Seminary of the Southwest and the 79th General Convention
Another key goal was to provide opportunities to engage or re-engage convention attendees with two qualities Southwest is always eager to share: the exceptional nature of its community, and its serene campus. Despite being only a few miles from the convention center, Southwest staff understood it would be difficult to get busy attendees to visit their campus. To help solve this dilemma, the planning team focused on the area many attendees would often find themselves: the General Convention exhibit hall.
This led to robust participation from faculty, staff and students at the Southwest booth throughout the convention. Visitors and alumni were able to meet directly with many of the people who make up the Southwest community. Southwest staff felt this was the most authentic method for creating discussion around the positive direction of the seminary and many of its newer initiatives.
“I think the alumni continue to see the growth, health and vitality of the seminary, as well as our ability to hold to the tenants of formation while extending ourselves to try new formation models. It was remarkable to see bishops who are not our graduates take up the Southwest banner with other bishops to further our mission and vision,” said Betty Hewell, Vice-President for Institutional Advancement.
Another effort to bring the seminary to the convention center led to the creation of what became one of the most recognizable installations in the exhibit hall: a 2/3 scale replica of the seminary cross as the centerpiece of the Southwest booth. “Our cross is outside our chapel, but visible from within to remind our students that the work of the church will take them out into the world. It is easily our most recognizable icon, and we very much wanted to share that with the rest of the church,” said Eric Scott, Director of Communications.
Knowing that most convention attendees would be navigating events primarily through digital resources, Southwest extended their hospitality to internet platforms to further improve the attendee experience. Among the most successful of these efforts was the reporting on activity from legislative hearings, as well as from the floor of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Southwest’s social media feeds – primarily through Twitter – became a ‘go-to’ resource for those wanting to follow along with the complicated legislative happenings. These efforts were led by The Rev. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, the Duncalf-Villavaso Professor of Church History, and The Rev. Hunter Griffin, an alum from the class of 2015.
While not as impactful on governance decisions, another online hospitality effort was the creation of the ‘Doing Austin Right’ visitor guide. Southwest reached out to alumni, faculty, students and staff to share the places they loved to eat, drink, gather, exercise, meditate and recharge in their beloved city. This well-received guide was hosted on the official General Convention app, and provided attendees with information to help improve their experience in Austin.
Throughout the two weeks, Southwest faculty and students also participated in several events hosted by other organizations and testified at legislative sessions on a wide range of topics. Faculty members Dr. Steven Tomlinson and The Rev. Jane Patterson spoke on ‘Practices for Living Well’ at the Episcopal Health Foundation booth, and Dr. Scott Bader-Saye spoke during a town hall conversation at the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice booth.
As the convention drew to a close, Southwest hosted alumni at a lively reception filled with excitement and fellowship at the J.W. Marriott on July 10th. The gathering was highlighted by the rousing remarks of The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, who is also Chair of Southwest’s Board of Trustees.
The last night of General Convention saw Southwest host a LGBTQ+ Latinx Roundtable and Reception at the Driskill Hotel. Attendees at the roundtable remarked that it was the first gathering of a group of its type that most could remember, and was an important step for this critical conversation within the church.
The 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is scheduled to convene in 2021 in Baltimore, MD.