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Choice of Phoenix for 2027 General Convention Draws Protest

By Kirk Petersen

The church has selected Phoenix as the site of the 82nd General Convention in 2027 — touching off an extended dissent from the Bishop of Puerto Rico and others, after San Juan was passed over for the second consecutive General Convention.

Obispo de Puerto Rico Rafael Morales and Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention | Kirk Petersen photo

“I feel so hurt, because I love all of you,” said the Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales as Executive Council met in Providence, Rhode Island. He was addressing a June 13 meeting of the council’s Governance and Operations Committee, at which the proposed venue was announced for the first time.

“The church has lost an opportunity” to take a stand against colonialism and to support a diocese facing adversity, he said, noting that Puerto Rico has endured three hurricanes and an earthquake in recent years, and was hit especially hard by the pandemic.

Morales spoke after the Rev. Michael Barlowe, executive officer of the General Convention, delivered a thorough presentation to the committee on the process the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements used in reviewing the five potential cities selected by the 2022 General Convention: Phoenix, San Juan, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, and Orlando. After narrowing the pool to Phoenix, San Juan, and Pittsburgh, the committee conducted extensive negotiations and site visits leading to the recommendation.

In plenary session June 15, the final day of the thrice-yearly meeting, Executive Council approved the choice of Phoenix in a largely symbolic vote, although not before several council members rose to protest.

“I am extremely disappointed if this was really a cost issue,” said Sandra Montes, council member from the Diocese of Texas. “We’re not answering to the Spirit at all. We’re not answering to God, especially when we began this meeting saying how much money we had.” She said that while the Diocese of Arizona may be doing good work, the state in general is “racist and homophobic,” along with her home state of Texas.

President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, said that cost was not the only factor, and that the hotel capacity in San Juan made it difficult for the city to host a gathering the size of General Convention. Curry is recovering at home after a brief hospitalization for internal bleeding and an irregular heartbeat.

In the earlier committee meeting, Barlowe said that financial considerations are not the only priority in choosing a site — the church’s values also come into play, including support for Spanish-speaking populations and financially disadvantaged areas.

But the money also is a factor, and Barlowe said that while “San Juan would be wonderful,” the evaluation team had determined that the cost to dioceses for sending bishops and deputies to San Juan would be about 34 percent higher than for Phoenix. He estimated the cost at about $1,000 per person attending, or about $1 million spread across all the dioceses of the church.

The centralized costs borne by the General Convention Office “might be a little bit higher” in San Juan than in Phoenix, and convention-related revenue from exhibitors might be slightly lower, but the main financial burden would fall to the dioceses.

The committee listened respectfully as Morales pressed his case for about 12 minutes, speaking more in sorrow than in anger, but describing the decision as “discrimination.”

“Something has happened here that I do not like,” he said. “I don’t see Jesus” in this decision. Morales declined to discuss the matter further after the executive session.

San Juan was also a finalist for the 2024 General Convention, but lost out to Louisville, Kentucky.

Under Canon I.1.13.c, final approval of the venue does not rest with Executive Council alone. The council collectively has one vote in the decision, which requires a majority vote of a list of other parties, including the presiding bishop, president of the House of Deputies, the vice presidents of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops, and the presidents of the church’s nine provinces.

Barlowe said the other parties had already voted in favor of Phoenix. The council vote thus had no practical effect, but Ayala Harris urged members to consider the potential emotional effect on the Diocese of Arizona if the council withheld consent.

Morales spoke briefly against the resolution in plenary, saying Puerto Rico could not compete with mainland venues because while it is part of the United States, it is not a state. Other council members spoke both for and against the resolution, before it passed on a show of hands.

It appeared that about a dozen of the 40 members voted against the resolution. The General Convention Office declined to release the official vote total. When TLC suggested the count should be released in the interest of transparency, Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad said the General Convention Office had considered similar requests before but had not done so. She was not able to provide any further explanation for the practice.

Confrontations at Executive Council have been rare in recent years, although they have become more frequent since the new junior class was elected in 2022. After Montes spoke, Ayala Harris said she would call on member Charles Graves next, but first she provided her explanation about hotel capacity.

When Montes began to speak again, Ayala Harris said, “I have to call on Charles next” — drawing a rebuke.

“I do not understand why you said for me to wait, when I don’t think I have ever interrupted you or anybody in this meeting,” said Montes — having just interrupted.

Montes also had been chided earlier in a committee meeting on another topic. After acknowledging the Indigenous heritage of Episcopal Migration Ministries Director Sarah Shipman, Montes said, “But you present as white.”

“As a black woman, I’ve often been told that I’m not black enough,” said the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care, adding that she considered such statements inappropriate.

In addition to consenting to the choice of Phoenix for General Convention 2027, the council unanimously approved a separate resolution recommending that future conventions should “prioritize sites that would advance the Church’s mission of addressing and repairing harm caused by the Church as a result of its history and complicity with racism and colonialism.”

Downtown Phoenix | Wikimedia


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