Louisville set to host 81st General Convention in return of large, churchwide gathering

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 18, 2024
Convention halls

The 81st General Convention gets underway June 23-28 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] However you pronounce Louisville, the city’s downtown soon will become a hub of Episcopal Church governance, networking, fellowship and celebration when the Diocese of Kentucky hosts the 81st General Convention from June 23-28.

Church staff already are in town getting the Kentucky International Convention Center ready for the triennial churchwide gathering, and legislative committee meetings and other pre-convention events get underway this week. And with the COVID-19 pandemic mostly in the rear-view mirror, this General Convention marks a return to the full gathering that wasn’t possible at the last meeting, in 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.

“We are excited about finally being together again in a post-pandemic environment,” the Rev. Michael Barlowe, General Convention’s executive officer, said in a phone interview with Episcopal News Service. He offered praise for Kentucky Bishop Terry White and his diocese’s team of staff and volunteers as they prepare to offer a warm welcome.

“They have been really looking forward to having their siblings in Christ, fellow Episcopalians, joining them, and they have been working hard to provide the kind of welcome that you’d expect,” Barlowe said.

The playful debate over the potential existence of an authentic pronunciation of Louisville is itself one of the city’s trademarks. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

As for the correct way to say Louisville, a safe choice is to swallow the middle syllable, rendering it as “Loo-vull,” though the playful text that is displayed on the outside of the Louisville Visitor Center gives equal weight to “Louavul,” “Luhvul,” “Loueville,” “Looaville” and “Loueyvile.”

This year’s convention, at six days, is shorter than most past conventions, where legislative sessions typically spanned eight days or longer. The 79th General Convention, for example, was officially nine days when it convened in Austin, Texas, in 2018.

The 80th General Convention, on the other hand, was postponed a year to 2022 because of the pandemic, and when bishops and deputies finally gathered in Baltimore that July, church leaders shortened it to just four days while limiting face-to-face engagement and implementing other health precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Now, with pandemic restrictions lifted, Barlowe said he expects a full complement of bishops, deputies, staff, exhibitors, church-affiliated groups and other visitors to travel to Louisville, which could attract a historic high of 10,000 attendees over the next two weeks.

One big draw will be the opportunity to thank Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for his nine years of service as the 81st General Convention prepares to elect and confirm his successor. Curry, whose term ends Oct. 31, will headline a revival June 21 at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center.

“Louisville is also a city that a lot of Episcopalians can drive to,” Barlowe noted. All the hotel rooms that his team reserved for the convention are booked, and General Convention even had to increase its blocks of reservations – about 21,000 “room nights” – because of the high demand.

General Convention, as the church’s primary governing body, splits its authority between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Deputations from 108 dioceses, along with the Episcopal Church in Navajoland and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, were invited to attend, though some dioceses may be absent due to travel restrictions. Registered attendees include 167 bishops, two bishop-elects, 829 deputies and 239 alternate deputies.

It takes about three years to plan each meeting of General Convention, with preparations for the next meeting starting almost as soon as the last one ends. Sites are selected even further in advance. The church already has set Phoenix, Arizona, as the site for the 82st General Convention in 2027,  and this month, bishops and deputies will consider whether to accept a slate of five nominated cities for the 83rd General Convention in 2030.

Galt House

The Galt House, a hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, is about a block north of the convention center and one of seven hotels booked for attendees of the 81st General Convention. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

In addition to highlighting the host diocese’s ministries, General Convention can be a boon for local businesses. Barlowe said his office estimates that the 81st General Convention will contribute about $10-20 million to Louisville’s economy, through lodging, meals, entertainment and other spending by attendees.

General Convention’s net cost to the church is about $1 million, Barlowe said. Revenues from registration fees and the sold-out exhibit hall’s 144 exhibitors offset some of the church’s expenses.

This meeting also will feature House of Deputies elections, adoption of a 2025-27 churchwide budget plan and votes on hundreds of resolutions on a range of topics, from new liturgies, canonical changes and governance structures to the church’s public policy stances on migration, the environment, Middle East peace and other issues.

In other words, this General Convention is kind of a big deal.

Whether you’re packing your bags to travel to Louisville or interested in following it from a distance, ENS has you covered.

If you are going: About the host city

The Kentucky International Convention Center is a glass-walled facility centrally located in downtown Louisville, the state’s largest city. The convention center completed a $207 million renovation and expansion in 2018, and it features a roof-top support structure that eliminates the need for beams in the center of the convention hall.

Louisville is a gateway city to the South located on the banks of the Ohio River. It is perhaps best known for its horse racing, and as “the birthplace of Bourbonism,” as some downtown signs boast. The Kentucky Derby celebrated 150 years on May 4 at Churchill Downs, located about four miles south of downtown. The convention center is adjacent to the city’s Bourbon District, though bishops and deputies should be aware of adopted General Convention resolutions setting policies on responsible alcohol consumption at church events.

The city also is known as the home of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and was the hometown of the late boxing great Muhammad Ali, who is buried east of downtown in the Cave Hill Cemetery. The museum that bears Ali’s name is within walking distance of the convention center and hotels.

And just north of Muhammad Ali Boulevard, Fourth Street becomes a block-long pedestrian mall, Fourth Street Live!, with attractions that include performance space, a bowling alley and a restaurant branded with Food Network star Guy Fieri.

Ali and horse murals

Murals in downtown Louisville celebrate legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, a Louisville native, and the city’s most famous sport, horse racing. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

If you are staying home: How to follow online

The best way to get the latest news from the 81st General Convention is to follow Episcopal News Service’s daily coverage, which will be compiled and updated here.

Detailed information about the triennial meeting can be found on the General Convention Office website including the official schedule and an extensive calendar of events.

Livestreams will be available of each of the legislative sessions June 23-28 in both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Those can be found on The Episcopal Church’s Media Hub, which also will include the kickoff revival, worship services and occasional news conferences.

All resolutions under consideration by the 81st General Convention are posted to the Virtual Binder. Each is assigned to either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies as the “house of initial action,” though both houses must approve the same language for a resolution to be adopted.

Kickoff revival and worship services

Regular conventioneers likely will remember Curry’s lively sermon at the Austin revival in 2018. After limiting sermons to pre-recorded videos in 2022, General Convention has a full-fledged revival planned for 7 p.m. Eastern June 22 at the Yum! Center, an indoor arena near the convention center with enough seating for 8,000. It will be Curry’s 27th revival since he became presiding bishop in November 2015.

KFC Yum! Center

The KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville will be the site of a revival on June 22 that will kick off the 81st General Convention. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The revival “invites Episcopalians to reclaim our faith and to dare to live it anew,” Curry told ENS last month. It will be preceded by an afternoon “Learning Party,” featuring six workshops on evangelism, reconciliation and creation care that will take place at the nearby Christ Church Cathedral.

Bishops and deputies also will gather for five joint worship services, each starting at 8:30 a.m. The first will be a Eucharist on June 23 with a sermon by House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris. Curry is set to preach at the final Eucharist on June 28. The full schedule and details are available online.

Key elections in both houses

Five bishops will stand for election as the 28th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. They are Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright and Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York.

Christ Church Cathedral

Election of a new presiding bishop will take place June 26 at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The five candidates are scheduled to address bishops and deputies in a two-hour session at 4 p.m. June 21.

Then on June 26, the House of Bishops will convene in closed session at Christ Church Cathedral for the election. The result will be conveyed to the House of Deputies, which will be asked to confirm the winner. The 28th presiding bishop is scheduled begin a new nine-year term on Nov. 1, and an installation is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Washington National Cathedral.

Ayala Harris, as the incumbent House of Deputies president, is running for re-election against two challengers, Zena Link and the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, who is the sitting vice president. They are scheduled to participate in an in-person forum at 2 p.m. June 21.

And three people have declared candidacies for deputies’ vice president: the Rev. Charles Graves IV of the Diocese of Texas, the Rev. Ruth Meyers of the Diocese of California and the Rev. Steve Pankey of the Diocese of Kentucky. (Taber-Hamilton has said she won’t run for re-election.) A forum will be held at 7 a.m. June 27.

The presidential election is expected to occur on June 25 and the vice presidential election on June 27. Episcopal Church Canons require that the two positions be held by leaders from different orders, clergy and lay, so the outcome of the presidential election will determine who will be eligible on the ballot for vice president.

The two houses also will vote in several other churchwide elections, including 10 new members of Executive Council, which is the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. The full roster of candidates can be found here.

$143 million budget plan proposed for 2025-27

Under a new budgeting process adopted by General Convention in 2022, the Joint Budget Committee finalized its draft of the 2025-27 churchwide budget plan in January, and later that month, Executive Council voted to recommend the $143 million plan to the 81st General Convention.

The draft plan would fund 140 full-time equivalent staff positions, along with grant programs, churchwide governance, operational functions and initiatives focused on some of the church’s top ministry priorities, including racial healing, evangelism and creation care.

Information on the budgeting process is available here, and the itemized proposal can be found here.

An online hearing on the budget was held May 16, and an in-person hearing is set for 11 a.m. June 22. The Joint Budget Committee will present the proposal to a joint session of bishops and deputies at 10:30 a.m. June 24, after which it will be opened to any amendments before final adoption.

The proposal includes about $1.5 million to facilitating in-person meetings of the church’s interim bodies, such as the task forces that are mandated by any resolutions adopted this year. Separately, an additional $2 million would be set aside to respond to funding requests that were included in resolutions but not in the budget. The Joint Budget Committee has scheduled a meeting in September to review all resolutions with budget implications and decide how best to allocate that $2 million, with final approval by Executive Council.

In addition to the budget vote, bishops and deputies are expected to consider a proposal to set a target for sharply reducing the assessment on revenue that each diocese contributes to the churchwide budget. If Resolution C008 is adopted, church leaders would begin planning to lower the rate from 15% to 10% by 2033.

Kentucky International Convention Center

The 81st General Convention will convene June 23-28 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville, a facility that completed a major expansion and renovation in 2018. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Other top legislative priorities

Prayer book revision: General Convention regularly considers dozens of resolutions endorsing prayer book additions, trial-use liturgies, new feast days and other liturgical updates. This year is no exception, though one of the most significant resolutions regarding prayer book revision has already been approved once, in 2022. Resolution A072 seeks to define the Book of Common Prayer as approved liturgical forms and texts that transcend their printed publication. Because this is a constitutional change, it requires a second vote by the 81st General Convention.

Diocesan mergers: Two years ago, bishops and deputies authorized the reunion of the Episcopal Church in North Texas, a Fort Worth-based diocese, with the larger Diocese of Texas. This year, two more diocesan mergers will be up for votes, along with two other special cases. The dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan have asked to form the new Diocese of the Great Lakes, while the three dioceses in Wisconsin want to reunite as the Diocese of Wisconsin. The Episcopal Church in Navajoland, an area mission, has asked to be elevated to the status of missionary diocese. And another resolution seeks to merge Micronesia, another area mission, with the Diocese of Hawai’i.

Israel-Palestine: Conflict in the Middle East is always a hot topic at General Convention, and with Israel’s war on Hamas now extending past eight months, at least 16 resolutions related to the conflict have been proposed for bishops’ and deputies’ consideration. The most closely watched resolutions likely will be A010, which would label Israel an “apartheid” state for its treatment of Palestinians, and D013, a potential compromise resolution that addresses more broadly the decades-old conflict and recent violence.

United Methodist dialogue: When the United Methodist Church voted in April at its General Conference in favor of a full communion agreement with The Episcopal Church, it put the ball in the court of the 81st General Convention to decide whether Episcopalians, too, were ready to take a big step forward in their ecumenical dialogue. The latest draft of Resolution A049 wouldn’t go quite that far, but it would celebrate the Methodists’ recent votes affirming LGBTQ+ people, while setting out needed action before The Episcopal Church would vote on full communion.

David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.