A Wee Note on the matter of House of Bishops meetings between General Convention

While the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church allow for meetings of the House of Bishops (HoB) between General Convention, the notion that all gatherings of Bishops between General Convention constitute meetings of the HoB is unclear. Formal meetings of the HoB may be called between conventions are called "special meetings," and the only formal business they may conduct that is binding on the church concern items for which decision is taken by only that House of Convention.

Calling the bishops to meeting does not necessarily constitute a "special meeting." A retreat for the bishops, for example, is not a meeting of the House of Bishops unless the call for the meeting specifies that business is to be done at that meeting.

There is, of course, no parallel possibility of a meeting of the House of Deputies between General Conventions, save in a specially called General Convention, since there is no business they can conduct without concurrence from the House of Bishops meeting at the same time (i.e. at General Convention.)

When there is a specially called meeting of the House of Bishops the rules for the House of Bishops apply, and there are specific rules for "special" meetings.

I have two questions about the notion that the House of Bishops can conduct business that effects the whole church in a context other than a General Convention.

I am not convinced that Special meetings of the HoB are required to elect missionary bishops or Presiding bishops, or depose bishops or any other matters seemingly part of the order of business of the HoB meeting separately. If canons were re-written to allow inhibition to be imposed until the next meeting of General Convention, and if use of temporary episcopal oversight from retired bishops were allowed, it might be possible to make special House of Bishops meetings an occasion for sharing, prayer, reflection, etc, and not an occasion for business at all. God forbid a Presiding Bishop were to die or be unable to carry out duties early on in a triennium , but if that happened there is no reason why the senior bishop in active service might not serve as Presiding Bishop until the next Convention.

It does seem that the meetings of one House for decision making purposes, the HoB, gives that house the opportunity to overreach its role in our ecclesiastical structure. Sometimes statements arising from the HoB special meetings carry weight as if they were the "voice of the church" and that matters not related to special decision making powers granted by the Constitution and Canons are considered and acted on.

So the question: Do we need decision making powers granted to the House of Bishops meeting separately from the General Convention?


  1. Short answer: No. Executive Council is the appropriate body to make needed decisions between sessions of GC. If the House of Bishops wants to gather for prayer, do their housekeeping, and issue a pastoral letter (not a resolution) fine...

  2. 4 May 1535+18/4/08 4:04 PM

    Tobias is (as so often) correct: for the HoB to meet for business between sessions of GC serves mostly to suggest to the House and others (e.g., the Primates) an authority with which it is not in fact (and, imho, should not be) invested.

  3. Tobias...in which case those of us at General Convention need to work to get the canons changed so that they don't have business to do under the canons at all, and perhaps a specific canon that restricts their meetings to non-binding guidance, prayer, fellowship, etc.

  4. Anthony Willard18/4/08 6:35 PM

    Best would be to retain the authority to do business but not use it except under extreme necessity. Don't limit your options needlessly.

  5. Mark,
    I'm less troubled if the Bishops do things that are within their competence, involving their own housekeeping chores: and if you look at the minutes of the meetings, that's mostly what they do. But they do need a reminder at times.

    On a related matter, I've suggested that the minutes of Executive Council be included in the Journal of General Convention from now on -- after all, they include the interim (non legislative) meetings of the HOB, and yet the acts of EC just disappear after the triennium. Perhaps, as an EC member, you might raise this?

  6. Generally, I would agree with those ideas, but it is possible to add one more thing:

    It might be possible that one of those House of Bishops meetings in a year should be set aside as a "study day" to consider theological questions and to reflect upon Scripture. Particularly the latter, as this will send a message especially to conservative critics who say that Scripture is no longer a priority.

    One idea would be to agree a theme and make this the basis of reflections in diocesan bodies so that Bishops can also gather views from the wider community together. Another would be to invite theologians and bishops from other parts of the Communion to facilitate discussions and give their views as well.

  7. Dear Mark,

    Last I looked, our church is still named The Episcopal Church, not the Deputarian Church. There must be a reason.

    Pierre Whalon

  8. Dear Bishop Whalon...there is. Every diocese is Episcopal. But gathered as a whole church -as the Episcopal Church - we are a synod not of bishops alone but of representatives of all the dioceses. Bishops are the episcopal representatives and sit as one house, the HoB, all the rest of the representative sit as the other house, the HoD. The question I am raising is whether there are on the level of the church wide synod decisions that ought to fall to the bishops alone and if so what are those and do they require meetings between General Convention.

    At the moment there are indeed episcopal decisions that can be made between conventions. Question, ought they be made then if it is possible to wait?

    Interestingly, the HoB minutes are part of the General Convention book of minutes. Executive Council's minutes are not. And of course there are no "between the meetings" meetings of the House of Deputies.

    God forbid that we should become the Deputarian Church. Ugly name, bad idea.

    The reason for bishops is in my mind more for us who are part of parish and diocesan life. It is here that you make a profound difference and exercise local "head of family" status. When the bishops meet together separate from General Convention do they then have "head of family" status as a group? In fact perhaps so.

    My question concerns the almost de facto power granted the advisory / instructive /prayerful work of that body apart from the community of the General Synod and the necessity for the specific items that require business meetings (with quorums, minutes, votes, etc) between General Conventions.

    We are the Episcopal Church for good reasons. I am not sure House of Bishops meetings between General Conventions with required "business" needs to be one of them.

    Then again what do I know? I'm among those who are glad to have one (a good one I might add.) As a user of bishops I give great respect to the office and most of the time to the persons holding them. You all ought to meet. The work will be better for the fellowship and sharing.

  9. +Pierre,

    The reason for our appellation is to signify that we HAVE bishops (as opposed to presbyterian and congregational churches).

    It doesn't mean we're the "Prince-Bishop" church. GC, tweak the canons!


    [FYI, Mark: the switch to "URL optional" on the Name/URL posting option, is doing something weird (illegal characters?), and blocking my access by that usual route]


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.