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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Thoughts on the 81st General Convention-6.20.24

This Sunday marks the opening of the Episcopal Church’s 81st General Convention—the meeting of the Episcopal Church’s full governing body, which occurs every three years. It will run from Sunday, June 23, to Friday, June 28, in Louisville, KY.

After a much truncated, Covid-cautious 80th Convention three years ago, this gathering marks a full return to an in-person, multi-event, week-long legislative gathering. It’s a big one in many ways.

This year, we will choose a new Presiding Bishop to serve a nine-year term. Our own bishop, The Rt. Rev. Daniel Guttiérrez, is one of the five candidates for the position. We will vote on resolutions that impact how we function as a church and pass a budget for 2025.

When I say “we,” I mean those whom we have elected to represent us. The Diocese of Pennsylvania elected its delegation to the House of Deputies at our last Diocesan Convention. I know several of the delegates, clergy, and laypeople. They are great people.

To me, much of the work of this convention sounds thrilling, and some of it sounds incredibly dull. Yet together, that speaks to the kind of work that large institutional churches must do to develop, grow, foster prayer and worship, and make an impact on the world in service of the Gospel. The institutional nature of global churches can leave a bad taste in the mouth for some – we’re so far away from the simplicity and intimacy of our early church structures and stories. And yet, I marvel at the complexity and sincerity of the work of the people who form our Episcopal institution, and how this body reflects the immense challenge of getting millions of people to work together in common cause.

If you have ever been a member of an institution or religious tradition that structurally excluded many of its members  from power and decision making – be they laity,  women, LGBTQIA+ people, non-White members, or people with disabilities – you can appreciate the complexity of an institution that says it is committed to inclusion.

Here are three things that I love about our governing process as Episcopalians:

We are democracy. The governing system of the Episcopal Church was formed at the same time as the democratic government of our country.  The architects of each new each other and shared similar values and vision (both systems were created in Philadelphia).  Our governance is bicameral, with a House of Bishops, themselves elected leaders of dioceses, and a House of Deputies, elected diocesan delegations of laypeople and clergy.  Decisions cannot be made unless both of these houses approve them at the same convention. Some issues, such as the ordination of women, were debated over several conventions before they were decided.

We seek to be transparent.  A Democracy doesn’t work unless people have as much information as possible with which to make decisions.  That was evident when the Presiding Bishop released a statement last week indicating that he has been made aware of five Title IV matters concerning three of the candidates for presiding bishop, including the bishop of Pennsylvania. Title IV Canons relate to disciplining clergy misconduct.  Three concerns have been dismissed and two are still being investigated. In his statement, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said that he was making the issues public in response to a call for issues around bishop misconduct to be more transparent, and he felt the disclosure was pastorally appropriate as it involved candidates for presiding bishop. The complaint concerning Bishop Gutierrez, submitted June 5, criticized his handling of a Title IV matter involving allegations of sexual misconduct against a priest in the diocese. It is being investigated.

We study, debate, dialogue and make decisions over time.  At this General Convention, the delegates will consider 287 resolutions.  Among them is Resolution  A010 Recognition of Apartheid in Israel/Palestine. In this resolution the delegates will consider whether to affirm that apartheid is antithetical to the Gospel and to make ending the Israeli government’s apartheid in relation to Palestine  a policy priority of The Episcopal Church, influencing policy and legislation. The resolution also recognizes “the Western roots of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, as well as the historical evils of anti-Semitism, (and calls) on The Episcopal Church to commit itself to a practice and promotion of healing and reconciliation for the benefit of and among all God’s people.” Similar resolutions were proposed by three dioceses, and the current language is a revision. At the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s last Diocesan Convention, we discussed and debated similar language, ultimately voting not to send our version of the proposal on to the General Convention. No matter where you stand on the issue of Israel and Palestine, the process itself reflects the deep level of dialogue that goes into shaping and discussing our most contentious issues. I imagine this discussion will be long, heated and passionate.  I respect a church that is willing to listen long and consider fully where it puts its power and advocacy on the world stage.

Even if you aren’t in the middle of events in Louisville this week, you can still witness the debates and dialogues affecting our church as they unfold.  The texts of resolutions and reports, as well as explanations and agendas can be found on the Convention’s webpages of online materials.  You can watch live coverage of the General Convention from the convention’s media hub.

Two of our parishioners, Mary Rivera and Rosalinda Ibañez-Memba, will be attending part of the Convention as observers as part of their participation in the Triennial Meeting of Episcopal Church Women, at which they will be representing the Diocese of Pennsylvania. See the article in today’s newsletter on their involvement in this important ECW conference.



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