Some reflections from a rookie deputy…

This is my first time as a deputy to General Convention. So while I’m tracking some of the big issues with interest, my experience of Convention is still very much just finding my footing and making sense of it all. I keep hoping I’ll find the time and the mental space to string a few thoughts together about some of the matters before Convention. But so far, this is what I’ve managed to write: a list of some of the things I’ve learned or discovered in my first five days as a General Convention deputy.

  • I hadn’t realized that the ten days of Convention would start with a heavy schedule of legislative committee hearings and meetings, and a light schedule of legislation, with (many) meetings winding down and the legislative schedule gearing up as the days move along. I knew that proposed legislation would undergo a lot of work at Convention, but hadn’t realized just how intensive and grueling that process could be.
  • Some members of our deputation have served on legislative committees, some (including myself) have not. Not being on a committee is less exhausting and more freeing in one respect; during those busy early days, there were no meetings I HAD to attend. On the other hand, that freedom is exhausting too – because instead of being bound to focus on one cluster of issues, you get to struggle to decide where to show up and speak up, when five or six important things are all being considered at the same time.
  • General Convention is big, but it’s not that big. It’s small enough that one powerfully-stated two-minute statement can (sometimes) have an impact. Which is terrifying, because it leaves me wondering whether, for every initiative or resolution that I like and that seems ill-fated, I could have been that voice, if I’d been in the right place at the right time with the right words. It’s a wee bit crazymaking.
  • I didn’t anticipate all the swag – candy, buttons, water bottles, Silly Putty, tote bags, lip balm, and more candy – that would come our way, not only from booths at the exhibit hall but also handed out by candidates for office or folks advocating for particular causes or organizations, and left on our deputation tables every morning.
  • There is a lot going on – and there is no master calendar. You have to look at least three different places to figure out everything that’s happening in any given hour, and even then, you’ll probably miss some stuff.
  • There is a lot going on – really, a lot. To take this morning as an example: today is Sunday, the day when we are said to have a bit of sabbath, since there were no early morning committee meetings and the morning Eucharist wasn’t until 10am. However, if I had rolled out of bed bright and early this morning, I could have participated in a 5K run for the Episcopal Church Women Triennium; a walk against gun violence; the Episcopal Women’s Caucus breakfast; and a meetup with women bishops to discuss the advancement of women’s ordained ministry in the church. (I did not do any of those things. What I needed most was some time to wander around town and not talk to anybody, so that’s what I did.)
  • Sometimes it’s a huge party, a great reunion with friends from all over the church. Sometimes it’s surprisingly lonely. Sometimes I would be happy not to see or talk to any other Episcopalians for a while.
  • It’s going on all. the. time. And it ALL feels urgent. I keep failing to call my kids. I come back to my room meaning to go to bed early, but I check in on Twitter and get all agitated about cuts to the Formation budget of the national church. The legislative sessions and committee meetings end for the day (eventually), but there’s enough reading, pondering, Tweeting, blogging, arguing, and praying, to keep you busy 24 hours a day.
  • There are lots of great cues for prayer; and I am finding it really hard to pray. That just makes me all the more grateful for all the people I know are praying for me.
  • I learned quickly that it’s a good idea to eat a good meal when I get a chance, even if it’s an odd time. General Convention’s daily schedule doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to my own normal daily rhythms.
  • I’m really glad I brought knitting. It keeps me busy but listening. If I weren’t knitting, I would drift off into other things during the boring bits (there are boring bits…), and then suddenly find myself with no idea what we’re voting on.
  • I have the impression that this is much less true than it used to be, thanks to the Virtual Binders and some simplifications in the Rules of Order; but you still really have to know what’s going on to know what’s going on. That’s true at many levels – understanding our parliamentary process, knowing the personalities of some of the vocal and/or influential players, understanding the backstories and histories on some issues and conversations. I’m learning, and I think I’m able to participate effectively; but I can see the value in attending a second and third and fourth time.
  • It’s surprisingly separated from parish life. When I go to just about any church gathering, I expect to end up with a long list of take-home ideas – follow up on that resource, have that conversation, sing that hymn. I’ve picked up some good odds and ends in the exhibit hall – but other than that, so far there is almost nothing on my General Convention take-home idea list. What we’re doing here is just too removed from my life, work, and ministry as a parish priest. I don’t know that that’s good or bad; it just is.

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