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NEBRASKA: Council hears call to "take the grace and gifts of the gospel" to all

By Mary Frances Schjonberg


[Episcopal News Service]  The Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, meeting in Omaha in its 139th Annual Council October 27-29, heard praise of its ministries inside and outside of the diocese.

Noting that he was speaking on the Feast Day of St. Simon and St. Jude, Bishop Joe G. Burnett reminded the Council that Simon was called "the zealot," and Jude became known in Christian tradition as the patron saint of "lost causes."

"That may very well be the way that some outside the church think of us today, as zealous patrons of lost causes, but I am confident that this scripture reading espouses a cause that is anything but lost," he said. "It is my hope and my prayer that you and I, this diocese, and this whole Church of ours might "grow up in every way into…Christ."

"Growth has been much on our minds during this past triennium. All around us there are signs that parishes and people throughout our diocese are seeking to live into the promises of their baptismal covenant."

He acknowledged that some congregations are struggling, but said he sees "tremendous faith and resilience" even in those places.

"We need to continue to find creative and effective ways to support congregations who want to grow, but who do not have the resources to sustain full time ordained pastoral leadership, or whose communities are in decline," Burnett said.

He reminded the Council that the diocese has large economic disparities that impact the lives of its people. Many small congregations form and nurture people, and "then watched them move away to places with more economic promise."

"Simply put, small congregations and rural congregations in Nebraska have historically been one of the main sources of growth for congregations in the cities and urban areas," he said. "We should never lose sight of this dynamic, that even our largest parishes depend in some way on the life and ministry of the smallest parishes."

Conversely, Burnett said, "during their fallow times" small congregations need the help of larger, more successful ones.

Saying that the diocese reflects a "striking diversity" of ethnicities and ministries, Burnett said those qualities "are so desperately needed in the church today."

"We in the church are called to take the grace and gifts of the gospel and meet this need," he said. "This challenge should alone be sufficient to turn our minds and hearts away from our internal disagreements and toward what really matters: The One Body of Christ, and the One Mission of God, which is both its source and its end."

The full text of Burnett's Council address is available here. His Council sermon is available here.

On October 28, the delegates:

  • viewed a DVD promoting the work and ministry of the diocesan youth commission;
  • viewed a DVD presentation of the diocese’s "Alleluia Fund for Growing our Church,"
    together with a report on its continuing capital funds campaign, which since 2004 has generated $2.5 million in seed money for new ministry and mission initiatives throughout the diocese, including youth and young adult ministry, revitalizing existing parishes, planting and building new churches, and outreach; and
  • heard a presentation by Mississippi Bishop Duncan Gray on "Darkness into Day," the national campaign to restore and rebuild the infrastructure of the Episcopal Church in the areas of Mississippi and Louisiana devastated last year by Hurricane Katrina.

At the conclusion of his presentation, the Alleluia Fund presented Gray with a check for $10,000, with a promise to match other funds donated by individuals from around the diocese up to a total of $20,000.

Delegates approved three canonical resolutions, including ones to:

  • regularized procedures for electing deputies to provincial synod to conform to current practice;
  • make sixteen the age of adult membership in order to be consistent with the Episcopal Church canons; and
  • update a list of diocesan special offerings.

At the final business session October 29, the Council endorsed a budget of $675,000 for 2007 which includes the full asking of the Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of Nebraska comprises about 9,100 Episcopalians in 59 congregations.