This year marks our 143th convention.
That means we’ve been having conventions since 1875. To put that into perspective, our first convention was held the year before the telephone was patented (1876) and 33 years before Henry Ford introduced the Model-T (1908). People didn’t come to convention by car, they came by horse and buggy. Resolutions weren’t being emailed out and casually discussed over the phone or via some form of web-chat. They had to rely solely on the U.S. Postal Service for all communications that were not in-person.
Of course, we don’t do things quite like we did in 1875. Things have slowly evolved. The 500 copies of bios we (technically) require for floor nominations wouldn’t have been possible in 1875 – no copy machines. Conversely, thanks to email and the Internet, we don’t need to bring 500 pieces of paper to convention for people to learn about the candidates.
Up until now, we have planned convention as if we still existed in an era before the Internet, apps, smartphones, tablets, email, personal computers, web-chat and texting. So this time, we formed a committee to look at how we could do convention in the 21st century. (*see footnote for the names of committee members)
The committee quickly concluded that convention should be much more than two days of business meetings. With the use of pre-convention meetings, electronic voting and the electronic distribution of information, couldn’t we make convention more like a homecoming, with opportunities to grow and share our stories with each other? (See pages 10-11 for changes.)
The result is that a program was designed for this year’s convention that is more like convocation with some business thrown in. We really want to build on the wonderful things that came out of the Exodus convocation. We’re bringing in Paul Fromberg, rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Fransisco and the author of The Art of Transformation. Father Fromberg will also lead a breakout session on making room for “otherness.” There will be other breakout sessions on everything from thriving in a small parish to sustainable living. The goal is to create a convention of relationship, fellowship, learning and connection. A gathering that is appealing not just to delegates, but to everyone.
For many of us on the committee planning what we are affectionately calling “Convention 2.0,” this new way of doing convention is both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because it could be the birth of beautiful new expressions of how we engage those around us. Terrifying because as with anything new, we face the possibility of making mistakes and failing.
What finally convinced us to take this chance is the fact that many of us, including the bishop, have long been preaching a message of taking chances. To use the old cliché, throw it against the wall and see what sticks. If we are not prepared to make mistakes then we are never going to grow. Every congregation in the country is at a crossroads. Do we stay exactly where we are or do we risk the possibility of failure by trying something new?
Author J.K. Rowling said she wrote Harry Potter because she had failed at everything else. She was an unemployed, single mother living on public assistance. She said that she had this idea for a book and she was going to write it because, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to her?” Every publisher in Britain might reject her, but that didn’t seem so bad compared to being an unemployed, single mother living on public assistance for the rest of her life. It is usually in risk-taking that we find our best rewards.
I hope you enjoy Convention 2.0. Some of it we’ll get right. Some of it we may get wrong. But we promise to grab hold of what went right and learn from what went wrong. My hope is that we will begin something new that will have long-term benefits for us and for those around us.
* The “Convention 2.0” committee: Philip DeVaul, Charles Graves, Jane Gerdsen, Andrea Foote, Aaron Wright, Nadya Richardson, Meribah Mansfield, Julie Murray, David Robinson, and David Dreisbach.
David Dreisbach serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.