Deputies and bishops from throughout The Episcopal Church have begun reading and preparing fervently for the legislation and events which await us in Austin, Texas, July 5-13, 2018. I am so honored to be one of the deputies from the Diocese of Atlanta, and I am glad to provide a brief description of what is in store for us this summer.
My favorite description of General Convention is that it can be divided among three equal parts: “part national (or churchwide) legislature session, part local county fair, and part huge family reunion.”
Surely, one exciting part of convention is the county fair flavor. When I was a child, I loved going to the Coweta County Fair, because the booths and the animals and games and rides were so exciting. At General Convention, some of the animals and games and rides are thrilling; but the booths –from the sublime to the ridiculous-- are truly representative of the church. Almost every church-related or religion-related company sets up shop, selling and marketing their wares and services. And they are really good!
The General Convention is also one-third family reunion. If one has been at all active in the Episcopal Church, he or she is bound to see someone they know or recognize. Most of the active bishops are present; and the older one gets, the more one knows Episcopalians from around the Church. Every diocese sends four lay deputies and four clergy deputies (that’s over 800 more folks). Add the representatives of Episcopal Church Women (ECW) from every diocese, who meet simultaneously. Then add the hundreds of other church officials and friends. Seminary reunions and special episcopal organizations, who are also meeting. You have then a wonderful church family reunion.
Finally, of course, legislation occurs. I have no idea how many total pieces of legislation will be considered this year, but the number will probably top 300. Some of the legislation is controversial, some of it is honorable, and some of it borders on the trivial. So goes legislation anywhere.
Having been a Deputy for a number of years, I actually enjoy the legislative work. But please believe me that it is hard work! It takes time and careful, orderly, attention to accomplish successful legislation in the Church. I have chaired the Prayer Book and Liturgy Committee of General Convention several times, often dealing with so much legislative and committee work that I never even entered the Exhibition Hall (the “county fair” element of Convention).
This year, it is my responsibility to have been asked by the “Presiding Deputy” of the Episcopal Church to chair a special legislative committee, the committee which will receive any proposed resolutions having to do with revising the Book of Common Prayer. It will be “Committee 13.” “Oh my!” people exclaim, “Will we change the prayer book at this convention?” The answer is No; there is no proposed new Book of Common Prayer. But there are good and sound resolutions put forward that have us entering a season of careful revision. That subject will be open for debate and discussion.
I mentioned the phrase “Presiding Deputy” of The Episcopal Church. We all know, and pray for, the person we know as our “Presiding Bishop.” At General Convention in particular, however, the Church becomes more aware of an equally authoritative house of The Episcopal Church. As the House of Bishops is presided over by a presiding bishop, so is the House of Deputies presided over by a Presiding Deputy – and she has to carefully oversee 800 plus deputies. Again, it takes a lot of attention and work.
Any successful resolution that affects the entire Episcopal Church must be passed, exactly with the same language, by both houses, independently. How does that happen? Well, it’s not magic. It is careful and persevering work. Details and precise words matter!
It can be fun to monitor special events at General Convention, especially resolutions which affect our Prayer Book and our common life. The web site of The Episcopal Church can help you do that. Inevitably, there will be some discussions and resolutions that garner more attention than others. This year, those discussions might include women’s issues, Israel/Palestine issues, budget issues, and –of course- prayer book issues.
However, I also remind Episcopalians that, most of the time, our church work is not at General Convention. Our ministry is our daily work in the world, in our parishes, and in our dioceses, trying our best to honor and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is a daily affair, not something which commands our attention only once every three years!
I urge us to remember that the heart and soul of Christ’s work in the world occurs at the local level, at the parish level, at the level where most of us serve in our daily lives – in fact, where the real initiative and creativity of everyday Christianity is. The best decisions that the Episcopal Church makes every three years are those that have already proven their efficacy and truth at the local level, in parishes throughout our communion. So, the best way we can participate in the national church is to pray, serve, work, and study right where we are. May God bless each of our vocations. And pray for General Convention!