Here are the basics. General Convention is the primary governing body of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church and the US government were organized around the same time and have a lot in common. General Convention is our legislative branch. It meets every three years. There are two houses – House of Bishops and House of Deputies.
Like the Senate, the House of Bishops is smaller. All bishops, active or retired, have seat and voice – potentially around 300, but some of the retired bishops choose not to attend. Bishops meet often between General Convention in a non-legislative capacity, so they get to know one another well. By design, they move more slowly on issues.
The House of Deputies is much larger – four clergy and four lay people elected from almost every diocese in the Episcopal Church, potentially over 900 people. This group meets once every three years – only occasionally are special meetings called between conventions. Deputies don’t know one another as well. The diversity of the church is more apparent among the Deputies. Deputies are free to vote their own mind on a matter.
Decisions of convention are made in the form of resolutions. Dioceses, bishops, deputies, committees, agencies, and boards can all submit proposed resolutions. Convention committees, composed of both bishops and deputies, review these proposals and decide whether to bring them to the floor. A public hearing is held on every resolution that comes to the floor. Resolutions must pass in both houses in identical form to become part of the life of the church.
The process is cumbersome and frustrating, and several proposed changes will be discussed this year (moving to a unicameral model, fewer deputies, etc.). In spite of the complexity, the work of Convention is truly beautiful. I love being part of a church where bishops, priests, deacons, and laity all make decisions together. Resolutions get better as they go through this process. The Holy Spirit really does work through this awkward vessel.
General Convention is part legislative session and part revival. Daily Eucharist and excellent preaching ground the work. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching some of the worship (available at the media hub link above). A schedule of preachers and presiders is here.
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel at General Convention 2015 for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.