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Deputies vote to admit Diocese of Puerto Rico

By James Thrall
7/31/2003
[Episcopal News Service] 

With a convoluted process that illustrated, as one deputy put it, “the manner in which we can screw up the simplest thing,” the House of Deputies voted Thursday morning to admit Puerto Rico as a diocese of the Episcopal Church assigned to Province IX.

While there was no disagreement over whether to admit Puerto Rico, which was introduced as an “exciting diocese” that will “greatly enrich” the church, confusion quickly developed over the best way to change the canon that lists the members of Province IX. To avoid delaying the vote to admit the diocese, which has sent a convention deputation that is waiting to take its seats, deputies finally suspended a requirement that the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons review any change to canonical language.

Along the way, however, a seemingly straightforward concern about how to add the words “Puerto Rico” to the list of Province IX dioceses in the canons led to a flurry of other suggested, attempted and discarded parliamentary steps.

Confusion over what specific votes were for was compounded by difficulty acting chair Vincent Currie, Jr., of Central Gulf Coast, the vice president of deputies, had hearing some deputies speaking at microphones. “We don’t do a lot of this in Myrtle Grove,” he said to laughter, as he apologized. The taste of arcane parliamentary procedure, he suggested, was probably a good experience for deputies to have so early in the convention.

Expressing what appeared to be the house’s mood of good-natured exasperation over the lengthy process, James Bradberry of Southern Virginia urged action on the original intent of the resolution. “The people of Puerto Rico have sent us a delegation that is ready to join us,” he said. “We can take care of the province later. There is not a provincial meeting this afternoon.”

The Rev. John Floberg of North Dakota also suggested in a moment of levity that the member dioceses of Province VI, which includes the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming, might prefer that Puerto Rico “come into Province VI and then host our winter meetings.”

Finally, by having divided the question into a vote on admitting the diocese and a vote on assigning it to Province IX and by sidestepping the need to involve the canons commission, the deputies successfully did what they wanted to do: welcome Puerto Rico as a diocese of the church. Because of special provisions in the diocese’s constitution, the union will take effect immediately upon concurrence by the House of Bishops.

Puerto Rico, along with the Diocese of Venezuela, which is also seeking admission in the Episcopal Church, has been in a special extraprovincial relationship with Province IX for many years during unsuccessful efforts to establish a province of the Caribbean that would have included Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Other dioceses of Province IX are Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador Central, Ecuador Littoral and Honduras.

Nominees for president of House of Deputies

In earlier business, the deputies heard the nominations of two candidates for president of the house, the Very Rev. George L. W. Werner of Pittsburgh, the current president, and Dr. Louie Crew of Newark.

Werner, who served for many years as dean of the cathedral in Pittsburgh, was first elected to the House of Deputies in 1970 and was elected vice president in 1994 and 1997 before becoming president in 2000. He has served on the Church Pension Fund board, the Committee on the State of the Church, the Standing Committee on Health, and as national vice president of Venture in Mission. He has been a member of the councils of advice for two presidents of the House of Deputies. As president he serves as vice-chair of the Executive Council.

A deputy from the Diocese of Newark since 1994 and a member of Executive Council from 2000 to 2006, Crew was a member of Newark’s Standing Committee from 1996 to 2004, and president of the committee from 2000 to 2002. He was founder of the Integrity organization and was co-chair of the reconciliation initiative of the New Commandment Task Force. He was a member of the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace With Justice Concerns, and of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs. He is professor emeritus of English at Rutgers University and served as president of the Rutgers University Senate from 1997 to 1999. The election will be held in the House of Deputies at 11:30 a.m., Saturday.