by Marshall Scott
Well, it’s almost here. In a few days, we’ll be getting started. Let’s get started.
Of course, I’m referring to General Convention. Much has been written about the debates and decisions of Convention, and those are important. Still, there are other aspects of Convention that I’m more conscious of. I don’t know that they’re more important, but they’re more immediately real, if you will.
The first is simply that the days are long. Legislative committees start their work at 7:00 a.m. Evening events run until 9:00 p.m. or later. In between, there will be the Eucharist, legislative sessions, and other meetings. If you’re organized, there will be lunch and/or dinner over which business will be done. There might be time spent at the Registration and Certification booth. There will also be a lot of walking; but more about that in a minute. The point is the days are long and full, running to sixteen hours or so.
And there will be lots of walking. Convention centers are the only places large enough to hold our regular gathering. (Over the years there has been discussion about college campuses; but if you think about it you’ll see that it wouldn’t change the distances we need to walk.) So, even when hotels are close – indeed, even when they’re attached – there will be lots of walking. For almost two weeks, thousands of Episcopalians will be power-walking, as it were, because most of us will be carrying some additional weight – cases with laptops, armloads of paper, bags of stuff from the Exhibit Hall. This year it will be somewhat less, because the Blue Book is available electronic, and many of us will have downloaded it to the device we plan to use. That’s a good seven or eight pounds saved there. On the other hand, there will still be the printed forms of resolutions as they come from legislative committees, and as they get reviewed and revised in debate, and as they show up on the agenda. Too, we will be walking fast. With all those activities and all that distance, getting where one needs to be won’t allow for much leisurely strolling. So, yes, we’ll be power-walking.
There will be new ideas and new information. I have long said that any Episcopalian who can should try to spend at least a day or two at a General Convention. More especially, as much as I value the discussions in the two Houses, I think every Episcopalian should see the Exhibit Hall. In the Exhibit Hall an Episcopalian will see a breadth and diversity in the ministries of the Church that few would ever imagine. Where else would most Episcopalians get a chance to meet Episcopal religious, whether at the booth of the Conference on Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (CAROA), or with the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities (NAECC)? Where would folks learn about the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (K.E.E.P.); or about the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations, or the Bishop of the Armed Services and Federal Ministries, or so many other ministries that are part of the life of our Church?
I continue to see the Spirit working in the Exhibit Hall, too, in that organizations on opposite sides of a given issue will often find themselves on opposite sides of the same land on the Exhibit Hall floor – or at least within line of sight and earshot of each other. In years past that would have been Associated Parishes and the Evangelical and Catholic Mission; or Associated Parishes and the American Anglican Council (yeah, I realize how that dates me). It will be interesting to see how that works out this year.
There will certainly be worship. The daily Eucharist is an interesting experience, introducing participants to new texts and new hymns. Yes, I’ve struggled sometimes with worshipping in another language. That seems only fair, and at least a small taste of how my siblings from other cultures can experience worshipping with me. More to the point, once again we see a breadth that most of us do not regularly experience. We hear – more, we have the opportunity to participate in – worship in Spanish and French and Creole and Lokata and Mandarin. I don’t think we touch on all the languages in which Episcopalians worship, nor that we even try to do that perfectly. However, it becomes another living experience of just how broad is our life together in the Episcopal Church.
There will be opportunities to participate that many folks don’t know about. When legislative committees meet to discuss resolutions, meetings include time set aside to hear people testify about the topics. And while we talk about the participation of Bishops and Deputies serving on those committees, anyone registered with the Convention can testify. That includes Bishops and Deputies, certainly; but it also includes Exhibitors, Volunteers, and Visitors. Indeed, to be a Visitor is a registered option, with access to all the activities of Convention, from early Committee meetings to daily Eucharist to the galleries of both the Houses of Deputies and Bishops to the Open Hearings about particularly important issues. And anyone can volunteer. Indeed, the Convention runs on Volunteers. They will handle registration and assist with exhibits and serve in the Houses. Episcopalians have opportunities to participate in the structures of our Church governance of which few are aware.
And most importantly, there will be people. There will be friends new and old and unexpected. Some time ago, when asked what brought Anglicans together, Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “We meet!” The value of General Convention is perhaps most powerfully in the many connections that get made and sustained. Some of those connections are expressed in the legislative work, certainly. More, though, are expressed in the new thoughts and insights we gain as we walk and talk and eat and worship with folks we haven’t met before, or haven’t seen in years. We are a Church for which the Incarnation is a central theme; and there is no experience like discovering the Episcopal Church incarnated in all those many and varied and different and interesting people.
These are the facts, the experiences of General Convention that have meant the most to me. Yes, expressing the mind and the will of the Episcopal Church through the legislative process is important. I wouldn’t have run to be a Deputy if I thought it wasn’t. But it’s all these other experiences that make General Convention rich and moving for me. It’s these experiences that I would encourage every Episcopalian to pursue, whenever the General Convention seems at all within reach. These are the things that have drawn me again and again throughout my years in the Church.
And now it’s almost time! So, let’s get started.
The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.