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Reforming General Convention? Or watering it down?

Reforming General Convention? Or watering it down?

The Diocese of Georgia passed a resolution over the weekend calling up on the church to re-imagine General Convention. This section interested me.

By design, General Convention is the largest gathering of the people of the Episcopal Church. This extraordinary opportunity should be used to empower and equip the church and its leaders for mission and evangelism in God’s world by creating a balance between legislative deliberation and a focus on renewal of the church. This can be accomplished by providing training and inspiration for mission and evangelism through intentional leadership training, sharing of “best practices”, storytelling, networking and engaging in mission in the host city – being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ: A community in action.

I am in favor of training more people in the church to talk about their faith. If it can be demonstrated that this is best done at large national gatherings, rather than on the regional, diocesan or parochial level, I’d have no problem supporting a churchwide initiative. I have two problems with this proposal, however. The first is that we vote for deputies to represent us in a legislature. We should not give them other duties for which they might not be especially qualified. The person who excels as a representative is not necessarily the same person who excels as an evangelist of teacher of evangelists. The second is that one of the prime complaints about the convention is that there is not enough time to consider all of the legislation. Giving the deputies additional duties will only make this worse.

So, two categories of questions to get our conversation started:

1. What is the best way to train people to speak about their faith? National gatherings? Provincial meetings? How will it trickle down to people in parishes?

2. Does anybody else think that the emphasis on doing other things at General Convention is an attempt to diminish the convention’s authority? At the last Executive Council meeting, Bishop Stacy Sauls, who preached at Georgia’s convention, called for a conversation about church restructuring in which “nothing was off the table.” I find this heartening, but so far, nothing is on the table except minimizing the opportunities for lay people and clergy to participate in the governance of the church.

As someone who thinks the House of Deputies played the leading role on a number of the most important issues to confront the church in recent decades, I have a significant problem with this, but I sense that I am in a minority. What’s good about tilting the balance of authority in the church toward the Office of the Presiding Bishop?


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Daniel Weir

I only have experience with younger deputies in one diocese, Western NY, but there the young member of the deputation, and so far there has only been one, was not always the fourth deputy. In one election a college student was the first deputy elected, coming in ahead of a long-serving and very respected candidate. I think the commitment of the diocese to include younger members in vestries, diocesan convention and council was evident in that election.

tobias haller

Rebecca, I’ve heard that assertion, but I don’t know that the facts back it up. I sense it may have been more true 20 or even 10 years ago, but I’d wager things have changed a lot since.

On the issue of the purpose of GC — I think it would be more effective to treat it as a legislature, and have an annual EYE-style evangelism conference focused on mission work. Trying to combine the two ultimately benefits neither. The people charged with work on canons may not be the best missiologists — and that goes for bishops as well as deputies, in my book.

Rebecca Wilson

Tobias, I also liked the suggestion of capping the size of deputations on the face of it. But people who’ve looked at the demographics of deputations tell me that the fourth spots in both the clergy and lay orders are disproportionately occupied by young people, LGBT people, and people of color. If analysis bears that out, capping the size of deputations could have the unintended consequence of making General Convention even more homogeneous than it already is.

Edwin Cox, Priest

These comments on the purpose of Convention bring me back to the PB’s video to the Bishops (and via them, the Deputies).

My personal reflection on the PB’s message She noted that the ordination process takes a large chunk of the Canons, and that the disciplinary process is the largest Canon of all. Two thoughts come to mind:

1 I’m trying to get my mind around the idea of putting Mission into the canons. By her comments, it would seem that she would expect a growing church to have Mission as the largest section of the Canons. Not everything works best through laws/canons.

2 Examples: I was a Coast Guard officer for 10 years. When I served on a polar icebreaker, there were no regulations at all (servicewide, districtwide, or shipboard) about how to break ice, or how to escort a thinly hulled vessel through the ice. When I served on a buoy tender, there were no regulations at all about how to maneuver to pick up or drop buoys. In both cases, there were best practices, otherwise known as the lore of the sea or the lore of the particular area of expertise.

Deputies are (one hopes) elected because of their understanding of the legislative process (as well as their reputation as faithful Episcopalian Christians). This would include a number of people who spend most of their days entwined in the business of the Church. (Chancellors certainly come to mind as people whose ministry often involves many hours [beyond their professional career hours] doing legal and/or advisory work for the Bishop and/or the Diocese.) Certainly there are many Deputies (especially laity) who have made sacrifices to commit the time needed to do the legislative work of the Church.

Certainly I could make a case for a national gathering to pump up the folks who are good at pumping up others to be more involved in evangelism or other aspects of mission.

And certainly there is much to be said for the idea of having a certain amount of time given to pumping up the members of Convention. Featured speakers falls into this category. But this should not be anywhere near a major portion of the time.

One can drive a screw into wood with a hammer. Wouldn’t it make more sense to either use a screwdriver to drive in a screw or a hammer to drive in a nail?

Blessings and peace, Edwin Cox

tobias haller

When I wrote my earlier note, I almost included dweir’s (Daniel?) suggestion. While I’m not averse to the “Primate” title as such, I don’t think there was anything gained by severing the PB from a diocese, and moving to the corporate model with the PB as chair and CEO of the mission agency.

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