THE 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States will go ahead — a year late — in Maryland this summer, but it will be shorter in duration and smaller, the Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has said.
Speaking at a meeting called to discuss whether the Convention should be postponed again, owing to a rise in Covid cases, Bishop Curry said that he was committed to “gathering in the safest and healthiest way possible”.
But, he said, “While we are committed to the 80th General Convention in Baltimore, that does not mean business as usual. It is clear to us that the safest and healthiest way to meet is for General Convention to observe rigorous protocols and procedures for heath, safety, and pastoral care, and for General Convention to be smaller in size and shorter in size.”
Only essential business will be conducted, there will be no singing, and masks will be worn at all times. Those who attend will have to test daily.
Many deputies had urged the Church to postpone the Convention again, as new sub variants of Omicron are on the rise in the United States. The Convention had been scheduled for 2021, but is now set to take place from 7 July, in Baltimore.
A priest from New York, the Revd Megan Castellan, said in a blog post on Twitter that an in-person convention would be “a huge mistake”.
“It is not like our Church is unaware of the pandemic; I believe the leadership is trying to address it while also trying to convene Convention. The problems, though, are legion, and do not disappear because of those good intentions. We need to cancel Convention. Until we can do it safely. Until we can do it without being hypocrites. Until we can do it within the Gospel.”
The Revd Scott Gunn, from the diocese of Southern Ohio, tweeted: “Does it really make sense to have #gc80 in person? Should we do it online this time?”
The Executive Council of the Church met at the end of April, and several members contracted Covid, including the President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings. Also, 41 members of the diocese of Pennsylvania tested positive after a clergy conference in person last week.
Ms Jennings told the meeting that she was cautious about meeting in person again, but it would be in “as safe a way as possible”. She continued: “We are not able to hold the big family reunion we have all been longing for.”
The Convention, she said, would meet only for essential business, including holding elections, approving critical legislation, and agreeing a budget. She urged people to keep their travel plans flexible, however, in case the health situation worsened.
A survey that she sent to delegates last week about holding the Convention in person attracted more than 600 responses: seventy per cent were willing to go forward with the Convention, in person, in a reduced way.
The General Convention meets in a different city every three years, and is usually attended by thousands. New Covid variants — descendants of the Omicron variant — are now circulating in the United States, and are thought to be more contagious than Omicron. Hospitalisations and deaths from Covid have begun to rise again.