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Diocesan Digest - March 2

[Episcopal News Service]   
  • ALABAMA: Bishop calls on diocese to be people of 'vision and courage'
  • CENTRAL GULF COAST: Convention looks for unity amid storms
  • LEXINGTON: Church needs to reclaim adventure, Sauls tells diocese
  • MAINE: Diocese surprises bishop with ordination celebration
  • OHIO: Parish reaches DEPO agreement with diocese
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Divisive time requires prayerful discernment, bishop says
  • WASHINGTON: Bishop criticizes Akinola's support of anti-homosexual laws
  • WEST TENNESSEE: Bishop tells convention he's confident of Communion

ALABAMA: Bishop calls on diocese to be people of 'vision and courage'

[SOURCE: Diocese of Alabama] Bishop Henry Parsley reminded Alabama's annual diocesan convention February 22-23 that at the 175-year mark, "looking back propels us into the future. As the sixth generation of Episcopalians in Alabama, we must be people of vision and courage, steadfast faith and generosity."

He went on to say that "now is the time to turn outward. We need to stop thinking about ourselves and to begin thinking about others."

Parsley announced that a $5.5 million capital campaign for the diocese will be known as the "Acts 2: Living the Vision Together" campaign. He also announced that planning for a new parish in the Shelby County part of metro Birmingham would begin this summer.

The Rev. Kedron Jarvis from the Episcopal Relief and Development Office thanked the diocese for its gifts totaling more than $440,000 in 2005.

The 2006 diocesan budget of $2.5 million will fully fund the 0.07% United Nations Millennium Development Goals for the first time.

Bishop Zache Duracin of Haiti addressed the convention and presided at the closing Holy Eucharist. The two dioceses initiated a companion relationship this year.

Bishop Suffragan Mark Andrus spoke to the convention about four diocesan signs of global peace seeking and reconciliation. The four signs are commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, diocesan connection with the Taize Community, the annual Jonathan Daniels pilgrimage in Hayneville, Alabama, every August and its developing relationship with Haiti.

CENTRAL GULF COAST: Convention looks for unity amid storms

[SOURCE: Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast] Acknowledging anxieties about conflict within the church, the hurricane-battered Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast reached beyond the chaos to embrace a call for unity during its 35th annual convention February 16-18.

Bishop Philip M. Duncan II explained in his convention address that the convention's theme - "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism" - served as a reminder that Christians are called to stand together in faith, especially in the midst of the debate over issues of human sexuality.

"I believe that our Episcopal Church and our Anglican Communion will work this out for the common good," he said. "As I said last year, we are not perfect, but as people of good faith we are working and praying together as we seek to hear the voice of God in these times.

"God is in charge and we pray God will give us all the hearts, ears, and words to become more the living Body of Christ."

Duncan said that he has no plans to leave the Episcopal Church or to join "any networks or splinter groups." He encouraged all members of the diocese to take the same position.

A resolution protesting the blessing of same-sex unions and calling for the diocese to carry that protest to General Convention in June was overwhelmingly defeated. In reaction, however, to concerns about the upcoming Convention, two diocesan meetings have been set, one in April to preview the issues and one after convention to discuss what happened.

The convention also:

  • designated convention offerings to the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and Disaster Relief Fund for Alabama congregations whose church buildings recently have been burned,
  • called for the inclusion of the Feast of the Martyrs of the Sudan in the calendar of the Episcopal Church and continued support of those suffering in the wake of that nation's persecution and devastation,
  • urged the creation of a congregational growth and development committee,  and
  • adopted a $1.9 million balanced budget for 2006.

LEXINGTON: Church needs to reclaim adventure, Sauls tells diocese

[SOURCE: Diocese of Lexington] Bishop Stacy F. Sauls of Lexington told the 110th diocesan convention February 23-25 that the church -- wrongly -- wants to be safe.

"The problem the church faces now at the beginning of the 21st century is not that it has lost its moral bearings and not that its message is not clear and not that it is no longer relevant. It is that it is boring," Sauls said. "It is that it is obsessed with its own safety. The task before us,  more than anything else, is to reclaim the adventure of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds."

Sauls said the diocese has taken risks during the last five year that he has been its bishop. The risks included spending time and money to prepare a building to house Katrina evacuees who never materialized. Now the building is begin readied for transitional housing for once-homeless people. The risks have also included efforts to "protect the assets of the Episcopal Church" when some people wish to separate their congregations from the diocese, Sauls said.

The bishop laid out a diocesan agenda that includes welcoming Hispanic people, expanding ministry to and with single adults and college students, expanding the diocese's summer reading camp program for children whose parents are in prison and to children in South Africa, finding ways to provide a church camp experience to those who can't afford it and planting a new congregation in northern Kentucky.

Saul also called on the diocese to "aggressively offer credible Bible study" using the Education for Ministry program. "It is time to reclaim the Bible from fundamentalism," he said. "The more people know about the Bible, the more they will know it has a lot more to do with economics than sex."

He urged the convention to practice the ministry of reconciliation, calling it "God's more creative response" than the human response to fear of shutting others out. "It is just as tempting to say good riddance and don't let the door hit you on the way out. It is tempting indeed, and like many things that are tempting, and almost all things that are easy, it is not faithful," he said.

Sauls added that agreement and reconciliation are not the same thing, neither is repentance. Reconciliation "is about turning to face each other" and embrace each other as did the father of the Prodigal Son.

Sauls also told the convention that he had learned that week that he had been nominated by petition for Presiding Bishop and that he was prayerfully considering the news.

The convention adopted resolutions to:

  • affirm and embrace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), commit to begin in 2007 to give 0.7% of the annual diocesan budget, challenge all Episcopalians in the diocese to give 0.7% of their budgets to international development programs, recommend ways to spend that money and track MDG-related work, provide education about global reconciliation, encourage Episcopalians to urge their elected representatives to support the federal government's fulfillment of its MDG commitment.
  • direct the diocesan executive council to establish annual minimum clergy compensation (salary and housing) guidelines
  • appoint a committee to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of youth ministries in the diocese and report to the next convention, including consideration of hiring a full-time youth coordinator.

MAINE: Diocese surprises bishop with ordination celebration

[SOURCE: Diocese of Maine] Bishop Chilton Knudsen's surprise celebration of the 25th anniversary of her ordination to the priesthood goes to show that thousands of people can keep a secret.

On February 22, about 125 people from all corners of the diocese gathered quietly in the nave of the Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland to wait for Knudsen to arrive from her office.

Entering from the rear by the sacristy door and seeing the gathered crowd and a vested Dean Ben Shambaugh up front, she paused with David Fernald, a member of the congregation charged with luring her over. She assumed she was walking in on a funeral and did not wish to interrupt.

Amid lots of applause, she was escorted to the front where she was joined by her husband, Michael, and her son, Dan. Shambaugh invited her to vest and celebrate the Eucharist with the gathered community.

The Rev. Merrill Bittner, who serves as priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas' in Rumford, Maine, preached. Bittner was one of the first 11 women ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974.

During a reception held in the cathedral's parish hall, Knudsen was presented with a large basket of cards and notes sent by those unable to attend.

"It was a perfect anniversary celebration; to gather at God's Table together was sheer joy," she later wrote. "And it all was a total surprise; my heart will resume its normal rhythm by tomorrow."

Knudsen also learned recently that she will be the 2006 inductee to the Maine Women's Hall of Fame on March 18. She will join the ranks of Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, as one of 27 Maine women honored since the Hall of Fame was established in 1990.

OHIO: Parish reaches DEPO agreement with diocese

[SOURCE: Diocese of Ohio] The vestry of the Church of the Advent in Westlake, the Rev. Joe Maiocco, its rector, and Bishop Mark Hollingsworth of Ohio have agreed on a plan for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO), the diocese and parish announced February 22.

They have engaged Bishop Edward S. Little II of Northern Indiana for the DEPO arrangement.

After more than two years of discernment on the part of the congregation, the vestry asked Hollingsworth for the pastoral oversight of a bishop who is more theologically aligned with a majority of their communicants, specifically on issues relating to scriptural interpretation and human sexuality.

Little and Hollingsworth have worked together as close colleagues, particularly on matters of reconciliation in the Episcopal Church, and are both very supportive of DEPO as a means of serving the people of their dioceses "during this season of theological and ecclesiological diversity in the Church," the announcement said.

Little plans to visit the Church of the Advent May 22 for a congregational forum and July 23 for an episcopal visitation.

PENNSYLVANIA: Divisive time requires prayerful discernment, bishop says

[SOURCE: Diocese of Pennsylvania] In a news release posted on the diocesan website,  Pennsylvania bishop Charles Bennison said the diocese, is working toward reconciliation as it moves toward a special diocesan convention March 25. But, he admits, those divisions are serious.

"We face difficult decisions about our priorities as a diocese, and none of us can have everything our own way," Bennison said in the release. "I pray that each of us puts the unity of our fellowship and our unity with the church beyond our diocese, above our own particular goals for our own diocese."

The diocesan convention rejected the program budget put forward to it in November 2005 by the Diocesan Council. The news release also noted a division between the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council. In response to the Standing Committee's January 24 request that Bennison retire or resign by March 31, Diocesan Council in February adopted a resolution, 21-5, supporting Bennison.

There is also division, according to the release, between those who believe that the diocese has more than $2.6 million of unrestricted net assets (UNA) available for its initiatives in congregational, camping, campus, and cathedral ministries, and those who think that money already was spent contrary to canonically-defined restrictions and must be restored.

The release said that Bennison was dismayed when the Standing Committee refused (in November, December and January) to accept  his reappointment of William Bullitt as diocesan chancellor. Bennison said he was following Bullitt's advice on the handling of diocesan trust funds.

The Rev. William Wood, president of the Standing Committee, said in the release that its unanimous request for Bennison's departure was based on a lack of trust in the bishop and that he was "economical" with the truth. Wood said in an interview shortly after their vote that he would still have asked Bennison to step aside even "if Jesus himself came down and said that everything Charles Bennison did was outstanding."

"Our duty (was) to suggest the best course for the diocese, which is, we believe, for him to step aside," he added.

Bennison has refused to leave because he said he did not feel that his leaving was in the best interests of the diocese.

Bishop Clay Matthews of the Episcopal Church's Office of Pastoral Development, who serves as the pastor of bishops and dioceses in conflict situations, met with the bishop, Standing Committee, and others on February 21 in order to establish a year-long process of reconciliation.

WASHINGTON: Chane criticizes Akinola's support of anti-homosexual laws

[SOURCE: Diocese of Washington, Washington Post] In an opinion piece published February 26 in the Washington Post headlined "A Gospel of Intolerance," Washington Bishop John Bryson Chane criticized Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria, for supporting a Nigerian law criminalizing homosexuality.

Chane wrote that Akinola's stance gives him reason to doubt pledges of pastoral support of gay and lesbian people made by the primates of the Anglican Communion at their meeting last year in Nottingham, England.

He described Akinola as "perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada."

Chane wrote that donors have helped the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal Church and other Protestant denominations.

"Should the institute succeed in 'renewing' these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow," he wrote.

Chane said that, while many countries have laws dealing with marriage and sexual behavior, the Nigerian law crossed the line because it prohibits any public and private activity "in any way related to homosexuality."

"The archbishop's support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a 'listening process' involving gay Christians and their leaders," Chane wrote.

The text of Chane's article can be found at:

WEST TENNESSEE: Bishop tells convention he's confident of Communion

[SOURCE: Diocese of West Tennessee] West Tennessee Bishop Don E. Johnson told his diocese's 25th annual convention that the Episcopal Church will be led by the Holy Spirit during its coming General Convention.

"I believe that the Episcopal Church will come out of General Convention still in communion with Jesus, and that the actions of the Convention will seek to express that communion in such a way as God's Spirit leads us as a province of the world-wide Anglican Communion at that time," Johnson said in his address.

The diocesan convention, meeting February 23-25, approved a budget of $1.45 million, reflecting a decrease in total income of $323,000. However, voluntary commitments to the diocese increased over the prior year by $56,000.

Bishop Duncan M. Gray III of the Diocese of Mississippi gave the convention an overview of efforts to address hurricane destruction in his diocese and served as guest preacher at the closing Eucharist.

Among the resolutions passed by the convention were ones to:

  • explore the possibility of a companion diocese relationship,
  • support the work of the Lambeth Commission on Communion and the resulting Windsor Report and the reactions of the House of Bishops in response to it, affirm Johnson's "commitment to peace and unity throughout the church" and specify actions that the diocese would take to address the issues the Windsor Report raised,
  • uphold the historic Christian faith, citing the divinity and lordship of Jesus Christ; the reaffirmation of Holy Scriptures, tradition and reason as the foundations of authority in the church; and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as a true and accurate statement of faith and polity of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion,
  • support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and encourage each congregation to contribute 0.7% of its annual budget to international development programs beginning in 2007,
  • oppose the death penalty,
  • sustain, as a minimum, 10 percent giving to national and world missions based on voluntary commitments to the diocese, and
  • support of stewardship of planned giving.

A resolution affirming Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the authoritative teaching of the Anglican Communion was tabled.