By Kirk Petersen
More than 120 bishops, deputies, and others got their first detailed look May 25 at how legislation will be handled at the truncated 80th General Convention, now scheduled for July 8-11 in Baltimore.
“It’s going to shift what convention is, because we’re going to have everything upfront,” Bryan Krislock, parliamentarian for the House of Deputies, told an online gathering of legislative chairs and committee members. To the extent possible, committee hearings will take place online in June, before convention even begins. Committees will meet at the convention itself only to resolve disagreements between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, or for limited special cases.
The deadline for introducing resolutions is June 6, a full month before the nominal beginning of convention. Committees will hold online hearings and meetings through June 25, at which time any resolution that has not been approved by committee will automatically be referred to the 81st General Convention in 2024.
Committees will be encouraged to winnow the number of resolutions to be considered in floor debate by moving as many resolutions as possible to the consent calendar, a mechanism for holding a single up-or-down vote on a batch of potentially dozens of resolutions. Committees will also have the option of pre-emptively designating some resolutions for consideration in 2024.
The General Convention must hold floor votes to get certain things accomplished, including passing a two-year budget, and the House of Deputies must elect a president and vice president. But there simply will not be time to consider all of the 250 resolutions that have already been submitted, as well as dozens more expected by the June 6 deadline.
Some resolutions have been designated as special orders of business, including a package of resolutions proposed by a Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth-Telling, Reckoning, and Healing, regarding the Episcopal Church’s historical complicity in the forced assimilation of Indigenous people. These resolutions are numbered A125-A131 in the Virtual Binder, an online repository for all major documentation related to the business of the convention. The most notable include A125, which would establish a tithe of 10 percent of the church’s financial holdings for reconciliation efforts — potentially allocating $2 million per year; and A127, calling for a thorough investigation of the church’s ownership and operation of Indigenous boarding schools.
A package of resolutions regarding adaptive changes in church leadership and governance for a post-COVID world also will be considered as special orders of business. These include Resolutions A097-099, plus two others still to come.
For all other resolutions, legislative committees were given a set of guidelines for developing their priorities for floor time. The guidelines include:
- Is this resolution needed for The Episcopal Church to participate actively in God’s mission and function effectively between now and the 81st General Convention?
Does this resolution provide an important opportunity to maintain and renew the vitality of the church’s worship?
- Does this resolution substantively change the Episcopal Church’s witness on a significant issue of the day?
- Does this resolution call for work that would be difficult to accomplish in the shortened work period between now and the 81st General Convention?
- Would this resolution require significant floor time for debate that might not be available at the 80th General Convention?
- Could this resolution be addressed at the 81st General Convention without significantly impeding the church’s ability to respond to God’s mission in the next two years? Would it benefit from more study?
As a result of all these changes, legislative committee members suddenly need to devote an enormous amount of time in June to work they had planned to do in July in Baltimore. Deputy Laura Russell of the Diocese of Newark noted that many committee members had arranged for two weeks of vacation from their jobs to attend General Convention, and some had limited flexibility to change schedules or take additional time off.
This highlights a long-standing grievance of lay members of the House of Deputies. Generally speaking, bishops and priests can attend General Convention as part of their jobs, while lay deputies often have to use up vacation time.
Bishop Sean Rowe, parliamentarian of the House of Bishops and the moderator for the online meeting, emphasized that the needed changes are not ideal, and urged all concerned to stay as flexible as possible, and to look forward in faith to a more-normal 81st General Convention in 2024.
“Here’s what I want you to go away from this understanding: You’ll do what you need to do, you’ll do the best you can, and that’s OK,” he said. “We’ll figure out a way to make it work, we’ll get through this time, and hopefully the 81st will look entirely different.”