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.

Church Nerd: Strategic Planning Edition

I’m a church nerd. I’ve admitted it in the past [Church Nerd: Extreme General Convention Edition].

You might also be a proud church nerd. (My peeps! #unashamed)

Or maybe you’re a church nerd, but you aren’t aware of it or aren’t ready to own it yet. (It’s okay. Let it out. We’re here for you.)

You might not be a church nerd at all. (Although, let’s be honest: the probability of you being a church nerd on some level is high if you’re reading this article.)

Luckily for everyone, being a church nerd is not a requirement to admire the beauty of a well laid out strategic plan. The diocese is currently in its second iteration of our strategic plan, which I laid out at our convention in 2014. At the presentation of the plan, there were oohs and ahhs, there was appreciative nodding of heads, and then the crowd went wild and I was lifted over their heads and paraded around Sharon, Pennsylvania, as a queen amongst Episcopalians!

Okay, so that last part didn’t happen. My point is that the majority of people, church nerds or not, could see that the plan was well thought out, kept our priorities in front of us, and was going to move our diocese forward in the direction we felt God leading us. And all was good in our world.

Then reality hit. We actually have to follow through and do the plan. SAY WHAT?!?

And therein lies the weakness of strategic plans: they don’t carry themselves out.

Enter church nerds, and more specifically, this church nerd. Part of my ministry at the diocese is to make sure we are following through on the strategic plan we have created for ourselves.

Yes, the fate of the diocesan strategic plan somewhat rests in the hands of a person who once got caught convincing her own grandfather to steal Easter candy for her:


Try not to panic.

We’ve actually made great headway since 2014. As I stated in the strategic planning annual report, we have addressed over 55% of the action steps of the strategic plan in some fashion.   Since that report was published in November, we’ve accomplished even more, including the announcement of a new church plant, which has been part of our plan since Bishop Sean was consecrated in 2007.

But, we’ve arrived at a sticking point: church nerds alone cannot accomplish strategic plans. Yes, we are amazing. Yes, we are the MacGyvers of all things church. Yes, like Santa, we know when you’ve been naughty and when you’ve been nice. However, it turns out that we alone cannot fully populate a diocesan facilities team.   Or minister to every unchurched and dechurched person in the thirteen counties of our diocese. Or single handedly carry out unified diocesan outreach programs. Or…you get the picture.

Basically, as Uncle Sam so eloquently put it: we need you.


You don’t have to be a church nerd to take part in the work of the strategic plan. Isn’t that glorious? You can be a normal person and do the work of the Lord! If you’re on the non-nerdy side of things, I would encourage you to take a look at the plan. There are many areas where we could use your expertise and legwork. For example, one goal of the plan is to form a diocesan facilities team to help assess our property and buildings in order to help our congregations create maintenance plans. We will need people who have experience in construction and building maintenance to carry this out.

My church nerds, you aren’t off the hook. Help your non-nerd friends sift through the strategic plan. Encourage them to help out when opportunities arise that are in their wheelhouse. Assure them they don’t have to become as nerdy as you.

We will truly be living out the concept of one church if we are able to unite church nerds, church nerds in hiding/denial, and non-church nerds, with all of their diverse gifts and passions, to accomplish the singular goal of advancing the Kingdom of God in northwest Pennsylvania.

And there’s not much that would excite this church nerd more than that!

Vanessa Butler, Canon for Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Church Nerd: Extreme General Convention Edition

You might be a church nerd require multiple credentials for General Convention.

You might be a church nerd if…you require multiple credentials for General Convention.

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.

I may have tapped for the Snooze option

I may have tapped for the Snooze option

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!IMG_1394

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.IMG_1400

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.IMG_1401

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.IMG_1406

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.IMG_1408

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.

This was about half of those gathered around. Please excuse the blurriness as I took this pic over my head in between typing minutes

This was about half of those gathered around. Please excuse the blurriness as I took this pic over my head in between typing minutes

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.IMG_1419

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…)IMG_1420

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.

Fr. Denny Blauser, the chair of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s deputation, presenting resolutions as Chair of the Committee on Evangelism and Communication

Fr. Denny Blauser, the chair of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s deputation, presenting resolutions as Chair of the Committee on Evangelism and Communication

Jim Steadman, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, rose to speak in favor of a secondary amendment to a resolution.

Jim Steadman, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, rose to speak in favor of a secondary amendment to a resolution.

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.IMG_1422

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.)

No filter. We’re just that glam

No filter. We’re just that glam

By Vanessa Butler, Minutes Secretary to the House of Deputies and Canon for Administration at the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania