Belated first impressions

Although this is my fourth of fifth posting from General Convention, I am just getting around to setting down a few first impressions. I spent so much of yesterday getting here, setting up equipment and racing to “must cover” events that I didn’t get a chance to reflect at all on what I was seeing.

The first thing that struck me about the Convention was its vastness. It kind of reminds me of the Olympics, with life concentrated in a “village”—in this case, a village of high rise concrete and sloping glass-enclosed skywalks—and many events occurring in multiple “venues,” as they say in Olympic-speak, simultaneously.

The main hall, where where we worship is a dark modernist furrow at least 80 yards long by about 50 yards wide (I am guessing) and only about half occupied by the 200 (or so) 10-seat, round tables that have been set up to accommodate deputies, bishops, guests and the media. It’s got a “show the infrastructure” type of ceiling with the heating ducts and electrical working visible, and this adds to the feeling that one is underground. The main stage juts up from amongst the tables about three-quarters of the way down the lefthand wall as one enters. Media and guests sit at the tables closest to the door. From that distance, it is impossible to verify if the person at the podium is indeed who they say they are. I’ve been closer to Bruce Springsteen at the Meadowlands and Carrier Dome than I was to Bishop Griswold yesterday during his opening remarks.

The ceiling above the main stage is hung with banners bearing lilies of the valley. They’d look lovely someplace else, I think, but here the industrial quality of the surroundings overwhelms them.

The exhibit hall, a short walk down the main corridor of the convention center, is even larger than the meeting area, but brighter, and broken up into neighborhoods. What Diagon Alley is for wizards (That’s a Harry Potter reference for you muggles.) the exhibit hall is for Episcopalians. You can buy vestments, books, tapes, software and art. You can learn about our seminaries, publications and interest groups. You can also buy fudge—alas, it is Amish Fudge, not Anglican Fudge, so the sight gag potential is zero.

The National Cathedral’s exhibit may be the best looking one in the hall. Lots of colorful Donovan Marks photographs, great items from the museum shop and the friendly faces of his eminence Greg Rixon, my Cathedral counterpart, and Canon Michael Wyatt and Wayne Floyd of the Cathedral College. The Cathedral’s exhibit sits beside the exhibit for the American Anglican Council, an arrangement that I believe neither group finds ideas.

Roaming about yesterday, I ran into Father Richard Downing of St. James, Capitol Hill, who is here with is wife the Rev. Patricia Downing of Good Shepherd, who is an alternate deputy; the Rev. Elizabeth McWhorter of St. Patrick’s, an alternate deputy who was wearing her volunteer apron and giving directions to lost souls; Bishop Jane Dixon, who I learned to my delight is a fan of this blog; Canon Carol Cole Flanagan, who understands how the Convention works better than anyone on our diocesan staff; my friend Tim Boggs, of St. Alban’s, who is now at General Seminary and has some kind of staff-type job to do up on the main platform when the deputies are in session, and the staff of our Office of Government Affairs, Maureen Shea of St. Mark’s Capitol Hill, John Johnson of St. Thomas, Dupont Circle, Alex Baumgarten and Molly Keane.

Just to finish the Washington round-up, at the Overseas Bishops Dinner, I chatted with Rose Longmire of Holy Trinity, Bowie, president of our chapter of Episcopal Church Women. She had just gotten in to town, and had barely had time to dress for he dinner, but she said friends had told her that if she was only going to make one dinner other than the ECW’s own event, which I think is tonight, this was the one.

Maureen and I sat with Bishop Chane and Karen Chane at the dinner. We were joined by Canon Habacuc Ramos-Huerta, provincial secretary of the Church of Mexico, an old friend of the Chanes’. He met them first when the bishop was a rector in the Diocese of Massachusetts, but really got to know them when he was in Baja California and they were in San Diego.

I keep promising to write more about the international bishops and the dinner, and I will eventually. It’s not that it was a stunning event, but it was food for thought, and I haven’t digested it all yet.

It is 10:30 here, and even though today looks like a pretty slow day newswise, I’d still like to get down to the Convention Center and see what is going on. More later, either before or after the U2-charist tonight.

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