General Convention is Coming to a Computer Near You

Contributed by: The Rev. Canon Valerie Balling and the Rev. Emily Mellot

The Episcopal Church will hold its 80th General Convention in Baltimore in July 2022 (delayed from its originally scheduled dates in 2021, due to the pandemic). General Convention is a broad and busy gathering, part family reunion, part marketplace, but mostly the decision-making, official voice of the Episcopal Church. The General Convention considers and responds to hundreds of resolutions, affecting our public stance on many issues of the day, how we pray and worship together, how we hire and support people in congregations and dioceses, how we launch new initiatives, how we manage our finances—and more!

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry leads a revival service during the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas, in 2018. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

Every single idea that is proposed to General Convention must be considered by a Legislative Committee before Convention can vote on it. Those committees are responsible for making sure that the ideas presented to General Convention are actionable, don’t violate other established rules of the Church, and that any funding implications are considered. Legislative Committees also must hold public hearings where any Episcopalian may comment on resolutions being considered, and even propose changes before the resolutions are voted on by the Deputies (lay and clergy elected from each diocese) and Bishops.

This year, you have a chance to take part in this decision-making process without ever leaving your home. Legislative Committees will be holding hearings online from February 17–26, and April 30–May 21. If you would like to testify—to share something from your own experience that shows why General Convention should take an action, or reject an idea, or propose a change to something Convention is going to consider, you can sign up to participate in one of those meetings on Zoom.

You can find out what General Convention is going to consider this year by looking in the Convention’s Virtual Binder. You will find it here.

Click on Resolutions. That will show you a list of everything being considered. Every resolution has a title saying what it’s about. You can also search by keyword if there’s an issue you’re interested in; or you can use the blue button that says “Committees” to get a list of the committees that will consider groups of resolutions by subject. You could click on “Churchwide Leadership” or “Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music” to see what proposed resolutions are coming before that committee and see what you might want to speak about—or hear more about. You might have an opinion or experience to share on whether and how the Episcopal Church should adopt a paid family leave policy, or whether Juneteenth should be an official celebration on the Episcopal Church calendar.

The General Convention Office is posting a regularly updated list of all meetings and hearings to review resolutions coming before General Convention.

As you review the list, make a note of the time and date of any meeting you want to attend. You will need to know the date and time to register, and you’ll need to register at least two days in advance.

In this example, you can see that Legislative Committee 19, on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, will be meeting on Saturday, February 26 at 2 p.m. EST for hearings on Resolutions A055, A091, A092, A093, and A094. You can click on the Resolution numbers to read what each one is about.

You then need to open this webpage. You probably want to do this in a different tab or window, keeping the list of meetings open to refer to for the information you will need. Click on the box of the language you wish to proceed in:

That will take you to this notice

“Please note that legislative meeting registration requests must be received at least 2-business days prior to the meeting date in order to be processed. If your request is received after that time, we will be unable to process your request.”

Click “Next” to continue.

You will then be asked to fill out a form with your name, email address, which Legislative meeting (day and time) you want to attend and whether or not you want to observe or testify. Observing means you won’t be able to speak during the meeting; if you want to share your opinion or experience, choose “testify”. To testify, you will need to choose which resolution you want to speak about. In some cases, you may also need to say whether you are generally in favor of a resolution (“Pro”) or generally against that resolution being passed (“Anti”)

Once you have completed those options, a notice of the “Code of Conduct” that all are required to follow appears. If you plan to only observe, your microphone and camera are to be turned off the entire time you are in the Zoom meeting. If you are testifying, you are allowed turn on your microphone and camera when you testify. You may not share the meeting link with anyone. The Chair of Committee can remove people from the meeting if they do not comply with the Code of Conduct

Once you have checked the box to agree to follow the Code of Conduct, click “Next” to continue.

You will be asked if you need any translation into Spanish, French or ASL. All of the meetings are held in English and simultaneously translated into other languages as needed. When you have chosen a language, or if you don’t need translation, click “Submit form.” A link will be sent to you within a day or two with the information you need to attend the hearing.

It’s a good idea to know what you want to say before you sign on. Read the Resolution thoroughly, and plan what you want to say. There will be a time limit on each person’s comments, so plan to be able to say what is most important to you in two or three minutes. If the time limit is longer, you’ll be able to expand.

All of this may seem like a lot—as we’ve all learned over the course of the last two years, it’s not easy to take an in-person process with lots of customs and rules and transfer it seamlessly into a virtual world. For many of us, though, clicking on a few web pages is simpler than traveling to Baltimore in July, finding a place to stay, navigating a huge convention hall, and finding the meeting you want to attend. So, this is an exciting new opportunity to make your voice heard and be part of the whole process that shapes the Episcopal Church.