The Expense of a Bilingual Promise

General Convention 2018

By Kirk Petersen

The Episcopal Church spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on translation and interpretation services, and an Executive Council committee on Tuesday considered how the Church might spend the money most effectively.

Language services was a major flash point at the General Convention last July, when Bishop Lloyd Allen of Honduras threatened to walk out of the convention with his delegation unless lapses in Spanish-language translation were rectified.

The committee heard that since then, the Church has named one of its long-time freelance interpreters, Dinorah Padro, to the new position of manager of language services.

Padro is recognizable by anyone who attended General Convention as the interpreter who successfully kept up with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during his energetic keynote sermon.

Public Affairs Officer Nancy Davidge told the committee that “out of respect,” her office now makes a practice of sending out English and Spanish versions of all news releases as a single document. This eliminates previous delays in issuing Spanish versions, but means additional time has to be built into the process for every release.

Asked what the Church spends on translation and interpretation, General Convention Executive Officer Michael Barlowe said language costs are distributed throughout the budget, but they probably total close to a million dollars for the triennium (the three-year period between General Conventions). The total operating budget for the entire Church this triennium is $133 million.

Padro calls on a broad network of freelancers to manage the increasing load, and Council member Ed Konieczny, the Bishop of Oklahoma, urged the staff to consider hiring more translators to bring the costs in-house. Chief Operating Officer Geof Smith said he would study the work flow and assess the relative costs.

The Executive Council’s four-day meeting provides one indicator of how expensive language services can be. Padro and another interpreter are on site throughout the entire meeting to provide simultaneous interpretation for a single council member, Mayra Liseth Gonzales Polanco of Honduras. (Another council member who would depend on the interpretation, Blanca Echeverry of Colombia, was unable to attend the meeting.)

Bishop Allen, a member of Executive Council who is fluent in both Spanish and English, told TLC “I’m very pleased with the action that has been taken and how the necessary means are being found” to respond to the concerns he raised at General Convention.


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