April 11, 2015 / 2012 / July / What's the General Convention Really Like?

What's the General Convention Really Like?

submitted July 25, 2012 by   |   comments

Like many, I'm always learning more about The Episcopal Church and how its governing principles are set. But since the 2012 General Convention was set to start in Indianapolis July 5-12 and I was currently working on communications projects for CEO of National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM) Matthew Ellis, I was invited to check it out.

For those of you who have never attended, it is a massive event. The exhibit area was packed with booths showcasing everything emblematic of church activities: books, robes, nonprofits with related causes, even jewelry. Like an oasis, the NEHM booth sat in the center offering free back massages. It was a definite hot spot, so people waiting their turn lounged under a gazebo. A nice place to catch up, but we didn’t have time to hang out. I followed Matt as he checked in on teams managing booths for NEHM and the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC). Then it was time to testify.

Matt had defined 14 provisions that related to the missions of NEHM and NEAC. These are proposed ideas that bubbled up from congregations around the world. All of these provisions are addressed and voted on at the General Convention. And, like the Bill on Capitol Hill, there is a progression of voting stages until the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies place their votes. It functions much like Congress.

Testifying happens at an earlier stage, when a committee hears all of the arguments for and against a provision. I thought this could get heated, but I was surprised by how systematic and fact-oriented the process went. Example: Matt approached the committee and stated why he was in favor of provision A134: Refocus the Mission of the Jubilee Advisory Committee for Poverty Alleviation—namely that partnerships in the church would help in the effort to address the structural causes of domestic poverty. The committee's questions were pretty targeted, and Matt was able to quickly convey how the Jubilee partnership provides a forum to tap into the church’s communications structure and speak to the church’s authority.

This conversation really centered around organizational issues. How to execute this plan globally or increase awareness about national and local resources. It’s the same issue most global companies face.

I didn’t get to see the outcome of this provision but after testimonies were completed, committees either pass the provision along to the House of Bishops and House of Deputies or discharge them. I sat in on the House of Deputies. It was just as efficient but on a much grander scale. And even though serious business was decided here, there was room for personality: on the floor, each diocese was represented by a distinct marker. Southeast Florida was recognizable by its pink flamingo!

Testifying happens at this level, too, but it was managed very systematically. And sometimes amendments or new provisions were created on the spot. In this case, the entire house would take a break and sing a hymn or canon. This kept people on the floor engaged until the amendment could be presented, and it was actually pretty calming.

Something I imagine all found welcome as they worked through 460 resolutions in seven days to decide the Episcopal Church’s stance and plan of action for the next three years.
Terra Hoskins contributes to the NEHM and NEAC blog on a freelance basis. Drawing from her background in sales, communications and Internet marketing, she helps organizations create an online presence and use the Internet to expand business. Follow Terra on her blog: http://terrahoskins.com/ and on Twitter: @terrahoskins.