Southwest Welcomes The Episcopal Church to Austin


Seminary of the Southwest and the 79th General Convention

Austin, Texas –home of Seminary of the Southwest since its founding in 1952 – became the center of The Episcopal Church for two eventful weeks as the diocese of Texas welcomed the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church to the Lone Star State in July of 2018. The tri-annual event convenes the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church and is considered the largest regularly meeting governance body in North America.

For General Convention to gather in a city that is home to an Episcopal seminary is rare. The last occurrence was 1913, when the gathering took place in New York City. The faculty, students and staff of Seminary of the Southwest embraced this unique opportunity with a healthy slate of planned activities and outreach. Seminary leadership sought to form new relationships, discover new opportunities, and deepen bonds with alumni and other supporters within the church.

“With hard work and good spirits, the community of Seminary of the Southwest did a remarkable job welcoming the many people who came to Austin for General Convention.  Our staff and volunteers faithfully enacted our core values of hospitality and celebration,” said Dr. Scott Bader-Saye, Acting Dean and President.

Visitors to Austin were first greeted by a billboard seen on the highway near the airport that had one simple message: ‘Welcome, Y’all!’ Much of the activity of Southwest centered on the seminary’s core values of Hospitality and Conversation. The night before the official start of General Convention – the Fourth of July – Southwest partnered with Good Shepherd on the Hill, an extension campus of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, which enjoys a perfect view of the fireworks display over downtown Austin. With alums The Rev. Morgan Allen and The Rev. Kathy Pfister as hosts, and food provided by The Rev. Sean Steele and his Abundant Harvest food truck ministry, the event had the feel of a mid-summer family gathering.

On Saturday, July 9th, Southwest hosted the Bishops’ Spouses and Partners group for a luncheon on the seminary campus. Members of the group received a campus tour and heard a keynote address from The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean and President. The following day, Sunday, July 10th, with convention attendees encouraged to seek out worship locally, Southwest hosted a Holy Eucharist and Brunch on campus. The service filled both Christ Chapel and the Weeks Center to capacity, as the seminary graciously welcomed a large group of worshipers that included two former Presiding Bishops.

“The Eucharist and brunch on Sunday proved to be a high point for many of us, as we were able to connect and reconnect with alumni, supporters of the seminary, bishops and their spouses, and new people who were getting to know us for the first time.  I was a delight to share our campus, our chapel, and our canopy of live oaks with so many friends,” said Bader-Saye.

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.