81st General Convention wraps up in Louisville

By ENS Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2024
Louisville skyline

Louisville, Kentucky, the state’s largest city, hosted the 81st General Convention of The Episcopal Church June 23-28, 2024. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The triennial Episcopal family reunion, worship extravaganza and legislative session that is General Convention was back in full force during its meeting here after the pandemic had pared down the previous gathering.

This year’s June 20-28 convention, six legislative days that began June 23 with three days of events before, was shorter than most past conventions, where legislative sessions typically spanned eight days or longer.

Presiding Bishop-elect Sean Rowe is flanked by 26th Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and 27th Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Photo: Randall A. Gornowich

The 80th General Convention, on the other hand, was postponed from 2021 to 2022 because of the pandemic, was shorted to just four days and had limited face-to-face engagement. That gathering also implemented other health precautions, such as daily testing, to slow the spread of COVID-19.

This week’s 81st General Convention was not without an appearance by COVID-19. Enough participants came down with the virus that some others wore masks and a nearby pharmacy reportedly ran out of Paxlovid, the antiviral used to treat the virus.

General Convention, as the church’s primary governing body, splits its authority between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. The two houses handled 390 resolutions, many passing via daily, sometimes massive, consent calendars.

While in Louisville, the convention elected the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe to be its the 28th presiding bishop, reelected Julia Ayala Harris as House of Deputies president, elected the Rev. Steve Pankey as deputies’ vice president, passed a $143 million budget for the next triennium, approved a constitutional change to clearly define the Book of Common Prayer, reexamined its clergy disciplinary canons while agreeing to consider how lay leaders might be disciplined for wrongdoing, and supported changes in the structures of seven of its dioceses.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris oversaw three joint meetings of their two houses during the June 23-28 General Convention. Photo: Scott Gunn

Outside the legislative chambers, several events brought together bishops, deputies and visitors to mingle, socialize, pray, worship and advocate. Convention continued the church’s public witness against gun violence and hosted a panel discussion on the church’s role in Indigenous boarding schools. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s last signature revival service at the KFC Yum! Center drew a crowd of more than 2,000 people who heard him urge everyone to “choose love because love can save us.”

Bishop Sean W. Rowe was elected presiding bishop

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe was elected The Episcopal Church’s 28th presiding bishop on June 26, 2024, during the 81st General Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Office of Public Affairs

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop diocesan of Northwest Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of Western New York, was elected June 26 on the first ballot by the House of Bishops to serve as the 28th presiding bishop. His election was confirmed by the House of Deputies.

Rowe’s election was announced by House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris on the house’s afternoon session, and the deputies confirmed that act with a nearly unanimous majority, 95% in favor.

He will begin his nine-year term as the public face and voice of The Episcopal Church and its chief pastor on Nov. 1, succeeding Curry, whose last day is Oct. 31.

The traditional elaborate installation service at Washington National Cathedral will not occur as originally announced. Instead, a simpler rite will take place Nov. 2 in the small chapel at the Church Center in New York. Rowe said he has “decided to begin this ministry in a new way.” The service will be livestreamed, and simultaneous interpretation will be available in multiple languages to ensure churchwide access.

To win, Rowe needed at least 82 votes from the 158 bishops who cast handwritten ballots. He received 89 votes, while Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker received 24, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright received 19, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez received 17 and Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe received 9.

Rowe becomes the youngest bishop ever elected to serve as the church’s presiding bishop and the second youngest overall since the first, William White, who was 41 when his first of two terms began in 1789.

Complete ENS coverage is here.

House of Deputies elections

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris addresses the House of Deputies June 25 after her election to a second term as president. Photo: Scott Gunn

House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris was reelected June 25, winning decisively on the first ballot and fending off challenges from the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, the deputies’ vice president, and Zena Link, a former Executive Council member.

Ayala Harris received 521 votes out of the 829 certified deputies on the floor for the election. Link placed second with 241 votes and Taber-Hamilton a distant third with 64. An election on that ballot required 414 votes.

The election was unusual for featuring an incumbent House of Deputies president facing a challenge. A sitting president has only faced a challenger once in modern history. That was in 2003 when the Very Rev. George L. W. Werner was reelected after being challenged by Louie Crew, lay deputy from Newark.

Unlike the presiding bishop, who is elected to head the House of Bishops for a nine-year term, the House of Deputies president is elected to a term that spans from one General Convention to the next – typically three years – and can be reelected for two additional terms.

Taber-Hamilton did not run for reelection as vice president.

The Rev. Steve Pankey, a deputy from the Diocese of Kentucky, was elected to that post from a slate of four candidates. The others were the Rev. John Floberg, a North Dakota deputy and priest at St. Luke’s, Fort Yates, Church of the Cross, Selfridge and St. James’, Cannon Ball; the Rev. Charles Graves IV, a campus missioner and deputy from the Diocese of Texas; and the Rev. Ruth Meyers, a Diocese of California deputy and professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.

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 determines who is eligible on the ballot for vice president.

In other elections, the convention chose 10 new members of Executive Council, which is the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. It also elected Episcopalians to several other positions and bodies. The results of those and other elections are here. Elections by the House of Bishops are here.

Retired Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas leads members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence and members of Youth Working to End Gun Violence from the Kentucky International Conference Center June 27 to a rally at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville. Photo: Randall A. Gornowich

Convention approves a $143 million budget for 2025-27

General Convention adopted a $143 million churchwide budget for 2025-27 without amendment and with little debate.

The adopted plan maintains the 15% assessment on revenue that dioceses contribute to the churchwide budget. In a related action, convention rejected a proposal that would have set a target for sharply reducing the assessment to 10% by 2033.

The budget plan funds 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.

Feedback on the budget plan, as summarized in Resolution A164, generally has been positive, with some exceptions. Throughout the budgeting process, some of the most vocal responses have been from church leaders calling for increased spending on creation care initiatives.

The adopted plan, however, still includes some flexibility as Rowe prepares to take office as presiding bishop. He and other church leaders are scheduled to meet in late September with the Joint Budget Committee to determine how to allocate $2 million the General Convention set aside for resolutions with budget implications that weren’t funded elsewhere in the budget.

The budget plan also calls for the new presiding bishop to oversee cost reductions over the next three years totaling nearly $3.6 million, through what Executive Council previously said would be a “strategic adaptive realignment of our institutional structures.” The budget plan expects church leaders to achieve that realignment through “attrition, restructuring and other reductions.”

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

Convention acts on Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982 questions

The Book of Common Prayer has a new constitutional definition: “Those liturgical forms and other texts authorized by the General Convention per this article and the Canons of this Church.”

Resolution A072 is a revision of Article X that was first approved two years ago by the 80th General Convention. Constitutional changes require affirmative votes at two successive conventions.

The previous version of Article X of the Constitution laid out how the Book of Common Prayer can be revised, but it did not address the status of other authorized liturgies that are not proposed revisions to the existing physical book. Over a dozen liturgical texts have been “authorized” – for trial use, experimental use, or simply “made available” – by General Convention over the years.

The resolution will take effect Jan. 1, 2025.

Bishops and deputies also authorized two alternative versions of Prayer C in Holy Eucharist Rite II and a variety of alternative readings or parts of readings for the Good Friday liturgy that many see as antisemitic. The resolutions are A114 and A115, respectively.

 In a related matter, convention declined to take any action on Resolution D002, which would have reviewed the requirement that only baptized persons receive Holy Communion.

Bishops and deputies refused to authorize a new supplement to The Hymnal 1982 (Resolution A131) but passed Resolution A130 authorizing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to spend the next three years developing a digital collection of alternative versions of hymns to address “colonialist, racist, white supremacist, imperialistic, and nationalistic language.”

Title IV disciplinary reforms

One of the top issues heading into Louisville was how the church might reform its Title IV Canons governing clergy discipline. General Convention routinely reviews and updates Title IV, though this year a series of proposals were submitted specifically in response to concerns across the church that the current disciplinary process sometimes causes secondary harm to complainants and that bishops are not always held to the same disciplinary standards as other clergy.

The bishops’ and deputies’ Title IV committees were assigned 28 resolutions, and nearly all either were passed by both houses, with or without amendment, or were referred to an interim body for more study over the next three years. All the resolutions are listed here.

Several of the resolutions proposed by the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons to improve accountability in the disciplinary process were passed. A053, for example, seeks to ensure the independence of the complaint intake officer, who should not also be tasked with providing pastoral care to complainants. A139 mandates an intake report be filed within 45 days of a complaint, while A140 mandates that a reference panel meet within 45 days of receiving the intake report to determine next steps. A054 clarifies the role and authority of the church attorney, and A055 clarifies the role of Title IV investigators.

Although the Title IV Canons only pertain to clergy discipline, General Convention also asked the standing commission to study whether canonical changes are merited in response to disciplinary matters involving lay leaders, as specified in resolutions A146 and A147.

Changes in dioceses’ borders, membership

The 81st convention approved an unprecedented four changes to dioceses in a move that could presage greater consolidation and diocesan cooperation for mission and ministry.

Bishops and deputies agreed to allow the dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan to form the new Diocese of the Great Lakes, while Eau Claire, Fond du Lac and Milwaukee got the go-ahead to reunite as the Diocese of Wisconsin. The pertinent resolutions are C025 and D051, respectively.

Convention approved Resolution B006 to merge Micronesia, another area mission, with the Diocese of Hawaiʻi.

Both houses agreed via Resolution C009 to Navajo Episcopalians’ request to elevate their area mission to a missionary diocese.

When Presiding Bishop-elect Sean Rowe spoke to the convention after his election, he pointed to signs of a hopeful future for the church in some of the collaborative experiments underway in some dioceses, including his own dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York.

“We know that we cannot continue being The Episcopal Church in the same way, no matter where we live,” he said. “It’s time to reorient our church … to support dioceses and churches on the ground, where ministry happens.”

The Israel-Palestine conflict

Gaza border

Israeli soldiers stand next to the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel on April 10, 2024. Photo: REUTERS

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 were proposed for bishops’ and deputies’ consideration. Debate on those resolutions took place during a convention that saw two demonstrations and a Compline for Palestine prayer service and included intense discussion about the use of the words “genocide” and “apartheid.”

A substitute version of Resolution D013 that was hammered out by a conference committee after fierce debate in both houses, emerged as a compromise that addresses more broadly the decades-old conflict and recent violence. While deploring the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas as “an indefensible act of terrorism,” the resolution states that the Israeli government “continues to commit acts and pass laws that result in fragmentation, segregation, and dispossession against the Palestinian people and the Occupied Territories.”

The convention also amended and passed Resolution D056 to remove a reference to “ongoing genocide” as it called for a ceasefire in Gaza. It also rejected A010, which would have labeled  Israel an “apartheid” state for its treatment of Palestinians.

Complete ENS coverage of the issues at convention is here.

Moving towards more full communion relationships

Bishops and deputies approved the next step toward full communion between The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church by adopting Resolution A049, saying that the convention “joyfully anticipate advancing towards full communion with The United Methodist Church.”

The convention “gladly” affirmed via Resolution A042 to authorize the continuing bilateral dialogue between The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Further afield, General Convention commended Sharing the Gifts of Communion (Augsburg Agreement) as the basis for a full communion relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern (ELKB) (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria)

The Episcopal Church currently is in full communion with seven churches: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; the Moravian Church-Northern and Southern Provinces; the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India; the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht; the Philippine Independent Church; and the Church of Sweden.

On the lighter side Part I: celebrating a disco legacy

Deputies took full advantage of the fact that Louisville has produced 90% of the world’s disco balls, and the city remains the only city in the U.S. still making them. The house’s June 26 evening session was dubbed the “House of Deputies After Dark” with glow sticks, colored lights and disco music.

The evening before Diocese of Kentucky Night featured a silent “Episco-disco” dance party at Christ Church Cathedral, just a few blocks from the convention center.

And, as convention closed its Virtual Binders for good on June 28, Ayala Harris awarded the disco ball trophy to the three dioceses that are newly reuniting as the Diocese of Wisconsin for having the best-decorated stanchions marking their deputations’ places on the House of Deputies floor. The stanchions for Eau Claire, Fond du Lac and Milwaukee featured puzzle pieces that fit together as the Diocese of Wisconsin.

On the lighter side Part II: AI-aided aging

It’s not common to hear loud guffaws coming from the Church Pension Group’s booth in the Exhibit Hall but that’s where laughter repeatedly rang out during this convention. CPG, which administers clergy and lay pensions, invited attendees to “picture your retirement today.” Participants took a selfie at a photo booth which then used AI to age them – beautifully.

— Wrap coverage was compiled by the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, who retired as ENS senior reporter in 2019. Stories were reported and written by David Paulsen, ENS senior reporter and editor; Shireen Korkzan, ENS reporter and assistant editor; Melodie Woerman, regular ENS freelance reporter; and, Logan Crews a freelance reporter and seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Janet Kawamoto, of the Diocese of Los Angeles, served as copyeditor. Lynette Wilson is the managing editor of Episcopal New Service.