Church Nerd: What the Heck Does General Convention Look Like Anyways? Edition

How to adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s General Convention…

The Super Bowl of church nerding, where, rather than the Lombardi Trophy, heavenly treasure is awarded to those who can last through 10 days of legislative business without having a “Jesus flipping tables in the temple” moment?

Disney World for church nerds, where you can experience the magic of ministry and mission with thousands of other likeminded folk and, rather than parades of princesses in gowns, we have processions of bishops in rochets and chimeres?

ComicCon for church nerds, where we can all take selfies with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, deputies from around the world, and a cardboard cutout of the last saint to win Lent Madness?

All of the above?

The official explanation of General Convention is that it’s “the governing body of The Episcopal Church that meets every three years. It is a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese. During its triennial meeting deputies and bishops consider a wide range of important matters facing the Church. In the interim between triennial meetings, various committees, commissions, agencies, boards and task forces created by the General Convention meet to implement the decisions and carry on the work of the General Convention.”

Bicameral legislature? I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since my high school civics course. So, let’s bust out our Schoolhouse Rock lessons, shall we?  Remember “I’m Just a Bill?”  If you don’t, we’ll wait while you look it up on YouTube.

General Convention works sort of like that, except we would be singing “I’m Just a Resolution” (which doesn’t have quite the same rhythm…maybe we could sing it to the tune of “I am the Bread of Life” where meter doesn’t matter) and we don’t have an Executive Branch with veto power (Episcopalians would never stand for it).

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Great! But I could have Googled and found all that myself, Ms. Lazy Blogger. What does all that actually look like?” I’m so glad you asked.

It looks like the staff of the General Convention office starting to plan each event years in advance. It looks like them working what seems like 24 hours a day during the convention, handling issues and fielding countless questions and complaints with patience and grace.

It looks like interim bodies meeting in person, by telephone, and by video conference, doing the work assigned to them by the last General Convention.  It looks like innumerable studies and surveys undertaken to inform their work.  It looks like writing and editing and re-editing reports to be sent out to the Church, to better inform discernment and decision-making on an array of topics.

It looks like bishops and deputies starting weeks (and, in some cases, months) ahead of time, reading, researching, and networking so they are well educated about what will appear before them at General Convention.

It looks like the staff and volunteers in the Secretariat working endless hours to make sure that the legislative business is conducted seamlessly and that the work done at the General Convention is recorded properly for future reference.  (Side note: the Secretariat is where you’ll find me. This will be my fourth General Convention serving as the minutes writer for the House of Deputies. You can read more about a day in the life of a Secretariat volunteer here.)

It looks like legislative committees meeting at 7:30 AM, fueled by Starbucks and the occasional Coca-Cola.  It looks like the committees holding hearings in the evening so that anyone can give input on the resolutions in the committees’ care, and then burning the midnight oil, working on crafting amendments and deciding on recommendations, only to turn around and be right back at 7:30 the next morning to start all over again.

It looks like days of legislative sessions where hundreds of pieces of legislation are presented, debated, amended, passed, rejected, and referred.  It looks like legislative decisions informed by prayerful discernment and conversation.

It looks like hundreds of volunteers gathered from all over the country, working together with people they’ve never met to help conduct the business of The Episcopal Church.  It looks like registration agents, door greeters, gallery monitors, ushers, language aides, virtual binder distributors, pages, committee supporters, among others.

It looks like church communicators, laden with laptops and camera equipment, rushing from session to session and event to event, continually seeking Wi-Fi, and telling the stories of General Convention for all those who want to be connected.

It looks like ministries and vendors setting up shop in the massive exhibit hall and hosting receptions and dinners. It looks like people dedicated to their ministries hoping to spread the word about their own niche in the Kingdom, seeking those who need their help or those who can join in the work.

It looks like diocesan staff members, bishops’ and deputies’ spouses, and others taking countless trips to grocery stores, drug stores, and restaurants, making sure those who are enmeshed in the legislative work of General Convention are fed and taken care of.

It looks like staff, family members, and volunteers holding down the fort at home and at work while us church nerds do our thing for two weeks.

It looks like shared Eucharists and prayer groups. It looks like worshiping with those we don’t otherwise worship with, possibly in ways that we don’t normally worship.

It looks like friends and family and colleagues reuniting and rejoicing in each other’s company.

It looks like differing beliefs and values held in balance in the interest of remaining a unified group of Christian brethren.

It looks like love and hospitality.

It looks like church in the way we are called to be church.

I can’t wait. See you in Austin!

Vanessa Butler is Canon for Administration for the Diocese of NWPA and Minutes Secretary to the House of Deputies at General Convention. 

*Author’s note: If you’re looking for a more detailed description of the legislative work of General Convention or for materials such as resolutions, schedules, orientation videos, etc., please visit the diocesan website, where we have gathered links to these resources.  Before and during General Convention, we will also be posting on this blog and on social media, so watch out for intros to our deputies, reports back from General Convention, and other updates.

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