Greetings from the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church! As I’m typing out a few thoughts to share with all y’all, the fireworks are popping just over the skyline of downtown Austin. From my big picture window I can see the tops of the neon-colored flashes of light and hear the big bangs. Happily, these are the only fireworks on display during our first full day of prep before the official opening of General Convention tomorrow.
I’m pleased to be an alternate deputy at this convention. I actually sit in the opposite side of the convention hall, separated from our deputation by a low barrier. My role for the next ten days is to support the deputies in their work and step in if they aren’t able to be on the convention floor during the conduct of business. I am also attending committee meetings and hearings and will offer testimony as needed. So, while I was “Alt-Deputy of the Day” today, I wasn’t anywhere near that red lobster hat. Ever the introvert, that was just fine with me!
There’s almost too much to write about and we’re only just getting started. Perhaps the most overwhelming part about being a newbie to General Convention is the sheer volume of work that is being done on multiple levels and in different locales.
Most folks put in 12+ hours a day while conducting the legislative and spiritual work of the Church. I can’t even tell you a linear account of what happened today, as it’s more like a hive of activity and activism. If you haven’t already, be sure to connect with the Diocese of Maine’s daily news brief and the Episcopal News Service for multi-media reporting of our work at General Convention. https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/ Last night I stayed up late to download a mobile app for convention which contains all of the pertinent information we need to do the work and worship of this convention. You can access it too:
Together we are an awesomely energized team from the Diocese of Maine. It’s wonderful to witness the leadership of Bishop Lane, Heidi Shott, and several of our deputies who are well-respected for their advocacy and expertise. We’re all slowly beginning to get a handle on the electronic convention calendar app, which was my humble goal for today.
Part of our orientation this afternoon involved practicing our use of new technology in the daily conduct of business. We each have been issued iPads that are loaded with a Virtual Binder and little electronic voting keypads which only work if you put your little plastic card in it. There are three gigantic screens and multiple video monitors scattered throughout the vast convention hall so that we can see those tiny folks up on the main dais.
But today wasn’t just about the wonky business of learning how to navigate a paperless convention with 1100 convention buddies, the Holy Spirit blew in too. Our day started with moving testimony in committee hearings from people representing all parts of our church.
In the afternoon as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry launched the convention with a stirring address (not a sermon, he insisted), a bird took flight and circled around the House of Deputies. Ok, it was a pigeon, but it sure felt like the Holy Spirit had entered the building.
In the evening hundreds of delegates and friends gathered in our convention worship space to share in a holy listening session with the House of Bishops as the personal narratives of people who have suffered abuse and harassment in the church were read in the spirit of prayer with long spaces of silence and song in-between. Many left the hall in tears.
It’s been said that every three years The Episcopal Church gathers itself together for a big ol’ family reunion. The Episcopal News Service writes that “An estimated 10,000 people are expected to be in Austin at some point this week and next week for General Convention, whether they be bishops, deputies, church employees, volunteers, exhibitors or others interested in participating somehow in the conversations underway. “ That has certainly proven true for me today as I am running into old friends from all parts of my Episcopal life. Laughter and tears are filling my cup to overflowing.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent our wonderful diocese at the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. We are family, especially as we challenge ourselves to widen our circle in Christ to include all of God’s People.