Executive Council Launches Its Unusual ‘Biennium’

Executive Council gathers for a plenary session on October 17, 2022 | Photo: Egan Millard, ENS

By Kirk Petersen

The Executive Council held its first meeting on October 17-20 since the 2022 General Convention, convening in Phoenix, Arizona. Roughly half the members of the 40-person council were attending a council meeting in an official capacity for the first time, and much of the opening day was devoted to orienting the newbies and beginning to build relationships.

The October meeting of the council in a General Convention year is the council’s equivalent of “Baby Bishop School,” helping new members live into the leadership commitments they have just assumed.

The orientation takes on special importance this time because the 80th General Convention was delayed for a year, then held under tight pandemic strictures in Baltimore in July 2022..

For more than two centuries, the governance of what was originally the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has been oriented around the meetings of the General Convention, which normally convenes every three years.

Terms of office for Executive Council are often referred to as six years, but in fact they run from the closing gavel of one General Convention to the closing gavel of the second following General Convention. The new batch of council members will have only two years before their mentors will rotate off the council, and they will serve five years in total.

Julia Ayala Harris, who is vice chair of the Executive Council because of her election as president of the House of Deputies at GC80 in July, was unable to attend the first day of the first council meeting in her new role. Delivering her opening remarks on a prerecorded video, she explained that she had a commitment to participate in a family wedding that predated her election, and will join the four-day meeting in the afternoon of the second day.

She noted that two other council members had family commitments that prevented their attendance in person: veteran Sarah Stonesifer Boylan of Washington and new member Louisa McKellaston of Chicago both recently gave birth, and participated remotely.

Also on the first day, the council heard from Bishop Jennifer Reddall of the host Diocese of Arizona, who said “November 9th is going to be a very interesting day for us,” referring to the day after the election. “Pray for us!” Arizona was ground zero for claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and the Republican candidate for governor this year has pointedly refused to say she would accept the results if she loses what is expected to be a tight race.

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, executive officer of the General Convention, along with his eight-member staff had the herculean job of twice renegotiating “literally hundreds of contracts” because the event was first postponed, then cut in half on short notice. He told the council they will need to make decisions about how future General Conventions will be run.

He said the church should look for ways “to leverage the, in my opinion, irreplaceable benefits of face-to-face gatherings … through technology, by having online meetings,” including by legislative committees. He told the council that 2,476 people had attended 155 online meetings of legislative committees in advance of General Convention.

The council is continuing the anti-COVID precautions in place at General Convention, with vaccinations required of all attendees, and mask-wearing except when eating or addressing the council. Virtually nobody else at the hotel was wearing a mask, and one wag suggested the presence of Executive Council may have measurably increased the percentage of people in Arizona wearing masks.

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