Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
The apostles and the elders met together to consider the matter—Acts 15:6
I am writing to you from Baltimore, Maryland, where the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is now underway. Along with me are the lay and clergy deputies elected by our own Diocesan Convention to serve. General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church and has been since 1789 when the Constitution of this Church was drafted and adopted in Philadelphia at Christ Church. The Reverend William White, Rector of Christ Church at the time, is considered the “architect” of The Episcopal Church.
Like the legislative branch of our United States government, the General Convention is a bicameral (two-houses) body comprised of The House of Deputies, which is the “senior house.” It is made up of elected lay and clergy deputies from each of the more than 100 dioceses of our international Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is a fully self-governing, autonomous branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. As a church, we have dioceses not only from the 50 states of the United States, but also from parts of South and Central America, the Convocation of Churches in Europe, Haiti, and Micronesia.
General Convention is the official voice and decision-making body of The Episcopal Church on all matters of our governance and polity from the Prayer Book we use to the Canons that govern our Church, to the positions we take on contemporary issues of the day.
Although General Convention in Baltimore has been significantly shortened this year—from eight legislative days to only four because of the COVID19 pandemic—we will consider more than 400 resolutions. A significant adaptation made for this General Convention because of the pandemic was the use of online technology to complete much of the preliminary work of convention before we came to Baltimore.
Although we have inherited the forms of catholic hierarchy as church, we live this out in praxis as a church that is also democratic at every level. Lay people are full partners in the governing councils of this church at every level from the parish level of wardens and vestries, to the denominational level as deputies to General Convention.
Any resolution to come before the two Houses of General Convention must first be presented to the wider church and public in open hearings. Many hearings took place in the months leading up to Convention online using Zoom and all resolutions to be considered had to be submitted a month before Convention. As result, there will be little need for hearings during Convention itself resulting in considerable time savings. Other time-saving strategies are being used, such as proactive employment of the “consent calendar” to allow less controversial, or more routine, items to move through the process more quickly. Any item may be removed from the consent calendar if deputies or bishops feel it requires fuller discussion. In order to be adopted by General Convention, every resolution must be passed by both Houses, which again underscores the significant place the laity have in our governance.
While our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, has another two years remaining in his term, the House of Deputies will elect a new President as The Reverend Gay Clark Jennings’ term has come to an end. Other persons will be elected to the Commission, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs) of the Church. In the Diocese of New Jersey, we want to acknowledge and give thanks for the ministry of Canon Noreen Duncan, whose term as a member of Executive Council of The Episcopal Church will be completed at the end of this Convention having been extended one year beyond the normal six because of the COVID19 pandemic. She has been a wonderful ambassador from our church, having travelled to Canada and Cuba to represent not only The Episcopal Church but also the Diocese of New Jersey.
If you want to know more about General Convention and follow what is happening or even join online in one of our worship services, follow this link.
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in Baltimore for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessings and peace.
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey