GC 97: pre-convention observations

Philadelphia: Monday, 14 July 1997

Our reporter doesn't arrive at the General Convention until tomorrow. This brief report was filed by a convention delegate who will be too busy to report on anything once the convention starts.
--Brian Reid, SoAJ News Editor


The first 'official' day of the 72nd General Convention is Wednesday, but the legislative committees have begun meeting, and deputies and bishops assigned to committees are here in force. (I think about 60 percent of the House of Deputies is assigned to committees.)

I was disappointed that of the eight bishops assigned to my committee (with whom the House of Deputies committee is jointly meeting) only one (the chair) showed up.

The Philadelphia Convention Centre is immense. The exhibitors (of which it seems there will be several hundred) are assembling their booths; one needed to walk past the piles of plywood and two-by-fours, coils of electrical cables, mountains of boxes, and so on to reach deputy certification. Everywhere one looks there are volunteers, all wearing (in addition to their own habiliment) a blue apron of some sort, the kind that ties round one's neck as well as one's waist, stamped with the seal of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and the logo of this General Convention.

The walk from the Marriott (where many delegations are housed) is roughly a long city block, but one can traverse it staying entirely inside, since the refurbished Reading Railroad terminal connects the hotel and the Convention Centre. The news and telecommunications staffs of the Church Center are setting up their offices, and there are about 12 computers (what appear to be mostly Macintoshes) in the telecommunications room. A briefing room for the press is set up nearby. Down the vast hallways branching off the central concourse of the convention centre one finds, amongst many other things, the General Convention print shop, a meditation chapel, a series of offices for Church Center staff, and a room set aside for a museum of Diocese of Pennsylvania history. All in all, this seems a small Episcopal city.

A friend and I took an advanced look at the House of Deputies, to meet in Hall 'C'. It is an immense cavern of a room, now all arranged with rows of chairs and linen-draped tables, with vertical stands at the end of each table on which dioceses' names are stamped so one can find one's spot.

In order that the early part of the diocesan alphabet doesn't always claim the front-row seats, the seating is rotated on some schedule unknown to me, with the last, presumably, becoming the first and vice versa. We were amused to see that, quite by happenstance, the Diocese of Quincy and the Diocese of Newark are at the same table. Each table has on it a copy of the Blue Book, the Constitution and Canons, and the Journal of the 1994 General Convention. One sits within one's delegation by orders. The canons of the church mandate that on the platform there will always be a Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. (They were not yet in evidence when we were walking about.)

The House of Deputies platform looks similar to the sorts of things one sees at political conventions. There are two huge screens to the left and right of the platform, on which a speaker's image (I presume) will be projected. Alas, one can't find any accessible electrical outlets in the hall, so a deputy with a portable computer who hoped to used it during the sessions will be more or less out of luck.

As Tod Maffin points out in the General Convention section of his Anglicans Online site, this is the second largest convention in the US, after the Democratic National Convention. The logistics are quite extraordinary indeed.

Interesting fact: Delegations were informed in advanced that the church requested that the official Convention hotels not replace the little shampoo bottles after they are emptied, apparently since (can this be right?) the city doesn't recycle them. The money save by this--about $4000--will be given to various feed-the-hungry programmes in the city of Philadelphia.

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