GENERAL CONVENTION 2003


Evolving, Improving
By The Rev. Rosemari Sullivan
Secretary to General Convention

The date was Sept. 27, 1785 ; the setting, Christ Church in the city of Philadelphia . So began the first General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Forty-two lay and ordained persons from seven states were recorded as present. In the more than two centuries since those 10 days in Philadelphia , we have evolved as a denomination that is vigorous, multilingual and multicultural. Our predecessors can be proud of the seed sown that has become the Episcopal Church.

The General Convention also has evolved. In fact, we might even say it is an occasionally awkward and clumsy creature. As secretary, I have the unique perspective of one who sees all the aspects of our Convention. It takes time to comprehend the inter-relationships of committees, resolutions and actions of each House.

After a few months in this role, I decided to adopt a maxim by which I would judge what we were doing. The maxim is: If I donít understand this, then it is possible no one does. I have been surprised that when I inquire about some aspect of the Convention, I often learn that it is not understood. The General Convention Office is making every effort to understand our Convention and to make it understandable to one and all. In so doing, we have discovered possibilities for clarifying some things and changing others.

A brief summary of possibilities includes:

Legislation: Matters brought to the General Convention are ideally those concerns that require a national-level decision. Can we establish criteria for those matters that will be considered by General Convention? The hope is to focus our debate and give more time for deliberation of issues and the adoption of policies. The benefits would include better-informed decisions that can be communicated to and understood by the whole Church.

Related Organizations (that is, those groups that are part of our Church life on an ongoing basis): The numerous meetings and interest-group gatherings that form a constellation of activity during the time of the General Convention have become overwhelming to the system. The possibility of gathering all of these groups for meetings and workshops prior to the legislative meeting is worth exploring. The hope is to retain the ìfamily gatheringî but to separate the legislative meeting from these activities. The benefit would be a less congested atmosphere for the General Convention to accomplish its work.

Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards: The role of these bodies and the areas of our life that they engage need further clarification and modification. There is often confusion about the task of the groups we facilitate. With few exceptions, the work of the group is to formulate policy. The danger zone is that membersí energy and enthusiasm will lead them to seek to do program. The hope is that further clarification will lead to the articulation of policy and the development of ideas that are responsive to the Gospel and that help us as a denomination to take our place in the global community. The benefit will be the best use of everyoneís gifts and clear policies for our Churchís engagement in mission.

These are some of the possibilities for the review and renewal of our governing structures. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will inspire us to do the work that will give us the tools to be a more dynamic, engaged and responsive faith community.

Published by CENTER AISLE, A web service of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

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