The first constitution of the church, ratified in 1789, reflects these foundational principles. Parishes were led jointly by rectors and vestries: clergy overseeing worship and education, and elected laypeople managing finances and property, as well as calling new rectors. The tradition of colonial conventions led to state conventions, which were what we now call dioceses, presided by the bishop but that have power to determine the life of the diocese. The annual diocesan convention oversees finances, elects a bishop when necessary and a standing committee and other governing bodies (depending on the dioceses) to exercise jurisdiction.
So far these were not very different than the features of English church life. It was the creation of a “general convention” endued with specific powers that marked the American Episcopal revolution. In short, while the Church of England and most of the churches that came from it have an archbishop who serves as the metropolitical authority, that authority resides in the General Convention.
Thus on the face of it, the seven bishops [signed an amicus curiæ brief submitted to the Texas Supreme Court] are right. In The Episcopal Church, the classic church hierarchy of deacon — priest — diocesan — archbishop ends at the diocesan level. But this is to misunderstand what a hierarchy is.
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