October 22, 2014
Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:
In just eight months, we’ll begin gathering for the 78th General Convention. I’m eager to see all of you in Salt Lake City, and as our time together approaches, I plan to write to you periodically to update you about what to expect in the House of Deputies in 2015.
Restructuring is in the air this fall, and while General Convention will consider restructuring proposals drafted by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church and by leaders across the church, we have already undertaken a good deal of restructuring in the House of Deputies:
Legislative Committee Restructuring
The Presiding Bishop and I have restructured the legislative committees of General Convention. You can find that list online, along with the letter about the committee structure that Bishop Katharine and I sent to bishops and deputies in July. The Presiding Bishop appoints House of Bishops committees and the president of the House of Deputies appoints House of Deputies committees, and the two sets–sometimes called cognate committees–generally meet together, although they exist as separate entities.
I plan to appoint legislative committees by the end of 2014 and instruct all House of Deputies committee chairs to begin committee work before convention. I hope that having committees begin work early–a change that is permitted by the current Rules of Order–will make it possible for us to consider legislation much more efficiently once we arrive at General Convention. I also plan to appoint more deputies to legislative committees than in the recent past in the hope that the work will be spread among more people.
General Convention Schedule Changes
The draft schedule for the 78th General Convention is posted on the General Convention website. If you’ve had a chance to review it, you may notice several highlights and changes from previous conventions:
- The nominees for presiding bishop will be presented to deputies and bishops on June 24, the day before the first legislative day, from 1:30-4:30 pm. I am delighted that, together with the House of Bishops, we will have an opportunity to hear from the nominees. On June 27, the House of Bishops will hold its election. The House of Deputies, by voting to confirm or not to confirm the House of Bishops’ choice, also has a critical role to play in the process. I will write to you early in 2015 to outline the process our house will follow in exercising our canonical role in the election of a Presiding Bishop.
- During General Convention, we will have three joint sessions with the House of Bishops. On June 26, we will have a joint session to receive officially the nominations from the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the 27th Presiding Bishop and to receive nominations that may have come through the petition process. During this session, we will also have a conversation on church structure. On June 30, we will gather for a joint conversation on mission. And on July 1, we will meet together to hear the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget & Finance. This is when we will review the proposed budget for the 2016-2018 triennium.
- We will have a special Eucharist on July 3, the final legislative day of Convention, to welcome the presiding bishop-elect. Although the new presiding bishop will also be seated at the Washington National Cathedral later in the year, we intend for the service at General Convention to be the primary celebration so that we can all participate in an event with only modest additional costs.
Rules of Order Revision
At the beginning of this triennium, I approached Bishop Katharine to suggest we appoint a joint committee to revise the Joint Rules of Order of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies and the separate rules of order of each house. A committee of bishops, deputies and advisors met together in 2013, and since then, the House of Deputies members of the committee have worked diligently to produce a new draft of the House of Deputies Rules of Order.
Our intent in redrafting the Rules of Order is to make the rules more logical, easier to understand, and more accessible-especially to new deputies, who usually make up at least 40% of those who serve at General Convention.
On December 10, we will post a draft revision of the House of Deputies Rules of Order on the House of Deputies website and ask that you review it and submit your comments by January 14, 2015. The final draft of the new Rules of Order will be considered in hearings held by the House of Deputies Legislative Committee on Rules of Order on June 24 and be presented to the House for a vote on the first legislative day, June 25.
I am grateful to the people who have worked hard on this important task, including House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing of the Diocese Massachusetts, Deputy Sally Johnson of the Diocese of Minnesota, Bryan Krislock of the Diocese of Olympia, Deputy Tom Little of the Diocese of Vermont, Deputy Jim Simons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Michael Barlowe, the secretary of the House of Deputies.
Streamlining the Legislative Process
I’ve spent a good deal of time talking with deputies and former deputies to explore how to move legislation more efficiently through General Convention and reduce the bottlenecks that we have sometimes encountered in previous years. Here is an overview of the ways I plan to use the tools already available to us to streamline the legislative process in 2015:
- I will appoint a new House of Deputies Resolution Review Committee to serve the House by reviewing pre-filed resolutions to ensure that they are consistent with our polity, that they are in the form required by the canons, and to assess whether they have funding implications. This committee, which will include both deputies and others with legislative and canonical experience, will write a report on each resolution and submit it to the chair of the appropriate legislative committee before consideration of the resolution begins.
- I will also appoint a House of Deputies committee of trained legislative aides who can assist legislative committees in their work. Legislative aides will be appointed through an application process that will begin early in 2015, and alternate deputies will be eligible to apply.
- Our Rules of Order already permit the appointment of a Committee on Conference to work with the House of Bishops to reconcile resolutions that have been amended differently in each house. I plan to make use of this process as an alternative to sending resolutions with competing amendments back and forth between houses.
- Our Rules of Order also permit me to appoint a Special Committee on Drafting in the event that a committee or deputy needs assistance in drafting or redrafting legislation. I intend to make use of these committees when we need them to keep the legislative process running smoothly.
Toward a Paperless Convention
Michael Barlowe, executive officer of General Convention, and the staff of the General Convention Office have been working hard this triennium to prepare for “a convention of screens” in Salt Lake City. They are planning for both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies to use digital devices and enhanced projections that will greatly decrease the amount of paper we use at General Convention. Later this year, Michael will send you more information about our new “virtual binder” and the other innovations designed to increase our efficiency.
As General Convention approaches, you may find that you begin to think about the news of the day in light of its implications for our work. As I have read the ongoing coverage of the crisis at General Theological Seminary (GTS), I have been particularly mindful that the House of Deputies elects four trustees–two clergy and two laypeople–to serve on that seminary’s board. The Joint Standing Committee on Nominations will put forward nominees for those positions in the compendium of reports we call the Blue Book, and it will be also be possible to make nominations for GTS trustees from the floor of convention. If you are following the situation at GTS, I hope that you are reading, praying, and considering carefully your responsibility as an elector of its trustees.
I also ask that you keep in your fervent prayers our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church in Liberia, which is struggling to respond to the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa. God willing, their representatives will be with us at General Convention and will, with the seat and voice accorded them by the 2002 covenant between our churches, help us do God’s work in the world.
Gay Clark Jennings