Four Things You Need to Know about General Convention This Year

The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge

By the Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge

The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) seventy-eighth triennial General Convention, running from June 25 to July 3, 2015, in Salt Lake City, UT, will take up a number of key issues ranging from church-wide restructuring to marriage equality to the election of a new presiding bishop to the church’s relationship to alcohol.

In December 2014, the Task Force
for Reimagining The Episcopal Church 
(TREC) released its wide-ranging, thought-provoking report. Grounded in
the Anglican Consultative Council’s Five
 Marks of Mission, the report makes both 
broadly adaptive and concrete, technical
 proposals. Its most noted proposal is to
 shrink the size of the General Convention and to make it uni- rather than bi-cameral. Additionally, the report envisions the presiding bishop as “the CEO of the church, Chair of the Executive Council, and President of DFMS, with clear managerial responsibility for all DFMS staff.” The report invites us to consider how we can most effectively and creatively use, indeed transform, our structures and assets to embolden the church as it shifts fully into a post-Christendom era.

Not unrelated to structure is the election of the next presiding bishop. The role and scope of the position has shifted a great deal since its earliest days when it was reserved for the most senior bishop in the church, who also continued serving on the diocesan as well as the church-wide level.

A third major topic for Convention will be marriage equality. With resolution A050, the seventy-seventh General Convention created the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which released its final Blue Book report in January. In seven essays it articulates an expansive theology of Christian marriage, discusses marriage’s evolving historical forms, and explores changing trends and norms regarding family and sexuality. The report also proposes a revision of the marriage canon with clearer grounding in pastoral care and practice, as well as access for couples of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music also invites the church into a more expansive theology of marriage. It calls for the liturgy in I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing to be made available for different-sex as well as same-sex couples, and also offers adaptations of the 1979 and 1928 marriage liturgies for same-sex couples. All resolutions on marriage will come to a Special Joint Legislative Committee devoted to this topic.

Finally, the Convention will convene a House of Deputies special legislative committee to review the church’s policy on alcohol and drug abuse originally passed by the 1985 General Convention. This committee was formed in response to the December 2014 accident in which bicyclist Thomas Palermo was killed by a car driven by Bishop Heather Cook of the Diocese of Maryland. Cook’s indictment on thirteen counts, including vehicular homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol, has helped prompt urgent questions about the Episcopal Church’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism.

Much will unfold at General Convention this June. May the Spirit blow us where it will, and may we be prayerfully opened in the journey.

The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge is an adjunct faculty member at EDS. He attended the seventy-sixth and seventy-seventh General Conventions and served on the Marriage Task Force during the 2012–2015 triennium. He looks forward to attending General Convention in June.