NAVAJOLAND: Convocation delegates approve plan for September episcopal election

June 14, 2009

Delegates to the 33rd annual Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland June 12-14 overwhelmingly approved creation of a leadership conference to facilitate the elections of an interim bishop in September and a Navajo, or Diné, bishop for Navajoland, an area mission of The Episcopal Church, by 2013.

With Navajo vestments and crozier, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori officiated at a June 12 opening Eucharist and healing service attended by about 150 people, including 40 delegates at Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Meeting sessions were held in a tent pitched on the grounds.

The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, who was chosen to serve as the assisting Navajoland bishop by then-Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold during General Convention 2006, continues to lead ministry there. He also became the first National Indigenous Bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada in 2007.

"The Archbishop of Canada has been pushing me. He wants Mark there full-time," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the gathering about MacDonald's dual role.

"It is my hope to ordain a Navajo bishop during my tenure as Presiding Bishop," Jefferts Schori added. Navajoland is the only area mission in the Episcopal Church. It functions much the same as a diocese but with more oversight from the office of the Presiding Bishop and the House of Bishops. Development of indigenous leadership, a longstanding policy of TEC, has continued to be a priority in Navajoland during MacDonald's tenure there.

Jefferts Schori had proposed the Rev. Canon David Bailey of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah as a possible choice for interim bishop. Delegates will have an opportunity to vote on that proposal in September, according to the Rev. Dick Snyder, vicar of the Navajoland district's Utah region.

The Presiding Bishop's proposal also included identifying and training Navajo leadership, fundraising in conjunction with the Episcopal Church foundation and offering administrative oversight over Navajoland's three regions — Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

MacDonald suggested a "win-win-win" amendment to the proposal, to provide additional time to assess the area's views and needs for Episcopal leadership. According to the plan, which was approved, MacDonald would continue to serve as bishop until the fall conference, Snyder said.

Jefferts Schori called the amended proposal "a way forward." In addition to the September Episcopal Leadership Conference to decide on transitional and longer-term episcopal leadership, it includes a design team of Church Center staff and Navajo area representatives. The design team is expected to present an update report to General Convention 2009 in Anaheim, "alerting them of possible action after the Leadership Conference in September."

MacDonald told the gathering that his stepping aside after the September gathering is "the best way to proceed." After the vote to approve his recommendation, he told the gathering that the transition to a new bishop meant "that is my last time I stand before you in this capacity."

The vestments worn by the presiding bishop had belonged to the late Bishop Steven Tsosie Plummer, the first elected bishop of Navajoland and the first Navajo bishop in the Episcopal Church (TEC). Plummer, 60, died in 2005 after a lengthy battle with lymphoma.

Cathy Plummer, his widow, also presented Jefferts Schori with a red stole that had belonged to Plummer. During the service, the presiding bishop used a crozier used by the late Bishop Fred Putnam, the first bishop of Navajoland. She noted that Putnam had also served as priest in the parish where her husband, Richard Schori, was raised.

MacDonald was already serving as Bishop of Alaska when chosen to serve as the new Bishop of Navajoland at General Convention 2006.

The Rev. Canon David Bailey has served as canon to the ordinary and deployment officer in the Diocese of Utah since 1998.

"Dave Bailey has been involved in Navajoland on many levels over several decades," Snyder said. "I am hopeful that the people of Navajoland will decide to invite him to be their next bishop as a way to move forward together."

Bailey could not be reached for comment. Prior to his 1998 move to Utah, he had served as rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Phoenix in the Diocese of Arizona.

While at St. Stephen's, he served as chair of diocesan Native American Ministries from 1998 to 1993 and was the liaison to Bishop Steven Plummer in Navajoland when Bishop Plummer and the ECN co-hosted the 1991 General Convention in Phoenix. He has also assisted other bishops in the region.

He is married to Anne Bailey. They have three grown children and three grandchildren.

Prior to MacDonald's term as Navajoland bishop, former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold had appointed Bishop Rustin Kimsey as assisting Bishop of Navajoland for an interim period to fill a vacancy created by Plummer's death.

In other convocation business, delegates adopted a $396,000 annual budget and elected five new ECN Council members: Cathy Plummer and Leon Sampson from the Utah region; Maggie Brown and Ruth Begay from Arizona; and Virginia Polacca from New Mexico. Council members who are representatives to the Domestic Missionary Partnership are the Rev. Dorothy Saucedo of Arizona and Cornelia Eaton of New Mexico.

The Rev. Rosella Jim was re-elected convocation secretary and Snyder was elected treasurer. Delegates selected Bluff, Utah as the site of their next convocation, the second weekend in June 2010.

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