More than 230 deputies of the Episcopal Church have either resigned or otherwise refused to attend the denomination’s General Convention due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns, representing over a quarter of all originally certified deputies.
The Episcopal Church’s 80th General Convention is slated to take place in Baltimore, Maryland, next month, with the mainline Protestant denomination having already decided to take public health measures due to COVID-19.
According to a House of Deputies News report published last Thursday, 234 deputies out of 868 deputies have either resigned or said they will not attend the General Convention.
Additionally, 99 of about 450 certified alternate deputies have resigned, and 55 of the 483 deputies appointed to legislative committees have resigned from their committees, though they remain deputies.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, explained to HD News that while deputy resignations are not unheard of for general conventions, this year was different.
“There’s always turnover at any General Convention, but there’s a lot more at this one, partly because it was postponed for a year,” Jennings said. “Some people who could attend in the summer of 2021, especially young people, cannot attend in 2022.”
Jennings noted that some of the deputies have contracted COVID-19 and cannot attend for that reason, while others are concerned about contracting the disease at the Church gathering.
The General Convention is the governing body of the Episcopal Church, meeting every three years as a bicameral legislature that includes a House of Deputies and a House of Bishops.
The 80th General Convention was originally scheduled to meet in July of last year, with an expected attendance of around 10,000 people, including church leaders, deputies, alternatives and others.
However, the General Convention was postponed to July of this year, with Church leaders undertaking efforts to limit attendance, shorten the schedule, and undertake various public health measures due to ongoing pandemic concerns.
An Episcopal News Service report from last week found that convention organizers expect an additional cost of $1.1 million for the gathering, due in part to increased expenses for the public health measures and approximately $700,000 less income from attendee fees.
The shortened schedule due to COVID-19 has garnered concerns from many participants, among them Olive Swinski, a deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.
“Enacting good policy requires time, compromise, and flexibility — all things that I believe will be restricted with a shortened convention,” said Swinski, as reported by ENS in May.
“COVID has taught us that the world does not stop, and the Episcopal Church is restricting its ability to respond to a changing world.”