(RNS) — A pigeon, a baby and "Flat Jesus" walked into a convention center.
As the Episcopal Church's 79th General Convention ends on Friday (July 13) at the Austin Convention Center, many attendees and those following on the internet will remember the nine-day meeting as much for the parody Twitter accounts, hashtags and other memes as for the resolutions that passed.
One of the breakout internet stars of the convention was a pigeon that got into the hall. "Episcobaby" found fame celebrating the convention's hospitality toward infants and women (and by being cute). Even Harry Potter made an appearance.
It's not that bishops and deputies haven't taken their duties seriously, said the Rev. Paul Castelli, the first clergy alternate from the Diocese of Michigan and creator of the Episcobaby Twitter account. The convention discussed revising the denomination's Book of Common Prayer and altering rules related to weddings for same-sex couples. Attendees also prayed outside a detention center in solidarity with immigrants affected by Trump administration policies.
"There's a lot of tension at General Convention. It's hard," Castelli said. "To have goofy, dumb, cute things takes a break from the vitriol on social media around this stuff and gives you something to smile about."
It's not the first year bishops, deputies and convention watchers have played as they worked at their triennial General Convention.
In 2012 in Indianapolis, several deputies came up with the game of Bonnie Ball, named for then-House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson. The game awarded points to speakers for using particular words and phrases, wearing hats and other behavior, which the self-appointed umpires kept secret until the winner was announced at the end of the meeting.
Laminated paper cutouts known as Flat Jesus, which were decorated and distributed by youth and young adults from the Diocese of Michigan, have appeared at several conventions, including this year's, as well as in a number of tweets.
Those who indulge in the memes say the humor reminds them why they feel passionately about the issues being decided: They love the Episcopal Church, and they all are part of the same church, not just opposing sides in a debate.
After all, who doesn't crack a smile at a picture of a cute baby on the internet?
Here’s more about three of the most popular memes at the convention:
General Convention Pigeon
The General Convention Pigeon, who one Twitter user dubbed Steve, has visited booths in the exhibition hall and landed at one of the microphones during one session of the House of Deputies. Though it didn't speak, the pigeon did work his way into Bishop Michael Curry's sermon at the convention revival, who said, "We’re basically like that pigeon in the House of Deputies."
With the help of anonymous humans, the General Convention Pigeon also started his own Twitter handle, @GC79Pigeon, quickly gaining more than 800 followers.
The pigeon, through one of those anonymous humans, even communicated to Religion News Service, saying, "It helps us all step back and laugh and, at the end of the day, do our work better."
This is Castelli's third General Convention, but his first as a new dad. On the first day of the conference, he and his wife, Mechelle Sieglitz, created the @Episcobaby Twitter account for their daughter, Aria, asking, "Where are my other Episcobabies at?"
He thought he'd post a few funny tweets from Episcobaby to "lighten the mood." The most popular, Castelli noted, also were pointed.
One happy photo was accompanied by the words "@episcobaby is pleased" after a question about bringing nursing babies onto the floor of the House of Deputies earlier in the convention was resolved. A resolution unanimously passed Wednesday that clarified that all children under 1 are allowed onto the floor with their parents, as well as older children while they are nursed or bottle-fed.
There's no deep, theological meaning behind the hashtag #GC79andthreequarters, according to its creator, Chris Corbin, communications director for the Diocese of South Dakota.
Following along with the General Convention online, Corbin entertained himself by mashing up the convention's official hashtag — #GC79 — with the name of the fictional train platform from which witches and wizards board their train to Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. Under the hashtag #GC79andthreequarters, he began tweeting posts that mixed references from the beloved children's series with the proceedings in Austin.
Soon, Corbin said, "it morphed into this way to for me to follow" the news coming out of the convention.
During the sometimes heated discussion on the prayer book revision, he lightheartedly portrayed two Harry Potter characters, Lucius Malfoy and Gilderoy Lockhart, on opposite sides of the issue.
"Some of the tweets have related to policy positions — doing it with a little levity, sometimes we can say we're still part of the body of Christ together," Corbin said.
"The end goal is building up the kingdom of God, not our side winning in a certain debate."