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MINNESOTA: Convention called to move boldly forward in mission 'singing' together

By Joe Bjordal

Bishop Steven Charleston addresses the Diocese of Minnesota Convention on October 27.  His image was televised to a large video screen for clear viewing by nearly 500 persons in attendance in Convention Hall.  

No money was spent on worship bulletins at the Diocese of Minnesota Convention. Rubrics, hymns and responses were projected onto the large video screens in Convention Hall.  

[Episcopal News Service]  By the time Minnesota Bishop James Jelinek adjourned the 149th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, meeting October 27-28 in Duluth, delegates had launched a new diocesan effort to support the Millennium Development Goals; heard plans for the next phase of work by the Bishop's Commission on Mission Strategy; almost unanimously passed a special one-year budget; and applauded the news that the 150th Convention will feature Garrison Keillor.

The 2007 convention occurred at a time when the diocese is engaged in mission-strategy planning. Work of the Bishop's Commission on Mission Strategy during the past year has revealed sobering statistics both about significant decline in membership and a systemic disability in terms of trusting and working together on the diocesan level.

Jelinek reminded the convention about the story in the Gospel of John of Jesus encountering a man who had been ill for 38 years, lying near the pool of Bethsaida.

"I am not sure who we have been waiting for to help us into the mission pool of evangelism, church growth and congregational development, but we have been waiting for at least a decade or two longer than 38 years," he said. "Some have waited for the bishop to do it -- with high hopes and a renewal of the dream at each election: Kellogg, McNairy, Anderson and Jelinek. Who knows, since our memories are not reliable further back than that, but I wonder if our ancestors were waiting for Edsall, McElwaine, and Keeler, too. And none of us bishops have been able to do much in the arena of congregational development to start new ministries that work, that thrive. Our historical statistics prove it. You have heard the data from the Bishop's Commission on Mission Strategy. Very few of you or your predecessors have been able to inspire a passion for this mission either. We have all been consistently trying to throw wet blankets on ideas and plans rather than get into the pool. We have been part of a culture or climate of suspicion and doubt, rather than a climate of trust and hope. It is time to change that, and I believe the change is starting to happen."

Jelinek said that the diocese has lacked "the will to get engaged and do the work of mission and evangelism" because it is afraid of change.

"I have seen the fear of change paralyze people in brutal relationships, in dysfunctional situations, and in other circumstances. When paralyzed, they do not take risks; they persist in the same damaging, life-denying situations. Yet this fear of change is always rooted in our human difficulty with trust -- trusting ourselves to make good choices, trusting others to support us and trusting God to walk with us and care for us along the way."

He called the diocese to "live into hope in ever new ways."

"We Christians so often settle for being nice, and sweet and polite and kind, to live without any real passion for a gospel which is all about salvation -- salvation from hardship, yes, salvation from fear, even more, and most especially salvation from the death of our souls when we try to domesticate God and serve as wimpy Christians," he said. "I owe my life to Jesus Christ. I say that because there are so many times it would have been so easy to give up, to quit, to try to take care of myself rather than care for anyone else. And yet it is his life and his gospel which have invited me into a venture and adventure in faith, and have taught me what it is to be forgiven and to forgive, to be given back to myself, literally, to have my soul restored, and to give thanks."

The full text of Jelinek's address is available here.

Jelinek invited Bishop Steven Charleston, president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, to address the convention's theme "In Sure and Certain Hope." In his introduction of Charleston, Jelinek said he knew of "no person in the church more capable to speak to us on this subject."

In his keynote address October 27, he underscored that the diocese is at a "moment of transition, a time when things are going to happen in a different way, a time when you are envisioning the next generation of the Diocese, planning, working toward the future, ready to take a new journey together."

He offered three points of advice for the journey:

  •  Wherever you go, you must go together;
  •  You must go on purpose, for mission; and
  • You must go singing.

A recording of Charleston's two presentations will be included in a DVD of convention highlights being prepared for every congregation in the diocese. Video excerpts will appear on the convention website.

With little discussion by the 356 delegates, and only two voting against, the convention passed a budget for 2007 totaling $2,469,085.

A presentation by the diocesan task force for the MDGs, chaired by the Rev. Devon Anderson, officially launched Minnesota's "embrace and support" of the MDGs, thus carrying out a mandate from General Convention.

As the final announcement of the 149th Annual Convention, the secretary, Canon Gary Gleason, said the 150th Convention, which will take place October 26-27, 2007 at the River Centre in St. Paul. He announced that the 2007 Convention would be the beginning of the Sesquicentennial Year of the diocese.

Delegates saw Garrison Keillor on film, sitting on the stage of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, on the set of "A Prairie Home Companion," singing a song about Episcopalians and announcing his appearance at the 2007 Convention.

After singing a verse of what he described as "the old theme song here in St. Paul for the Diocesan Convention" ("Shall We Gather at the River"), he said, "We'll see you by the river, here in St. Paul!"

The Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota comprises 26,000 Episcopalians worshipping in 108 congregations.