About the historic roles of the
Executive Officer and
Secretary of the General Convention
According to the canons of The Episcopal Church, the Secretary of the House of Deputies, by concurrent action of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, becomes the Secretary of General Convention, and assumes a variety of duties and roles, including becoming the Secretary of the Executive Council and the corporate Secretary of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The Secretary of General Convention is also the Registrar of the General Convention, and therefore has a canonical role in the certification of bishops in our church, among other important canonical duties.
The Executive Officer of the General Convention is appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and confirmed by the Executive Council. The Executive Officer is charged in Canon I.1.13b with general supervision of the Secretary, as well as the Treasurer of General Convention.
The fundamental role of all the offices described is that of the Secretary of the General Convention. That office is arguably the oldest of the church, having been created by the first General Convention in 1785, with the election of the Rev. Dr. David Griffith. (Both the offices of President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop are younger, and the office of Chairman of the General Convention was extinguished after the creation of the House of Bishops.) The Secretary of the House of Deputies is an office with duties relating to the good order of that house, with responsibilities exercised mainly during the meeting of that House, and in preparations for its meetings. The Secretary of the General Convention assumes those historic duties – and more, becoming, de facto, what other provinces of the Anglican Communion call the “Provincial Secretary, ” the person charged by the Church to keep good records, to administer the ongoing government of the church, to serve as a corporate officer of the church, and to be a guarantor of the polity, constitution and canons of the church – in other words, an integral part of the bedrock “seemly and in good order” principles of Anglicanism.
It is in that sense, since its creation, that the Executive Officer of the General Convention has always been the Secretary of General Convention. “There shall be an executive office of the General Convention,” the canons declare, to be headed by an Executive Officer. This is the professional role of the Secretary, clarifying that the General Convention intends its triennial and interim governance be administered and overseen professionally, by a person accountable to the General Convention through its Executive Council. Other branches of the Anglican Communion, whose polity places an Archbishop at the head of the Church, have no such person; the Episcopal Church is unique, as its polity is unique. While some other Anglican provincial secretaries serve as staff to the Archbishop, the canons of our church make clear that the Executive Office of the General Convention serves both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies and the ongoing governance of General Convention, and does so primarily through the Executive Council, the other interim bodies of the General Convention, and through the requirement that bishops’ elections be certified not only by the Presiding Bishop, but also by the Secretary of General Convention as Registrar. The required joint action of both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops to select a Secretary of General Convention underscore this point.
The role of the Secretary of General Convention is fundamentally a diaconal one – one of service to the church, its bishops, deputies, and other leaders. But the role of Secretary of General Convention is not just for the moment: it is also one that, exemplified in his or her role of accurate record keeper, is both a guarantor of the common decisions made by this church in its General Convention, including its Constitution and Canons, and also the conservator of information that can and should be the springboard for mission. The historic actions of our church, the on-going work of convention during the triennium, and the actions of generations to come are connected in a deep, and holy, way. As an incarnational people, as an apostolic people, we know our past, present and future are indelibly connected. The Secretary of General Convention serves as a sign of that, in the polity and theology of our church. In that spirit, I regard it as a high blessing to serve our church as your secretary, and in that servant role to pledge the same fealty to the historic mission of service to the Good News of Jesus Christ, that has characterized my distinguished predecessors.
The Reverend Canon Dr. Michael Barlowe
Adapted from remarks at the 78th General Convention
The Secretaries of General Convention, 1785-2015
|The Rev. David Griffith||1785|
|Mr. Francis Hopkinson||1786, 1789|
|The Rev. John Bisset||1792|
|The Rev. James Aberscrombie||1795, 1799|
|The Rev. Ashbel Baldwin||1801|
|The Rev. John Henry Hobart||1804, 1808|
|The Rev. Ashbel Baldwin||1811, 1814, 1817, 1820, 1821|
|The Rev. John Churchill Rudd||1823|
|The Rev. Benjamin Tredwell Onderdock||1826, 1829|
|The Rev. Henry Anthon||1832, 1835, 1838, 1841 (until 3rd day)|
|The Rev. William Cooper Mead||1841 (3rd day), 1844, 1847|
|The Rev. M.A. DeWolf Howe||1850, 1853, 1856, 1859|
|The Rev. George Maxwell Randall||1862, 1865 (until 18th day)|
|The Rev. William Stevens Perry||1865 (18th day), 1868, 1871, 1874|
|The Rev. Charles L. Hutchins||1877, 1880, 1883, 1886, 1889, 1892, 1895, 1898, 1901|
|The Rev. Henry Amstice||1904, 1907, 1910, 1913, 1916, 1919|
|The Rev. Carroll Melvin Davis||1922, 1925, 1928, 1931|
|The Rev. Franklin Jones Clark||1934, 1937, 1940, 1943|
|The Rev. C. Rankin Barnes||1946, 1949, 1952, 1955, 1958|
|The Rev. Samuel N. Baxter||1961|
|The Rev. Charles M. Guilbert||1964, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1973|
|The Rev. Canon James R. Gundrum||1976, 1979, 1982, 1985|
|The Rev. Canon Donald A. Nickerson, Jr.||1988, 1991, 1994, 1997|
|The Rev. Rosemari G. Sullivan||2000, 2003|
|The Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Straub||2006, 2009, 2012|
|The Rev. Canon Dr. Michael Barlowe||2015|