Every three years The Episcopal Church gathers in what is known as General Convention to consider a wide range of important matters facing the Church ranging from liturgical revision to social justice initiatives, budgetary matters to theological discussions, and so much more. Some call it a grand family reunion that brings representatives (lay, clergy, and bishops) from all the 110 dioceses of The Episcopal Church together for ten days (more like two weeks). Officially, General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church; it is a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese. In July 2018, the 79th General Convention will be held in Austin, Texas hosted by the Diocese of Texas.
Leading up to this triennial meeting, various committees, commissions, agencies, boards, and task forces created by the 78th General Convention meet to study and propose legislation to be discussed and voted upon in Austin. While most Episcopalians are oblivious to the machinations of General Convention, the decisions that are made at this gathering has an impact on what can (and should) be happening in local congregations as each of us are members of this church body. For example, decisions that effect every church goers that was approved at previous conventions include: the use of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the election of our current Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the ordination of women, the inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in all aspects of church life, and full-communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
This year, Bishop Curry has called for special focus on the Jesus Movement, particularly racial reconciliation, evangelism, and care of creation. “Hot” legislative topics will cover prayer book revision, bi-vocational clergy (those who work “within” as well as “outside” the church as more and more congregations can no longer pay for a full-time priest), taking Jesus outside the doors of our churches into the communities around us, and how we as a church-wide body can fund the multitude of ministries and initiatives we are called to do. Also church planting, the study of marriage, a response to systemic racial injustice, LatinoHispanic congregational development and sustainability, and compensation statistics for clergy and lay employees (including by race and gender).
While on staff in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut I attended General Convention (in 2003 and 2006) to advocate for Christian formation initiatives along with Forma colleagues and volunteer in the Children’s Program. This convention (as in 2009, 2012, and 2015) I’ll be attending General Convention in my role as an editor with Church Publishing Incorporated. I will be attending committee meetings, hearings, and legislation regarding topics that relate to my editorial areas: Christian formation and leadership training. These will include resolutions from the following task forces (although there are many others that are connected to formation) whose reports and resolutions are noted here:
- Task Force to Update Sexual Misconduct Policies
- Task Force on Clergy Leadership Formation is Small Congregations
Want to learn more about General Convention? Its hard to make your way through the tall grass and hundreds of pieces of legislation. But here are a few links that can give you a taste:
- An Introduction to General Convention – an orientation for newbies as well as the experienced church geek
- Who does what and how all these folks get elected to represent the local church, and then how they pass legislation: An Organizational Chart of General Convention
- For those interested in how things will “shake up” for Christian Formation, Forma will be active and present – make sure to follow their position papers on legislation. Here is their Advocacy page that supports Christian formation as well as compensation equity for lay leaders.
In the coming week I’ll be sharing some resources for how we (and our congregations) can jump in and engage in the themes that Bishop Curry has called us to focus on in the next triennium. When available, you’ll find the links here:
- Racial Reconciliation
- Care of Creation