By Kirk Petersen
The working group focused on restructuring the July General Convention expects to make some initial recommendations next week, and to complete its work by May 31, said the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, co-chair of what has been named the Presiding Officers’ General Convention Design Group.
Along with co-chair Bryan Krislock of the House of Deputies, Rowe will lead the 15-member team with the daunting task of rewriting the rules while slashing a complicated schedule from eight days down to perhaps four or five. Hundreds of people throughout the church need to make individual and corporate decisions about things like changing hotel and airline bookings — and about whether they want to attend at all, given COVID concerns and the likely elimination of a family-reunion atmosphere.
“We recognize that there’s anxiety out there, and we want to do our best to allay that anxiety and be responsive to the church,” Rowe told TLC on May 12, noting that the committee had been created only the day before.
The co-chairs are the parliamentarians of their respective legislative houses, and their appointments were announced during an extraordinary online Executive Council meeting, at which it became clear that a tsunami of complication would sweep away a lot of plans.
“Of course what’s in the forefront of everyone’s mind is, how many days will this be, and which days, and who will attend? And those are first up in our process,” Rowe said. The group will meet for the first time on Tuesday, May 17, “with many different groups working on issues for that meeting. So it’s not like we’re not doing anything and we’re going to come up with a plan on Tuesday,” Rowe said.
The Design Group’s role is to make recommendations to the presiding officers — Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings. They in turn are canonically required to consult with the Executive Council and the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements. “I’m hoping we can have a first set of recommendations to presiding officers next week,” Rowe said. “So that means we will consider these matters in stages.”
He described some of the stages that will follow a decision on the dates. “Who will come and who won’t, what events will we hold and what ones won’t we, COVID precautions, what specifically are we going to require by way of masking, distancing and testing? Also, medical support if you do get infected,” he said.
“Then, recommendations on the legislative process…. what is required by canon to be completed, and how will that all be sequenced? Once we have that, we’ll know what space we have for everything else, and we’ll work with chairs of legislative committees and dispatch of business to do the best we can.”
Health and safety concerns will be paramount, but “financial stewardship” will also be considered. “For example, we’ve contracted with these hotels for so many days, obviously we’re going to shorten it, but which are the best days for us to be there so that our attrition penalties are as low as possible?” Rowe said. “There are some nights that are more valuable than others to the system.”
Deputy News, a publication of the House of Deputies, noted that events are likely to vastly reduce the number of resolutions considered:
“To date, roughly 215 resolutions have been filed. While it is not uncommon for a flurry of resolutions to be filed as convention approaches, the current total is far below the 500-600 resolutions typically considered at a convention. The committee must also advise the presiding officers on whether the church should host events such as the Episcopal Church Women’s Triennial 2022, and whether the convention will be open to exhibitors, vendors and visitors.”
“We will be providing regular interim updates and recommendations to the presiding officers,” Rowe said, and will be as transparent as possible with the broader church.
Bishop Rowe leads two adjacent dioceses: Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York. Krislock, an attorney, is a former deputy from the Diocese of Olympia, and a former member of Executive Council. In addition to them and the presiding officers, the Design Group includes:
- Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland, the host diocese;
- Retired Bishop of Michigan Wendell Gibbs and Deputy Ryan Kusumoto of the Diocese of Hawaii, the chairs of the dispatch of business committees of their respective houses;
- Kent Anker, the church’s chief legal officer, and Mary Kostel and Deputy Sally Johnson, chancellors to Curry and Jennings respectively, as well as Michael Glass, vice chancellor to the House of Deputies;
- The Rev. Mark Stevenson and Rebecca Wilson, from the staffs of Curry and Jennings, respectively; and
- Michael Barlowe, executive officer of the General Convention and Fiona Nieman, one of Barlowe’s deputies.