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From #vacouncil to #vaconvention

From #vacouncil to #vaconvention

The Diocese of Virginia Annual Council today passed a resolution to change its name from Annual Council to Annual Convention:

R-2:  Name Change of Council to Convention
Adopted; text pending final review

Resolved, that, in the spirit of reconciliation, the name of the annual meeting of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia be changed from “Council” to “Convention.”

The “spirit of reconciliation” is in reference to the history behind the name “Annual Council.”

Up until the Civil War the diocese used the term “Convention.” The Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America adopted almost in whole the C&C of the PECUSA. Among the few differences was the substitution of Council for Convention. Thus, General Convention became General Council and the conventions of dioceses became councils of dioceses. There are no records of why this change was made. We do know that at the next annual meeting of the diocese the,

Editor of the Southern Churchman and member of the diocesan Standing Committee, the Rev. D. Francis Sprigg, reported the change in nomenclature was not well received, writing it was “very unnecessary as we think.”


Its reason for being removed, the PECCSA in 1865 reformed itself as a voluntary association, the Protestant Episcopal Church of Associated Dioceses in the United States. At its next Council in 1866 Virginia became the last Confederate States diocese to renew its ecclesial relations with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The reunion debate was heated even though the option of being a lone diocese raised serious concerns over apostolic succession and the principle that Anglican provinces could not be subnational.

During debate of the reunion measure a partiality for the PECCSA terminology “council” was expressed. More significantly, retention of the term was promoted to sell reunion. The Church Journal, paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. C. W. Andrews, reported

“Very possibly some declaration of settlement might be advisable, or for retention of the word Council, – the word Convention was one they all wished to get rid of. If this concession should be asked by the opponents of this measure, he hoped the Council would grant it. By supporting one another and conceding a little to one another, unanimity might yet be reached.”

When the vote for reunion was taken the tally was Clergy aye 57, Clergy nay 9, Laity aye 36, Laity nay 11.

The same 1866 Council debated the status of African Americans in the church and adopted the following:

“Resolved That whenever the colored members of the Church in any parish desire to form a new and separate congregation, such action shall have the sanction of this Diocese. They may elect their own Vestry, Wardens, and Ministers. They shall be considered as under the care of this Council, and their interests as represented in it by the Standing Committee on Colored Congregations.”

The decision on whether to retain the terminology council carried over to the 1867 Annual Council. As reported by the Southern Churchman,

“Mr. Tazewell Taylor, chairman of the committee, to which was referred what changes were rendered necessary in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese, by reuniting with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States proposed only the following:

That the word “Confederate” be stricken out and “United” be inserted in lieu thereof. He said there had been some conversation in the committee in regard to changing “Council” to “Convention;” but as it was not obligatory, and as the word “Convention” was a disagreeable one, and as he thought the General Convention would alter their title to Council, or something equivalent, the committee preferred to retain “Council,” and as it was the liturgical and ecclesiastical nomenclature, he hoped Virginia would have the honor of retaining the use of the word Council.”

The report’s recommendations were approved making Virginia the first diocese in PECUSA to have an Annual Council rather than an Annual Convention. Virginia reunited on its own terms.

By 1919 many dioceses in PECUSA used the nomenclature “Annual Council” although the majority still used “Annual Convention.” But when General Convention in 1919 created a “National Council” (today’s Executive Council) dioceses began to adopt parallel organizational structures, triggering a wave of dioceses adopting the nomenclature “Annual Convention” and “Executive Council.” Virginia was not part of that wave. We do not know why.

We do know that there was sentiment in the South that the region not join the wave. As Julia E. Randle uncovered (pdf) the Southern Churchman had this to say in 1924:

Council or Convention?

In the account sent by our correspondent of the recent Council of East Carolina, published last week with some abridgement, we noted that preliminary steps were taken to change the name of the Council of the Diocese to Convention. We believe the change proposed to prevent confusion with the newly formed Executive Council, modeled on the “Presiding Bishop and Council” recently created and most awkwardly and unfortunately named, by the Generation Convention.

We would regret to see the name “Council” relinquished by our southern diocese. The etymology of the word, its historical associations, and the more dignified meaning attached to it in popular usage all indicate that this, rather than the commonplace and colorless “Convention” is the proper designation for our state ecclesiastical assemblies. All sorts of organizations meet in Conventions from political parties down, and curious proceedings sometimes follow. But men meet in Council for serious deliberation on matters of moment, and particularly on sacred things, to take “counsel” together. The words, while of different derivation and meaning, have been associated in every language.

But there is another reason for us, sentimental, no doubt, but not wholly without historical significance. It may have been noted that the name Council is generally used by the dioceses of the South. It is because this name was adopted for these dioceses by the Church in the Confederate States of America, when the dioceses within that government were “impelled by political necessity to separate in a legislative capacity” from the Church in the United States. The second article of its Constitution read as follows: “There shall be in this Church a General Council. There may be also Provincial Councils and Diocesan Councils.” The change from Convention to Council was probably never made in Tennessee because there was no Convention in that Diocese from 1861 to 1865. The name Council has been retained in all the other dioceses in the former Confederate States except Georgia and North Carolina.

African Americans were admitted as members of the Virginia Annual Council in 1931. Today, everyone had their opportunity to debate the name of the diocese’s annual meeting.

by John B. Chilton

John Chilton is a member of The Café newsteam and serves on the Committee on Race and Reconciliation in the Diocese of Virginia.


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Tom ferguson

The reason for the shift from Convention to council was stated in some of the letters sent around by PECCSA bishops. They felt council was a more ecclesial term than Convention, like in the “councils” of the early church.

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