By Kirk Petersen
The Episcopal Church has begun laying the groundwork for a possible cancellation of the in-person General Convention next year, currently scheduled for June 30 to July 9, 2021, in Baltimore.
“It will come as no surprise to you that for many weeks, we have been considering how the pandemic will affect our plans to gather in Baltimore in 2021 for the 80th General Convention,” according to a letter published June 5 by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings. “We have concluded with regret that we must plan as if our traditional 10-day gathering of 10,000 people or more will not be possible in 2021.”
General Convention is the governing body of the Episcopal Church, and normally meets for about 10 days every three years. The most recent convention was in July 2018 in Austin.
Between conventions, the Executive Council serves as the governing body, and Curry and Jennings said the council ultimately will make the decision on the General Convention, probably in the fall. The Executive Council comprises about 40 bishops, clergy and lay people, with membership drawn from every geographic province.
The Executive Council normally meets three times a year, with the next meeting scheduled for June 8-11. The Church announced in late April that the council, which was to have met in San Juan, Puerto Rico, will meet virtually.
General Convention brings more than 10,000 people to the host city, and plans are made well in advance. The 2024 General Convention is scheduled for Louisville, Kentucky. Curry and Jennings wrote: “we are also committed to supporting our hosts in the City of Baltimore. General Convention represents economic impact of $21-23 million to that city, whose longstanding racial disparities and economic distress have been intensified by the virus.”
From the Church’s side, the cost of General Convention is impossible to estimate with any precision, as the costs are widely distributed among the departments of the Church Center and the dioceses. Each of the 109 dioceses is entitled to send one or more bishops and up to eight lay and clerical deputies to General Convention.
In the 2019-2021 budget, the line “Meeting of the General Convention” is about $2.2 million, but that does not even include all of the Church Center’s cost, as each major department has a budget line for General Convention travel.
In 2018, TLC published an analysis of the cost of that year’s General Convention, in an attempt to report the total cost. The analysis forthrightly concluded: “God only knows, but it’s a big number. … Add it all up, and let’s just say that any specific number will be debatable.”