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Salt Lake City chosen for 2015 Episcopal General Convention

The Episcopal Church Executive Council announced during its February meeting in Fort Worth that the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church will be held in Salt Lake City.

General Conventions of the Episcopal Church are held every three years, traditionally in July. The 2012 General Convention is being held in Indianapolis. The most recent General Convention was held in 2009 in Anaheim, Calif.

"This is really a tremendous thing, both for the Episcopal Church in Utah and for Salt Lake City," said the Rt. Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, Bishop of Utah. "We could potentially have as many as 20,000 people come to Salt Lake from all around the Episcopal Church. I'm pleased that they will be able to get a sense of our ministry here, and see what a wonderful place Utah is to live."

The Convention is expected to take place in July 2015. The exact dates will be determined later.

The General Convention usually lasts about 10 days and brings to town with it thousands of delegates and their families, vendors, journalists and religious leaders from throughout the world. Convention sessions are open to the public and traditionally attract hundreds of observers.

The Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, executive officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, said that with only 25 congregations, the Utah diocese is the smallest to ever host a General Convention.

"It really is something to have this happen in Salt Lake City," she said. "To come from such small and humble beginnings in Utah to this — it has been an amazing journey for us."

The Episcopal Church has been part of Utah's religious landscape since 1867, when the first Bishop of Utah, the Rt. Rev. Daniel S. Tuttle, arrived in Salt Lake City to establish churches, hospitals and schools. Today the faith thrives, but the Episcopal community in Utah is still significantly smaller than in other locations that have hosted General Conventions.

"It speaks well of the diocese that Salt Lake City was selected," Rev. Nestler said. "It also speaks well of Salt Lake City."

"We couldn't have done this without the hard work of Visit Salt Lake (the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau)," Bishop Hayashi said. "They were amazing. They went all out to invite this Convention, and to make everyone comfortable with making this decision."

A Visit Salt Lake press release indicated the Convention "will generate approximately 25,855 room nights and $9.23 million in direct attendee spending" when it arrives in 2015.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church is different from most other religious conferences and conventions. Rather than being a series of meetings and workshops with lectures and sermons, it is an actual functioning legislative body that meets to consider and vote upon as many as 400 pieces of legislation affecting church policy, practice and doctrine.

Much like the U.S. Congress, the General Convention features two legislative houses, the House of Bishops (consisting of approximately 240 bishops) and the House of Deputies (consisting of about 900 lay and clergy delegates, including 8 delegates from each of the church's 109 diocese).

The Salt Lake City Convention will be a wonderful opportunity to "showcase the really radically democratic nature of the Episcopal Church," Rev. Nestler said.

"The two houses function independently, but ultimately they have to work together to get legislation passed — just like in Congress," Rev. Nestler said. "Everyone has one vote. The vote of the Presiding Bishop doesn't count any more than the vote of a lay member of the Utah delegation."

Bishop Hayashi held up a thick volume of legislation considered at the Anaheim Convention in 2009.

"We'll get through this much legislation every Convention," he said. "It's a lot of work, but it's also a very interesting and spiritually rewarding experience."

"We try to maintain a very worshipful atmosphere," Rev. Nestler said. "We spend a lot of time each day in prayer and Bible study — that is always very moving, very thoughtful."

And when decisions are made, there is no cheering or clapping, and no demonstrations.

"We keep a respectful attitude toward each other during this process," Rev. Nestler said. "Even if the vote doesn't turn out as you wish, you're still part of this church."

Members of the Diocese of Utah will be watching carefully to see how things are handled during the Indianapolis Convention in July. "As soon as that Convention is over, the next Convention is in our lap," Rev. Nestler said.

Putting the Salt Lake City Convention together is going to be a big job, requiring the work of Episcopal Church members in Utah as well as thousands of volunteers. "We'll be reaching out to hundreds of people in the community, including non-Episcopalians, to provide staff and support for the Convention," Bishop Hayashi said. "This is going to be a great event for the entire community, and its going to take the entire community to make it happen."