The annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington last Saturday approved Bishop John T. Walker's request for a suffragan bishop to assist him and began the process designed to lead to the election of a suffragan at a special convention on May 31.

Delegates approved a resolution directing the diocese's Standing Committee to name a nominating committee of seven clergy and seven lay persons. The committee must nominate at least three persons by the end of April. Additional names may be submitted by petitions signed by at least 25 clergy and 50 lay communicants in good standing.

Only ordained clergy are eligible to be elected bishops, but the search for candidates is not restricted to the Washington diocese.

In his convention address, Walker, who has headed the diocese for a little more than eight years, said an additional bishop is needed because "the needs of clergy and laity alike have increased over the years and require a great deal of attention."

In the Episcopal Church, a suffragan bishop is elected by the diocese in which he or she will serve to assist the diocesan bishop, but does not automatically succeed the diocesan bishop when that post is vacant.

Church leaders here are speculating that a woman will probably be among the candidates in the May 31 election. No woman has ever been elected a bishop within the worldwide Anglican communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

But the possibility, spurred by the vote of the church's House of Bishops last September approving in principle the election of a woman bishop, has stirred concern in the Church of England, the mother church of Anglicanism, where women are not allowed to be priests.

In other actions, the convention here approved a resolution on liturgies calling for "the use of inclusive language in reference to God and to mankind."

The resolution also urged the development of new rites, including rituals for the divorced, and special prayers for such social issues as "battered women, abused children . . . the victims of rape and of crime and fears engendered by terrorism, the use of nuclear might and destruction."

Walker announced that the Rev. John R. Frizzell, longtime rector of St. Alban's Parish in Annandale, will join the staff of the Washington diocese in April as executive officer.