More than 600 lay and clergy delegates from 91 parishes and worshipping communities in the Diocese of Alabama gathered in Birmingham February 24 - 26 for the 174th Diocesan Convention. The Very Rev. Harry Pritchett, a native of Alabama and former dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John Divine, New York City, was the preacher at the opening service of Holy Eucharist. He also delivered an opening speech to the assembled delegates on Friday afternoon on grace and reconciliation, a theme repeated throughout the convention. Reported by many delegates as one of the most productive and mission focused conventions in many years, the delegates approved a diocesan budget for 2005 of $2,509 million, an increase of $162,000 over that of 2004.
In support of mission work in 2005, the convention approved a new Companion Relationship with the Diocese of Haiti to begin in 2005 together with the approval of support for the Millennium Development Goals for international development recommended by both the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church; commissioned the Rev. Bob Blackwell and his wife Kay as official missionaries of the Episcopal Church to Damascus, Syria; approved a $5,000,000 Diocesan Capital Fund Campaign to begin during the 175th year of the diocese for the purpose of purchasing land for seven new parishes; building a new chapel at Camp McDowell; new facilities for the Hispanic parishes in the diocese; start up funding for a African-American Missioner; construction of a replacement facility of Campus Ministry at the University of Montevallo and support for an expanded communications program for the diocese. And at the beginning of the convention, ground breaking took place for a new Episcopal Campus Center.
Convention teachings were held on four important areas: The Windsor Report, An Introduction to the Diocese of Haiti, A Pathway for Reconciliation, and Spirituality of Mission.
In his address on Friday, Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama reminded the delegates of the history and traditions of the diocese as it begins its 175th anniversary year and offered two teachings on mission: "First, we are being called to hold up a vision of faith and spirituality for this new age.... Second, we are a church that holds up reconciliation as one the great gifts and values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." He continued, "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a fortress for the righteous.... We are, at our best, rooted in the expansive love of Jesus. We know that God loves us all and needs us all and needs us together. We are a deeply Christ-centered church where we draw circles, not lines in the sand.... Let us be a church where all people can see the face of Jesus ... one in Christ while differing on some issues, and one in mission."
And in his address on Saturday, February 26th, Bishop Suffragan Mark Andrus continued the teaching on reconciliation by reminding the delegates, "The hero Siegfried could not finally kill the dragon Fafner, who represents human greed and self-absorption, by himself. The only weapon to kill the dragon was love, a sword wielded by Michael, God's champion. When we hear the voices of the homeless, our youngest, our poorest, our oldest in our midst, their voices are the voices of love and it is love that kills the dragon, at least for a moment. It is God who loves everyone, regardless of what I might put in their way, because they are all offspring of the divine. I believe this is the message for the Church and for each of us."