Diocesan conventions urged to look to the future

March 10, 2010

The dioceses of New Jersey, West Tennessee and the Virgin Islands met in their annual conventions during the weekend of March 4-7, while the Diocese of Dallas held a special convention meeting March 6 to discuss its response to the proposed Anglican covenant.

Following is a partial summary of those conventions.

Diocese of Dallas
Delegates attending a special March 6 convention meeting approved two resolutions, including one by voice vote that the diocese "endorses, adopts and enters into the Anglican covenant and thereby affirms our full membership and participation in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion."

The resolution urged other dioceses, Executive Council and General Convention to do likewise and directed the council "to form an Anglican Communion Commission to promote closer relationships with churches, dioceses and congregations of the wider Anglican Communion."

Another resolution, adopted 185-101, dissociated the convention from clauses of the 76th General Convention Resolution D025 that affirms the value of listening to the experiences of gays and lesbians and the openness of the ordination process to all baptized people and acknowledges that Christians of good conscience disagree about such matters. The convention also rejected Resolution C056 that calls for collecting and developing theological resources for blessing same-gender unions and lets bishops provide "a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."

Diocese of New Jersey
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at the diocese's 226th annual convention Eucharist during its March 5-6 at the Cherry Hill Crowne Plaza hotel.

Using the convention's theme of "Go Forth for God," Jefferts Schori told convention attendees that "if you're going to be here 225 years from now, it means taking up your cross and following Jesus down the road."

"There are an awful lot of people out there who need an opportunity to ask important questions -- young people, Spanish speakers, Chinese and Russian immigrants, and many people who need to know they are loved whether they ask questions or not," she said. "We have something very important to offer all of them. Even an esteemed elder of 225 years isn't too old to go out there and offer that kind of love and hospitality."

The full text of Jefferts Schori's sermon is here.

New Jersey Bishop George Councell told the gathering in his annual address that "we do not adopt a mission so that the church can survive."

"God has a mission for which he needs a church," Councell said. "God's mission is seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And that mission begins in the heart of God, where God's deepest yearning is to respond to all who are calling out, 'Come over and help us.' We need to receive God's missionary, Jesus, and to become missionaries in his name."

He noted that "we are a diocese in decline, in a denomination in decline."

Councell, a veteran of five General Conventions and their "thousands of resolutions," said "there is no program that will save the Episcopal Church. No earthly power can do that. But bearing witness, through our story, in our own words, to the Good News that Jesus Christ is alive and at work, changing lives -- that is an act of faith. You don't need to join anything. You don't need permission. Just share that good news and stay out of the way. Give Jesus a chance."

Councell's address to the diocese is posted here.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson sent greetings to the convention. "I pray that the convention of the Diocese of New Jersey is spirit-filled, generous and joyful and that you are happy and at peace," Anderson wrote in a letter to the diocese's General Convention deputies and first alternates.

Among the resolutions the convention adopted was one similar to Resolution D055 passed in July by the last meeting of General Convention reaffirming the tithe as the church's minimum standard of giving. The convention also honored the diocese's first class of deacons as they celebrated their 25th ordination anniversary.

The convention reviewed the proposed 2010 and 2011 budgets. The $3.5 million budget for 2010 is planned to be smaller than the $3.8 million budget for 2009. Treasurer Reginald Whitman said in his report to convention that the difference is attributable to a decline in congregational payments to the diocese.

The 2010 budget calls for the diocese to meet the full amount -- $641,871 -- of the Episcopal Church's "ask" for diocesan revenue, Councell told Jefferts Schori to applause.

The delegates debated the best way to restore an assistant bishop position to the budget. Former Diocese of Belize Bishop Sylvestre Romero has served as assistant bishop since October 2007. Romero is due to retire April 30, 2010, and the budget does not allow for continuation of the position.

Councell announced at the end of convention that the 2011 gathering would be a one-day meeting in order to reduce costs.

Diocese of West Tennessee
"Be Thou my Vision" was the theme for the diocese's 29th annual convention, reflecting the diocese's current focus on planning for the future.

Diocese of West Virginia Bishop William Michie Klusmeyer was the guest preacher and convention chaplain. Church of the Holy Apostles in Collierville hosted the March 4-6 gathering.

Presentations during convention highlighted diocesan ministries.

During his convention address, West Tennessee Bishop Don Johnson encouraged attendees to take seriously their responsibility to form the vision for the diocese's future. He asked clergy and delegates to consider the diocese as a storehouse and the congregations of the diocese as the clients.

"What do we need to stock in our store house to best serve our clients?" he asked.

Later that afternoon, the Diocesan Strategic Visioning Team made a presentation on current diocesan statistics and broke the convention into small groups for discussion on a series of questions about how the diocese can support congregational mission, how the diocese can improve, how it might respond to declining average Sunday attendance and what Episcopal Church evangelism looks.

The convention approved the formation of a companion relationship with the Diocese of Haiti. The resolution formalizes the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership that has existed since 2005. The companion diocese relationship is planned to continue until March 2015.

Delegates passed five other resolutions, including ones to align the operation of its archives with the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons, to ensure that all congregations and diocesan institutions have adequate property and casualty insurance, to provide latitude for approved forms of corporate prayer and meditation during diocesan conventions, to conform the diocese's ecclesiastical disciplinary process with that of the wider church's Constitution and Canons and to form a committee to consider alternative means of funding the diocesan budget.

Diocese of the Virgin Islands
Information about the diocese's 55th annual convention is due to be posted here.

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