General Convention (GC) is the governing body of The Episcopal Church, meeting once every three years. In 2015, GC is June 25-July 3 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Structure: General Convention is comprised of two houses, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The House of Bishops has upwards of 200 active and retired bishops. There are over 800 deputies, laypeople and clergy, who are elected and sent by 108 dioceses. GC is the largest legislative body in North America.
- Adopting legislation on issues important to the Church.
- Amending the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution, and the Canons of the Church.
- Adopting a three-year budget for The Episcopal Church.
- Electing candidates to offices, boards and other committees.
- Creating space and time for worship, advocacy, continuing education and connecting.
For more on how GC does its work, see “Actions General Convention Can Take” below.
Facing General Convention This Year
GC takes on a tremendous amount of work each year, which is summarized in the 676 page Blue Book. Here are three key issues Center Aisle will be covering:
Electing the Next Presiding Bishop: Our current Presiding Bishop (PB), Katharine Jefferts Schori, is not seeking a second nine-year term. The nominees for election are:
- Thomas Breidenthal, Bishop of Southern Ohio
- Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina
- Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut
- Dabney Smith, Bishop of Southwest Florida
Click here for more on the nominees, including profiles and videos.
Why are none of the nominees women? Women bishops were asked to stand but dropped out of the nomination process of their own accord, though some express concern that there are so few women bishops that it’s less likely one would be in a position to stand for election of their own accord.
Same-Sex Marriage: The Task Force on the Study of Marriage, commissioned in 2012, released this report, calling for amendments to the canons to allow clergy to bless same-sex marriages. They also released Dearly Beloved, a guide for hosting conversations about the nature of marriage.
Restructuring the Episcopal Church: Many say the size and structure of General Convention hinder its efficacy. In 2012, the Task Force to Re-Imagine The Episcopal Church (commonly known as TREC) was commissioned to think broadly about how General Convention and the Episcopal Church might restructure to best serve its people, parishes and the world. Its proposals range from shrinking the number of GC’s voting members, to combining the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, to restructuring the Church to encourage networks and remove rigid hierarchies. Episcopal Resurrection also took up the issue of restructuring, submitting a Memorial to the Church and resolutions that place a focus on church planting and offer alternative structural changes to TREC’s proposal.
Actions General Convention Can Take
Generally, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies can use one of four forms of legislative action in order to respond to a need or concern:
- Change “governing documents”: the Constitution, the Canons, Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal, and/or Rules of Order.
- Provide funding.
- Adopt a position on an external issue (e.g., denouncing ISIS or supporting raising the minimum wage).
- State the Episcopal Church’s position on an internal issue (e.g., the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy or recommending certain employment practices for the Church).
Click here for a list of Virginia’s deputation. The clerical order includes parish priests and a VTS professor. The lay order includes two lawyers and church, finance and health care professionals.
Deputies, unlike delegates, vote their conscience and cannot be instructed to vote a certain way. With roots in the civil rights movement, this practice was adopted to ensure that deputies are not precluded from the discussion and holy discernment that should take place at GC. However, the diocese elects its deputies and, before taking any vote, deputies will consider what they believe is best for their diocese.
- Looking for a simple way to teach your parish about General Convention? The Episcopal Church has bulletin inserts about General Convention for June 14.
- This cartoon about General Convention gives a quick, effective overview of General Convention–great for young and old alike. (Thanks to the Diocese of Texas, H/T to the Diocese of Connecticut.)
- For a deeper look at how GC works, see this handbook for bishops and deputies, including a glossary and a legislative process flowchart.
Follow Along During General Convention
Official Media Hub: Click here for the General Convention media hub, including resources, calendar and live stream.
Email: Sign up to get Center Aisle delivered to your inbox or send us your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twitter: Center Aisle is on Twitter, as are many of its staff, including Ed Keithly (@EGKDioVa), Gail Goldsmith (@gailagoldsmith) and Jeffrey Stevenson (@DCJeff).
Facebook: Center Aisle is everywhere.