By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

As deputies and bishops trickled into Salt Lake City for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, leaders declared lofty hopes for a meeting marked by eco-friendliness and justice initiatives.

Early arrivals expressed relatively modest hopes that Convention would produce more than soaring rhetoric in resolutions that fail to gain traction in the pews. Several were eager to see what comes of proposals in a report from a Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church.

“There’s a whole bunch of people — people in the pews — who don’t have a sense of what goes on here,” said Judith Conley, a member of the reimagining task force and a member of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to bridge that.”

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The range of hopes was on display at the sprawling Salt Palace Convention Center, where General Convention is expected to draw 13,500 participants from June 25 to July 3. The Convention will tackle major issues, including a proposal to redefine marriage in church canons, and the election of the 27th presiding bishop, who will take office Nov. 1.

Once the House of Deputies and House of Bishops begin discussing resolutions, the church will have a chance to make a difference on social issues and entrenched injustices, said the Rev. Gay Jennings, House of Deputies president.

“We come together at a very tense time in our nation’s history,” Jennings said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. She cited tensions fueled by police shootings of young African-American men in recent months and the June 17 massacre of nine African-Americans at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“God is calling us to dismantle the systems of racism and privilege that are inextricably bound up in the history of the United States and of our church,” she said. “General Convention is a place where Episcopalians can proclaim not only that ‘black lives matter,’ but also to take concrete action.”

Convention spaces were receiving finishing touches Tuesday. A hydraulic vehicle navigated a soon-to-be worship space. Signs on placards were freshly posted at door entrances. One labeled a versatile room on a long hallway a “prayer chapel.” Another became a “sacristy.”

A priest from Mississippi, who had just finished the 1,600-mile drive to Utah, was too exhausted to talk.

As the setting took shape, leaders sketched out visions for what could come of the triennial meeting, during which representatives from as far away as Central America and Taiwan gather to set church policy and consider amendments to the church’s core documents.

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlow, executive officer of General Convention, noted how the event has gone digital with a massive reduction of paper. For the first time the Blue Book hundreds of pages of reports and resolutions is available only in digital form. In another first, every bishop and deputy receives an iPad for Convention’s nine legislative days.

Image of Salt Palace Convention Center by jnshaumeyer, via Flickr

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