Oct. 30, 2020
On Saturday, Nov. 7, the 235th annual session of the Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts will gather. Each year this event in our life together is part legislative session, part mission rally, part stakeholder gathering, and part family reunion. We conduct business, celebrate milestones, receive reports, and listen for God’s renewed challenge to be agents of God’s reign in our lives and communities.
This year’s convention will be unlike any in our 235-year history! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the convention will be held online via Zoom for voting participants, with a YouTube livestream planned for those who wish to observe. Organizing such an event for some 500 clergy and delegates is a gargantuan task. As your bishops we extend the gratitude of the diocese to the planning committee and staff who have worked since June to make these unprecedented arrangements.
So, what can be expected at this year’s convention?
Elections. Voting will be conducted for a dozen lay and clergy leadership roles in the councils of the church. Some are contested and others are not, but even the uncontested elections are an important moment of communal affirmation and support of those who are volunteering their time and commitment for the good of the whole.
Budget. The Diocesan Council, through the work of its Budget Committee, Assessment Coordinating Committee, and Mission Initiatives Committee, has prepared the proposed budget for 2021. Online, open budget conversations in May, together with Mission Initiatives hearings and countless other communications, provided input for this budget. Highlights include 22% of the budget directed towards Mission Initiatives; 30% directed towards Resources and Grants for Congregations and Resources to Clergy; and 10% directed towards the mission of the Wider Church. The Council recognizes the extraordinary challenges faced by congregations in this time of pandemic, and has set aside $600,000 for targeted assessment and pandemic-related relief to congregations.
Resolutions. Three resolutions were filed by members of the diocese for this year’s convention. In light of the constraints of our virtual convention, the Diocesan Council has moved a Special Rule of Order providing that discussion and debate on the resolutions be conducted during an open comment period in September and at the seven pre-convention sessions in October, without further debate or amendments at the virtual convention. Additional pre-convention sessions this year allowed more total time for discussion of resolutions than is typically possible on the floor of convention.
All three resolutions are connected to the Mission Strategy of our diocese. Our Mission Strategy affirms that “We need a deeper and more inclusive conversation about racism and other forms of oppression, and we need to move beyond conversation to visible action to help create the beloved community of Christ.” (Goal 7) That goal further called for “Investing in ministries with communities of color and immigrant communities, drawing upon their unique strengths and supporting their health.” (7.c.) This year’s resolutions #1, "Call for Repentance and Reparations," and #3, "A Call to Address the Neglect of the Seven Historically Black Churches of the Diocese of Massachusetts and Strengthen Their Interrelationships,” are directly linked to these goals.
The Mission Strategy further affirms that “We are called to join God in repairing a broken covenant with our Earth, creating a more sustainable life for ourselves, for our future generations, and for all life.” (Goal 9) This year’s resolution #2, “Response to Presiding Bishop Curry's Declaration of a Climate Emergency,” relates to that goal.
As your bishops, we are profoundly grateful for the commitment of those who seek to find ways for all of us to advance these goals. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not lose sight of the deep and essential call we have to combat the sin of racism, and to act urgently as agents of Creation stewardship. These resolutions have already moved those conversations forward.
Reports, Updates, and Celebrations. Bishop Alan will give his annual address during the afternoon session, commenting upon highlights and challenges in our life together. Throughout the proceedings, brief special reports and celebratory videos will provide updates on diocesan Networking and Formation, Diocesan Youth Council, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Compensation and Benefits, Immigration and Multicultural Ministries, the Mission Strategy Committee, the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center, the Creation Care Justice Network, the Racial Justice Commission, and more! We hope the convention will give a kaleidoscope glimpse of the rich and varied ways that members of our diocese are answering God’s call.
Convention Worship. In ordinary times the convention Eucharist provides a singular celebration of our diocesan life. Given the pandemic and virtual convention, this year the Liturgy and Music Commission is instead offering a collection of pre-recorded worship components that any church may use on Sunday, Nov. 8, the day after convention. Scripture readings for the day, prayers, hymns, and other musical offerings may be adapted to whatever form of worship a congregation is using during this stage of COVID-19. A sermon from Bishop Gayle will be available. Worship planners may access these resources by visiting our Diocesan Convention webpage. We will miss our opportunity for the large convention Eucharist, but are grateful for the way that these offerings will give an element of common worship to the weekend.
Finally, a word about the overall context of the convention. Our diocesan gathering comes just four days after Election Day in our nation. The anxiety surrounding this election, manifesting deep divisions, devastating vitriol, and an implicit threat of violence, is a burden upon every one of us. We simply do not know in advance what circumstances will surround us on Nov. 7. Accordingly, we must approach that day with deep prayer for ourselves, our diocese, and our nation; with a deep commitment to charitable discourse, patience, forgiveness, and the assumption that everyone connected with this event is doing their best in uncharted territory; and the conviction that “God’s power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” [Ephesians 3:20] We invite you into that prayer, that compassionate disposition, and that deep affirmation of hope.
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
Detailed information about the convention, including the Handbook and Budget, are available at www.diomass.org/diocesan-convention-2020.
Recordings of the pre-convention forums are available here.