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A Message from Executive Council to the Episcopal Church

February 18, 2011

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has issued the following message following the conclusion of its three-day meeting held in Fort Worth, TX (Diocese of Fort Worth).


Executive Council, February 16-18

The temperature reached the high 70s as we gathered at the American Airlines Training and Conference Center near DFW Airport. The sunny warmth was welcome after the recent Arctic weather many of us had experienced and every break found several of us outside.

Because we convened at 8:30 am on Wednesday, Executive Council members began arriving on Tuesday. That meant that President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson and several Council members were able to attend at An Evening of Reflection and Conversation with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori hosted by the Diocese of Fort Worth. Nearly 700 people gathered in the lovely building of Congregation Beth El, where Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger made us welcome.

The diocese had set up the evening to allow people still in property controlled by the former bishop to meet the presiding bishop and air any questions or concerns they might have. The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop of Fort Worth, also announced that he has challenged the diocese to raise $11,000 for the Rebuild Our Church in Haiti effort by Ash Wednesday. As part of that effort, envelopes were handed out for donations.

On Wednesday morning we began with Morning Prayer and moved quickly from there into work that included reports from the presiding officers and an update from the Audit Committee.

The Council was joined for the Eucharist at noon by the altar guild of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, which has been worshipping in Theater Arlington since being displaced from their building by people who left the Episcopal Church. They set up for worship as they do every Sunday, hauling in an altar and all the altar goods. The folk group from Trinity Episcopal Church of Fort Worth provided music for the service. Their efforts turned our otherwise ordinary meeting room into a worship space filled with joy and grace.

In her sermon, member Katie Sherrod, who is from Fort Worth, described how growing up in a small West Texas town taught her much about how diverse partakers of the feast to which we all are invited can become unexpected allies in our lives and struggles.

She spoke of the food that has sustained the Episcopalians in Fort Worth through times that looked “darker than midnight under a skillet,” things such as the “grace, shield and hope of God’s unlimited love [and] the delight of inviting others to the feast to which we’ve been invited.”

These are the things, she said, that will sustain all of us as we seek reconciliation and renewal, not just in Fort Worth, but in the wider Communion.

It also was interesting to meet in the midst of mockups of American Airlines ticketing counters, self-service check-in kiosks, and baggage counters. Everywhere one looks there are images of flight, from abstract paintings in the stairwell to a huge old wooden propeller on the wall to the distant murmur of airplanes at DFW Airport whispering rumors of far-away places. It all combined to create a background hum of movement.

We were reminded in our anti-racism training of the constant need to advocate across the boundaries of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and all that separates us. As a continuing part of our Christian formation, we pondered the allies in our lives and how we can become better allies to those who need us.

We were reminded more than once during this meeting of our fiduciary and other legal responsibilities as a Council, and of the various people to whom we are accountable, with the people of the church being first, followed by the General Convention, employees and government agencies.

The people of the church have a right to know what we do and to know how their money is spent. We value transparency and acknowledge there are times when certain discussions must be handled in executive session to protect the Church. We were encouraged to think in terms of stewardship â€" stewards of church’s assets, of church programs and ministries, and future opportunities.

How we maintain a balance among these various areas became a theme for this meeting. How do we embrace future opportunities while also finding clarity about which programs and ministries remain useful and responsive to the needs of a changing but still hurting world?

At a previous meeting the presiding bishop had spoken of the need for nimble governance structures in the face of our rapidly changing world â€" a theme upon which Bonnie Anderson expanded in her opening remarks at this meeting. All over the church, individuals and groups are grappling with how to adapt to and embrace that change without sacrificing our core values and the wonderful gifts of our past.

How do we become nimble but not reactionary? How do we become light enough to move quickly while keeping enough weight to anchor us in our faith? How do we remain rooted in our tradition without being mired in that tradition?

The presiding officers pointed out that these kinds of questions are being asked by many groups who are not necessarily talking with one another. The Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission [GAM] took up the challenge of finding a way for that conversation among these various groups to happen between now and our June meeting.

On Thursday we were treated to an evening that gave a real life demonstration of nimble responses to big challenges when we were hosted by Bishop Ohl and the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The evening began with a reception at St. Alban’s in Theater Arlington. Priest-in-charge the Rev. Melanie Wright greeted us and talked briefly about what it is like to create church anew every Sunday on a stage whose backdrop changes every five weeks or so, depending on the play being performed.

Members of the cast of Beauty and the Beast â€" who range in age from 9 to 18 - took time out from their rehearsal to greet us with a rousing song-and-dance performance of Be Our Guest. We were so delighted we demanded an encore, to which they responded with Human Again.

We then walked down the block to the Arlington Art Museum for dinner where we were greeted by the lovely sound of a harp and more members of St. Alban’s. We saw a video entitled The Once And Future Diocese of Fort Worth - - describing life in the diocese since its former bishop and other diocesan leaders left the Episcopal Church. Members of the diocese were scattered about at every table to share the stories of how their various congregations are coping with the challenge of rebuilding a diocese that has been split apart.

Bishop Ohl announced that the request for donations to the Rebuild our Church in Haiti effort at the Tuesday night event raised $7,500, which will be donated in honor of Bishop Katharine.

Bonnie Anderson introduced the deputies to General Convention and Bishop Katharine briefly addressed the group, wishing them well as they contemplate the challenges that will face them as they enter “the promised land” of getting Episcopal Church property back.

In the homily at Morning Prayer on Friday, member Lelanda Lee spoke of several ways followers of Christ are offered “do-overs” and how that blessing can shape the way we live, move and have our being. She told of a priest in Colorado who suggested that his parishioners, when asked “How are you?” instead of responding, “Fine”, they respond, “I am blessed.” A simple thing, but it changed the culture of that parish.

The rest of the day was packed with various reports from committees, task forces and commissions. We also heard â€" via web conferencing -- about the tremendous resources being developed to help the Church with the Rebuild Our Church in Haiti effort.

Among other things, the Council approved a resolution that GAM brought forward directing the General Convention Standing Committee on the Structure of the Church to hold an in-person consultation with the various Committees, Commissions, and Task Forces working on strategic planning and structural change at Structure’s June 2011 meeting, which is two weeks before our June meeting.

We heard a provocative report from the Council’s committee on Local Mission and Ministry on the concept of “holy teasing” -- teasing as in a form of compassion as an ally, as opposed to bullying, and also as in teasing out strands that lead to life and make the difference between the Church being stuck or unstuck; and we expressed our grief and outrage at the murder of our brother David Kato in his home in Uganda and, in his memory, asked Episcopalians to persist in resisting discrimination at all levels because of sexual orientation or gender.

Member the Rev. Winnie Varghese reported for Advocacy & Networking for Mission on the tragic death of John T. Williams in Seattle, Washington. Mr. Williams was a 50-year old totem carver who was shot and killed by a police officer who stopped him while crossing the street. The officer was found yesterday to be in error, not criminally liable, and he has resigned. The committee was asked to consider bringing to the next meeting a resolution that thoughtfully addresses communities that are disproportionately victimized by the police.

Varghese also reminded Council that the Episcopal Church already has passed resolutions regarding the right of workers to organize and form unions, including language from GC2006-C008, which said, "We encourage all levels of the church to be informed about, and act accordingly, when rights of workers to associate are being jeopardized."

Once again, Executive Council was blessed to welcome the presence and insights of Bishop James Cowan from the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and Pastor Kathryn Tiede from the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Member the Rev. Gay Jennings spoke of how touched she was last night hearing of Theater Arlington’s annual Camp Be a Star, a one-week summer camp focusing on homeless children and children living in transitional housing in Arlington. It includes children aged 5 through 15. The goal is to aid students in building self-esteem and confidence through a fun and challenging creative dramatics experience. The congregation of St. Alban’s supports the camp financially and with volunteers. The Rev. Jennings suggested that Council members express their gratitude to St. Alban’s by donating to this work, a suggestion greeted with much enthusiasm.

The Rev. Melanie Wright emailed, “Thank you all for your part in being an answer to his [Theater Arlington Executive Director Todd Hart] prayers and ours, and being a part of a life-giving work among these children. We believe that ministering healing, life, and wholeness into the lives of the young is a way that we can affect change upstream--helping to work against other negative influences that would strive to destroy our young--and building firm foundations from which they can then build a better tomorrow. May God's blessings flow to you through all the paths and channels you have carved by giving yourselves away.”

We adjourned giving thanks for the opportunity to do this work and knowing that we are indeed blessed.

Actions taken by Executive Council at this meeting included:

 Selection of Salt Lake City in the Diocese of Utah as the site for the 78th General Convention in the year 2015.

 A number of corporate social responsibility actions on topics that include disclosure and transparency on federal subsidies; independent reviews of foreclosure practices; and responsible practices to prevent the sexual exploitation of minors, among others.

 Encouraging the United States government to strengthen protection and assistance for refugees who flee based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

 Thanksgiving for the letter of the Primates of the Anglican Communion regarding gender based violence against women and commitment to an ongoing witness against such violence.

 Support for public policies that strengthen disclosure requirements for donors to electoral communications.

 Approved a modification to the 2011 Budget for the Episcopal Church, adding $460,000 in expenditures arising due to delayed timing of spending in 2010.

 Reaffirmed the Episcopal Church’s full support of the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund for malaria prevention.

 Accepted the Joint Audit Committee Report and AF-093 (Personnel) Task Force Report and made a commitment to follow up on recommended actions.

 Urges Congress, the President and all federal policymakers, when considering cuts to federal programs, to address budget cuts and revenue streams so as not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and urges all Episcopalians in the United States to engage in advocacy for a responsible federal budget that expresses the shared moral priorities of the nation.


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Nancy Cox Davidge
Public Affairs Officer