Good morning. It’s good to see all of you again. Thank you for making the time to be here, and special thanks to the members of Executive Council who took the initiative to call this important meeting.
As the Presiding Bishop has said, we are committed to holding the 80th General Convention this summer, and we are committed to doing it in as safe a way as possible. This will be a convention for essential governance functions. As hard as it is to accept, we are not yet able to hold the big family reunion we have all been longing for. But what we believe we can do, with appropriate COVID protocols in place, is have a short, focused meeting to hold elections, approve a budget, and address other critical issues and essential legislation that cannot wait until 2024.
In order to design such a convention quickly and efficiently, the Presiding Bishop and I will, later this morning, be telling the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements that we have asked the parliamentarians of each house of General Convention—Bryan Krislock in the House of Deputies and Sean Rowe in the House of Bishops—to convene a small working group of leaders of both houses who will recommend to us the best way to hold a shorter, smaller convention at which we can do the work of governing the church. We are asking this group to work quickly, providing us with a plan that we can ask Planning and Arrangements to recommend. We will then return to you to seek your advice and counsel before making our final decisions.
This process conforms to the requirements of our canons, but it does mean that some questions will not be answered right away. This will require many of us to keep our travel plans flexible for now, and to be prepared to adjust to changing public health conditions. None of this is ideal, but we believe it is the best way to respond to the rising COVID case numbers across much of the country and the reality that this wave of COVID may well peak just as we are gathering in Baltimore.
As deputies know, I have for some time been uncertain about how we should proceed with General Convention. I believe with all of my heart that we must gather this summer to hold elections for new leaders—especially a new president of the House of Deputies—and to address some of the key issues raised during this triennium by interim bodies and Executive Council. And yet, it is deeply sobering to contemplate holding an event at which we know some people—perhaps many people—will become sick. The real-life consequences of this decision became even clearer to me when I contracted COVID at the April meeting of Executive Council. I am finally feeling better, but it has been a long fifteen days of illness, and it has sharpened my understanding of what COVID can do, even to someone who is vaccinated and boosted.
I am grateful to the many, many deputies and alternate deputies who have shared with me their thinking about General Convention and COVID, and especially to the more than 600 deputies and 200 alternates who filled out a survey I sent them last Friday evening. It has been their counsel that has helped me to see a path forward to a shorter, smaller convention. While fewer than half of deputies want to go forward with General Convention as planned, more than 70% are willing to go forward in person in some way. Only 15% of deputies want to postpone convention. A commanding number of deputies want to see us add daily rapid testing, a ban on eating on the floor of the house, and social distance protocols to our existing mask and vaccine requirements. And many deputies have volunteered to help make this pandemic convention successful—from doctors and nurses who will help advise deputies who become ill, to pastoral care volunteers, to those who will contribute to a mutual aid effort.
I am still very cautious about gathering in person in Baltimore. But I believe that if we all commit to abiding by the guidelines and caring for one another and for the most vulnerable among us, we can do our essential governance work as efficiently and as safely as possible. I am extremely grateful to Bryan Krislock and Sean Rowe for leading the effort to design a shorter, smaller convention, and I pledge to all of you that the work from here on out will move as quickly and efficiently as it can so that the many questions you have now can be answered as soon as possible.
Read President Jennings’s summary of her meetings with Dr. Rodney Coldren, a public health advisor retained with the support of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.
Read the 80th General Convention Guiding Principles for Contingency Planning Due to COVID-19 adopted on May 11 by the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements.