August 3, 2012

New Way of Allocating Deputies to be Proposed

Episcopal dioceses have many ways of determining how many lay deputies to the diocesan convention are allocated to each parish or mission. Each allocation method answers, at least implicitly, a number of questions about practicality and fairness. Should every parish have the same representation? Should the distribution of deputies be based on a kind of one-parishioner-one-vote philosophy? What should the balance be between the number of clergy and the number of lay deputies? Does the allocation system assure that all viewpoints are represented?

Pittsburgh has long given more deputies to larger parishes. Under the current scheme, which is specified by Canon II, each parish (including what some dioceses call missions) is entitled to a minimum of two deputies. A third deputy is awarded when the number of “duly registered communicants” reaches 201. Each additional 200 communicants earns another deputy, up to a maximum of 10.

This method of allocating deputies may be attractive to the start-up house church with 15 members, but it might seem less fair to the more established church with 175 members, which sends the same number of deputies to the diocesan convention. Although there has not been an outcry to change Canon II—our diocese has had more urgent matters to deal with—the Committee on Constitution and Canons, which I chair, decided to look for a method of allocating deputies that maintains many features of the current plan but distinguishes between a very small church (say, St. James’, Penn Hills) and a modest, but significantly larger, church (say, Redeemer, Squirrel Hill).

The committee will offer a revised Canon II at the annual convention that will reward a third deputy for a church with 71 members. As the number of parishioners increases, it takes more of them to earn another deputy. The overall effect is to increase the influence of mid-size churches without giving undue power to the largest churches in the diocese. Because the plan increases the total number of deputies, more Pittsburgh Episcopalians will be directly involved in diocesan affairs. As matters currently stand, smaller churches often have trouble recruiting two deputies, while mid-size churches often cannot accommodate parishioners who strongly want to become deputies.

The proposed new Canon II is still being edited, so I cannot post it now, but I hope that this preview will get people thinking about why the current method of assigning deputies needs to be improved.

For Episcopalians from other dioceses who might be reading this, how does your diocese allocate deputies, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the system currently in use?

Postscript. One can ask—many have been asking, in fact—whether the representation in General Convention’s House of Deputies is reasonable. The House of Deputies has as many clergy as lay deputies, and every diocese has the same size deputation, even though the largest diocese has something like 40 times the number of Episcopalians as the smallest. (See the article by Russ Randle, “At Convention, Some Baptisms More Equal Than Others,” which was published in Center Aisle by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and distributed July 5, 2012, at General Convention.)


  1. Thanks, Lionel, and I think this is a good direction. I'll be interested to see the specifics of the proposal.

    I know in the pre-division era and especially in the run-up to the "realignment" vote in the 2006-2008 era there was a concerted effort to get "church plants" organized as parishes, even if they were very small, and at least part of the motivation for this, in my opinion, was to inflate the "supermajority." Some of those "plants" have indeed grown into more substantial congregations. Some have remained as small groups. Others have disappeared. But along the way there was a certain level of distortion as we looked to Convention to assess the will of the diocese as a whole.

    We are going to be (I pray) very much a missionary diocese in the next decades, which will inevitably mean a profusion of re-starts, church plants, house groups, preaching stations, missionary outposts, etc., and these will live alongside some of our older, declining parishes, and of course with many stable, growing parishes as well. As you say, there is something odd when two communities with 10-15 active members would bring 4 lay deputies to diocesan convention, outnumbering the representation of a 300 member congregation with 100+ on a Sunday.

    We would want to have a process of representative governance that will work over the long-term to give all an appropriate place at the table, but that at the same time will maintain a reasonable proportionality.

    Bruce Robison

    1. Bruce,

      You point out a serious problem with the current system and how it was used to support “realignment.” I don’t think we will ever find a “perfect” system, but the one being proposed is, in the opinion of the committee at least, an improvement. Moreover, the system can be changed in obvious ways to achieve slightly different results, allowing us, if necessary, to modify the allocation over time for one reason or another (e.g., to keep the convention from getting too big). Canon II is, after all, a canon, so it can be changed at any annual convention. I think the committee’s proposal deserves to be given a try.


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