Celebrations highlight annual Diocesan Convention

Diocesan Convention 2018 Indaba singing Bridget K. Wood The Rev. Noble Scheepers of Trinity Church in Marshfield and retired bishop suffragan Bud Cederholm lead singing during Diocesan Convention.

View the convention photo gallery here.

Celebrations were the bookends to this year's annual Diocesan Convention, as it opened with a banquet marking the 30th anniversary of Bishop Barbara C. Harris's historic election as the first woman in the episcopate, and then closed with singing and dancing in response to the official admission of two new mission congregations--Grace Chapel in Brockton and the Ugandan congregation of St. Peter's Church in Waltham.

In between, the convention adopted resolutions on social justice concerns ranging from the church's response to the opioid crisis, immigrant justice, and support for gender identity antidiscrimination law in Massachusetts, to church use of fair trade coffee and a commitment to creation care through the planting of a "Paris Grove" of trees at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center.  

The convention adopted the $8.8-million diocesan budget proposed for 2019, after a prolonged period of discussion, and it voted to form a task force on ministry engagement with young adults in their 20s and 30s.

Convention-goers also learned more about Massachusetts Indaba 2019, a diocesan mission strategy initiative aimed at building relationships among congregations across the diocese through purposeful conversation and time spent in one another's contexts over three weekend encounters.

The convention was held Nov. 2-3 at the Cape Cod Resort and Conference Center in Hyannis.  Clergy and delegates--two from each congregation--convene annually for the Diocesan Convention, the diocese's primary governing body.

Celebrating a "game changer"

Diocesan Convention 2018 Barbara Harris celebration Bridget K. Wood Bishop Barbara C. Harris and Bishop Mary Glasspool, with the Rev. Ran Chase, arrive for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Harris's election to the episcopate.

A highlight for many was the Friday evening program honoring Harris, whose election as bishop suffragan in September 1988 in the Diocese of Massachusetts led to her consecration the following year and changed the church.

Choir members from St. Cyprian's Church in Roxbury led the congregation in singing hymns throughout the evening, and guest speakers who participated in the 1988 election proceedings shared stories.  

Longtime friend and activist and retired canon missioner of the diocese the Rev. Canon Edward W. Rodman offered his reflections via video, calling Harris's election a game changer that allowed "that different voice to be heard and not forgotten."

Bishop Mary Glasspool of the Diocese of New York, who was the rector of the Church of St. Luke and St. Margaret in Allston at the time of the election and gave the nominination speech for Harris at the electing convention, spoke of how much Harris's deep faith and "unflagging commitment to the biblical mandate of peace and justice for all people has inspired and motivated countless numbers, including me.  Barbara, you are an inspiring preacher, unafraid to walk the way of the cross yourself, yet sustaining and caring for others with your words. You have always offered leadership through service, teaching through modeling, humility through humor and a vision for the whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery, grounded in God's truth and God's love."

Other speakers included the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration; General Convention House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing; and the Rev. Zenetta Armstrong, rector of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan.

Video from the evening's program is available here.

New missions
Convention voted to admit Grace Chapel in Brockton and St. Peter's Church in Waltham as new missions in union with the diocese.  These are the first new admissions in many years, the most recent examples being congregations admitted with parish status--St. Mark's Church in North Easton (now part of the merged Bristol Trinity Church in Easton) and the Church of Our Saviour in Milton in 1999, and St. Elizabeth's Church in Wilmington in 2000.

Grace Chapel started in 2010 as a Bible study group at St. Paul's Church in Brockton, just before that church was closed.  Proceeds from the sale of the St. Paul's church buildings were designated as support for a continued Episcopal Church presence in Brockton, and over the next several years, with sponsorship for a time from St. John's Church in Holbrook, the group continued as an outreach ministry.  Under the leadership of the Rev. Moses Sowale, Grace Chapel has developed two active multicultural community programs for women and youth, and its Sunday morning congregation now numbers about 45.  Grace Chapel is housed at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brockton.

St. Peter's Church got its start in 2006 when a group of Ugandan Anglicans residing in Massachusetts decided to start a church so that they could worship in their langauge, Luganda.  The congregation has been hosted since 2008 at Christ Church in Waltham, and, though it at one point experienced a split over theological differences, the remaining membership's Sunday attendance now numbers about 75.  Its priest-in-charge is the Rev. Christine Nakyeyune Busulwa.

The action was taken early in the day so that delegates from the new missions could participate as voting members of the convention.  Each gave a spirited presentation at the end of the day, featuring celebratory music and dancing that included children and youth from both congregations.  

Diocesan Convention 2018 new missions celebration Bridget K. Wood Youth from St. Peter's Church in Waltham (left) and the Brigade band of Grace Chapel in Brockton (right) led singing and dancing during the celebration of their congregations being admitted as missions of the diocese.

"Reclaiming Jesus"
In his annual address, Bishop Alan M. Gates commended "Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis," a declaration issued earlier this year by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and other Christian leaders addressing what they describe as "a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches."

Now is, the declaration says, "a time to be followers of Jesus before anything else–-nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography–-our identity in Christ precedes every other identity.”

Gates highlighted three topics of concern from the declaration that intersect with diocesan life--racism; misogyny, sexual abuse and violence; and immigration policy--and highlighted diocesan actions in response, including a racial justice audit of the ordination process and ways that various parishes are engaging their communities in confronting racism; the formation of a diocesan #MeToo Task Force; and advocacy efforts of Episcopal City Mission and others on behalf of immigrants and refugees.

"In 'Reclaiming Jesus,' our presiding bishop and his colleagues have called out what they see as a widespread failure to use Jesus’ biblical teachings as a moral compass–-in the church, in the marketplace, in the ballot box.  'We believe it is time' they say 'to renew our theology of public discipleship and witness.  Applying what ‘Jesus is Lord’ means today is the message we commend as elders to our churches.'  May we listen to our elders," Gates said.

Video and text of the full address is available here.

Diocesan Convention 2018 DYC presentation Bridget K. Wood Thalia Etienne, a past Diocesan Youth Council member from the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan, shared a personal story about her DYC experience.

Gates also urged the convention to heed the counsel of Diocesan Youth Council members who would be making a presentation later in the day as part of their "DYC@20" celebration, marking the 20th anniversary of youth representatives being granted voice and vote in convention.  

During that presentation, past and present DYC participants shared personal stories about the importance of the DYC experience to their formation as young leaders in the church.  They also presented findings from an alumni survey conducted this fall that indicated a falling off in their involvement in the church after graduation.

"Today while we were all here in convention, 20-plus DYC [members] and alumni were meeting and talking about what does it mean to be a 20 or 30-something and love God and live in this crazy world," DYC alum and General Convention deputy Billy Boyce told the convention.  "So what I'm hoping, and with much thanks to our bishop, is that the conversations that we started today about building community and engaging these Christian leaders whom we have invested 20 years of resources towards, that we can re-engage them, that we can invite them back, that we can pick up where we as a diocese have fallen off," Boyce said.

The convention responded by voting to convene a task force to examine successful models of engagement of adults in their 20s and 30s and to report its findings and recommendations to next year's convention.

Video of the DYC presentation is available here.

Robust budget discussion
Convention's legislative business included consideration of the $8.8-million diocesan budget proposed for 2019.  The convention adopted the budget as presented, but only after nearly an hour of discussion on the floor.

A proposed amendment to reduce the compensation of the two bishops and the canon to the ordinary by $33,333 each and reallocate the money "in support of the struggling parishes and/or part-time clergy that are struggling in our diocese" came as a surprise to many in the room.  The proposal ultimately got tabled, but the discussion engendered by it--and by a separate motion that the vote on the proposed salary cuts be taken via paper ballots rather than the usual practice of holding up voting cards--surfaced a variety of questions and comments about transparency and trust, and about the yearlong budget process, including how and when members of the diocese can have a say in funding allocations before the budget hits the floor of convention.

The Rev. Daniel Horgan, a deacon from South Yarmouth, told the convention he was proposing the salary cuts because of "the disparity that I am beginning to appreciate and be embarrassed of with regard to the salaries that we are paying our clergy in the Episcopal Church.  I think they're often more reflective of a corporate mentality and not a Christian one," he said.  He acknowledged that his motion was a "symbolic move" but said that it was also "a genuine attempt on my part to get us to begin to look at salaries and what we are paying from our budget for personnel versus services."

Though essentially level-funded ($8,790,086 for 2019, compared to $8,815,754 for 2018--the latter comprising $8,665,754 plus an additional $150,000 approved by Diocesan Council for staff restructuring expenses), the 2019 budget reflects reduced assessment revenue resulting from the 2017 revision of the formula used to calculate the amount that each congregation pays annually in support of diocesan operations and ministries.

The tiered assessment formula adopted in 2017 resulted in a 10 percent aggregate decrease in the assessment revenue when it was implemented for the 2018 budget.  The formula was renewed this year by Diocesan Council for 2019.

In 2018, the decrease in assessment revenue was largely absorbed through a new diocesan staffing structure.  For 2019, the reduced assessment revenue meant less funding allocated for strategic ministries.

"There was a decrease in the amount of money that was available, and so that made some of the decisions very difficult," the Rev. Rebecca Blair, a member of the Strategic Ministries Committee, told the convention.  A new committee of Diocesan Council (the elected body that sees to diocesan business matters between conventions), the Strategic Ministries Committee is charged with assisting in the evaluation of the chaplaincies, diocesan-supported congregations and programs that receive strategic ministry funding.  Site visits were part of this year's evaluation process, Blair reported, and helped inform the budget allocation process.  Ministries that exhibited successful growth toward self-sustainability received less diocesan funding for 2019, she said.  

She reported that three newly formed subgroups have begun work "to continue to refine our evaluation process, develop a rationale for how we will fund things in the future, take into account the mission strategy and the fact that available funds are apt to continue to decrease."

"We want to address the skewed geographical distribution of supported ministries, develop ways that new ministries can be supported and increase the transparency of why and how decisions are made.  We hope that these conversations will conclude in time to be of assistance to the making of the 2020 budget," Blair said.

Another surprising moment during the floor discussion came when the outgoing diocesan treasurer, Lisa Garcia, said that she would be voting against the proposed 2019 budget, in part because of a $40,000 cut in strategic ministries funding for Grace Chapel in Brockton, where she had participated in a site visit--a reduction that she characterized as "a grossly disproportionate cut of almost 30 percent and a complete contradiction of our mission strategy to incorporate regions outside of Boston and to invest in immigrant communities and communities of color."

"I questioned myself whether the treasurer could both present and oppose the budget.  Well, here I am Lord," Garcia said.  She said she has proposed to the Diocesan Council that any 2018 surpluses be used to offset reductions in 2019 programs and funding, rather than be returned to diocesan investment accounts.

"I'm asking members of this congregation to please let your voices be heard so that we may faithfully, properly and completely use our financial resources to serve the urgent needs of our brothers and sisters, because this is what I believe Jesus would do," Garcia said.

During the service of Holy Eucharist that followed the budget presentation, Bishop Alan Gates paused before giving his annual address to offer a response.

One of his earnest desires, he said, is that "decision making around budgetary allocations be rendered in ways more expressive of communal discernment than executive decision making, even including the allocation of the very high proportion of funds, especially funds for strategic ministries, the documentary terms of which provide for the allocation of those funds at the discretion of the bishop."

"Now that involves a couple of things," he said.  "One is that once such a communal process has run its course, that though anyone, including the bishop, might have a different opinion about how those allocations might have been apportioned, it would be my hope that all of us, including the bishop, would eventually not presume initial unanimity but presume a kind of arrival at consensus based on some sense of the process that went into that decision.  That's one thing.  A second thing is simply to say that it's a big system, and it's a complicated process and it has not nor will it be able to have changed overnight, in one budget cycle.  These are structures that we're having to develop.  These are skill sets that we're having to develop. These are muscles in many cases that collectively we haven't used for awhile."

He said that consensus and trust-building work should continue wherever needed.  "As Jesus says, nothing will be lost but all will be gathered in.  So, we had a lot of conversation from which I want to give you my personal pledge as well as, I know, that of Council and its financial bodies, that nothing will be lost and all will be gathered in.  That doesn't mean that in the end the decision will be what any one individual might have wished, but simply my pledge to you that we didn't just table in order to silence."

All five resolutions proposed for the convention's consideration were adopted without opposition or amendment.

One resolution encourages the church to respond to the opioid crisis by partnering "with those who are already doing the work of healing and support to the people affected by this epidemic to learn best practices of how to reach out and provide God’s loving mercy to those who are struggling with addiction and to the family and friends who support them in their work of recovery."  The resolution also encourages churches to have the overdose reversal medication Naloxone available and that clergy and other parish leaders be trained to administer it in emergency situations.  

Another resolution calls for the use of fair trade coffee at all church events, and encourages support for fair trade goals, which, according to the resolution, include raising income levels of small-scale farmers and farm workers; more equitable distribution of economic gains across the industry; encouraging environmentally sound and sustainable farming methods; promoting ethical working conditions; and increasing consumer awareness of the economic forces affecting farmers and the exploitation of workers.

A resolution advocating gender identity antidiscrimination asked the convention to endorse Ballot Question #3, which Massachusetts voters approved the following week, to maintain the Massachusetts public accommodations law, adopted in 2016 to add gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in public places such as hotels, stores, restaurants, theaters, sports facilities and hospitals. The Diocesan Convention first took a position on this issue in 2008 when it adopted a measure calling for local, state and federal laws to prohibit gender identity discrimination and to treat physical violence inflicted on the basis of a victim’s gender identity or expression as a hate crime.

A resolution in support of creation care commits the diocese to establish a "Paris Grove" at its Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center in Greenfield, N.H., in response to the 2018 General Convention's call that “each of the 85 camp and conference centers in the Episcopal Church establish ‘Paris Groves,’ plantings of trees at the camp and conference centers or other church-owned properties that will serve as visible witnesses to the significance of the Paris Accord and do the practical work of sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere.”  The diocesan resolution also encourages the use of an additional Baptismal Covenant question, approved for trial use by the 2015 General Convention:  "Will you cherish the wondrous works of God, and protect and restore the beauty and integrity of all creation?"

A resolution "Seeking Immigrant Justice through Accompaniment, Advocacy and Direct Action" affirms Episcopal Church positions opposing immigrant enforcement action against those who have not committed felony crimes and in support of "a pathway to legalization and to full social and economic integration into the United States” for undocumented immigrants with established roots in the U.S.  The resolution calls for challenging and resisting agreements by local law enforcement agencies to act as agents of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), and it encourages connections with Episcopal Church entities and "local and national communities and institutions, immigrant rights groups and coalitions" for the purposes of "educating, organizing, advocacy, direct action and other methods as deemed appropriate in each context to ensure the safety and security of our immigrant neighbors."

The immigrant justice resolution also urges accompaniment and support for "our undocumented siblings, during this time of heightened activity against them, serving as a people of welcome, refuge, healing and offering other forms of support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference," and it highlights diocesan and Episcopal City Mission support and programs available to congregations engaging in immigration ministry.

Among its other actions, the convention:
• Collected an offering of $5,126 for the work of Episcopal Relief & Development.

•Elected the Rev. Emily Garcia of the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill to a clerical position on the Cathedral Chapter.  The Rev. Stephen Voysey was nominated from the floor for election as treasurer, unopposed.  Results of uncontested elections are listed here.

• Voted the annual clergy compensation formula and approved several amendments to the diocesan canons, including an increase in the amount of time allowed between diocesan mission strategy reviews from "at least once every three years" to "no less frequently than once every five years."

--Tracy J. Sukraw