Presiding officers announce plan for tightened COVID-19 precautions at 80th General Convention

By ENS staff
Posted May 26, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s presiding officers plan to recommend enhanced public health precautions for a shorter in-person meeting of the 80th General Convention in July that would include frequent rapid testing for COVID-19 and wearing of high-quality face masks at nearly all times.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, announced the additional precautions on May 26 after meeting with the General Convention Design Group, which is advising the two presiding officers on how best to hold a scaled-down General Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.

The final plan will be submitted for approval June 7 by the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements and Executive Council. If the plan is backed by those two bodies, the 80th General Convention will be reduced from eight to four days, July 8 to 11.

“We are grateful to everyone who is working to make this General Convention safer and to everyone who is bearing with the disruption in travel plans and summer schedules with grace and forbearance,” Curry and Jennings said in a letter to the church. “As COVID-19 rates continue to increase both in Baltimore and across the United States, please keep praying for all those who are sick and those who have died.”

General Convention already was preparing to require all attendees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and to follow a mask mandate. The new mask mandate outlined on May 26 would make exceptions only for people speaking in legislative sessions who are physically distanced from others.

To facilitate rapid testing, the church would provide five tests to attendees when they pick up their badges, and they would be asked to test after checking into their hotel rooms and again each morning of the four-day meeting, according to the design group’s proposal.

Church leaders continue to deliberate on another key change to the 80th General Convention, prioritizing legislation that needs to be taken up in July while postponing noncritical matters to 2024 when the 81st General Convention meets in Louisville, Kentucky.

“We know that for some of you, this is like asking you to pick between your children,” Michael O. Glass, vice chancellor to the House of Deputies and chair of its Resolution Review Committee, said during a May 25 meeting between the General Convention Design Group and legislative committee officers.

The revised legislative process under consideration likely would extend online committee work through next month, with a June 6 deadline for submitting resolutions and June 25 as the last day for committees to complete their work. The design group is expected to offer its final legislative recommendations next week.

In addition to a shorter General Convention, the presiding officers’ design group is recommending that attendance be restricted to bishops, deputies, essential staff and volunteers and a limited media presence. Visitors generally will not be allowed. Dioceses will be asked to send only two alternate deputies, and inactive bishops will be asked to stay home. There also will be no exhibit hall under the pending plan, and church-affiliated organizations will be asked not to hold events in Baltimore during General Convention.

General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church, and its triennial meeting typically is the church’s largest gathering drawing between  5,000 and 10,000 people to the host city over two weeks. As a bicameral legislature, it is made up of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese.

The 80th General Convention was originally scheduled for July 2021 but was postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The delay allowed legislative committees time to get to work much earlier than normal – and online for the first time.