Sunday, May 17, 2009
General Convention of TEC for Dummies (like me)
As a Deputy to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) 2009, I am often asked by friends how this body works.
The structure is a parallel to the parliamentary structure as established in England and adapted by the US. The major difference being the presence of worship and prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
General Convention convenes every 3 years and lasts for the better part of two weeks (about 10 legislative days).
There are two houses, the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
The House of Deputies is compromised of a deputation from each Diocese in the Episcopal Church. Four clergy and 4 deputies are elected in the Dioceses.
All Bishops in TEC are seated in The House of Bishops. All have voice and vote, though legislation which could be enacted this year will limit the vote of retired bishops.
Resolutions can come form Diocesan Conventions, The House of Bishop, Deputies and Committes, Comissions, etc. of TEC. The later are printed in the "Blue Book" which has already been distributed. Others are posted at TEC website. All resolutions must be presented by the end of the second legislative day.
In committees like resolutions will be combined, reworded, some form will likely be recommended to the body. It may also be passed to another committee.
Resolutions will then be debated on the floor of House of Deputies or House of Bishops and if voted on positively, then passed to the other house for concurrence. It must be passed in the exact same language in both houses.
Any legislation that does not make it through this process dies at the close of convention.
VOTE BY ORDERS
The process has, like most deliberative bodies a provision to require a super majority. If requested and consented to by a majority a "vote by orders" is invoked in the House of Deputies. Each deputation polls it's clergy and lay deputies separately. A split vote in either order is reported as a "no." The resolutions must pass in both orders.
The result could be all clergy support (50%), half - 1 of the lay deputations support (another 25% support) and half of the other deputations + 1 split (12% support) and the resolution is defeated (with 87% approval).
Throw in the House of Bishops and you will see that the clergy has a comfortable edge in control, which is not to say that anyone abuses this control. It is just a reality.
So we struggle and pray and pray some more. The Holy Spirit is in control and sometimes she takes her time.