Different kind of convention still means doing important business, leaders say

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The 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church isn’t a normal one. But the unusual format won’t take away from the event’s importance, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, told reporters on the eve of the event.
“This is not the convention anyone hoped for or anticipated,” Jennings said. “We’re here to do essential business of the church, and we’ll do it in some time-honored ways and some different ways, in a convention of four days.”
“[T]wo or three will gather together in [God’s] name,” Curry told journalists, some of whom were gathered in the room while others watched on the church’s media hub. “Maybe not 10,000, but 1,200 or so. And he’ll show up, and something good will happen while we’re gathering here.”
General Convention “is not simply a gathering to enact legislation and to conduct elections,” said the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention, who spoke before the presiding officers. “It’s also a manifestation of our understanding that God operates through all people. We try to live out incarnationally the way we govern.”
The convention the presiding officers described has been shortened from eight days to four because of COVID-19. Attendees must all wear high-grade masks and provide proof of full vaccination. The legislative-committee process has taken place online ahead of time, making it possible to get the essential business done on the shortened schedule.
About 800 lay and clergy deputies and 120 bishops will vote on a new budget and resolutions addressing racial reconciliation, among others. The deputies also will elect a new president and vice-president of their house.
A recurring theme in all the leaders’ remarks was the hospitality and generosity shown by the Diocese of Maryland and the city of Baltimore — along with the diocese’s long commitment to living out God’s mission. Curry, in particular, emphasized the 12 years he spent in Baltimore as rector of St. James Church.
“Baltimore is a wonderful city, and I have fond memories of this city and diocese,” he said. “This is a diocese that has taken seriously the call of Jesus to go out into the world and make sure hungry folks get fed. To go out and rebuild homes. And rebuild culture. Make a difference in Jesus’ Way of Love.”
He spoke glowingly of Thurgood Marshall and Pauli Murray, two saints of the Episcopal Church, with strong ties to Baltimore. Murray “had a church here before she was a saint, before she was known as a saint,” he added, praising the first Black person perceived as a woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. “So let’s join hands and learn from our past to turn and build a new future for all of God’s children,” Curry said. “That happens in the Diocese of Maryland, in Baltimore. It is a privilege to be here again.”
Barlowe said that due to the diminished impact of a shortened convention, the church is looking at ways it might hold other meetings in Baltimore. He estimated that about 1,200 people will be present for the convention, and said the event should have an impact of several million dollars on the Baltimore economy, although significantly less than the $21-25 million originally estimated.
This will be Jennings’s last General Convention. She is finishing her term as president, and on Saturday, the House of Deputies will elect her successor. The five-person slate is, she said, “the first time that all candidates are younger and more age-diverse; three of the five are people of color.
“This came about,” she explained, “when General Convention in 2018 decided to compensate the position. So, people who are not retired or independently wealthy could run. It represents a generational and cultural shift.”
Another change this year involves a formal Covid Care Plan that’s been issued to all deputies and alternates, including the involvement of a medical adviser, Dr. Rodney Coldren. Rapid tests are required each morning and the plan also involves a medical support team and a pastoral support team to, as Jennings said, “help one another.” A mutual aid fund is available for deputies who need financial assistance to deal with Covid issues.
“General Convention is a place where bishops, laypersons and clergy shape what it means to be the Episcopal Church,” she said. “It is an enormous privilege.
“Deputies choose this ministry of governance. They offer themselves to their diocesan conventions to serve. They are giving up time. Some are giving up vacation. Some are giving up pay. All to bring about this church’s governance, which provides the infrastructure for the mission and ministry of our church.”