On Friday July 6 General Convention experienced the first of several joint sessions between the house of bishops and house of deputies. The screens at the front of the house, however, made no mention of joint sessions- instead they were emblazoned with the word “TEConversations.” Immediately my mind went back to a meeting GCOYP had with the Presiding Bishop earlier this week. He had mentioned events patterned off TED talks, where various speakers could engage us in conversations about issues facing the church and the world today, but it was hard for me to imagine how these events would fit into the process of General Convention. Once I learned joint sessions were TEConversations in disguise, I soon realized that they were in a position to be one of the most interesting and engaging portions of General Convention. The one we attended on the sixth discussed racial reconciliation. Speakers ranged from an ex-neo-nazi to a dreamer who crossed the border to the US at seven years old. Many of these speeches followed the example of TED talks, with speakers talking about their experience for a few minutes. There was enough variation to keep people engaged, however, with a video shown and a poem read to the audience. As someone who has always enjoyed TED talks, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to listen to so many impactful speakers.
There was another part of this session, however, that made me think it was more than copyright issues that changed the word “Talk” to the word “Conversations”. At a talk, you are merely talked at. This is not a bad thing, one only needs to look at the popularity of ted talks to understand that; however, this was not all that occurred that Friday morning. Something more was added to the format: a conversation. For the last half hour, we were invited to talk with the people around us. During this first TEConversation we discussed racial reconciliation; we were given an opportunity to share our reaction to what we heard. We were able to consider with each other how we might affect racial reconciliation as an individual and how the church can further support reconciliation in the coming years.
This conversation was especially impactful for two reasons. First of all, it allowed for those who were not deputies or bishops, the onlookers at the side of the house, to speak among themselves and participate as wholly as those on the floor were able to. Secondly, an atmosphere was evoked that was far different than when I normally spoke about what the church can do for racial reconciliation. I have participated in similar activities before and had that same conversation quite a few times. This time, however, it felt like a real change was being created, not just a change in myself but also a change in the church. We talked on the floor of the house of deputies, where the government of the church is discussed and decided. Suddenly, my words seemed to carry a little more weight, compared to when I mentioned how the church should support racial reconciliation back home. Realistically, words to my youth group in Michigan are far less likely to effect change compared to the words of hundreds of deputies in conversation at General Convention.
I began the second TEConversation with anticipation. This time, the GCOYP was told to sit with our deputations instead of talking amongst ourselves. This only served to improve my experience; many of the youth afterward spoke of how they had felt acknowledged and listened to during the session, and felt as if they had been able to communicate with the voting members of the house of deputies. Although the second session discussed Evangelism, a topic I have much less interest in compared to Racial Reconciliation, I found myself still completely engaged during the talks and the discussion. As I watched various people, from alternates to observers to deputations to bishops, join together in conversation, it seemed as if a small amount of history had been placed before my eyes. The moment and the event was truly awe-inspiring. It felt like I was participating in a true conversation across the Episcopal church; a conversation where people not only talked but also listened.
Written by Claire Parish