other. All bishops are eligible to participate even if retired.

Each day there is a Eucharist with thousands of Episcopalians present. We will hear some wonderful and diverse music, liturgy, and preaching, including at least one sermon by our beloved Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Some of the more than 200 resolutions to be considered include beginning a long process for writing a new Prayer Book, revising disciplinary canons, evangelism, environment, transgender rights, racial reconciliation, spiritual formation, revising the saint’s calendar, and preparing a 3 year budget. Our 8 deputies and 2 alternates will either sit on committees or follow one. We will meet often and confer to learn what is going in in committees and what might be coming to the floor for a vote. 

The House of Deputies is huge with over 800 members! With 110 dioceses in 16 countries it needs to be. Translation to Spanish, French, and sign language is available. Each diocese has a symbol displayed on a pole. Ours is “The Cat in the Hat” hat, as Dr. Seuss lived in Springfield and his museum is just next to diocesan house. There are 8 microphones on platforms, and deputies line up to the nearest one to speak for or against resolutions. Voting is accomplished with small electronic devices that resemble BlackBerries. Unlike the old days when we carried large ring binders with many hundreds of pages, we now use ipads connected to an extranet. This makes it easy to track resolutions without tedious copying, organizing and flipping of pages.

Both houses can meet together for discussion, but voting always takes place separately.

There is an exhibit hall filled with things Episcopal like books, vestments, items for liturgical use, religious craft items, and booths representing seminaries, monasteries, and organizations like the Association of Anglican Musicians, vergers, military chaplains, etc.  

The work of General Convention is important to all of us in the church as we try to transform this world (to paraphrase our wonderful Presiding Bishop Michael Curry) “from the nightmare it often seems to be today to the dream God has for it.”  Stay tuned for news from Austin, and please do keep the work of General Convention in your prayers.   Thanks.

John Cheek

Lay Deputy, Diocese of Western Massachusetts

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