[Episcopal News Service] A series of proposed revisions to the House of Deputies’ Rules of Order generated significant negative reaction when it was first introduced earlier this year. The stated goal was to take the lessons learned in 2022 at the pandemic-shortened 80th General Convention and develop a more streamlined legislative process for future meetings that would improve effectiveness, efficiency and participation.
At a listening session in September, many deputies warned that the changes would hinder full discussion of some of the top issues facing the church while emphasizing expediency over human engagement. In response, the committee that drafted the new Rules of Order considered the feedback and additional written comments and revised the proposal further.
The latest version of the proposed Rules of Order was reviewed Nov. 17 at a follow-up listening session attended by about 125 people on Zoom, and those who spoke this time, though not uniformly supportive of all the changes, expressed hope that the committee was headed in the right direction.
Julia Ayala Harris, president of the House of Deputies, acknowledged that in 2022 bishops and deputies were operating on “such a steep learning curve” because of pandemic limits on large in-person gatherings. General Convention’s two dozen committees held their hearings online for the first time and completed nearly all their work before gathering in Baltimore, Maryland, for four days instead of the typical eight.
A six-day 81st General Convention is scheduled for June 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky. Although the goal is not to replicate the experience of 2022, Ayala Harris and other church leaders have noted some advantages to moving more church governance online, and now, “we’re more prepared to be able to pull this off,” she said.
The Rules of Order are approved by the House of Deputies at the start of every General Convention. They structure all aspects of the house’s business, from how and when legislative committees receive and deliberate over resolutions to whether individual resolutions can be discussed on the floor of the house before a final vote. The House of Bishops follows its own Rules of Order, though the two houses typically coordinate their schedules to ensure legislation advances smoothly.
The changes to the House of Deputies Rules of Order were proposed by a Special Committee on Rules of Order appointed by Ayala Harris. It is chaired by Bryan Krislock, the House of Deputies parliamentarian. The other members are the Rev. Molly James, deputy executive officer of General Convention; Mike Glass, chancellor to the House of Deputies president; and the Rev. Emily Mellot, chair of the Dispatch of Business Committee.
Krislock opened the Nov. 17 listening session by summarizing positive and negative feedback to the first draft of the changes. On the positive side, commenters welcomed a new option for submitting written comments on resolutions, as well as improvements to processes for legislative review and filing amendments. Some also praised the decision to hold hearings and committee meetings online, because it meant more people could attend and testify without traveling to the city hosting the in-person General Convention.
Some, however, raised concerns about the new emphasis on online meetings, particularly citing scheduling difficulties for committee members across multiple time zones and the volume of work that was required of committees over several months, in addition to traveling to the in-person gathering.
Others questioned the creation of a resolution filing deadline of 90 days before General Convention, saying this could make it difficult for deputies to respond to late-breaking developments and the needs of the church. The proposal also generated confusion over whether the rules changes could apply retroactively, to committee meetings held before the rules are approved.
“We are very committed to an open process and feedback, and we do appreciate all the feedback we received,” Krislock said on Nov. 17. “We take it seriously.”
The latest revisions include the following changes:
- Resolution deadline: The Special Committee on Rules of Order still thinks a 90-day deadline is the best way to accommodate the hundreds of resolutions that are filed at each General Convention, but the proposal now identifies certain exceptions that would allow for last-minute submissions, including by petition of at least 20 deputies.
- Committee resolutions: The changes also would give committees the option of submitting new resolutions past the deadline, if two-thirds of the committee votes in favor.
- Online meetings: The latest draft maintains its emphasis on online committee meetings but would allow committees by a two-thirds vote to defer certain resolutions for in-person discussions at General Convention.
- Retroactivity: Most of the rule changes do not require retroactivity, Krislock said. His committee further clarified that the other changes, such as the 90-day deadline, would only take effect upon passage of the Rules of Order at General Convention. So, although deputies would be strongly encouraged to follow those guidelines in advance, they would strictly apply only to legislative business going forward and at future General Conventions.
Some of the participants at this listening session suggested that online meetings still may raise equity issues, since some committee members are limited in their access to internet or the required software. Krislock acknowledged such disparities while suggesting that the General Convention Office, or GCO, has been successful in the past in bridging gaps in access. He added that some deputations, particularly from dioceses outside the United States, have faced barriers to attending the in-person General Convention as well.
“There are huge obstacles that we need to tackle as a church,” Krislock said. “I think the technological issues are very real, and I know the GCO is paying attention to that.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.