The Meetings before the Meeting

New Generation — composed of Congolese New Americans — performs in the Exhibit Hall of the 79th General Convention, part of an Independence Day presentation by Episcopal Migration Ministries. | Asher Imtiaz | TLC

TLC’s Kirk Petersen reflects on how quickly — and early — General Convention can start.

By Kirk Petersen

The 79th General Convention hasn’t officially started, but it already feels like I’ve missed a lot.

Thegeneralconvention.orgwebsite lists the convention as meeting on July 5-13. Fly into Austin early July 4, get settled in, scope out the neighborhood, and I’ll be ready for the opening Eucharist at 9:30 a.m. July 5.

Call it a first-timer’s mistake. As Scott Gunn of Forward Movement has written, General Convention schedules “maintain the fiction that General Convention is nine days long, when it is really 12 days long.”

We’re hours away from fireworks on the 4th, and the indispensable Episcopal News Service has already posted an update on one of the issues I’ve been following — whether the president of the House of Deputies should be compensated for a full-time job that has always been a volunteer position.

The Churchwide Leadership Committee unanimously recommended Resolution B014, which would pay the president undetermined fees for work specifically mandated in the Canons of the church. This idea was introduced last week as an alternative to paying a full salary, as had been recommended by a task force.

B014 has been scheduled for a vote July 5 (after the convention officially starts). The House of Deputies has proposed a salary three times in the past two decades, and the House of Bishops has nixed it every time. The original salary proposal this year, Resolution A028, had little to no support in the House of Bishops. B014 was proposed by the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, and two other bishops endorsed it — so that makes three votes, at least.

The two legislative houses perceive the issue entirely differently. The House of Deputies thinks it’s a justice issue, observing the hard work of the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, the incumbent president. The House of Bishops focuses on the authority of the episcopacy in the Episcopal Church, and worries that the president’s position is evolving through “mission creep” into a kind of co-primate.

Jennings is running for a third and final three-year term, apparently unopposed, although nominations are possible from the floor.

There’s an insider-outsider dynamic hovering over the GC (as the insiders call it). Facebook and Twitter threads have featured complaints that while both bishops and deputies who are priests attend convention on “company time,” most lay deputies have to use two weeks of vacation to participate. Many deputies are repeaters, having served at two or five or ten previous conventions.

The Rev. Tim Schenck, founder of the popular Lent Madness competition, tweeted that “Referring to #GC79 as a ‘family reunion’ has the unintended consequence of making those not attending feel like they are not fully part of the family. Just something to consider as the (select) faithful gather.

Insiders know how to find the important committee meetings. Another committee heard testimony for four hours this morning on a wide variety of proposals to update the Book of Common Prayer. That would be the Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music Committee, right? Well, no, that committee is focused on routine proposals. The real action related to the prayer book is in the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169.

In addition to broad proposals for prayer book revision, the CtRtRoRA169 will hold hearings Thursday on a variety of proposals on same-sex marriage rites, including whether such rites should be added to the prayer book. That issue also has a recent compromise proposal, covered by TLC earlier this week. More on that subject Thursday also.

Austin got some badly needed rain today, which would be good news, except some of the rain is leaking through the ceiling of the Exhibit Hall. Some of the 150-odd exhibitors took on a little water, including TLC (booth 220, a couple of booths to the right of the Church Center booth). Stop by, especially if you have a towel. It’s going to rain off and on all week.

Follow TLC on social media and on for continued coverage from Austin.


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