Exclusive: General Convention Pigeon reveals its human avatars/agents to ENS

Confessing to avian hijinks, feathered fun, fluttering of the spirit

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 13, 2018

General Convention Pigeon has been on the move in the House of Deputies — on foot and on wing — throughout the 79th General Convention. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The bird has been the word for 10 days here and, as the 79th General Convention prepares to fly the coop, its human avatars can now be revealed, ending countless days of speculation.

The Rev. David Sibley, Long Island deputy and rector of Christ Church in Manhasset, New York, right, hatched the General Convention Pigeon with the Rev. David Simmons, alternate deputy of Milwaukee and rector of St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Waukesha, Wisconsin. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. David Sibley, deputy from Long Island, recounted the bird’s creation story to Episcopal News Service during an exclusive, secret and embargoed late-night interview outside the Austin Convention Center following the rare night legislative sessions July 11. Sibley, the rector of Christ Church in Manhasset, New York, announced that he and the Rev. David Simmons, alternate deputy of Milwaukee and rector of St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Waukesha, Wisconsin, hatched the General Convention Pigeon.

@gc79pigeon gained more than 800 followers in the first few days after the account’s creation on July 4. 

The bird’s birthnest was in what Sibley referred to as the “alternates’ pen,” the area to the side of the actual floor of the House of Deputies where alternate deputies roost, waiting for the chair of their deputations to get to them in the pecking order and have them fly into the legislative action. This account would confirm the pigeon’s earlier claim to ENS that it was a “nested Episcopalian,” apparently similar to the human designation of “Cradle Episcopalian.”

On July 4, as house leaders were explaining how to use the deputies’ loaner iPads to access the Virtual Binder, a pigeon swooped low over the alternates’ coop. Great bird brains instantly thought alike as Sibley and Simmons texted each other, concluding that “this thing needs a Twitter account.” Thus, @gc79pigeon was hatched.

“The idea that coalesced very quickly after that was, OK, let’s be funny. Let’s not pick on anyone. Let’s not advocate for any particular issue,” Sibley said. “Let’s just try to make jokes about the things that pigeons do and, at times, the absurdity of the process and the current happenings in the house.”

There would be no comments on the tough issues the convention faced, such as prayer book revision, full access to the marriage rites by same-sex couples and the church’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pigeon was not in the business of crying fowl or ruffling anyone’s feathers.

The occasional flaring of differences of opinions between bishops and deputies was also off limits, Sibley said.

The over-perching goal was “just to keep it light for everyone at convention because it can be really stressful,” he added.

“This is something that pretty much everyone has found amusing at convention,” Sibley said. “This was a good way to continue trying to keep people laughing when you’re in the middle of a floor debate.”

In an earlier interview with ENS during July 7 and 8 (the bird is busy) via Twitter direct message, @gc79pigeon said it hoped it could be “part of the movement of the spirit that brings something to keep people relaxed, laughing, and in good spirits when things get tense.”

Thus, @gc79pigeon opined at opportune times about donuts (or lack thereof), crumbs on the floors or whether it could get a pension.

It occasionally made its presence known in other ways.

The most surprising thing about @gc79pigeon’s flight path through General Convention, Sibley said, was that its Twitter account earned more than 800 followers in about three or four days. In addition, he and Simmons are pleased that “for the most part everyone has received it really well.”

“We haven’t seen a lot of folks who are upset or who take convention so deathly seriously that this is a betrayal of the decorum of convention.”

Sibley said it has been fun to see that some of the bird’s followers aren’t even in Austin.

Over the course of convention, @gc79pigeon began to influence more and more of the deputies’ work, winging its way into floor proceedings, prompting various “communications from the chair” and even being scape-birded for certain errors.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

On July 11, Deputy Barbara Miles of Washington, chair of Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance, presented Resolution A295 on the 2019-2021 budget and announced the correction of a revenue number in the text. “I have neither explanation or excuse,” she said the error. “But there is a rumor about pigeons.”

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president, reported at the start of the July 12 morning legislative session that the Rev. Mary Janda, deputy from Utah, informed her that Deputy Pidge and Deputy CooCoo Mydove “have enjoyed convention and plan to join their cousins in Baltimore about 2021.” The Charm City is the site of the next and 80th meeting of General Convention.

“The chair regrets to inform the deputy from Utah that, because the secretary did not receive a certification from the diocesan bishop or the secretary of the diocesan convention, that these two deputies are in fact pigeons, not deputies,” Jennings explained.

A kit of pigeons surrounds the Rev. Matthew Cowden, a Northern Indiana deputy, July 12 as he reads their statement to the House of Deputies. Photo: Screenshot of House of Deputies livestream

Near the start of the July 12 afternoon session, Jennings invited the Rev. Matthew Cowden, a Northern Indiana deputy, and “his cohorts” to Microphone 4 to “please entertain the house.”

Cowden, who claimed a “specialty in ornithological languages,” said he had been blessed to be able to translate a statement from Deputies Peck, Peep and Poop of Birdlandia (three clergy persons wearing bird masks who surrounded Cowden and periodically pecked at his head). “We are not influential birds; not one of us comes from a cardinal parish,” they said in their “point of pigeonal privilege.”

They said they were disappointed that all of their motions had been ruled out of order, acknowledging that they were conducting themselves on a wing and a prayer, suggesting they might even be called “birds of pray.” Cowden wrapped up the statement by quoting the birds as saying they did “not wish to be robbin’ this house of any more time.”

At the beginning of the House of Deputies’ morning legislative session on convention’s last day, July 13, the house’s Committee 24 on Privilege and Courtesy presented Resolution A301, titled “Gratitude for Special Guest,” in which the house “gives thanks and shows its appreciation for the General Convention Pigeons. We give thanks for their representation of the Holy Spirit when necessary, for providing vital entertainment when needed, and for being gentle guides when ‘crumbs are left under thy table’ or on the floor.”

The resolution, which was approved, was the second item on the deputies’ legislative calendar. It followed Resolution A289, which expressed appreciation for Jennings, who received a standing ovation after that resolution passed. She warned deputies that they should not clap more for the pigeon than her. The resulting clamor was strong but somewhat muted. She also received a stuffed pigeon toy from the Diocese of Vermont.

Soon, it was onto Baltimore.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.


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