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Jun 23, 2015

Racism, Alcohol and Ecology Among Topics for General Convention

“Every time the Church gathers, it’s a new body with new challenges,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schorri at a June 23 press briefing at Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace, where Episcopalians will gather for their triennium General Convention, June 25-July 3.


Racism and gun violence, as well as alcohol policies, will be among the topics discussed. It will be the greenest gathering and the most digitally oriented ever, according to the Rev. Canon Michael Barlow, Executive Officer for the General Convention. Each of the 900+ deputies and 200+ bishops will be issued iPads loaded with software to make this an almost paperless convention. These take the place of the mountains of paper generated in previous conventions and for the first time, there will be no onsite print office.


“We’ve moved three decades in three years,” Barlow said. Barlow appeared with Bishop Jefferts Schorri and House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings to answer initial questions from the press.


“We are coming together at a tense time,” Jennings said, in respect to the deaths of black men and boys by police and the nine recent murders in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. She said there is a march planned for Sunday morning at 7 a.m. to protest gun violence, and she said, the Church must take concrete steps to end racism. “God is calling us to dismantle racism that has bound us.”


In the wake of the death of Tom Palermo, a hit and run victim of former bishop suffragan of Maryland, Heather Cook, in December 2014, the speakers were asked how General Convention would be framed regarding alcohol.


Both Jennings and Jefferts Schorri said they had appointed commissions to consider the issue. The two groups will meet together at General Convention and “I hope [they] will bring forward resolutions that address the issues sensitively. The last legislation was in 1985 and there is new understanding in the field of addiction,” Jennings said. She said some people were refraining from alcohol use during General Convention while others would continue to follow the policy, offering non-alcoholic options when alcohol was served.


Bishop Jefferts Schorri noted the many ecumenical and interfaith partners who would be guests at the convention and said that the Mormon Church had provided many volunteers to assist during the nine-day gathering. Among the visiting guests is the presiding bishop of the ELCA Church, representatives from the Moravian Church with whom the Episcopal Church is in full communion.