A church that votes

Episcopalians in convention

The American Episcopal church’s General Convention meets every three years to elect officers, adopt a budget, enact canon law, and pass lots of resolutions. With 250-plus in the House of Bishops and 900 clergy and lay delegates in the House of Deputies, it constitutes one of the largest bicameral legislatures in the world.

It is no accident that the Episcopal church’s governing structure resembles the organizational format of the United States government. Many of the church fathers who gathered in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1789 to forge a constitution for the new church were also present when the U.S. Constitution was drafted two years earlier. Having disposed of a king, the American Episcopalians decided against an archbishop. The titular head of the new, democratic, church (which retained spiritual ties to the mother Church of England) would be a presiding bishop.

When the Episcopal convention returned to Philadelphia in July of this year, the bishops and delegates found themselves struggling to find ways to maintain unity in the face of deep divisions on sexuality, women in the priesthood, and religious authority. Episcopalians go at it vigorously at conventions: four newspapers, two on the ecclesiastical right, one on the left, and one the church’s official publication, are published and distributed each day, and the Internet carries hundreds of pages of commentary and news (Father John H...

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About the Author

Antonio Ramirez, a retired labor union editor, is a church warden at Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church in New York City.