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BETHELEHEM: Convention celebrates growth, looks forward to 'New Hope'

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  Episcopalians gathered at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, October 13-14 for the Diocese of Bethlehem's annual convention went on record as, among other things, supporting the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), opposing torture, and supporting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In his address to the convention, Bishop Paul Marshall praised the diocese for affecting its neighbors "unforgettably" by donating nearly $800,000 over the last five years for tsunami and hurricane relief.

"And that is just the money we know about because it flowed through us to Episcopal Relief and Development. Certainly there has been more," he said. "No one can doubt that the love of God lives among us, and I thank you on behalf of the many who have no other way to address you."

Marshall also said that the diocese is flourishing.

"Numbers are up and significant things are happening. Rural parishes and urban centers increasingly recognize that the choice is between slow extinction and intensive mission, and many are making the life-giving choice," he said.

He advocated for the diocese's "New Hope" capital campaign whose aim is to help the Sudanese Diocese of Kajo-Keji -- with which the Bethlehem diocese holds a companion relationship -- rebuild its college and cathedral, and support its students financially. The campaign also aims to plant churches in the Bethlehem diocese and to "seed and support parish outreach."

The full text of Marshall's address is available here

Among the resolutions the convention passed were ones to

  • establish the MDGs as a mission priority for the coming triennium;
  • endorse a three-year renewal of the companion relationship between the diocese and the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in the Episcopal Church of Sudan;
  • set a clergy salary schedule that includes a 4 percent cost-of-living increase over this year's schedule;
  • encourage members of the diocese to develop a personal spiritual discipline that includes, at a minimum, the holy habits of daily personal prayer and study, tithing, Sabbath time, and weekly corporate worship;
  • outline a process concerning parishes under review, parishes at risk, and the closing of a parish;
  • condemn the use of torture and the practice of extraordinary rendition, call upon the U.S. government "to renounce and cease its use and to enact policies to prevent its use both domestically and abroad," and support U.S. military and civilian personnel who refuse to obey orders to torture or practice rendition, and those charged after exposing such efforts;
  • call upon Congress and the President to develop a plan for stabilization of Iraq, followed by prompt withdrawal of the United States Armed Forces in Iraq;
  • adopt and support nonviolence training for personal and social; and
  • set a 2007 Mission and Ministry Budget of nearly $1.6 million for the diocesan community and resolved that the assessment rate be 12%, the same as last year.

More information on the resolutions is available here

The diocese encompasses 14 counties in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania and consists of about 15,200 Episcopalians worshipping in 61 congregations.