Developing a Plan B for General Convention

A House of Deputies session from 2018 in Austin | Photo: Nina Nicholson

By Kirk Petersen

Church leadership has begun studying alternatives for holding the General Convention this summer in the event that the pandemic makes it seem unwise to bring 10,000 people to a convention center for more than a week.

“While the Presiding Bishop and I have every hope that it will be possible to hold General Convention in Baltimore from July 7-14, we have recently formed a scenario planning group made up of leaders in both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies and key staff people,” said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies.

Jennings briefly discussed this contingency planning in opening remarks January 25 to the Executive Council, whose four-day meeting was transferred from Cleveland to Zoom in the wake of the church’s January 18 announcement that all in-person meetings were being suspended because of the surging omicron variant.

The scenario planning group, led by the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of the General Convention, “will keep a close watch on public health data and guidance and provide the Presiding Bishop and me with various options for holding the 80th General Convention in a way that safeguards all of us who will participate and all those who will host us in airports, hotels, restaurants and convention facilities,” Jennings said.

In December, the church announced that all persons attending General Convention will be required to “show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or submit a medical exemption in advance for approval,” and will be required to “wear masks in all public areas at the convention, regardless of vaccination status.”

Through a spokesperson, Barlowe declined to answer questions about how these rules will be enforced, and by whom. There is no controversy about mask mandates among the top leadership of the church, but such mandates have increasingly led to confrontations and even violence in parts of society.

General Convention typically features hundreds of people sharing the air of vast plenary rooms for hours, crowded committee meetings focused on individual resolutions, a large exhibit hall, and of course countless formal and informal social gatherings at the denomination’s family reunion.

The General Convention generally meets every three years, but the scheduled 2021 convention was postponed because of the pandemic. It is the top governing body of the church, and many projects and office tenures use the triennial meeting as a milestone. Jennings, for example, is term-limited as president of the House of Deputies, and is scheduled to step down at the end of General Convention, having already extended her third term by one year.

Two weeks after General Convention, the Archbishop of Canterbury is scheduled to welcome hundreds of bishops from around the world to the Lambeth Conference, which had been scheduled for 2020 before being postponed twice.

Church of England Bishop Emma Ineson, who chairs the team preparing for the conference, told TLC that Lambeth will be held as an in-person meeting, with online capabilities to provide parts of the program to bishops who are unable to travel.

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