We were part of an 11 person deputation from the Diocese to the 80th General Convention that included Bishop Akiyama, four clergy deputies, four lay deputies, and an alternate deputy in each order. As first time Alternate Deputies, we were asked to share our impressions of the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.
Participation in this Covid-19 reduced and restricted event was much better than anticipated. It was amazing to learn that The Episcopal Church extends across eight time zones and four continents, comprising a total of 112 dioceses. Of these, 106 had lay deputies voting and 107 had clergy deputies voting for a total of just over 800 voters in the House of Deputies. Additionally, there were another couple of hundred alternate deputies standing by in case they were needed; and 120 bishops voting in the House of Bishops (the junior house). So, over 1,100 people participated with support from staff and lots of volunteers from local dioceses.
This 80th General Convention was well organized and very well run. The Presiding Officers (Presiding Bishop Curry of the House of Bishops and Gay Jennings+ of the House of Deputies) were amazing. Experiencing in person the preaching of the Presiding Bishop was worth the trip on its own. This General Convention culminated President Jennings 10 years of service as President of the House of Deputies and 32 years in the House of Deputies, a career marked by so many “firsts”, as to be difficult to count. Like so many there, she takes very seriously her mission in church governance, and does a great job of chairing the House of Deputies and raising up new leaders. She also received excellent support from capable offices (Secretary, Parliamentarian, and Voting Secretary) and capable committee chairs who presented and explained the more than 400 resolutions considered.
Being on the House floor felt like being part of a vast cloud of witnesses stretching back to 1789 enflamed by the Holy Spirit, while striving to realize Presiding Bishop Curry’s vision for the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement as Beloved Community. A lot of deputies are baby boomers, but leadership is clearly passing to younger demographics who are much more diverse in terms of racial and gender identity than the church of our parents. The people elected as President and Vice President of the House of Deputies, respectively, are an Hispanic, female lay person (Julia Ayala Harris) and a female, Native American priest (The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton). Both are firsts for our church.
The House of Deputies is filled with church geeks who take very seriously their ministry of church governance. Observing them makes it clear that they love their Lord and this church deeply. However, that love opens their eyes to the church’s past and present sins. That love also drives them to seek to do right in terms of understanding, reckoning with and correcting what is currently wrong as well as the legacy of past wrongs.
Through the resolutions and their debate, it was sometimes possible to see occasional, slightly out of focus, glimpses of what Beloved Community may look like. For baby boomers, there is some cause for lament in that we will not be around to see this come to pass. However, it is also a cause for hope. From the quality, passion and spirit on view in Baltimore, it is clear that all in the Church will be well. All will be very well, indeed, thanks be to God.
Thank you for allowing us to serve God, the Diocese and the Church in this way.
The Rev. Diane Higgins, 1st Alternate Deputy, Clergy Order
Martin Loring, 1st Alternate Deputy, Lay Order