Observing the Rituals of the House of Deputies

We in the Episcopal Church love nothing better than a good liturgy. It’s no surprise then that the work of the House of Deputies is another example of great liturgy—a Greek word that original referred to public duty but is translated now as “the work of the people.”image1

Although I have only been here for a few days, I already know that if two words could be associated with this 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church those words would have to have to be work and people. The volume of writing, talking, connecting, voting and more is impressive and at times overwhelming.

The connection is deeper than that. The work of the House of Deputies is liturgical in its very form. We begin each session in prayer, led by the chaplain to the House of Deputies. Every good Episcopal liturgy starts with the Collect of the Day, and so we know from the start that the liturgy has begun.

Sometimes, we join our voices in song. Today, for example, as we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the House of Deputies, the chaplain led us in a repeating round, as he banged a drum, of “We are one together, yo yo yo.” Songs give us a way to express our deepest hopes and dreams for our community. They provide and outlet for emotion. They are another form of prayer. No liturgy would be complete without them.

Of course, no good liturgy would be complete without “Episcopal Calisthenics.” Replacing the more traditional “stand to praise, sit to learn, kneel to pray,” during the House of Deputies “Sits in discernment and learning and stands in celebration and recognition.” Applause are allowed occasionally—but for people, not for legislation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these meetings incorporate a familiar and comforting call and response. Like the “The Lord be with you” refrain and the “And also with you” response, the polite patter of the meeting moves things along. “Mr. Secretary, what is our next item of business?” with the response “Thank you, Madame President. The next matter before the house… ” As each deputy comes to microphone, “Deputy So and so,…” and the Deputy is given the floor.

At first glance, the old-world courtesy and understatement may seem outdated. However, it underlines the importance and gravity of the work being done. It creates a container for good manners, kindness, and regard in the midst of discussion of deeply divisive issues. And, as in the pews of our churches, it provides a framework for supporting and celebrating unity in the midst of diversity.

It’s good to know that, as Episcopalians, we are as much who we are in our legislative process as we are in prayer and worship. We manage, in the midst of secular concerns around budgets, rules of order, and church codes and canons, to maintain the sacred dance in a way that allows us to focus ultimately on care for each other and the world.

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