234th annual Diocesan Convention seeks to follow "Way of Love"

2019 Diocesan Convention takes a vote Bridget K. Wood

This year's Diocesan Convention got a nudge toward reimagining the church--one of the diocesan mission strategy's three thematic planks--from young adults who have been working together as a task force over the past year to formulate recommendations to help the church more fully engage them and their peers. 

The report of the 20s and 30s Task Force, a group created by last year's Diocesan Convention, asked for action in the areas of Christian formation, relationship building, nurturing a culture of change and experimenting with new expressions of Christian community; the convention went on to approve, with no discussion, a resolution urging diocesan leadership to adopt the recommendations and to create an advisory committee to oversee the work, with designated staffing and financial support. 

Convention also adopted, without debate, a resolution calling on the congregations of the diocese to participate in carbon footprint-reducing efforts and to each form a "Next Step" group committed to specific actions that fulfill the goals of the Episcopal Church's Creation Care Pledge.

"Love, in order to be love, must be enacted," Bishop Alan M. Gates said in his annual address, picking up on the convention's "Way of Love" theme highlighting the set of spiritual practices that Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry has invited Episcopalians to take on in support of their journey as disciples of Jesus.

The work called for in the resolutions on reimagining church with young adults and caring for God's creation constitutes "concrete enactments of 'The Way of Love' in our life together," Gates said.

He also spoke about "turning to hear the witness of abuse survivors and making the church more safe and whole" as yet another such enactment, and highlighted the work of the diocesan #MeToo Task Force and procedures in place to assist congregations and individuals in those efforts.

"The love of Christ truly does have the power to change lives and to change the world.  May we know that love.  May we share that love.  May we enact that love, to the glory of God and the building of God's realm," Gates said.

Two additional resolutions sparked more discussion during the day's business sessions.

One of those asked the Diocesan Convention to support state legislation that would make parole review eligibility available after 25 years of incarceration to people serving life sentences.  The resolution was approved as presented, but only after 30 minutes of sometimes emotional testimony. 

Delegates speaking in opposition shared stories of how their families or communities have been affected by the trauma of violent crime.  They voiced their belief that public safety would not be served by the proposed legislation, and that offenders should be held to the sentences that are the consequences of their actions. 

Others, speaking in favor of the resolution--several of whom described ministry experiences with both victims' families and with prisoners--said they wanted the church's social witness to be about support for second chances in cases where there has been repentance and amendment of life.

A resolution on becoming a "Safe Haven" diocese in solidarity with marginalized persons became the subject of some debate after it was amended to include more specific language committing diocesan leadership to "materially support" those in the diocese "who imitate our Lord Jesus Christ by refusing to cooperate with, or by committing nonviolent acts of interference against, operations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE), or by providing sanctuary and seclusion from ICE to undocumented children of God within parochial or diocesan facilities, excepting instances in which the one sought by ICE has committed felony crimes." 

Several convention members spoke against this, voicing concern that the resolution overlooks the advocacy and direct action called for in last year's Diocesan Convention measure on immigrant justice, and that it ignores work in progress with immigrant and multicultural communities more broadly in the diocese. 

Following some inconclusive additional discussion about what "material support" would constitute, a move to table the entire measure failed by just six votes, and the resolution was adopted as amended.

In other business, the convention:

• Approved the $9.1-million diocesan budget for 2020.

• Heard a progress report on the current diocesan mission strategy that will be up for review in 2021.  The report included an "Embracing Brave Change" video highlighting three examples of how congregations are living out aspects of the mission strategy in their local contexts. 

Co-chairs Claudette Hunt of St. Andrew's Church in Ayer and the Rev. Phil LaBelle of St. Mark's Church in Southborough reported on how the mission strategy has influenced the organization of the diocesan budget, and they announced several efforts planned for the coming year, including additional opportunities for congregations to use the Indaba conversation and relationship-building model piloted by six congregations this year; new micro-grants to support mission strategy-inspired projects in congregations; online book groups that will be facilitated in January, February and March by ministry networks on topics of evangelism, antiracism and creation care; and two events, a regional wardens day and a small church summit, that are being planned to bring congregational leaders together around their common challenges and opportunities.

• Elected deputies to the Episcopal Church's 2021 General Convention, along with other leadership positions.

• Recognized the Life Together fellowship program as it marks 20 years of young adult ministry.

• Honored several individuals for their service to the diocese, including the outgoing treasurer of the diocese, the Rev. Stephen Voysey; the Rev. Richard Loring, recognized upon the occasion of his recent 90th birthday and for his decades of faithful service to congregations of the diocese--including 18 he served as an interim priest during his retirement years; and, the Rev. Victoria Hunt and the Rev. Marshall Hunt for their service during retirement as chaplains to retired clergy, spouses and surviving spouses.

About 560 people attended the annual legislative gathering, held on Nov. 2 at the Back Bay Events Center in Boston, including 443 voting clergy members and lay delegates.  An offering of $4,322, designated for the Episcopal Church's United Thank Offering, was collected during the service of Holy Eucharist celebrated at nearby Emmanuel Church.

--Tracy J. Sukraw

Find video and text of Bishop Alan M. Gates's annual address to the convention here, and the "Way of Love" video here.

View a photo gallery here.

Find all actions taken by the convention, including the text of resolutions and election results, here.