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Should General Convention meet every 4 years instead of 3?

Should General Convention meet every 4 years instead of 3?

For our sometimes weekly series on General Convention 2015, Tom Sramek, an alternate to General Convention 2015, offers these thoughts on re-structuring and re-imagining The Episcopal Church. This focusses on the frequency of meetings of General Convention:

Those who have been following the goings-on in the Episcopal Church are aware that the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (or TREC) has been hard at work for the last several years. That work culminated in a report issued last month. Unfortunately, it was long on good theology but short on specifics. So, by way of advancing the discussion forward, here are a few thoughts:

General Convention as a Unicameral Legislative BodyI like TREC’s recommendation to make General Convention a unicameral legislative body rather than a bicameral legislature composed of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. I think the combined “house” can be called what it is–the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I think it makes a great deal of sense to have bishops sitting with the clergy and lay deputies from their diocese and thus having a chance for ongoing dialogue. I also think a “vote by orders” where one must receive a majority votes in the order of bishop, clergy (priests and deacons) and laity makes sense for controversial and/or important items.

Reduction of General Convention Deputations from four to three peopleI am in favor of reducing the number of people on a diocesan deputation to General Convention from four to three (and three alternates). I say this fully aware that, as the first alternate clergy deputy, I would likely not have gone to General Convention this summer had that system been in place. The issue of diversity has arisen, but my take is that if a diocese is not electing a sufficiently diverse slate of deputies, simply enlarging the deputation isn’t going to help that. If diversity of persons in a diocesan deputation is a persistent problem in your diocese, perhaps you need to do a little diversity work–or state flat out that you are attempting to elect a diverse slate and so you do not need five middle-aged straight white men to run. Also, one would need at least a dozen deputies to fully encompass the range of diversity that one might want (racial, sexual orientation, sex, etc…). Reducing the number of deputies would allow for a smaller venue, thereby reducing costs. Having three rather than four deputies but having one’s diocesan bishop at the table means that there are four seats at each diocesan table (unless a diocese has more than one bishop).NEW: Meet in General Convention every four years, 
and in Provincial Convention the two years in between

This is something I came up with, and I think it has a lot to recommend it. The idea is that General Convention will meet every four years, rather than the current three, and that the deputies to General Convention will also be deputies to a Provincial Convention which will meet two years prior to each General Convention. In other words, people will meet every two years–once as a Provincial Convention and once as a General Convention. Deputies would need to be elected no later than 90 days prior to each Provincial Convention and would remain deputies until their successors were elected four years later prior to the next Provincial Convention. I am aware that there is currently provision for the meeting of a “Provincial Synod,” but it is not explicitly tied to General Convention in the way this would be. Provinces could certainly meet more often, if they wished.

I suggest this because I think that the provincial structure is the most underutilized piece of the Episcopal Church’s governance structure. I can imagine my own province, Province 8, gathering and talking about missionary endeavors on the Pacific Rim, in Navajoland, and elsewhere in the western United States and pacific regions.  Other provinces might well have similar, more local, missional concerns. Provincial Conventions could also use smaller venues, keeping costs to a minimum.

With this set up, there would be several other changes:

  • There would no longer be any “B” (Bishop) or “D” (Deputy) resolutions considered at General Convention. All resolutions would either need to arise out of the work of a CCAB (or whatever their successor bodies are called) or from a diocese or province. B or D  resolutions would be submitted to Provincial Conventions and, assuming they passed, would be forwarded on to General Convention as “C” (provincial) resolutions. This would substantially decrease the number of resolutions at General Convention and screen out duplicate or frivolous resolutions.
  • The Presiding Bishop would serve an eight (8) year term rather than a nine (9) year term. The term would begin at the close of the electing General Convention, go through the General Convention four years later, and end at the close of the General Convention eight years later. This would be one less General Convention than the current nine year term.
  • Both General Convention and Provincial Convention could and should be reduced to one week. Beginning on Monday morning and concluding with Eucharist on Sunday. One could also have a “pre-convention” from the previous Friday to Sunday to function is a “missionary convocation” similar to what TREC envisioned General Convention turning into.

So, that’s my first try at suggesting a major change and an increased role for provinces. Responses welcome.

The Rev. Tom Sramek, Jr. is Co-Rector of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, San Jose, CA
posted with permission of the author by Ann Fontaine
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Tobias Haller

Good thoughts. I've long been on board with the first two, and your third suggestion has much to merit.

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Jim Beyer

It is an interesting post. I think it may go a half step short. It would be my thought that making the Provincial Convention (PC) function the way English Diocesan Synods, that is as ratifying bodies, might empower the PC.

When the GS in England endorsed the, "Anglican Covenant" they had to send it to those Synods. A majority voting no killed the proposal. As these bodies are a lot closer to the parishes, I think of that as the voice of the people. No Deputy, no matter how well intentioned, can know the people of all the parishes the way their wardens and clergy do.

I am very doubtful that the idea of functional change will somehow solve the declining membership issues. But if we have to do something, moving the decisons closer to the pews strikes me as wise.

Thanks Again!

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Tom Little

Thanks for posting this, Tom; it is just the kind of creative response to the TREC report that the members of TREC envisioned and hoped for.

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