For the past three General Conventions, I have served as a member of the Secretariat. The Secretariat is the office that makes the legislative process tick. It is made up of the truly fabulous staffs of the General Convention Office and the Episcopal Archives, as well as a large group of intrepid volunteers.
My role is Minutes Secretary of the House of Deputies. During legislative sessions, I watch the House of Deputies via a live feed, typing like a madwoman, capturing the action as it happens. Eventually, after being edited and certified by the Committee on Certification of Minutes and fine tuned by the Publication Manager of The Episcopal Church, what I record ends up in the published journal as the official record of the House of Deputies for this General Convention.
Let me be clear: I am fully aware that the only thing more nerdy than the General Convention junkies who sign up to be a part of this legislative process is the person who signs up to listen to them with rapt attention and record what they do every day.
So, what does a day in the life of a church super nerd look like?
This particular day started fairly early, especially for a Saturday and especially for a person who considers 8:30 AM an ungodly hour to have to be at work on a normal day.
By 7:00, I was in our Hospitality Suite where Bishop Sean and Carly host the delegations of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bethlehem for breakfast every morning and for snacks every evening. It is a godsend to not have to wait in line to get food at this hour!
By 7:15, I was on my way to my committee meeting in the Salt Palace Convention Center. I have lucked out and Kaycee Reib, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, is on my committee, so I always have a friendly face in the room.
Every morning, the Committee on Certification of Minutes meets and reads through the minutes of the previous legislative day. Every. Single. Word. They are very brave. There’s definitely caffeine involved for most of us.
By 8:15, I was making my way to the Secretariat. Once there, I began setting up my minutes documents for the day and turning the legislative calendars set by the Committee on Dispatch of Business into documents that make my life easier as we go through the sessions.
I do have an assistant to help in all of this. Her name is Anne Davidson and she’s from the Diocese of Western Michigan. She is amazing. She got here and was like, “I prepared for taking minutes at General Convention by making a document with the names of every single delegate and alternate for us to refer to as well as forms to use when the Secretary of General Convention is blowing through information quickly.” I was like, “I prepared for taking minutes at General Convention by dislocating and breaking two fingers.” Clearly, we are an equal pairing.
At 11:15, the first legislative session of the day began, as did my incessant typing. Today was a little different than most as the House paused business for a bit to have a party to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the House of Deputies. They failed to bring me a party hat or noisemaker or special HoD M&Ms, so I sat in the Secretariat and listened to the sound of deputies having fun without me. Thanks, guys.
Business kept me on my toes, not only staying with the normal flow of business, but also the surprises like points of order and procedural motions.
Side note: Deputies, if debate has been going on for a while and you make a motion to end debate, please know I am in the Secretariat praising God for you and saying a prayer for peace and prosperity in your life. So, there’s that incentive.
Today was also exciting because The Episcopal Church elected a new presiding bishop. The bishops sent word rather late in our morning session that they had elected, and we were originally going to recess until our next scheduled session while the committee certified the election. However, the deputies staged a mini bloodless coup and moved to stay in session.
Then it was time to hear who the next presiding bishop was going to be. Everyone gathered around my area because they love me I have the TV.
After the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry had been certified by the House of Deputies, he, along with his family and deputation, were welcomed to the front. I also spotted one of my most treasured colleagues, Margo Acomb, who served as Presiding Bishop-elect Curry’s executive assistant for many years. It was lovely to see how genuinely happy everyone was and to hear the deputies spontaneously burst into song.
Because of all the excitement and shifting of schedules, I ate lunch around 3:00 PM, just in time to return to the Secretariat to get ready for the afternoon legislative session.
I also took the opportunity to get reacquainted with my old friend Bag O’Ice. My aforementioned broken fingers were feeling a bit of strain after the long morning session, so I made sure to take care of them, as I have on all of the legislative days. (Full disclosure: this paragraph is mostly in case my hand surgeon or physical therapist somehow stumble upon this blog post. I’m not sure what Google search that would entail, but just in case…)
The afternoon session was business as usual, with resolutions being brought to the floor, and various motions, parliamentary inquiries, points of order, amendments, and secondary amendments flying.
It’s always fun to see members of our deputation speaking to the House. I always get super excited to see one of my folks on the feed, and I point and yell, “Hey! There’s ___!” like I haven’t seen them in a year and suddenly I see them on some major news channel or something. See title of this post for an explanation of why I would do that.
At the end of the session, my work was still not complete. After every session, my assistant and I have to make sure that what we have recorded in the minutes matches up with the backup documentation. It actually didn’t take us too long today, so we were done by 6:30. Then we got to click on the two favorite words of a Secretariat worker: log off.
Then it was time to get some dinner, do some work for my actual paying job, and kick back for a bit. Oh, and take a selfie with Lauren because, duh, that’s the best part of being at General Convention. Well, that and knowing that tomorrow I get to wake up and do it all over again. (Again, see post title.)
By Vanessa Butler, Minutes Secretary to the House of Deputies and Canon for Administration at the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania