Smaller Convention for a Smaller Church?

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which meets this summer and every three years is well-known to be one of the largest legislative bodies in the world. With 4 clergy delegates and 4 alternate delegates from each diocese and the same number of laity making up the House of Deputies, and hundreds of bishops in the House of Bishops, including any retired bishop that cares to pay his or her own way, the Convention is inevitably run by the few delegates who have managed to be elected again and again and who work their way up the committee food-chain. The bewildered crowds often vote at great speed for all manner of resolutions addressing concerns sacred and secular.

Most conventions in the past decades have at the same time rejected resolutions that would have reduced the number of delegates. Our Assistant Minister just pointed out to me that the Bishop of Long Island recently signalled his intention to introduce such a resolution this summer. He would reduce the clergy and lay delegations by half and permit only active bishops and suffragans to attend the House of Bishops.

The standard objection is that fewer delegates would mean fewer minority representatives. (I don’t think anyone would now worry about fewer women, since the two Convention figureheads and the majority of many delegations are already female.) And many voting will realize that a smaller convention will deprive them of their chance to attend in the future.

Still, Bishop Provenzano’s case is cogently argued and hard to refute. The fact that he is on the extreme liberal wing of the church may also help his plea for radical–yet reasonable–change. —J. Douglas Ousley

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