Celebrating great strides in building congregations and the three-decades-long companion relationship between the Diocese of Central Florida and the Diocese of Honduras helped focus Central Florida's 36th annual diocesan convention on the "main thing" -- making the Great Commandment and the Great Commission the twin priorities of the diocese.
Bishop John W. Howe's address emphasized that the Diocese of Central Florida is moving forward with a focus on Jesus Christ and those priorities -- despite the tumult and controversy roiling the world, the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. At his conclusion, Howe drew a standing ovation from the convention. (Complete text of the address is at http://www.cfdiocese.org/)
This year's convention met Friday evening, Jan. 28, through Saturday, Jan. 29 at La Hacienda Recreation Center in The Villages, the sprawling Shangri-La for retirees about an hour northwest of Orlando. The host parish was St. George Episcopal Church, adjacent to the recreation center.
The convention ran smoothly in large part though the hospitality and skill of the Rev. Roger Miller, rector of St. George, and his parishioners. Miller welcomed the crowd of more than 480 clergy and lay delegates, and invited people to visit the prayer room at St. George throughout the meeting. He also invited the convention to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist at St. George at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Howe welcomed State Rep. Hugh Gibson, R-The Villages, who extended a welcome to the convention from himself and fellow members of St. George. "It's hard to believe St. George is only 10 years old," considering the phenomenal growth of the parish, he said.
The opening banquet celebrated the Honduras/Central Florida companion relationship, with the introduction of the Rev. Canon Albert Brooks, Canon to the Ordinary for Honduras, and the Rev. Rich Kunz, director of El Hogar, the Honduran home and school for boys.
The Rev. Kathleen Pennybacker gave a stirring presentation of her observations as a long-time missioner to Honduras. Regardless of strife elsewhere in the Church, "I know where God is working and moving in the world," she said.
Honduran congregations are in desperate need of companion parishes in Central Florida, she said. Some Honduran Episcopalians are meeting in little more than open shacks, and priests are holding services in their modest living rooms. One group meets under the spacious canopy of a mango tree. Clergy are paid less than $350 a month and many serve several far-flung congregations.
"These are people who hold the same services that we do, they say the same words, lift up their arms in thanksgiving and sing praise to the same God we praise," she said, quoting one Honduran who said "We do have a church, we just don't have a building yet."
Pennybacker praised the work of Central Florida Episcopalians who have given generously -- the past two Thanksgiving Offerings from Central Florida raised more than $40,000 to complete the Church of Santa Elena in Honduras' poor El Paraiso district. And many churches and individuals have built water wells, medical clinics and agricultural stations in Honduras.
But she asked those at the convention interested in new ventures to concentrate more in the Tegucigalpa and El Paraiso areas. "We need more parish-to-parish partnerships," she said.
Bishop Howe named Deacon Pennybacker Canon for Honduras.
The Rt. Rev. John Said, retired bishop suffragan of Southeast Florida, led the closing prayers Friday evening. Said gently admonished those gathered together that each one has the capacity and duty to carry out mission work, each day.
"How many of you carry a Bible with you?" Said asked the crowd. "How many of you carry the Book of Common Prayer?"
When a smattering of hands went up, he asked how many had learned a Bible verse each week in Sunday School, and pointed out that people who have had Bible study do carry the book with them, and can share that knowledge with people they meet.
One of Saturday's high points came in the convention's welcome for new and growing missions. Howe introduced the Rev. Ron Manning, vicar of Church of the Blessed Redeemer, Palm Bay. Manning introduced and led joyful members of his congregation in singing "I've Been Redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb" and presented a video program about the new mission.
Howe welcomed the Rev. Susan Bubbers, rector of St. Elizabeth's Church, Sebastian, and acknowledged the restoration of St. Elizabeth's as an unaided parish. Bubbers thanked all the people and clergy of the diocese who have helped St. Elizabeth's and presented a video program about the parish. Howe invited the delegation from the parish to stand and be recognized by convention.
The bishop introduced the Rev. Arthur Dasher, rector of St. Mary of the Angels, Orlando, and the Rev. Gabriel Tassy to speak about the Haitian ministry there. The Haitian outreach adds to St. Mary's Spanish-language mission, started six years ago as Santa Maria de Los Angeles. Roberto Morales is the priest-in-charge of that mission. This year services have begun for a Haitian congregation in the Creole language and a ministry is reaching out to students at Oak Ridge High School.
The Convention passed four resolutions by near-unanimous votes which are available online at: http://www.cfdiocese.org/.