By The Rev. T. Scott Allen
Very soon the deputation from the Diocese of Bethlehem will leave to represent you at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church June 23-July 3, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The General Convention meets once every three years and is the highest governing body in the Church.
It is bicameral in nature, consisting of two bodies or “houses”—the House of Deputies, which comprises four clergy and four laity elected by their diocesan conventions from each diocese, and the House of Bishops, including all bishops who are in active ministry or who are retired. Proposed legislation must pass both houses of convention in exactly the same language to become Church policy.
The Episcopal Church consists of 109 domestic dioceses in three regional areas and 17 foreign countries, and is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion. So, it’s not just the 50 states that make up our church, and many participants in General Convention speak other languages than English as their native tongue. Deputies from other countries have translators who speak to them over headphones. And when they speak, a translator stands at the microphone with them to translate into English.
When sitting, The General Convention is the second largest elected democratic body in the world (only the Parliament of India is larger). More than 800 people sit in the House of Deputies and 300 in the House of Bishops.
The General Convention has authority to amend the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church; adopt the budget for the church for the next three years; authorize liturgical texts and amend the Book of Common Prayer; adopt communions and covenants with other churches; set qualifications for orders of ministry and office-holders; elect officers of the General Convention, the Executive Council, and members of boards; and delegate responsibilities to the committees, commissions, agencies, and boards of the Episcopal Church.
With over 1100 voting members one could ask, “How does anything get done?” It is an every-three-year miracle that much work and decisions do get done! To that end, the president of the House of Deputies appoints many deputies, and the presiding bishop appoints bishops, to committees that vet legislation, hold hearings and amend and perfect submitted resolutions before going to the full bodies of both Houses.
Deputies from Bethlehem who will be serving on committees of the General Convention are: Mark Laubach and me on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music (I am chairing the sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer); Tony Pompa on the Committee on the Dispatch of Business, where he is the vice chair; Anne Kitch on Formation and Education for Ministry; Cathy Bailey and Jane Bender on Evangelism and Communications; and Ray Arcario on Resolutions Review.
On the first day of legislative business, the House of Deputies will vote on some proposed changes to its Rules of Order that will hopefully stream line the legislative process, which can be quite ponderous and time-consuming. This will affect how legislation gets to the floor of the house in a way that will be faster and more nimble. The good part of this is that we will have more time to focus on the things that will forward our mission and ministry rather than wrangling over language in resolutions which may, in the final analysis, do little to transform our church into who God is calling us to be in the next three years.
This will be the first “paperless” General Convention for bishops and deputies. All bishops and deputies will be issued an iPad upon registration (alas, it must be turned back in at the end—I wonder if I could just forget to do that?) All resolutions, ballots, documents etc. will be on that iPad, along with the Book of Common Prayer and the NRSV Bible. I can think of no other time when first-time deputies and seasoned veterans were on a more even playing field. We will all be learning new things!
The General Convention Office will seat the deputations of Bethlehem and Northwest Pennsylvania adjacent to one another in the House of Deputies so that when the House of Bishops attends a joint session, Bishop Sean can sit with both deputations. These joint sessions will happen several times: for a conversation about structure on June 26, for a conversation about mission on June 30, and for the presentation of the budget for the 2016-2018 triennium on July 1.
Bishops and deputies will also be together on June 24 for the presentation of four nominees to be the next presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. The House of Bishops elects the new presiding bishop and the House of Deputies confirms that election. That election will be held and announced sometime on the afternoon of Saturday, June 27. So keep your social media open that day so that your congregation can pray for him (since there are no women nominated this time) after his election. You can follow the election and all other General Convention business using the hashtag #gc78 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Please keep me and my fellow deputies—the Rev. Jane Bender, the Very Rev. Tony Pompa, the Rev. Canon Anne Kitch, Mark Laubach, Cathy Bailey, Linda Rogers and Ray Arcario—and Bishop Sean Rowe in your prayers as we travel, deliberate and represent the Diocese of Bethlehem in Salt Lake. Cliff Carr will be adding petitions in his weekly Prayers of the People to help congregations remain conscious that General Convention is in session and asks for prayers during its deliberations by the whole Episcopal Church. There will be two Sundays in which these intentions will be included—June 21 and June 28, on which congregations are invited to pray for the new presiding bishop-elect by name.
I assure you that the deputation keeps the concerns, needs and hopes of the Diocese of Bethlehem in our prayers and actions. We will remember the people of the diocese in our prayers while we are away from you, and I hope that you will email us individually or as a group with any questions, concerns or advocacy for specific legislation about which you want to express an opinion. We want to be in contact with you as we deliberate.
The deputies and Bishop Sean will use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to keep you informed about what we are doing in Salt Lake, and plan to record some short video messages. You can watch the Diocese of Bethlehem Facebook page and Twitter page for regular updates and use the hashtag #gc78 to follow General Convention news from deputies and bishops across the church.