Deputies’ new deadlines for resolutions, committees give a nod to General Convention’s future

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 27, 2024

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The Episcopal Church experienced a pandemic-shortened General Convention in 2022, and this week, it is wrapping up a post-pandemic 81st General Convention that, at six legislative days, is still shorter than the historical norm.

On June 27, the House of Deputies began laying the foundation for what General Convention will look like in the future with votes on rules establishing new deadlines for resolutions and committee reports. Although deputies underscored the relational and missional importance of meeting face-to-face, they also approached consensus that the church shouldn’t return to the lengthy in-person gatherings of the past.

“I love this house,” the Rev. David Sibley, deputy from the Diocese of Spokane, said in the morning session; yet, given the duration of the house’s legislative sessions this week and the hundreds of resolutions the house was asked to consider – 381, to be exact – he feels like he has aged more than 20 years in Louisville.

Sibley, who just turned 39, begged General Convention to build on efforts to streamline the triennial churchwide gathering and to “move forward, while my child is still a child.”

Sibley and other deputies were responding to Resolution D048. Rather than a shortened General Convention, it would have called for a return to legislative sessions across at least 10 days, as was customary until the last decade. That resolution, proposed by Deputy Paul Ambos of New Jersey, had almost no support in the House of Deputies and was easily voted down.

Debate on three other resolutions, however, highlighted some of the differing views on the most effective ways to conduct shorter conventions. All three were recommended by the Rules of Order Committee: A152 sets a deadline for filing resolutions of 60 days before the in-person legislative sessions, A156 authorizes committees to receive written testimony on resolutions and A157 requires committees to file their reports at least seven days before General Convention’s in-person legislative sessions, after the committees have conducted hearings and deliberations online.

A156, on written testimony, passed easily on a voice vote. The deputies conducted roll call votes for the other two, and large majorities supported both – 85% in favor of A152’s resolution deadline and 80% in favor of A157’s committee deadline. A152 and A157 both contain options for deputies and committees to overrule the deadlines, if there is sufficient support.

All three resolutions will take full effect for the 82nd General Convention, set for 2027 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Several other Rules of Order resolutions were presented on June 23, the first day of this General Convention, and either were rejected or took effect immediately after passage.)

The Rev. Steve Pankey presented the three final rules changes on behalf of the deputies’ Rules of Order Committee, which he chaired. The 60-day deadline for resolutions would “allow time for the committees to schedule, announce and to hold hearings and to complete their work” before the General Convention Office, which facilitates the online meeting, shifts its focus to on-site preparations for the in-person meeting.

The 60-day deadline would be waived if at least 15 deputies petition to submit a resolution after the deadline. The deadline does not apply to diocesan conventions, provincial synods or legislative committees.

The 80th General Convention in 2022 was the first time committees held hearings online and completed most of their business in advance before gathering for a pandemic-shortened four days in Baltimore, Maryland. That experience, and the continued use of Zoom for committee meetings this year, have helped open Episcopal Church’s governance to “unprecedented access to the wider church,” Pankey said.

Episcopalians and other interested parties no longer must travel to the convention’s host city to observe and testify at hearings and meetings, Pankey said. Church officials reported earlier in the week that the committees’ spring 2024 online sessions had logged 2,500 attendees.

“No system is perfect,” Pankey said, but the Rules of Order Committee concluded that “these changes will greatly expand the opportunity for Episcopalians to be involved in General Convention.”

He also affirmed what he called “the new reality” that General Convention will continue to be shorter than 10 days, though it remains to be seen whether four days, six days or another duration will become the norm. Dates have not yet been set for the 82nd General Convention.

The Rules of Order are approved by the House of Deputies at the start of every General Convention. They structure all aspects of the house’s business, from how and when legislative committees receive and deliberate over resolutions to whether individual resolutions can be discussed on the floor of the house before a final vote. The House of Bishops follows its own Rules of Order, though the two houses typically coordinate their schedules to ensure legislation advances smoothly. The two houses also have a short set of Joint Rules of Order.

Rules of Order changes adopted this week by the House of Deputies were developed last year and revised in response to deputies’ feedback by a special committee appointed by President Julia Ayala Harris. The aim was to take the lessons learned at the 80th General Convention in Baltimore and apply them to future triennial meetings.

Deputy Robert Ambroji of the Diocese of New Hampshire, speaking in favor of the 60-day deadline, said the hundreds of resolutions submitted to General Convention every three years is too many – and more than what other Protestant denominations’ governing bodies consider.

“Some may say [the new deadline] stifles the voice of the deputies. It does not, if we collectively do our homework,” Ambroji said.

Zoe Cole, a deputy from Colorado, objected to Ambroji’s characterization, and she argued against the 60-day deadline. “This isn’t a matter of doing our homework, which many of us already do,” Cole said. The deadline “won’t do anything to reduce the number of resolutions that come to convention.”

She and some other deputies urged the house to allow time over the next three years for the church to study the experience of bishops and deputies at the past two pandemic-altered meetings of General Convention. Resolution D022, which the two houses adopted earlier this week, asks the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons to conduct that study and report back to the 82nd General Convention with recommendations.

Pankey said the deputies’ new rules can take effect while the standing commission conducts the study requested by D022.

The previous house rules had allowed deputies to file new resolutions until the end of the second legislative day, which was June 24 at this meeting, though privilege and courtesy resolutions are still being accepted.

The Rev. Jason Wells of the Diocese of New Hampshire shared a recent conversation he had with a leader in the Presbyterian Church, which convenes its biennial General Assembly on June 30 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wells said he asked how long the Presbyterians meet and how may resolutions they typically consider. The response: four days and about 150 resolutions.

“When I picked my jaw up off the floor, I proceeded to ask her, what do you ascribe that to?” Well said. “Her answer was immediate. An earlier resolution deadline.”

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


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