Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Diocesan Convention — the Episcopal Diocese of Utah’s Annual Meeting, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

If you are sick and tired of organized religion then you should try The Episcopal Church: we’re the most disorganized religion on the planet!

This bit of whimsy is both silly and true: the exaggeration makes clear the silliness; the observation reveals the truth that lies within. This is a church made up of human beings, at its best led by the Spirit of God. A strength of The Episcopal Church is its members’ ability to look critically at their institution…and then both appreciate and laugh at what they see.

The Episcopal Church is both hierarchical and democratic. Its governance is modeled in many ways on the government of the United States. The church has bishops—fewer than two hundred of them—and conventions, committees, commissions, and councils—lots of them. The primary component of The Episcopal Church is the diocese (Greek for district), a geographical entity encompassing congregations, institutions, schools, and programs. And, we are not the national Episcopal Church because there are dioceses of this church not part of the United States, e.g., the Diocese of Haiti. The Episcopal Diocese of Utah consists of most of the state of Utah except for the southeast corner that is part of the Diocese of Navajoland, and includes St. David’s Church, Page, Arizona.

To be a diocese of The Episcopal Church you must have three things: a bishop, a standing committee, and a convention. You can have lots of other entities in a diocese, but you must have those three. And the primary element of those three is the convention, because it is the convention that elects the bishop(s) and the members of the standing committee. And the convention is a collection of congregations and clergy.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Utah (EDU) lay delegates are elected by each congregation proportionally by size, but all congregations are also represented by the two Wardens. All clergy, priest and deacon, canonically resident (that is, answering to this bishop and registered as such), have seat, voice, and vote in the Diocesan Convention. The Bishop presides at meetings of the Convention. The usual things that come before the Convention are reports (lots of them), elections (a few of them), and fellowship (a significant and essential part of the meeting).

When the office of bishop is vacant, by resignation, retirement, or death, the convention is called together to elect a bishop. (It’s a long, complicated process, not to be expounded upon here.) Bishops are elected for life, but they must retire (as do all clergy in TEC) at age 72.

The Standing Committee in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah consists of six members, three lay and three clergy, elected by the Convention for staggered three-year terms. In Utah the Standing Committee serves as the corporate Board of Directors and as the Council of Advice to the Bishop. There are a few things bishops cannot do without the consent of the Standing Committee (ordinations are one).

In this diocese there is also a body called Diocesan Council, elected by the Convention, which is responsible for managing the budgets and programs, and establishing policy. Also, every three years the Convention elects four clergy and four lay persons to serve as Deputies to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Episcopal dioceses, and all the entities therein, are governed by a body of rules called canon law. In effect, the canons (as they are known) are the bylaws of the corporation, and are adopted and amended by votes of the members of the Convention, just as parishes have bylaws that are amended and adopted at annual meetings.

The Episcopal Diocese of Utah holds its annual convention this weekend at the Episcopal Church Center of Utah in Salt Lake City. There will be plenty of silliness, and there will be moments of solemnity. The fact that there is both indicates an institution that, like most human institutions, is pretty healthy.

"All but the 100 degree General Convention weather will be back for our diocesn convention. Delegates and visitors are asked to wear their moose pins, moose hats and red volunteer aprons as we remember our “once every 150 year” hosting of the General Convention."
(read more on The Episcopal Diocese of Utah's website)

All gatherings of the Convention in Utah are open to any interested person. This year there will be workshops (go to the Convention Website for details, at, a roomful of displays provided by vendors, programs, as well as congregations, and all of the other usual business. A special event each year is the Convention Eucharist, which is held at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark on Saturday morning at 9:00 AM. This is a great opportunity to see much of the pageantry that is The Episcopal Church, and I strongly encourage you to attend.

Perhaps now that you have read through all of this you will understand the truth of the bit of whimsy at the beginning of this article. Because, in the long run, it is not the institution and its rules and structures that matter most. What matters most is the Church’s faithful members gathering together in Jesus’ name to continue the human work of being the Body of Christ in the world.

The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

1. The official name of this part of the Anglican Communion is The Episcopal Church, with the initial “T” capitalized, and abbreviated TEC. Its corporate name is The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA). The church is episcopal (having bishops). Its members are Episcopalians.

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