First-time general convention clergy deputy, Fr. Chas Marks who serves as diocesan Transitions Missioner and Rector of St. Augustine’s in Kansas City, shares his personal reflection on the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held in Baltimore July 8 -11.
Now that I am back home from GC80 (the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church) in Baltimore, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience there as a first-time deputy.
This was a General Convention like none other in that our time together and our numbers were both limited due to some fairly stringent COVID precautions. These precautions did seem to pay off in the long run, for although there were some deputies and bishops who became ill, the numbers were overall, pretty small in comparison to what they might have been.
At one point, I complained that all the fun things had been taken away from the convention this year. In some sense that was true as there was no exhibit hall and no big parties or other social gatherings. In spite of that, we did manage to have some fun – mostly within the pod of our deputation – but fun nonetheless. In fact, getting to know these fellow West Missourians better and working together with them was definitely one of the high points of the convention.
It was also great to see friends from all over the Church. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people that I knew who were present for GC80 representing dioceses from around the Church. It was also great to meet some new folks and learn about what is going on in the church where they serve.
While we did have our share of technical difficulties with WiFi and our voting system, we did get quite a bit of work accomplished. The work that I am most proud of is the legislation around finding and telling the truth about the history of racism within our Church and our involvement with boarding schools for Indigenous children. This is going to be hard work, but it is work that is absolutely necessary. One resolution was passed calling for the establishment of an Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice. I know that St. Augustine’s and, I hope, our diocese will look forward to being a part of this coalition and the work that they are committed to doing.
One of the great gifts of gathering together like this is experiencing the great breadth of our church. There were 107 Dioceses of The Episcopal Church represented (I believe). There were long-time deputies and lots of us first-timers. There were octogenarians and a good number of deputies in their 20s. We are a church that is urban and rural, from communities all over this nation and other parts of the world. We are a gumbo of races, languages, gender identities, sexualities, and many, many theological differences and opinions. Yet, we remain united in following the Way of Jesus in the Anglican tradition. And that’s not always easy – but it never has been. The Holy Spirit keeps working to bind us all closer and closer together through our differences.
We remain a fairly top-heavy Church with an annual budget of over $50 million. There was a move to work towards addressing this and a close vote followed. Sadly the amendment to work toward shrinking our budget for future years did not pass, but I hope our voice was heard. We cannot continue to budget for the Church we were 20 years ago. And while we do good things with the money, perhaps more good things could also be done if that money stayed at the diocesan and parish level.
Some of the most moving moments happened when Indigenous deputies shared stories of the generational trauma caused by the boarding school system that our Church supported. The Bishop of Maryland called us all to really do the work of repairing the breach that racism has caused in our church and in our nation. Our new president of the House of Deputies, the first Latina woman to be elected to this position, called us to really look for those on the margins and carry the Good News of Jesus to them. While there was much laughter at times – there were other times when there were many tears – tears of sadness, and tears of hope and joy.
And perhaps it is the hope that left the biggest impression on me after my experience at General Convention. We live in a world that is hurting so much and is so divided. Yet, here we are as a church – as the Body of Christ gathered together – saying that we are willing to do the hard work we need to do to be bridge builders – to be those who bring tidings of peace – to be heralds of the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord.
GC80 was a lot of work over some jam-packed days. But I believe it was in large part holy work that I hope God blesses and that it makes a difference for our church and for the communities we serve all around the world. It was a true privilege to experience it and serve in this way.
If you’d like more details on legislation and the conversations that were held, I recommend this article from ENS.
For links to the video feeds from the convention, news, other information, and links to information sources, visit the diocesan General Convention webpage.