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COVID-19 Slashes Numbers at Episcopal Church's 80th General Convention

COVID-19 Slashes Numbers at Episcopal Church's 80th General Convention

The fallout from the coronavirus has led to a massive drop in deputies attending the Episcopal Church's 80th General Convention (GC80).

A total of 234 deputies (27 percent of the 868 certified deputies), including all of the deputations of the Dioceses of Venezuela, Cuba and Honduras, will not be attending the meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, this July. The meeting was initially scheduled for last year but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many delegates have decided not to attend the convention, usually held every three years, because of COVID-19-related concerns. Some delegates are suffering from the coronavirus, while others fear they would be risking the health and safety of their family members if they attended the event and got sick.

Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, was quoted as saying, "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. Some people who could attend in the summer of 2021, especially young people, cannot attend in 2022."

The 10-week period up to the event, since April 1, saw a high turnover with 128 deputies and 12 alternates, representing 60 dioceses, either resigning or declaring non-attendance.

A further 22 percent of certified alternate deputies (99 out of 455) resigned, while 11 percent of deputies (55 of the 483), some of whom have remained deputies, have resigned from legislative committees, according to the House of Deputies News.

Some 12 deputies and alternates have passed away, according to the president, who did not specify the causes of death, and a further four deputies died from COVID-19. Long COVID has affected other deputies, even causing two representatives in their 30s to resign. Rev Jennings called the COVID effect "really sad."

Rev Jennings said there were "a lot of transitions" with clergy moving as the lockdowns ended and added, "When everything started to open up more, people began moving out of their dioceses."

Lay deputy Kathryn Nishibayashi, from Los Angeles Diocese, was disappointed that no hybrid option using online resources was available for the event. This was set to be her fourth convention as a deputy, but she decided to resign due to health risks related to COVID-19. She said in a statement that it "felt too risky to attend even a shortened convention since the COVID pandemic is still significantly present."

She added, "It was a difficult decision because I truly love being at General Convention and being a deputy."

Attendees at the convention, including bishops and support staff, will be reminded about vaccination and masking policies after the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements approved recommendations by the Presiding Officers General Convention Design Group. To date, just one deputy has resigned because of vaccination concerns.

Jennings was still very optimistic about the convention and praised the hard work of staff behind the scenes.

"Looking at the reconfigured General Convention from a positive perspective, I think a lot of people are working very hard to make this convention as good as possible given the circumstances," she said.

"I think there are a lot of people who care about their ministry of governance. I'm confident that we will find a way to make this shortened convention meaningful and important in the life of the church. It's just going to be different."

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Kasto80, this is a stock image.

Christopher Eyte lives with his wife Céline and three children in Swansea, Wales, UK. He has worked as a journalist for many years and writes his own blog (hislovefrees.life) encouraging others in their walk with Jesus. He became a Christian in February 2002, after a friend explained God's amazing grace!