National convention

Episcopal leaders reduce size of National Convention in Baltimore in July due to COVID-19 fears – Baltimore Sun

National Episcopal Church officials have opted to reduce the size of the general convention it will hold in Baltimore next month over fears it could spark a COVID-19 outbreak — a move that could cost the city million in revenue even as it protects those who plan to attend.

The Right Reverend Michael Curry, the denomination’s presiding bishop or chief pastor, and the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, president of one of its legislative branches, the House of Representatives, told the nearly 1.8 million members of the church in a joint letter that the decision to reduce the size of the gathering was one that its leaders did not want to make, but it is in everyone’s best interests given the current conditions.

“Like many of you, we continue to mourn our inability to come together as a whole church this summer,” they wrote in the letter late last month. “But COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States have continued to rise sharply. Although we regret having to make this decision, we are convinced that we have chosen the right path.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which normally takes place every three years, is the main regular gathering of the leaders and members of the major Protestant denomination.

Hundreds of bishops, thousands of delegates, and thousands of interested visitors from across the United States and beyond typically attend. About a thousand people vote on what public policy positions the church should take, on proposed revisions to the liturgy and on church finances, while the entire contingent enjoys the triennial opportunity to network and engage in fellowship.

The event usually attracts 5,000 to 10,000 visitors in a metropolitan area, with a different city each time.

Church leaders selected Baltimore as the host site for the 2021 convention at the Salt Lake City National Gathering in 2015. Curry said the decision would bring in $23 million to $25 million in revenue for Baltimore, a city that he knows well for having been rector. of St. James’s Episcopal Church between 1988 and 2000.

But Curry, whose responsibilities include presiding over the church’s House of Bishops, and Jennings, the president of the other half of its governing structure, the House of Representatives, decided in 2020 to postpone the event. a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. then sweeping a large part of the country.

Originally scheduled to last eight days, from July 7 to July 14, the already-delayed event will be shortened by several days — likely three or four days, an official with the Diocese of Maryland said.

Curry and Jennings appointed a ‘design group’ last month to develop proposals on what changes should be made to ensure a ‘shorter, smaller and safer General Convention’. That panel will make its recommendations to a church-wide planning committee on Tuesday, and that group will vote on whether to approve the suggested agenda.

The Right Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Diocese of Maryland and a member of both groups, said he cannot predict what the panels will decide: “We know the convention is going to be shortened; it’s just a matter of details,” he said – but a letter to church members from Curry and Jennings last month outlines some of the proposals the design group shared with the two leaders.

These include reducing the convention to four days (July 8-11), reducing the number of delegates, visitors and media allowed to attend, eliminating events in the exhibit halls and l improving COVID-19 protocols that already required proof of vaccination and masking.

Where the convention normally invites the church’s 109 dioceses to send eight lay and clergy each, the letter suggests reducing that number to six, and while every living bishop is normally invited, retired or not, she proposes to invite only active bishops.

Sutton acknowledged, with regret, that whatever the decision, it will mean a loss of business for Baltimore businesses, especially those working in the hospitality industry in and around the Convention Center, where major events are expected to take place. hold.

“It is a great disappointment for us as a diocese, but there is even greater disappointment and grief for the workers, some of whom are not very well paid,” he said. “It is a great sorrow for the city and for all of us.”

A spokeswoman for Visit Baltimore, the agency responsible for bringing tourism and conventions to the city, said she would be unable to predict the economic impact of the downsizing until more information is available. specific are available.

“Each convention group has its own unique needs, priorities and comfort levels, especially during these uncertain times,” the agency’s president and CEO, Al Hutchinson, said in a statement. “The Visit Baltimore team respects and responds to each guest’s individual needs, as we are committed to creating an enjoyable destination experience that makes them want to come back and visit again.”

Sutton, who helped lead the diocese’s effort to organize the event, said he understands Curry and Jennings’ decision given the spike in coronavirus cases reported in April and May.

“I get it, because we always try to balance the need to stay together for a long time with the need to be safe,” Sutton said. “The more days that hundreds of people are together, the more opportunities there will be for someone to come down with a virus.”

Some people he spoke to complained that the cut is too extreme, while others said it didn’t do enough, Sutton added.

“It is generally Episcopalian philosophy to seek a middle way, whether spiritually, politically or socially,” he said. “The middle way is a shortened convention.”

Consideration of resolutions is a core activity of every convention. As many as 800 are submitted by Episcopalians each convention year, with topics ranging from proposed changes in the liturgy to statements on public policy issues.

Most never leave the committee or are combined or changed as the convention progresses. The House of Bishops and the House of Deputies usually end up voting out a few dozen.

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Part of the design group’s charge has been figuring out what issues can’t wait until the 81st convention, which is due to take place in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2024.

Sutton said he hopes the agenda will retain the goal of focusing on racial reconciliation, the subject of dozens of resolutions that have already been submitted and an area in which the Diocese of Maryland has since specialized. years.

This work has seen local church leaders and members conduct extensive research into the diocese’s history of supporting and benefiting from slavery and other forms of racial injustice.

The diocese has set aside $1 million as seed money for projects that restore African American communities. It handed out $175,000 to six groups in its first round of grants last week.

“Part of the story of [our] diocese that we want to share with the whole Church is how we reclaimed our history and did not shy away from it,” Sutton said. “It’s a to tell the truth about who we are, how we got here, about some of the resources we acquired. We want to say everything and be transparent.

He will learn on Tuesday how much that focus remains on the convention agenda, he said.

“Once our eyes are open, we can and do what it takes. That’s what we look forward to doing in the time available.