General Convention Basics: A Conversation between an experienced General Convention Deputy and a first-timer

Jun 7, 2024 | #GeneralConvention, #Stories

Pictured: First Row (left to right): Christopher Hayes, Debbie Low-Skinner, Warren Wong, Deb White, Laura Curlin, Karma Quick-Panwala Second Row: Cameron Partridge, Sarah Lawton, Emily Hopkins, Ron Hermanson, Ruth Myers, Mauricio Wilson, Eric Metoyer Third Row: Jennifer Nelson, Bishop Marc, Richard Edward Helmer, Joseph Dashiell, Bishop Austin. 

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The General Convention is the highest governing body of The Episcopal Church (TEC). It meets every three years and is made up of the Church’s bishops and elected lay and ordained deputies from each diocese. The 81st General Convention (GC) of The Episcopal Church will take place from June 20-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Very Rev. Dr. Deb White is a first-time deputy to the General Convention this year. Sarah Lawton, Co-Chair of the DioCal Deputation, is a veteran of nine General Conventions. Being a General Convention Deputy is in her blood, as her mom, Nancy Luther Lawton, also attended five conventions!

When they talked recently, Sarah and Deb went over the overall structure and work of the General Convention, after which Deb had a lot of follow-up questions for Sarah, including trying to figure out exactly what a GC deputy does.

Deputies – representatives from all over the church – perform the work of church governance as part of the General Convention. There are two houses of representatives: The House of Bishops and The House of Deputies. In 2022 our Diocesan Convention elected sixteen people to serve as our deputation to the 81st General Convention. Eight deputies (four clergy/four lay) and eight alternates (four clergy/four lay), along with Bishop Marc and Bishop Austin, have been attending online committee meetings and hearings for several months in preparation for GC and will soon travel to Louisville to participate in the in-person event.

Since we are a people who believe in spiritual growth and learning, our system allows us to adapt to new information and changing times while protecting the foundations of our belief system. We do all this in community. It’s not always easy, and it can be complicated. The simplest way to explain our governance system is like this: A local congregation is like a city and the Rector/Vicar is the Mayor and the Vestry/Bishop’s Committee (BC) is the City Council. The Deanery is like a County and the Diocese resembles state governance. Management at each of these levels of “church,” is different; the larger the number of parishes and people involved, the more complex the system becomes.

Q&A with Deb & Sarah

Deb: I am a life-long Episcopalian and have served in several capacities in Diocesan leadership, but being a member of a General Convention Deputation has the toughest learning curve I have encountered. Can you explain what deputation members do?

Sarah: Deputies attend the General Convention in person, which is a commitment of about a week of vacation time for many of us. Our big responsibility is to sit on the floor of the House of Deputies and vote on resolutions, canon (rule) changes, and public policy statements, all of which clarify our beliefs and dictate how we do things.

In recent conventions, we have had over 400 resolutions! Many of these are voted on via a daily consent calendar; others are debated on the floor of the House. Ultimately, resolutions must pass in identical form in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. Deputies also vote in elections, such as selecting a President and Vice-President of the House of Deputies (kind of like the Senior and Junior Wardens of TEC). It’s quite a responsibility. And although the House of Bishops is responsible for electing the Presiding Bishop every nine years, the House of Deputies must confirm that election.

To prepare for all this work, deputies read the so-called Blue Book of reports that provide information on the work that has happened since the last Convention. The Blue Book has hundreds of pages of reports. We also have to be familiar with the Rules of Order for the House of Deputies and the Constitution and Canons of the Church.

Deputies also serve on legislative committees that hold hearings on proposed resolutions and perfect and recommend action on them. For this convention, most public hearings have been held on Zoom for the last several months. Hearings are open to all, not just deputies.

To your point about the learning curve, then, the simple answer is that deputies are stepping up to governance for the whole Episcopal Church. The House of Deputies has over 800 members representing over 100 dioceses – one of the largest continuing legislative bodies in the world. There is a curve in learning how it all works, and there is also a curve in getting to know deputies from other dioceses.

Deb: Okay, speaking of deputies, here is a simple question. Why are we “deputies” and not “delegates”?

Sarah: The House of Deputies is the first and senior house as it was first formed, with the House of Bishops added four years later. The term originates from the Latin deputare, meaning “to ponder.” This reminds us to prayerfully listen to others and be led by the Holy Spirit.

Deb: What kinds of committees do deputies serve on?

 Sarah: There are 25 legislative committees which are responsible for covering specific areas. Legislative committee members and officers are appointed by the President of the House of Deputies. About half of the House of Deputies are asked to serve on a committee. Currently, nine of our sixteen deputies serve on committees, with three acting as Vice-Chairs and one as the Chair.

We also assign deputies to attend committee meetings that are working on issues that the deputation has agreed are important to the Diocese of California, leading to more meeting hours!

Deb: If the General Convention is every three years, doesn’t that mean the deputies only work for a couple of months? Why don’t we just elect them for the year of the GC?

Sarah: General Convention deputies serve continuously until a new deputation is elected. In DioCal, we elect two years before the General Convention and we use that long runway to bring new deputies and alternates up to speed, discuss priorities for our deputation, and sometimes propose diocesan convention resolutions to bring to the General Convention. Just before we go to the Convention, we try to meet with our bishop(s) to discuss our work and hear from them. During the Convention itself, we caucus just about every day to discuss what is happening in committee and on the floor.

Deb: What do you think people should think about when they vote for deputies? How can they know what work that person may need to be able to do?

Sarah: That’s a great question! We’re very glad that our deputation as a whole is fairly diverse across a variety of metrics (gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, age), so that’s one factor, to elect deputies who can bring different experience and voices to the table. Overall, I would say we want to elect deputies who are enthusiastic about church governance and can be faithful to the work of the church in its various dimensions.

Deb: Is there ranking among the deputies? What is the difference between a “deputy” and an “alternate”?

Sarah: Deputies get the badge to sit on the floor of the House (in chairs!) and vote. Alternates are elected to fill in for the deputies when needed.  In DioCal, we work as a team, meaning that all our deputies and alternates help with our work.

Deb: If people don’t want to follow all the General Convention news but are very interested in certain topics – like the election of the Presiding Bishop, changes in liturgy and issues in the news – how can they do that?

Sarah: The General Convention website is a great first stop for information. Our wonderful DioCal Canon for Communications, Stephanie Martin-Taylor, will be in Louisville with us and she’ll be reporting about what’s happening in the DioCal newsletter and on our social media. Episcopal News Service, which is a daily online newsletter that you can subscribe to, will be reporting every day as well.

Deb: Can people contact the deputies? How can they know which deputy is working on what issues?

Sarah: You can contact us through the two co-chairs, The Very Rev. Eric Metoyer ( or me, Sarah Lawton ( If you are interested in a particular issue, we can direct you to the person working on it. We are happy to work with you.

The DioCal Deputation is:

Laura Curlin (Lay Deputy), Member, Evangelism and Future Church Legislative Committee
Joseph Dashiell (Lay Alternate), covering Governance and Structure
Christopher Hayes (Lay Deputy), Chair, Title IV Disciplinary Canons Legislative Committee
The Rev. Richard Helmer (Clergy Deputy), Vice-Chair, Resolution Review Legislative Committee
Ron Hermanson (Lay Alternate), Covering Congregational Vitality
Emily Hopkins (Lay Alternate), Covering Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation
Sarah Lawton (Lay Deputy), Lay Co-Chair of the DioCal Deputation and member of the Stewardship and Socially Responsible Investing Legislative Committee
The Rev. Debbie Low-Skinner (Clergy Alternate), Covering Racial Truth-telling, Reckoning, and Hearing
The Very Rev. Eric Metoyer, (Clergy Deputy), Clergy Co-Chair of the DioCal Deputation and Vice-Chair of the Evangelism and Future Church Legislative Committee
The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers (Clergy Deputy), Vice-Chair of the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Legislative Committee and Candidate for the Vice-President of the House of Deputies
Jennifer Nelson (Lay Alternate), Covering Social Justice and US policy
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge (Clergy Alternate) Member, Resolution Review Legislative Committee
Karma Quick-Panwala (Lay Alternate), Member, Resolution Review Legislative Committee
The Very Rev. Dr. Deb White, (Clergy Deputy), Member, Safety, Wellness, and Mental Health Legislative Committee
The Rev. Dr. Mauricio Wilson (Clergy Alternate), Covering Agencies and Boards
Warren Wong (Lay Deputy, Coordinating resolution tracking and testimony

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Marc H. Andrus, Bishop Diocesan
The Rt. Rev. Austin K. Rios, Bishop Coadjutor

Ellie Simpson
Author: Ellie Simpson



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