A truly memorable experience
By Ty Welles
The first and most lasting impression to me as a first-time deputy to the General Convention was the immense size of everything. We took over four major halls of the Convention Center in Anaheim, California. On the second floor was the House of Bishops (which I never saw), and on the first floor were three halls, each approximately the size of two football fields.
One was the exhibit hall, filled with booths of every description and representing every imaginable Episcopal organization. There were enough items from foreign lands for my wife Linda to buy all her Christmas presents.
A second hall housed the House of Deputies. We have approximately 110 dioceses from around the world, and each diocese has eight deputies (four clergy and four lay), so that means we have more than 850 deputies. The House of Bishops has more than 200 members, so between the two there are more than 1000 folks legislating . We are told that we are the second largest legislative body in the world, behind the Parliament of India.
In the House of Deputies, in addition to seating for the 800+ deputies, there is room for alternates, visitors, the press, working volunteers and seemingly lots of others. During legislative sessions (which lasted usually six hours a day broken into two sessions) almost everyone was always present. There were eight speakers’ stations scattered around the hall, each with a microphone and a light bulb, which went on when someone was waiting to speak. The President of the House would call on people in rotation, and when they were speaking they were projected on two large screens next to the dais and on smaller screens around the hall.
Over ten legislative days we considered more than 400 resolutions (or pieces of legislation). Every resolution goes to a committee first (which holds hearings), and is considered by both houses. If either house amends a resolution, it goes back to committee and then back to the other house, so many resolutions were considered more than once.
While it sounds like Congress or a parliament, we were always reminded that this was a religious convention. Every morning session started with a meditation by the Chaplain of the House. To me, these were some of the most meaningful words we heard. When resolutions which were particularly controversial or passionately debated came up for a vote, the Chaplain usually led a thoughtful and sensitive prayer either before or after the vote. And when the leaders were debating among themselves some parliamentary dispute or our voting devices were momentarily glitched, we stood and were led in hymn-singing with the words projected on the screens.
The third hall was used primarily for the daily Eucharists. Most folks – deputies, visitors, volunteers and guests – came to the Eucharist each day. There was a wide variety of preachers – the Presiding Bishop (twice), the President of the House of Deputies, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and lots of others, all inspiring. Every service incorporated at least one other language besides English – French, Spanish, Navajo, Inuit, and a passel of others I couldn’t begin to recognize.
The music was amazing – in addition to the large volunteer choir, there was a children’s chorus, African drumming, and lots of others. The highlight was the Festival Eucharist on Sunday. Hundreds upon hundreds of clergy and bishops came into the hall in procession in colorful garb. There were streamers, and about eight younger folk swirling in sync different-colored sheets. And size – the number of people filling the hall approached ten thousand people!
The work of the Convention is important. Even though it only meets every three years, it is the body that rules the Episcopal Church. But the other things at the Convention – meeting people from around the church, being part of the services, seeing the spectacle, building a community within your diocesan deputation – all this and more make going to General Convention a truly memorable experience.
[Charles H. “Ty” Welles, IV, Esq., email@example.com, serves as Chancellor for the Diocese of Bethlehem. This is his first time as an elected deputy to General Convention.]