Reflections on the 78th General Convention

General Convention is a special time in the life of the church. We assemble together – young and old, varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds, conservatives, moderates and liberals – to listen to God’s word and discern what God is calling us as a community of His people to do. General Convention is also a family reunion where we renew old friendships and create new ones.

Members of the Southern Ohio deputation on the floor of the House of Deputies. Photo by David Dreisbach.

Members of the Southern Ohio deputation on the floor of the House of Deputies. Photo by David Dreisbach.

We arrived in Salt Lake City for this General Convention from every direction – north, south, east and west – by car, train and plane. The soaring temperatures could not dampen the excitement as we gathered as a Church in the mountains of Utah. And once you arrive, you can’t wait to see if your old friends have returned and have great anticipation of meeting new friends.

Every three years, the everyday lives of hundreds of deputies, bishops and volunteers come to a halt and the life of the church takes over. This General Convention was completely paperless. Each deputy and first alternate was armed with his or her own iPad, which was programmed to do the work of General Convention. And although anxieties ran high, we actually made it through with few issues.

For nine days, nothing but church business existed. Each day began by 7:30 a.m. and ended at about 11 p.m. The days were filled with committee meetings, hearings and legislative sessions, where we dealt with over 350 resolutions coming from Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards, as well as bishops, dioceses, provinces and deputies. Added to that were forums, special services, receptions and dinners. God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ were always at the center.

We are deputies because we are trusted by our diocese and by the deputies from other dioceses to be informed and to prepare ourselves through study and prayer prior to General Convention. While at General Convention, deputies are charged to listen to other deputies, bishops and guests, to share our own thoughts and ideas, to attend and vote at all sessions. The deputies and bishops come from 109 dioceses in the Episcopal Church representing a myriad of cultures and ethnicities. In addition, we each are armed with our own knowledge and life experiences which make listening and hearing other points of view very challenging at times. Nevertheless, we were able to vote as one and support each other in the knowledge that we were working toward accomplishing God’s mission.

Prayer was central to everything that we did. We began and ended each committee meeting and plenary session with prayer. We had worship services each day before going to plenary. Through prayer, the General Convention was open to the work of the Holy Spirit. And, what the General Convention sought by its debates and votes to ascertain was, not the mind of the majority of its members, but the mind of the Holy Spirit. So let’s see how the Holy Spirit spoke to us as we gathered in Salt Lake City this summer:

1. We re-elected the Rev. Gay Jennings, Diocese of Ohio, as President of the House of Deputies; and the Honorable Byron Rushing, Diocese of Massachusetts, as Vice-President. We are looking forward to their continued good work during this triennium.

2. We reaffirmed the Five Marks of Mission through the budget and passed the 2013-2015 budget proposed by the Committee in Program, Budget and Finance. The budget, although not perfect, is leading the Church in the right direction.

3. We recommitted ourselves to the work of Anti-Racism through this triennium.

4. We voted to continue Diocesan Mission Enterprise Zones in partnership with Executive Council to engage with underrepresented groups in the life of the Church.

5. We reaffirmed full inclusion of persons with developmental disabilities.

6. We continued the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage to identify and explore dimensions of marriage.

7. We considered resolutions presented through the Task Force on Structural Reform of the Episcopal Church.

These are just a few of the many resolutions passed at General Convention. We listened, we debated, we voted and we came away from this convention knowing that we are confident that the Church is moving in the right direction, where “all will be welcomed”.

For deputies, General Convention may be over but the hard work has just begun. We will be reviewing the approved resolutions and deciding what resolutions will be brought before our diocesan convention in November. Through Connections, each deputy and first alternate will share their experiences and report on specific aspects of convention throughout the triennium. And, we hope that each congregation will invite us to visit over the next two years, so we can dialogue with you personally about what happened and how the decisions made will impact your congregation and the diocese. We know that to accomplish this work we’ve envisioned for ourselves, the Church will need your gifts. So think on it, pray about it and let your heart lead you toward helping the Church build God’s kingdom.

Debby Stokes

Debby Stokes

Lay deputy Debby Stokes served as chair of the Southern Ohio delegation to the 78th General Convention. She attends St. Philip’s, Columbus.