I was sorry to miss being in person at the most recent General Convention, but I was glad to be able to follow along on the livestreams. As always, I continue to notice the difference between the House of Deputies and that of the bishops. The House of bishops is a much more collegial gathering, which makes sense. It’s a small group, all bishops are entitled to attend, but it’s primarily the still-active ones who come, so just over a hundred or so. They meet regularly throughout the year and, of course, bishops are bishops for life and will likely attend a number of General conventions. All of these factors contribute to them getting to know one another and there is an incentive to figuring out to get along together with people you’ll be working with regularly.
The Deputies on the other hand are much larger, eight hundred or more usually, and there is much greater turnover. There are plenty of deputies who are elected to multiple conventions, but just as many who may only serve once. And, unlike the bishops, there is only once that these deputies will gather. So, it isn’t surprising that the HoD runs a little more formally and that things take a little longer.
That said, it was notable to me how much humor and good will was apparent in both houses, even when deliberating over important and potentially divisive issues. Overall, I would describe this General Convention as reverent and relaxed – very via media Episcopal!
A couple of conventions ago, much was made about the “House of Twitter.” Though still around, it seems much diminished to me this time around. Perhaps the general swamp that Twitter is has just soured many people on it, maybe another platform was more engaged, and I’m just not hip enough to be in on it. In some ways, it does feel a bit of a loss though as that was a way to gains some sense of where people stood on many things.
This was a hastily reorganized General Convention, due to the ever-changing dynamics and precautions associated with COVID. There were some issues with the tech and the voting systems resulting from the hastiness probably, there weren’t the usual opportunities to mingle (so I’ve heard), and there weren’t opportunities to worship all together. But there were some innovations that definitely improved things. The most beneficial was the holding of committee hearings in advance and available on livestream. Thankfully it looks like this will continue. The shortened convention was also a boon – along with the necessity of focusing the resolutions on truly essential things. I feel like adopting these for future gatherings will open opportunities for more people to consider being delegates and will allow them to focus on really advancing Christ’s mission and strengthening the church.
The most notable change for how GC will work in the future was the redesign of the budget process which should make for a more responsive budget for our church each triennium and more reflective of the will of the General Convention.
As for the work of the Convention itself, Resolution A059 which went on quite a journey, may have the longest lasting impact. By expanding the definition of the Prayer Book to be the 1979 book plus all other liturgies approved for use by the whole church, it sets up a process for renewal and updating of our liturgies over the next decade and half or so that may not have been possible otherwise. I expect we will move into a situation not unlike that of the church of England where the 1662 BCP is the “standard” but there are also contemporary Alternative Service Books that see widespread use. Right now, the “Prayer Book” is a website, but it would be nice to be able to get “real” books that have the liturgies the modern church needs as well.
It was also good to see the Convention, and especially the House of Bishops, grapple with critical issues where the mission of the church intersects with wider society, such as climate change and the crisis of democracy here in the United States.
I confess I came out of this General Convention more hopeful than I have been in a while. I think we are beginning to see some real substantive movement away from the mid-20th century model of church and towards whatever it is the Episcopal church will be in the medium and long-term future. May God shower blessings on our church.
image: House of Deputies from Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs