Episcopal News Service] Authorizing same-gender blessings and welcoming new congregations highlighted decisions in some of the nine Episcopal Church dioceses that held annual policy-making gatherings during the Nov. 6-8 weekend.
Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Briedenthal [former rector of Trinity Episcopal Church Ashland, OR] told the diocese's 135th convention that same-gender blessings could be offered in the diocese beginning on Easter 2010.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori used the occasion of the Diocese of Atlanta's 103rd annual gathering to make a pastoral visit to the diocese. She also sent a video greeting to the 225th meeting of the Diocese of Massachusetts' convention.
Meanwhile, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson spoke via Skype to the Diocese of Iowa's 157th gathering. Anderson used the Skype software, that allows users to make free video and voice calls, as a demonstration of possible communication techniques as alternatives to face-to-face meetings.
Following is a partial summary of diocesan actions at gatherings during the Nov. 6-8 weekend.
Diocese of Atlanta. In addition to hosting Jefferts Schori for her first pastoral visit to the diocese, delegates welcomed one new parish and another new worshipping community before approving seven resolutions during the 103rd annual council Nov. 6-7 at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta.
The newest parish in the diocese, Christ the King in Lilburn, Georgia, is a multicultural congregation that meets in a suburban-Atlanta shopping center. The Church of the Common Ground, the new worship community, is a congregation of homeless people in downtown Atlanta.
Council approved resolutions to support ongoing work opposing and preventing sex trafficking, create a task force on domestic violence, and affirm thriving young adult and campus ministries. Other legislation establishes a Commission on Environmental Stewardship to continue the work of a two-year-old task force and urges congregations to undertake an energy assessment of their buildings in 2010. Delegates also extended the diocese's companion relationship with the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro.
The council approved a $4.6 million diocesan budget for 2010, which represents a 5.4 percent decrease from this year. The budget will be sent to the diocesan executive board for final approval.
The diocese encompasses more than 55,000 communicants in nearly 25,000 households and 95 congregations, additional worshipping communities and chaplaincies.
Photo coverage of the council meeting is available here.
Diocese of Eau Claire. About 77 lay and clergy delegates gathered at Church of the Ascension in Hayward, Wisconsin for the 81st annual convention meeting of the diocese. The Ven. Jeanne Stout, archdeacon for the diocese, said convention approved one resolution concerning renewal of the life of the diocese, which has been without a bishop since Keith B. Whitmore left in April 2008 to become assisting bishop in the Diocese of Atlanta. Among other things, the resolution called for the appointment of a provisional bishop and exploration of "creative strategies for diocesan reorganization to strengthen the diocese's ability to support its parishes pastorally, programmatically, and financially within an ever-changing global context."
"We were blessed to have Bishop Clay Matthews with us on Friday and most of Saturday and he did a grand job with his homily at Eucharist and answering questions about what's going to happen," Stout said. Matthews heads the Office of Pastoral Development of the House of Bishops and consults with dioceses about their processes for electing bishops.
Delegates adopted a $220,000 budget. The diocese represents about 2,200 baptized members worshipping in 22 congregations and an average Sunday attendance of about 950.
Diocese of Iowa. About 215 delegates registered for “Next Generations of Faith,” the 157th annual convention held this year at the Des Moines Marriott Hotel.
Delegates approved resolutions focused on environmental ministry; mission priorities and economic justice. Other resolutions adopted by convention included wide-ranging topics from: addressing the issue of AIDS; making accommodations for people with disabilities; affirming the Episcopal Church's commitment to the Genesis Covenant aimed at reducing green house gas emissions from facilities by a maximum of 50 percent, and adopting the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation.
Delegates defeated a resolution that urged the beginning of a diocesan, and later a General Convention, process to amend canons to reduce all diocesan deputations to two deputies for both lay and clerical orders.
Diocesan coordinator Anne Wagner said the diocese encompasses 61 congregations plus a new start-up faith community not yet formally organized as a congregation. The diocese represents 10,184 baptized members, according to 2008 figures.
Financial officer Bob Joy said convention adopted a $1,178,787 budget, representing a 12 percent decrease from the previous year.
Spanning the history of the diocese, worship began on Nov. 7 with Morning Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and concluded with Holy Eucharist featuring music and prayers from numerous contemporary sources, readings in many voices and languages and liturgical dance.
A benefit auction and square dance in the big tent on the evening of Nov. 6 raised just more than $20,000 for the diocese's young adult intern programs.
To celebrate his 15th anniversary as bishop, the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, joined about 150 youth and their adult mentors for a Nov. 7 afternoon rally in the tent. Shaw has advocated for the full inclusion of children and youth in the ministry of the church.
"Remember that you are older than he is," Jefferts Schori quipped in a video greeting congratulating the diocese and Shaw on their respective anniversaries.
In lieu of an address, Shaw gave a series of three meditations focused on the Gospel of John that emphasized love and sacrifice for the sake of community.
"People tell me that about all I ever talk about is community. And it's true. It's true because I believe that in community we have the most profound dynamic experience of God," he said. "I believe it's where we find our deepest transformation. And ultimately I think it's from community that we're given the gift of hope which fires our serving in the world."
The meditations included personal testimony from young adult intern program members Jason Long and Waetie Kumahia on how their lives have been transformed by their experiences of living and serving with others in Christian community.
A proposal presented to the gathering to re-shape the diocese's 10-year "Inviting, Forming, Sending, Serving" mission strategy, now in its sixth year, includes a plan to dedicate St. Luke's and St. Margaret's Church in the Allston neighborhood of Boston as a home for young adult ministry, leadership development initiatives and an experimental worship community plant. The Diocesan Council and Standing Committee will take action on that proposal at a joint meeting on Nov. 12.
The convention adopted two resolutions without amendment, with little discussion and with strong majorities.
One responded to last summer's General Convention Resolution C056 allowing for 'generous pastoral response' in states such as Massachusetts where same-gender marriage is legal. The diocesan resolution expresses the convention's hope that Shaw will permit clergy to sign marriage licenses and pronounce marriages "for any couple that is legally eligible for marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
The other resolution continues the diocese's efforts to come to terms with the Episcopal Church's complicity locally in the institution of slavery.
The convention also approved a balanced budget of $6.4 million for 2010, which is $531,000 less than the 2009 budget. The budget maintains the diocese's 0.7 percent commitment to relief and development efforts in Africa, as well as full financial support of the Episcopal Church. And, it reflects assessment reductions for 60 percent of parishes through a newly simplified formula.
Text of resolutions and final actions are available here.
Diocese of Nebraska. The 142nd annual council met under the theme "One in Christ, one in Love, one in Mission" at the Church of Our Savior and the Sand Hills Convention Center in North Platte, Nebraska.
Diocesan Administrator Nancy Nichols said delegates adopted a $665,000 budget, representing a 1.6 percent increase over 2009.
Among other business, the council approved resolutions requiring anti-racism training for all diocesan committee and commission members before or within a year of taking office, supporting the Earth Charter and the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission.
Delegates also approved an amended resolution requesting the 77th General Convention to authorize commemoration of the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano in the calendar of the church year. Kano was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1889. Baptized in 1910, he came to the United States in 1916. He was a beet farmer in the Platte River Valley prior to his 1936 ordination to the priesthood. He was arrested on the steps of his church Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. For the next four years, he ministered in five different prisons. After the war he returned to Nebraska. He retired in 1957 and moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado. He died Oct. 24, 1988.
The diocese represents 57 congregations and about 4,800 Episcopalians.
Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. During the diocese's 99th convention Bishop Sean Rowe laid out a comprehensive mission strategy which centers on transformational leadership and ministry.
Around 160 clergy, delegates, and guests gathered at the Villa Conference Center in New Castle.
Among resolutions passed were minor canonical changes, as well as a resolution on clergy minimum stipends. Information about the resolutions and other convention news is available here.
Diocese of Rochester. Rochester Bishop Prince Singh told the 78th meeting of the diocese that "saints of Rochester may have been stunned by the economic downturn of the recent past, but have not been paralyzed by it."
He urged the diocese to say "enough to watching congregations hemorrhage and slowly trickle out their life; either because they rely too heavily on their endowments to buy them some hospice time or because they are too tired to retool and vision into the future," and enough to high dropout and crime rates in Rochester, and enough to the belief "that our rural mission fields are barren and hence only deserve a 'welfare' approach to sustain an Episcopal presence."
The bishop called for task force to explore where to plant new congregations and to re-examine the diocese's apportionment formula.
No other information about the gathering's decisions was available. The diocese includes just more than 10,000 active baptized members in 51 congregations.
Diocese of Southern Ohio. Each deanery in the diocese was invited to create a video conveying how they "Let Your Light Shine," the theme for the 135th annual convention meeting in Sharonville, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In making his announcement about same-gender blessings, Breidenthal invited congregations and clergy to engage in conversation about his decision while liturgies and policies are designed. He also noted that clergy would not be obligated to perform blessings.
Through the aid of a diocesan fund, Southern Ohio Bishop Suffragan Ken Price -- originally expected to serve one-third of his time in the diocese and two-thirds time as provisional bishop of Pittsburgh -- will be able to serve full-time in Pittsburgh, according to Richelle Thompson, diocesan communications officer. The Procter fund will help supplement Price's salary to allow him to spend the additional time in Pittsburgh, she said.
"It's a really interesting way of helping each other with the gifts we have, of spreading them around to support not just our own diocese but seeing the church as one global church and helping each other," Thompson said.
Breidenthal also noted that Diocese of Olympia Bishop Suffragan Nedi Rivera is retiring and moving to Cincinnati in February and may assist with visitations while continuing to maintain her duties as provisional bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon.
In convention business, delegates approved resolutions to: encourage local law enforcement officers to relinquish immigration enforcement to federal officials; restrict use of commercially bottled water; begin a year of discernment about entering a companion relationship with the Episcopal Church of Liberia; endorse the Earth Charter; and consider reviewing the process to select members to diocesan council to reflect greater geographic diversity.
Convention adopted a $3,898,505 budget, down about $153,000 from last year's $4,051,090 budget, Thompson said.
The Diocese of Southern Ohio encompasses about 25,000 Episcopalians in 81 congregations.
Diocese of Vermont. Participants in the 177th annual meeting of the diocese passed resolutions to affirm the General Convention's endorsement of the Earth Charter and its call for federal legislation in 2009 guaranteeing adequate healthcare and insurance for every citizen. Also related to General Convention, the diocesan gathering commended to its members the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation for implementation over the next three years. That resolution echoed a call from General Convention for such efforts.
The diocesan convention also called for a continuation of the diocese's five-year-old strategic planning effort.
Bishop Tom Ely based his annual address in an imaginary reply to a voice message left for him during this past Holy Week that suggested the caller could help him find a buyer "interested in your type of business there in Vermont."
More convention information is available here.
The diocese includes close to 8,100 active baptized members in 48 congregations.
--The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal News Service correspondent for provinces VII and VIII and the House of Bishops. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal News Service national correspondent. Diocesan communicators Vanessa Butler (Northwestern Pennsylvania), Nan Ross (Atlanta) and Tracy J. Sukraw (Massachusetts) contributed to this story.