General Convention 101

By: Sally Johnson

Sally Johnson is a deputy representing ECMN.  As we prepare for General Convention, she answered some questions to give a foundational understanding of what happens at General Convention, and why it matters to ECMN.

Q: What is the purpose of General Convention?

A: It has been a thrill for me to participate in General Convention, the governing body of the Episcopal Church, for ECMN.  For over 220 years it has met every three years as the primary Council of the Church, in which lay people, clergy and bishops share equally in the decision-making.  It is this shared decision-making among all the orders that is empowering and dear to many of us.

As a Deputy I’ve watched General Convention decide how the Church will be governed, how it will worship, what it stands for (in terms of social justice issues), who can (or can’t) be ordained, married or receive Holy Communion.  Only General Convention can change the Book of Common Prayer or the Hymnal.

One of our unique charisms as a Church is that this body of lay, clergy and bishops has ALL the legislative, executive and judicial authority in the Church.  General Convention decides what powers to delegate to Bishops, dioceses, congregations, clergy, lay people and other bodies it creates.

Q: What work gets accomplished there?

A: The scope, breadth and depth of matters considered by General Convention is astonishing, impressive and can be overwhelming.

Liturgies, the Lectionary, Psalter, Calendar of the Church year and translations of the Holy Scriptures from which Lessons are read are authorized. Changes to the Book of Common Prayer are considered.

The Constitution and Canons, the rules of how we order our common life together, my particular passion and expertise for over 24 years, are revised every Convention.

Resolutions are adopted, setting policies for life in the Church in areas such as employee benefits and human resources practices.

Mission priorities such as racial reconciliation, evangelism, and care of creation are adopted for the coming years.

Ecumenical and interfaith agreements and relationships are authorized such as Called to Common Mission with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Resolutions expressing the mind of the Church, often on social justice issues such as the economy, poverty, war, health care, violence, the environment and human rights are adopted.  These can guide action by the Church office or dioceses or encourage individuals to take action.

The admission of dioceses that want to join the Episcopal Church and permitting dioceses to leave the Church to form autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion are approved by General Convention.

The budget for the Episcopal Church for the upcoming three years is adopted.

People are elected to fill positions including Executive Council, the board of directors of the Church, and the boards of the Church Pension Fund, the Church Archives and other related entities.

Committees, boards and task forces that carry out the work of General Convention and the Church’s mission are created and funded.

Q: How might we expect to be impacted here in ECMN?

A: While it may not be apparent to most people in the pews or even to many clergy, every time you worship, participate in a Vestry or Bishops’ Committee meeting, participate in choosing a clergy person for your faith community, consider who can vote at an annual meeting, or participate in preparation for Baptism, Confirmation or Marriage, the decisions General Convention are at the heart of what you are doing.  This is just a sample of what is being considered:

The Book of Occasional Service, changes to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and changes to the Church Calendar are all being considered this year.

A plan has been proposed to undertake revision of the Book of Common Prayer over the coming years.

The assessment rate paid by each diocese to the wider Church is set by Convention and will impact ECMN’s budget.

Training requirements for all clergy may be revised to include expanded anti-racism training, sexual harassment, and suicide prevention.

Changes are being considered to the Denominational Health plan, the lay pension plans and family leave policies that could affect the practices and budgets of ECMN and its congregations.

Resolutions encouraging or directing the entire Church to divest from fossil fuels or to encourage socially responsible investing are being considered.

Resolutions on topics many members of ECMN care about and work on will be voted on such as the environment, the Sanctuary movement, immigration, the Church and society’s need to deal with sexual harassment and #MeToo issues, environmental racism, human trafficking, and gun control have all been proposed.

The conditions (or removal of conditions) for allowing same-gender marriage in the Church will be considered and possibly revised.

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