By Katie Sherrod
The 80th General Convention, despite being smaller, shorter, fully masked, and tightly focused due to Covid precautions, managed to make history in multiple ways. Covering the huge amount of work needed in four days was made possible by committees holding hearings via Zoom prior to GC80 and by their disciplined use of the Consent Calendar, which allows passage of many resolutions at once, with no debate. Deputies and Bishops worked long days, with worship in the separate Houses beginning at 8:30 am and legislative sessions ending at 9:30 pm.
The House of Deputies is led by two Women of Color for the first time, with the election of Oklahoma lay Deputy Julie Ayala Harris, the first Latina and the youngest person elected to lead the house; and the election of Rachel Taber-Hamilton of the Diocese of Olympia, the first Indigenous and first ordained woman to serve as vice president. This means that with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, for the first time in our history, all the presiding officers of The Episcopal Church are People of Color.
A high point for both Houses of General Convention was the votes to confirm the reunion of the Episcopal Church of North Texas, formerly, the Diocese of Fort Worth, with the Diocese of Texas. Emotional unanimous votes in both Houses ended in standing ovations and cheers. In the House of Deputies both deputations were invited by President Gay Jennings onto the platform for the vote. In the House of Bishops, North Texas Bishop Provisional Scott Mayer joined bishops Andy Doyle, Jeff Fisher, Kai Ryan, and Hector Monterroso as all were invited onto the platform by Presiding Bishop Curry for the vote. Reports are that there wasn’t a dry eye in either House.
In what many saw as a sign of healthy priorities for the church, both Houses spent much more time in discussion about possible additions to the Book of Common Prayer than they did on the budget, although the latter was examined thoroughly as well.
“What exactly is the Book of Common Prayer?” That is the question answered by the plan approved by General Convention in Resolution A059 that would amend Article X of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church. If the change passes a required second reading at the 81st General Convention in 2024, Article X would define the Book of Common Prayer as “those liturgical forms and other texts authorized by the General Convention.”
As an ENS story explained, “In other words, liturgies that are not in the current prayer book – such as same-sex marriage rites and gender-expansive liturgies – could be elevated to ‘prayer book status,’ whether they are replacing parts of the prayer book or standing on their own.”
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee, bishop provisional of Milwaukee, chair of the House of Bishops’ Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy & Music, said the resolution is about acknowledging that common prayer is evolving . . .and it creates a framework for that evolution to happen, including the inclusion of a number of different rites in a curated collection.”
Convention adopted a $100.5 million churchwide budget, after a presentation to the only joint session of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops at this Convention. The 2023-24 plan was presented on behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget & Finance by the Rev. Mike Ehmer, deputy from Northwest Texas, and Texas Bishop Suffragan Jeff Fisher.
Ehmer, committee chair, said the proposed budget “provides continued strong support for evangelism and creation care, with a significant increase in reconciliation and justice. It also ensures funding for the necessary foundation needed to accomplish the goals within those three pillar areas, while also maintaining our commitments and covenants to dioceses of The Episcopal Church and around the Anglican Communion.”
Additionally, the process of producing a proposed triennial budget was streamlined to allow the people developing the budget also be the people presenting it to General Convention. Currently, the Executive Council’s Finance Committee spends two years developing a budget only to have to hand it off to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee (PB&F) of General Convention. Convention empowered Executive Council to present its budget proposal directly to General Convention through a standing budget committee. Because Executive Council is the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention, it retains the authority to make further changes to the budget as necessary.
The House of Deputies sat in rapt silence during what President Jennings described as “holy listening” as Indigenous deputies somberly related their stories as survivors of horrific experiences at Indigenous boarding schools. Then they passed – and the Bishops concurred - on Resolution A127, which pledges more than $2.5 million over the next biennium “to further The Episcopal Church’s commitment to investigating its role in Indigenous boarding schools; create a fact-finding commission to preserve and to provide a public platform to hear the stories of survivors of any such schools within dioceses’ geographic area; establish Indigenous community-based spiritual healing centers to address intergenerational trauma, and, to create educational resources regarding the church’s role in the schools.”
This was part of Convention’ work on racial justice and reconciliation which involved several resolutions that continue the church’s commitment to reckoning with its history of racism. Deputies on July 8 adopted Resolution A125, offered by the Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee, establishing a voluntary Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice among dioceses and congregations. Bishops concurred, rejecting a proposed amendment that could have prevented its passage because there was no time to send an amended resolution back to the Deputies for concurrence. The coalition is designed as a remedy to the church’s uneven record of prioritizing racial reconciliation, at the churchwide level and across the dioceses of the church.
General Convention affirmed all Episcopalians should be able to access abortion services and birth control, adopted resolutions to offer paid family leave and health insurance to lay and clergy church employees, spoke out against gun violence, and lauded investment in community violence intervention programs.
And in a moving unanimous silent affirmation of Resolution A226, Convention rose “to recognize, honor and lament the three members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, who were murdered June 16 by a man who was attending a potluck supper at the church. The resolution also recognized the surviving 18 church members and friends who were there that night.”
Convention also created a staff position for LGBTQI and Women's Ministries, expanded the definition of gender identity and expression, and advocated for access to gender affirming care.
See ENS full coverage of GC80 here.