Monday, October 21, 2013
According to the Canons of the Episcopal Church, each diocese elects 4 clergy Deputies and 4 lay Deputies to serve at General Convention [GC], and up to four Alternate Deputies in each order. In most dioceses, the diocese pays for the eight clergy and lay Deputies to attend GC. Most (but not all) dioceses also pay for the 1st Alternate Deputy in each order to attend Convention.
Attendance at General Convention is very expensive. It typically lasts about 10 days or so. There are significant transportation costs. Hotels typically charge over $100 per night. And meal/per-diem costs rack up over the days of GC -- $61 per day in Salt Lake City/2015 according to the current GSA rates. That means each Alternate Deputy will “cost” the diocese about $160 per day to attend GC, plus transportation.
I have heard one dominant reason for sending the 1st Alternate Deputy in each order: That they might step in to take the place of a Deputy who cannot serve in one session, or in case a Deputy becomes ill or injured. … And, yes, most Deputations also step aside so that their Alternates can have some time on the floor of GC. … Mostly, the arguments I’ve heard for sending Alternates to GC is so they can step in if need be.
But funds are tight, and some dioceses are questioning the need to spend that much money to send their 1st lay and clergy Alternate Deputies to General Convention.
At least one Bishop has phrased it this way: “When I sit in the House of Bishops, there is no one to stand in as my substitute. If I cannot spend a moment or an hour or a day, there is no one to stand in for me. Why should we pay to bring to Alternate Deputies to spend some 10 days at GC just in case they are needed?” I can understand that reasoning, in this time of tight budgets. That bishop was arguing from a National League baseball perspective: S/he has no “designated hitter” to run to the HoB floor in his/her place.
Since I began closely following GC in 2003, my only rationale for sending/supporting our clergy and lay Alternates had been my understanding of something like that “designated hitter ruler.” I thought we needed a substitute, in case one of the Deputies was indisposed for an hour or a day or more.
Today, I realized there’s another reason – which probably doesn’t occur to many bishops. It’s leadership development ... or call it "continuity planning."
When a bishop is elected, s/he has all sorts of training and mentoring. By the time a new Bishop gets to General Convention, s/he probably has established a network of colleagues. But it is not so with GC Deputies. The only way to learn how to serve as a Deputy is to serve as a Deputy. Bringing eight Deputies, plus two Alternates, gives us two more people who can observe the workings of GC and participate in the governance of our church. It’s training. It’s leadership development. It’s continuity planning. It is not merely having a “designated hitter” in the dugout in case someone wants a little break. Bishops get years and years to serve in the House of Bishops. But in the House of Deputies, we have to develop our own leadership. And bringing Alternate Deputies, I come to see, is one of the significant ways we can do that.
That’s my insight du jour. Bishops get careful mentoring and many GCs in which to develop their skills, relationships, and understanding. Bringing Alternate Deputies to GC is a way to help develop skills, leadership, and relationships among the rest of the clergy and laity. It’s a way to empower the rest of us to see the bigger picture.
Next time I hear of a Bishop arguing against bringing the 1st Alternates to General Convention, I’m going to push back for new reasons. And I’m going to push back hard.