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Jun 25, 2015 | Jen Frazer

Convention will elect new leader, reimagine church

The Episcopal Church is governed by the General Convention, a legislative body made up of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The convention meets every three years to consider and vote on a wide range of matters, including those of church mission, public policy, liturgy, and administration.

 

Through July 3, current and past bishops of the Diocese of Texas and eight deputies from our diocese will be in Salt Lake City to participate in this year’s General Convention, the 78th that has been held since 1785. The diocese is also preparing for 2018, when the next convention is scheduled be held in Austin.

 

The numerous committees, commissions, agencies, and boards of the Episcopal Church have each presented reports to the General Convention, summarizing their work from the previous three years and laying out proposed resolutions and amendments to be considered by the houses. These reports are collected into a single (now digital) document known as “The Blue Book.” Additional resolutions are added as they are submitted.

 

Election of a new Presiding Bishop

One task of the 2015 General Convention will be to elect a new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, whom we pray for each Sunday morning, completes her nine-year term this year. The presiding bishop is the chief pastor, ecumenical leader, and primate of the Episcopal Church, joining 38 other leaders in the Anglican Communion to seek global good and reconciliation.

 

There are four nominees to take her place: Thomas Briedenthal of Southern Ohio, Michael Curry of North Carolina, Ian Douglass of Connecticut, and Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida. The common thread uniting the nominees is their vision for a Church deeply engaged in the work of mission and reconciliation. The challenge for the next presiding bishop will be proclaiming that vision effectively both within the Episcopal Church and globally, while facing financial pressures and organizational change.

 

Reimagining the Church

There has also been a growing call for major structural reforms to the governance of the Episcopal Church. This will be a major topic during the 2015 General Convention, and three separate visions for reform will be considered.

 

The first is from the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church, which is charged with continually assessing the effectiveness of church operations and processes. The second is from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), which has spent the past two years working on a grassroots reform plan. The third is from the organizers of the Acts 8 Moment, a group that has built upon the work of TREC, adding to and clarifying its proposals to transform and rebuild the structure of the Church.

 

The report of the standing commission primarily reasserts its proposals from the 2012 General Convention. In particular, it emphasizes the decentralizing principal of “subsidiarity,” where the unifying role of the General Convention is maintained, but authority is delegated more clearly to dioceses and to local faith communities. Other resolutions seek to streamline the convention itself, reducing committees, funding interim meetings, and allowing for early review of upcoming legislation.

 

In developing its various proposals, TREC interviewed nearly 2,000 Episcopalians and solicited input from countless others to assess the state of the Church. Looking forward, TREC envisions a future where the clergy are supported by multiple parishes or by supplemental work, and are trained by non-residential seminaries in newly designed programs to lead and transform the Church. TREC also proposes the combination of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, as well as a reconsideration of the number and size of dioceses and a review of the process for selecting bishops. Lastly, TREC looked at the physical buildings of the Church, which are often empty when not used for worship, and proposes that these resources be used for community purposes.

 

The Acts 8 Moment responded to the TREC report with a letter, “A Memorial to the Church,” which calls upon the General Convention to act in specific ways to transform the Church. In particular, the convention is asked through a set of resolutions to fund evangelism initiatives “extravagantly” while following Jesus into the neighborhoods; to let go of buildings, structures, habits, and conflicts that do not serve the Church well; to support mission locally and to build networks in place of centralized hierarchy; and to enter into creative initiatives in restructuring the church for mission.

 

Learning more

If you are curious about the work of the General Convention, check out the General Convention website, the diocesan website, or the Episcopal Herald blog. Those attending and discussing the convention will also use the social media hashtag “#gc78,” which you can follow online. Alternatively, feel free to strike up a conversation with Canon Simón Bautista or Curate Eileen O’Brien, both of whom will be attending the convention this year.

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