GC80 Recap and Reflections
The 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is one for the history books, and not just for the decisions made but also for how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the church conducted its business.
The Diocese of Missouri was hit hard by COVID infections during GC80, with three two deputies and our bishop testing positive during the convention. But our deputation (including alternates) persisted and fulfilled their duties to represent us in Baltimore.
You can read an excellent wrap of the highlights from GC80 from Mary Frances Schjonberg's story on Episcopal News Service.
For a more personal look back at GC80, we turn to our diocesan deputies. Click on the names below to read their reflections:
Michael Booker, member of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Eureka
THE 80th GENERAL CONVENTION of the EPISCOPAL CHURCH
July 11, 2022 – Day Four
by Deputy Michael Booker
A question is posed during the Passover Seder: “Why is this night different from all others?” With the final gavel brought down on the 80th General Convention, we might well ask, “Why was this convention different from all others?”
The short answer, of course, is COVID. The pandemic wildly transformed our usual every-three-year gathering.
1. Wrong Year. I have a few keepsakes that announce the 80th General Convention in 2021. It is HIGHLY unusual to postpone General Convention.
2. Early Hearings. Legislative committees started work at the end of 2021, offering hearings and meetings online to shorten the time for convention.
3. Shortened Convention. Instead of ten days, this convention was compressed to eight, and then crushed to four days.
4. Long Days. General Convention is hard work, but this year we gathered for worship at 8:30 a.m., took two meal breaks, and didn’t adjourn until 9:30 in the evening.
5. Consent Calendar Chaos. We really had no choice but to expedite a lot of our work by placing resolutions on the consent calendar. We voted in a lump for items big and small, easy to understand and wholly bewildering. I think that every deputy, at one time or another, voted in favor of things they were iffy about because of the avalanche that was the consent calendar.
6. Ghost Town. Instead of 10,000 visitors to General Convention, we had about 1500. There were no merchants purveying unique items. Many groups that would meet concurrently with General Convention cancelled their meetings. Visitors weren’t welcome and VIP guests, many from other denominations and faith traditions, were nowhere to be seen.
I don’t mean to be negative. We did what we had to do to support the work of the church. And there were moments of beauty and grace. Still, I feel that people serving as deputies to their first General Convention missed out on a lot of wonderful experiences. I’ve encouraged people to drop by General Convention as a visitor and see what it’s about; I did that in 2012 and had a fascinating time.
My hope and prayer is that 2024 will be much more normal.
Betty Bowersox - member of Grace Church in Kirkwood
Sixteen of us were joyfully elected as deputies/alternates in November of 2019 for the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, expected to take place in July 2021. Then the world turned upside-down! The COVID-19 pandemic officially caused the indefinite postponement of the General Convention (GC) until, on November 20, 2020, it was announced that a shortened Convention would take place from July 7-14, 2022, in Baltimore.
On July 6, 2021 I received the good news that I’d been assigned to a Legislative Committee, with the instructions that committees would begin their work, virtually, on November 1, and then move to in-person meetings before and during the GC. However, as 2022 arrived and COVID cases around the globe began to tick upward once again, the question about postponing, canceling or shortening the convention once again became a focus of the Executive Council and the GC planning committee. At the very center of the question was the safety of the people attending!
Finally, on May 17, 2022, we were informed that the Presiding Officers had endorsed the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church being reduced to just four days, held from July 8-11 in Baltimore with NO in-person committee meetings, travel days to be July 7 and 12, and include only bishops in active ministry, deputies (plus 1 alternate max in each order), and essential staff and volunteers. The convention had been shortened from eight days as a precaution intended to prevent cycles of illness, transmission, and infection while the church’s governing body conducted its business. All final committee meetings and hearings would be virtual and had to be completed by June 24.
Thus GC80, originally scheduled to be almost two weeks long and expecting about 10,000 people, ended up being four days in length for about 1,200 people and consisting of 10 Legislative Sessions, four worship services, one evening of experiencing a little bit of Baltimore once the business ended - and very little else. A public health specialist was retained by the House of Deputies that helped put in place safety procedures that kept the number of cases down to about 32, as reported as of the end of July 12th!
For four of us on the Missouri Deputation, we saw even fewer days of GC80 in person due to positive covid tests or injury. Thank goodness for alternate deputies who could fill in (by the time GC occurred we were down to one clergy alternate that had been approved by Standing Committee, and one lay alternate in Baltimore with a spare back in MO), and live streaming so Bishop Deon could continue to vote in the House of Bishops!
431 resolutions considered "matters essential for the governance and good order of the church” were considered by the 80th General Convention (those not considered essential to 2022 were deferred to GC81 in 2024). To even achieve looking at this many resolutions in just 4 days, changes first had to be made and approved to both Houses' Rules of Order. The Rev Tamsen Whistler was on the Committee charged with this work for the House of Deputies (HoD). Then the order of business had to be determined – what resolutions would be placed on a consent calendar to be adopted without further discussion (unless pulled off for review and debate by a vote of greater than 33% of the HoD), which would be allowed planned floor debates, or would be regarded as actions that needed greater prominence. Liz Yount and I were on the committee that dealt with this (Dispatch of Business). By my count, less than 80 of the resolutions were either REJECTED (one of the houses voted on the resolution and it did not prevail) or received a TAKE NO FURTHER ACTION (The house voted to discontinue further consideration of the resolution).
Some of the resolutions or events that were important to me:
- Resolutions determining how the Book of Common Prayer will be revised and defined in the future.
- Adopting a balanced $100.5 million church-wide budget for the next 2+ years.
- Adopting changes in how the church-wide budget will be formed in the future.
- For the first time in history, two women of color were elected to serve together to lead the House of Deputies. Oklahoma lay deputy Julie Ayala Harris, a Latina, was elected as President and the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, who is Shackan First Nation, was elected as vice president (She is the first Indigenous and first ordained woman to serve as vice president).
- The Fort Worth-based Diocese of North Texas was reunited with the Diocese of Texas.
- Reproductive rights: Convention passed Resolution D083 “affirming that all Episcopalians should be able to access abortion services and birth control with no restriction on movement, autonomy, type, or timing.” There was also impassioned debate on a (failed) resolution that asked church leaders to consider relocating the 81st General Convention from Louisville, Kentucky, and all future meetings of convention, to venues where women and others able to conceive, bear and birth children have full access to reproductive health care.
- Resolutions that came to the floor stemming from the Report from the Presiding Officer’s Working Group on Truth-Telling, Reckoning, and Healing, which included reckoning with church’s systemic racism and involvement in Indigenous boarding schools.
- Six Resolutions that came to the floor through the House of Deputies’ Committee on the State of the Church, intended to help The Episcopal Church adapt to changes in society and find new ways of supporting the church’s mission and ministry - from experimenting with creative uses of technology (many which started due to COVID workarounds), to rethinking how congregations report membership and financial data.
- The Bishop’s United Against Gun Violence public prayer vigil on July 8 near where gun violence struck close to our hotel just before GC began, plus resolutions adopted against gun violence, ghost guns, urging advocacy for state legislation against gun violence and commending investment in community violence intervention to prevent gun violence.
- A Resolution 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, as well as the survivors.
Now the Deputation has more work ahead of us, as we decide which of the many resolutions that were adopted most affect, or should affect, the Diocese of MO. We will be assisted in this by a document that the Secretary of Convention will release in late August regarding the resolutions that are being referred to dioceses for action, consideration, or information. There will be about four weeks to work on any resolutions that will be submitted for our 183rd Diocesan Convention beginning on November 18.
The 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church was one that NO ONE could have imagined when elected as a deputy in November 2019, nor was it what I thought it would be when I finally left St. Louis for Baltimore on July 6. Future General Conventions will never return to ‘the way it used to be done,’ which is very positive. My love of this church, and my hopes for it in the future, continues to grow stronger through these experiences and taking part in its governance!
One thing I forgot to mention but had a huge emotional impact: ex-HoD President Gay Clark Jennings reached out and called to check on how I was feeling on the Wednesday following GC. She totally shocked me, but it filled me with gratefulness that she had done so, even mentioning that she’d spoken with my legislative committee chair (also with COVID) who’d asked how I was feeling. That she took the time to do this just amazed me. Gay also called and spoke with Tamsen, who was still at the hotel in Baltimore at the time.
It’s also been a blessing to continue the GC80 WhatsApp Chat with my fellow deputies and Bishop through all the follow-up with COVID and such. Small things, but big impact.
Adrienne Dillon - member of All Saints and Ascension in Northwoods
The first thing I did in Baltimore was to fall flat on my face. Fourteen hours in the Emergency Department ruled out fractures or concussion, but I broke two teeth and I have a colorful bruise on my left knee. I want to thank Betty Bowersox and Leslie Scoopmire for staying with me through that ordeal and Canon Doris Westfall for getting me a scooter. I spent the first two days of convention resting and watching the House of Deputies on my Kindle.
As I watched, Julia Ayala-Harris was elected President of the House of Deputies, and the next day Rachel Taber-Hamilton was elected Vice President. For the first time, the two top officers of the House of Deputies are a Latina woman and an indigenous woman. In addition, People of Color were elected to numerous boards such as Executive Council and Trustees of the Church Pension Fund.
The Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth Telling, Reckoning and Healing presented several resolutions intended to move the Church forward into the honest reckoning that must precede healing. The Church is directed to examine the sources of its wealth, particularly the contribution made by enslavement. The Church’s involvement with Indian boarding schools is to be investigated. To facilitate and support this work, Resolution a-125 calls for the formation of the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice with a permanent source of funding independent of triennial budget cycles. It was exciting to see the convention energetically embrace the hard work that lies ahead. I pray that we may have the courage to persevere until the work is truly complete and reconciliation is possible.
I was on the “floor” for the near-unanimous passage of C-023 commemorating the consecration of Barbara Harris as Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts on February 11, 1989. I was blessed to be present at her consecration and to know her personally.
The convention ended with moving tributes to Gay Clark Jennings and Byron Rushing (my representative in the Massachusetts legislature when I lived in Boston) along with many other people who were acknowledged for their contributions. After her concluding remarks, Rev. Jennings handed her gavel to the new President, Julia Ayala-Harris.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire - Rector at St. Martin's in Ellisville
Observations of a First Time Deputy
I have just returned home after attending my first General Convention as a deputy representing the Diocese of Missouri. It was a lot. A lot of things I expected and a lot of things I didn’t expect. Here are some of my take aways:
1. I was awestruck with a sense of wonder upon entering the House of Deputies for the first time. The sheer number of people was a bit overwhelming. I can only imagine what a ‘full’ convention would have looked and felt like.
2. It was wonderful to see the breadth and depth of The Episcopal Church. Our church is represented and expressed in so many ways. I think we lose sight of that sometimes when we limit our vision to what we see on Sunday mornings for an hour.
3. I managed to do some things right as a new deputy. I had the foresight to bring a lumbar pillow. Next time I will bring a tushy pillow as well.
4. If I never hear these words again it will be too soon.
- “The vote is open. Please vote. The vote is closing The vote is closed.”
- “The matter before the House is the legislative calendar. The next item on the calendar is…”
5. It’s important to stay hydrated. I’m not sure if the 30 or so cups of coffee I had in four days count toward that goal.
6. The sound of 800+ chairs scraping on the concrete floor every time we sat down or got up was like a giant hand scraping down a giant blackboard. Like something out of the Twilight Zone. I’m still not over it.
7. When there is audible vote rather than an electronic one, you gotta have a big mouth.
8. I am grateful that our deputation really studied important resolutions before going to Baltimore. You do not want to go to the floor of the HoD uninformed. If you don’t want to do the front work, don’t run for election as a deputy.
9. I was amazed at how many people cant’t pronounce the word diocesan.
10. Donuts…there were no donuts.
11. I fully intend to throw my hat in the ring to be a deputy again. It was an honor and a privilege to be involved in the life of TEC in this way. This is very important work. This is life-giving work. This was joyful work for me. I’m grateful to our our diocese for having this faith in me.
I had never attended General Convention before, even as a visitor, so this was a completely new experience for me. I decided as the pandemic continued to play out in the days leading up to GC80 to drive instead of fly, and I am so glad I did -- I got to see a part of the country up close that I had never driven in before, and really polished off some audiobooks and tasty tunes along the way! There really is nothing like a good road trip to clear your mind.
Even after the pandemic delayed and shortened our time together, I was really fascinated to see how the expedited legislative process works. I was especially grateful for the information that was available online in the run-up to Convention. And even with all our precautions -- masking, social distancing -- it was great to meet so many wonderful Episcopalians, including those I had become friends with via social media and yet never met in person before. It was also a gift to really get to know members of our delegation so much better through the intensity of our long days, which started at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until 10:00 p.m. or later.
Even in Baltimore, the tragedy of gun violence was inescapable -- a man shot another man in an intersection directly in front of our hotel on the day before convention started, and some of our delegation witnessed the efforts to tend to him in the street. The first day of convention, therefore, closed with a march and a vigil led by Bishops United Against Gun Violence near the site of the shooting, with our own bishop leading the prayers alongside Maryland Bishop Sutton, and Presiding Bishop Curry, as well as several others. It was a moving and yet sobering reminder that we are the Church IN the world, not taking refuge behind our doors but ministering to the needs and concerns of the world around us.
There was so much important work that we still managed to accomplish at this convention, such as celebrating the reunification of the Diocese of North Texas with the Diocese of Texas, witnessing the joy of the people of Navajoland as they begin to elect their own bishops, expanding our understanding of the Book of Common Prayer as we continue to recognize a need to place our newer liturgies in the hands of every Episcopalian -- not just specialist clergy. Another huge thrill was seeing the first young Latina and first indegenous woman elected as president and vice president, respectively, of the House of Deputies.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire (Mother Leslie)
St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO
About General Convention:
The General Convention of The Episcopal Church meets every three years. It is made up of a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. Each house is made up of lay deputies and bishops from each diocese.
Lay and clergy delegates are elected during our diocesan convention. Those attending this year's convention were:
- The Rev. Tamsen Whistler - Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Charles
- The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire - St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Ellisville
- The Rev. Todd McDowell - Grace Episcopal Church in Kirkwood
- The Rev. Shug Goodlow - St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Ellisville
- The Rev. Canon Doris Westfall - Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Missouri
- Betty Bowersox - Grace Episcopal Church in Kirkwood
- Michael Booker - St. Francis Episcopal Church in Eureka
- Liz Yount - St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ladue
- Adrienne Dillon - The Episcopal Church of All Saints and Ascension in Northwoods
- Pat O'Brien - Grace Episcopal Church in Kirkwood