[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Michael Barlowe, whose leadership of the General Convention Office as executive officer put him at the forefront of the church’s years-long shift to digital technology and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced Jan. 16 that he plans to retire in August.
Barlowe, an Episcopal priest for more than 40 years, is known in church governance for wearing many hats. In addition to General Convention’s executive officer, he serves as that governing body’s elected secretary, as its registrar and as secretary of Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention. He also is secretary of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the church’s corporate entity, and chairs the joint standing committee that considers and recommends host cities for the church’s triennial General Convention.
In his Jan. 16 letter to Executive Council, he announced that the 81st General Convention in June will be his last.
“It has been an honor to serve The Episcopal Church as executive officer of the General Convention for the past 11 years,” Barlowe said in his letter. “During my tenure, the church has lived through considerable change and challenge, while achieving much good for the mission of God.”
Barlowe was a six-time deputy to General Convention and had served for six years as canon to the ordinary of the Diocese of California when he was appointed as executive officer, effective January 2013. He was selected for the position by the church’s two presiding officers at the time, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president. He resigned as a member of Executive Council to become executive officer.
In that role, Barlowe has led the central office responsible for the administration of church governance. The General Convention Office’s duties include negotiating contracts for venues and accommodations at each General Convention, coordinating the meetings of all the church’s interim governing bodies, receiving and tallying parochial report data from dioceses and congregations, facilitating the consent process for bishop elections, and ensuring the church has the technology needed to achieve all those goals.
The creation of the Virtual Binder was one of the most significant technological advances overseen by Barlowe during his time heading the General Convention Office. Previously, bishops and deputies followed the progress of hundreds of resolutions at General Convention by flipping through paper in a physical binder. Starting with the 78th General Convention in 2015, the church moved to a Virtual Binder, which deputations could access using church-provided iPads.
“The Virtual Binder provides enhanced support for the legislative work of the church, and allows us to reduce greatly the use of paper,” Barlowe said in 2015.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, disrupting church operations from the congregation level to churchwide, the General Convention Office under Barlowe was responsible for helping church governance move online, including meetings of Executive Council.
Working with Jennings and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Barlowe also led planning of the 80th General Convention in July 2022 after a one-year postponement. His office facilitated Zoom meetings for committees so they could conduct almost all their business online in advance of the shortened in-person meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.
The General Convention Office starts planning for the triennial meeting at least three years in advance – nearly from the moment the previous convention ends – and the scaled-down meeting in Baltimore was still a major undertaking, Barlowe told Episcopal News Service at the time. “The infrastructure for putting on General Convention is essentially the same whether it’s four legislative days or nine legislative days.”
A 1983 graduate of General Theological Seminary, Barlowe also had served as a parish priest in New Jersey and as dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Des Moines, Iowa.
Barlowe, in his retirement announcement, said serving the church has brought him “enormous joy.” He said he scheduled his retirement for late summer to allow time for the General Convention Office to tie up loose ends from the June meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, adding that he will not run for re-election as secretary.
“I look forward to new ministries ahead, and to new adventures with my spouse of nearly 42 years, the Reverend Paul Anthony Burrows,” he said.
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.