From The Rev. Kelly Sundberg Seaman
I’m fairly sure that this is the third General Convention I’ve followed closely via Twitter, which is just about as long as it's been possible to do so. True, that's only a sample of what’s going on: “social media General Convention” isn’t any more the full picture of GC than a parking lot conversation is the full picture of the meeting that preceded it.
That’s not quite a fair analogy, though, since much of what comes across social media with the hashtag #GC79 isn’t after-the-fact chatter. Yes, there’s a lot of passionate advocacy on line, and the occasional wave of snark. But folks posting on Twitter also provide on-the-spot reporting from committee hearings and legislative sessions, like meeting minutes in real time. The team from Austin’s own Seminary of the Southwest have done a particularly fine job this year with that kind of reporting.
And the House of Deputies uses Twitter as a transparent communications tool: addressing @HODPlatform is one of the ways deputies can ask for clarification on policies and procedures as the House does its work.
General Convention deploys a lot of technology to enable folks at a distance to engage with the church at work: open sessions of both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops are live streamed (i.e., broadcast) and archived on the convention’s Media Hub, as are the convention’s worship services. Videos of press briefings are posted on that site, as well as recordings of special topical conversations on Creation Care, Racial Reconciliation, and Evangelism. Anyone with an internet connection has access to the “Virtual Binder” that publishes and tracks changes in the resolutions being considered at Convention. Between the official news feeds and the unofficial ones, there’s an abundance of ways to “be there” in Austin without actually being there. And with enough browser tabs open, you can be (well, almost, virtually) more than one place at a time. (You can certainly get from House to House more quickly than you could on the ground.)
Following General Convention this year as a deputy from a distance has reminded me of something taught in practical theology: Sometimes you need to be on the dance floor, in the thick of things as they happen. And sometimes you need to take a balcony view: a little distant, a little abstracted, looking for patterns only visible from above.
So—as I wrote in Holy Spirit & St. Mark’s weekly e-news on Thursday—here’s what General Convention has looked like to your second alternate clergy deputy, from her virtual balcony:
For the past two weeks, the Episcopal Church has been gathered in General Convention. A great part of the work done in Austin has been about our church’s willingness to confess that we have fallen short, sinning “against God and our neighbor,” and then deciding how, over the next 3 years, the Episcopal Church will commit our energy, time, and funds to amend our common life. (As we pray at Compline: “Grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil.”(BCP 134)
General Convention does its work through legislating resolutions. But what those resolutions are, at heart, are prayers and promises. Prayers and promises that we will work to do better at how we treat all God’s children. Better at caring for God’s creation. Better at telling the truth about ways that we have fallen short and hurt each other. And above all, better at trying to love each other as God loves us.