Diocesan Convention encourages bank divestment, establishes Jorge Fuentes Anti-Violence Task Force

Bank divestment, criminal justice reform, disaster preparedness and making a response to city street violence were among the issues that eastern Massachusetts Episcopalians put their voices and votes to when they gathered for the diocese's 227th annual convention, Nov. 2-3 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston.

The annual legislative gathering brings together about 600 clergy members and elected del Convention 2012 Voting Katie Ernst egates from each of the congregations of the diocese to set policy and a budget, as well as for common prayer and worship and to celebrate shared mission and ministry.

Budget and Resolutions
Convention unanimously approved a diocesan budget for 2013 of $6.3 million in core revenue and expenses and $1.7 million in supplemental revenue and expenses. 

“Given the current economic environment, the Budget Committee sought to prepare a balanced budget and one that is fairly consistent with 2012,” Lisa Garcia, who chaired the Budget Committee, said during the budget presentation. 

Most of the debate time was given over to a resolution that encourages the diocese, the Diocesan Investment Trust, congregations and individuals to divest from banks and financial institutions implicated in the foreclosure and financial crisis.

All who spoke were in favor of making some kind of statement against unethical banking practices, but they disagreed over how best to do it.

Three amendments—including one that proposed shareholder proxy voting instead of divestment—failed after a round of debate each, as did a motion to refer the issue to the Financial Advisory Committee.  In the end, Convention approved by a small majority the resolution in its original form.

Those speaking in favor of the proxy-voting strategy pointed out the complexity of separating ethical and fiduciary responsibilities, particularly at institutional levels, and advocated working within the system to get results. 

“We believe that reconciliation requires communication among aggrieved parties and are strongly committed to strengthening shareholder democracy,” said the Rev. Steve Ayres, Vicar of Old North Church in Boston, who proposed the proxy-voting amendment as a member of the Social Responsibility in Investments Committee of the Diocesan Investment Trust (DIT). 

“Divestment is a one-time witness.  Once divested, communication ceases.  In an industry as complicated as banking, where we must participate one way or another, we feel it is much more important to maintain an open dialogue,” Ayres said.

“The implicit belief in this amendment is that it is better to work for conversion from the inside than from the outside for economic justice and social change,” said the Rev. Robert Windsor, Rector of Christ Church Diocesan Convention 2012 Farrar Katie Ernst Delegate David Farrar of St. Peter's Church, Beverly speaks in favor of bank divestment. in Needham and a member of the DIT.

The proponents of the original resolution noted its nonbinding nature and broad invitation to participation. 

“I think the language of encouragement leaves plenty of latitude for individual decision making depending on your relationship to the institutions and leaves the Diocesan Investment Trust quite free to continue a policy of proxy voting.  For most of us, we don’t have the opportunity to proxy vote because we don’t participate in banking at that level.  We simply have money in a bank and we have the opportunity to effect change by moving that money to another bank,” said the Rev. Holly Antolini, Rector of St. James’s Church in Cambridge.

“As the resolution is written, it empowers people, not capital, to make a difference in our banking system,” the Rev. Noah Evans of Grace Church in Medford said.

Bishop Barbara C. Harris also spoke in favor of divestment, citing the example of the Episcopal Church’s successful divestment strategy that helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa.

David Farrar, a delegate from St. Peter’s Church in Beverly, speaking in favor of the measure’s original wording, lauded all of the resolutions before the convention.  “I was really proud of this diocese when I read these resolutions, all of them, because we’re saying that this is a socially responsible church and that is what a church is supposed to be,” he said. 

Convention went on to approve, with little discussion, resolutions that ask for changes to the “three strikes” habitual offender sentencing law that the State Legislature passed in July; commit the diocese to engaging poverty and economic justice work; establish a committee to create a disaster preparedness and response plan; and call for a report next year on the diocese’s response to resolutions passed in July by the Episcopal Church’s Gen Diocesan Convention 2012 Bible Study Katie Ernst Delegates take part in Bible study led by the Diocesan Youth Council. eral Convention challenging congregations to have dynamic Web sites and use social media.

In response to requests made by Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE in his Friday morning reflection, Convention on Saturday took two additional actions.  One establishes an anti-violence task force in memory of Jorge Fuentes, the young leader from St. Stephen’s Church in Boston and its diocesan-supported B-SAFE summer program who was shot and killed on the street outside his Dorchester home on Sept. 10.  The second recommits the diocese for the next three years to continuing its mission strategy "undertaken specifically for the purpose of continued growth and evangelism in our parish communities.”

Together Now campaign
Together Now fundraising campaign co-chair Warren McFarlan of the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester announced that $18.8 million had been raised to date toward the $20-million diocesan goal, through individual and parish gifts, in-pew pledge collections and local collaborative campaigns.  “I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that when June 1 is over and we have in fact completed the last discussion that we will be substantially over” the goal, he said.

An additional $11.3 million had been raised at convention time by about 40 parishes that participated in the collaborative campaigns—a result McFarlan characterized as both “unusual” and “an extraordinarily successful approach” through which parishes ran local campaigns with the assistance of diocesan consultants, keeping 70 percent of the money they raised and giving 30 percent to the diocesan campaign.

Diocesan Convention 2012 Big Check Katie Ernst The Rev. Tricia de Beer and the Rev. Jeff Gill accept the $25,000 mission tithe grant on behalf of recipient Be the Change Kenya. Together Now was publicly launched at last year’s Diocesan Convention with $8 million pledged toward an array of initiatives intended to build up congregational life and mission through collaboration and by expanding the reach of already successful diocesan programs.  

Some of those initiatives were featured at this convention, including mission hubs—strategically located collaborations among three or more Episcopal churches to meet local needs that none could accomplish on their own.  A pilot hub is up and running on the diocese’s South Coast, with a total of six to 14 hubs of different sizes and configurations envisioned.  They will be funded with $7.5 million from the campaign.

“Already we have brought sufficient money in-house that we have started our programs and begun our work together,” McFarlan said.  “This is the tangible output.  It is not the raising of the money but the spending of the money for programs like this that is so exciting,” he said.

Claudette Hunt of St. Andrew’s Church in Ayer, on behalf of the Diocesan Council, announced Be the Change Kenya as the recipient of a $25,000 grant from the campaign’s mission tithe--$2.5 million set aside from the campaign total for mission projects beyond the diocese.

Other action
Bishop Shaw recognized several individuals with honorary citations:  The Rev. Louis Pitt, in recognition of the 65th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood; The Rev. Paul Minor and Diocesan Convention 2012 Minors Katie Ernst Bishop Shaw honors the Minor family of Belmont for their example as a military family. The Rev. Cheryl Minor, Co-Rectors of All Saints’ Church in Belmont, and their children, Rachel-Anne and John Thomas, in recognition of Paul Minor’s service in the U.S. National Guard and of their example as a military family; Dr. Donald DeLollis of Christ Church in Andover, for the medical care and mentorship he provides diocesan youth on their mission trips and for his service on the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center Board of Directors; and Warren and Karen McFarlan of the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester for chairing the diocese’s Together Now fundraising campaign.

Convention elected the Rev. Amy McCreath of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown, Blanca Silvestrini of Christ Church in Cambridge and Judith Nelson Dilday of St. Cyprian's Church in Roxbury to the Standing Committee, and the Rev. Michael Hodges of St. Paul's Church in Dedham and the Rev. Kit Lonergan of Christ Church in Andover to the Disciplinary Board.

Elected uncontested were Peter Trenouth of Christ Church in Plymouth to the Disciplinary Board; the Rev. H. Mark Smith of St. John’s Church in Holbrook and Grace Chapel in Brockton and Stephen A. Mascoll of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Cambridge to the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center Board of Directors; the Rev. Cameron Partridge of the Boston University Episcopal Chaplaincy and Lallie Lloyd of Trinity Church in Boston to the Cathedral Chapter; the Rev. Robert Windsor of Christ Church in Needham to the Trustees of Donations; Lisa Garcia of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge as treasurer; and Leon A. Brathwaite II of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Waban as secretary.

--Tracy J. Sukraw

View more photos here.  Text of resolutions in final form is available here.  Listen to Bishop Shaw's meditations and Bishop Gayle Harris's sermon here.  Watch Together Now campaign presentations here.