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Article | July 5, 2024

Congregation Update: Key Takeaways from the 81st General Convention

Blog|The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi

Dear Friends,

Just around the corner from Fourth Street Live, with restaurants featuring smoked meats and Kentucky’s most celebrated beverage at every turn, some 5000 Episcopalians converged on Louisville in our 81st General Convention. The triennial convening of Bishops, clergy, and lay deputies from dioceses as far-flung as Taiwan, Europe, and Latin America, as well as the United States, serves as the principal governing body of The Episcopal Church. There were more than 200 pieces of legislation considered in five days of proceedings. For a comprehensive overview, see Episcopal News Service’s General Convention coverage or the official website of the General Convention. Here are my key takeaways for our local context.

  • The church is still split about same-sex marriage. Although same-sex marriage has been enshrined, and the rites developed and approved, a small but vocal minority of the church is still unsettled about it. This shows itself in legislation to preserve The 1979 Book of Common Prayer as doctrine and practice ad infinitum. In the debates about “communion across difference” the proponents of traditional marriage hope to preserve freedom to not allow or perform same-sex marriages specifically — clergy always have discretion with any couple — and to do so without perceived or actual repercussions. In my view, this situation is not an immediate cause for alarm; rather, it reminds us that our local context is not representative of the whole.
  • Grace Cathedral’s social justice initiatives are well-aligned with those of the wider church. 

a. A leading issue is the epidemic of gun violence. The House of Deputies declared gun violence a mental health crisis, and Bishops United Against Gun Violence held a march and rally with Youth Working to End Gun Violence in the midst of the Convention. In the spirit of Grace Cathedral’s initiative Beyond Thoughts and Prayers, the Office of Government Relations recommends three ways to advocate on the issue: Urge Congress to End Gun Violence, to Pass Safe Storage Laws, and to Regulate Ghost Guns.

b. Second on the social justice front is the specter of slavery in its many insidious forms. The House of Deputies repudiated its own 19th-century president’s support of slavery. Simultaneously, back at home we came one step closer to ending slavery for good with the passage of the pivotal CA state assembly bill ACA-8 in the house. Learn more with Alma Robinson Moses’ blog post.

  • The way to a new prayer book is to redefine rather than revise and reissue. The momentum toward prayer book reform began almost immediately upon the publication of The Book of Common Prayer (1979). In the intervening 45 years, the General Convention has authorized a suite of resources for use throughout the church, including gender-inclusive versions of three Rite II Eucharistic prayers published in the 1979 BCP. The 2024 convention redefined The Book of Common Prayer to mean all the authorized resources of the church. As the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers pointed out, this doesn’t diminish the revision process, it just adapts the publication medium to the 21st century.
  • The church is ripe for administrative — perhaps structural — reform. The House of Bishops elected the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe to succeed the Most Rev. Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop — in one ballot. This clear consensus signals a readiness to, in Rowe’s words, “think differently about how [we] should work.” Presiding Bishop-elect Rowe’s first decision was to be installed in the chapel of the church’s headquarters rather than a grand (and expensive) affair at National Cathedral; his first sermon prompts us to examine “our attachment to the old ways that no longer serve us.”

Finally, although the outcome was governance, I found the experience of the General Convention to be prayerful. We’ve become an officially tri-lingual (English, Spanish, and French) worshipping body, and even the shortest times of prayer included song. Common prayer still holds us together.

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