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ATLANTA: Alexander calls diocese to celebrate 100th year with worship, outreach

By Nan Ross


[Episcopal News Service]  Bishop J. Neil Alexander called Episcopalians in north and middle Georgia to celebrate the Diocese of Atlanta's 100th anniversary with worship and outreach efforts that will grow the church and call people from the margins to the center.

"I believe the Episcopal Church has a unique voice in the mix of faith communities in our time," Alexander said November 10 in his address to the 100th Annual Council, gathered in Macon, Georgia. "I believe our Anglican call to the center is crucial these days, not just in the church or in this country, but also around the world."

He cited Anglicanism's "gift for holding on to one another even in the face of serious disagreements" as the way to healing and reconciliation.

Key among the diocese's outreach efforts, he said, will be renewed commitment to the Millennium Development Goals for eradicating extreme poverty and disease worldwide over the next decade, and he called the diocese to take a leadership role.

"This is about a great deal more than putting a rather modest amount of money -- .7 percent of one's income -- on the table," he said. "It is about education. It is about spirituality. It is about faith. It is about discipleship."

Alexander also announced plans to establish a new congregation in south-central Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. To be called St. Benedict's, the congregation will be headed by the Rev. Lang Lowry, recently reassigned from the staff of St. Anne's, Atlanta, one of the sponsoring parishes.

A second worshipping community, an international congregation under the leadership of the Rev. John Ray, was given the name Christ the King and is moving from its original home at St. Matthew's, Snellville, to new space in northeast Atlanta.

Alexander also issued on the council's opening day a call for the election of a bishop suffragan to assist him. But he rescinded the request the following day after it became clear that the issue had become what he described as "unnecessarily divisive."

"The election of a bishop suffragan should be a positive rallying point for us that will enhance our common mission," Alexander said. "It should not be something that will strain the collegiality of the clergy."

He told surprised delegates that it "took about three years to get to where we were on this matter yesterday, and I have every confidence we will find our way through this."

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

The meeting's special guest was Central Ecuador Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench, who conveyed his diocese's requests for help but offered in exchange hospitality and expertise for expanding "Atlanta's thriving Hispanic ministries."

Ramos-Orench has been bishop of Central Ecuador for less than a year. Instead of retiring at age 66 from the Diocese of Connecticut, where he served as suffragan bishop, and returning to Puerto Rico, he went with his wife to Ecuador at the request of then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

"The mysterious gospel helped us make such a bold step. It said follow the cross, follow Jesus," he said.

He said many people in Ecuador are hungry for the gospel and a community of faith that will welcome them. "I feel like I've had a glimpse of the early church in its expansion," he said.

Atlanta's delegates passed a $4.2 million budget to fund the mission and ministry of the diocese. It was reported that 73 congregations met their 10 percent commitments to the diocese under canonical funding requirements passed last year. Nineteen made appeals to a special review board and were approved. One parish remains under review.

Delegates and guests celebrated the start of the centennial year with a Eucharist the evening of November 10 at Christ Church, Macon, site of the first diocesan meeting a century ago. Frank Allan, the eighth bishop of Atlanta, preached, and a diocesan choir introduced a new hymn and two anthems in honor of the centennial.

It was announced that a new setting of the Holy Eucharist has been commissioned to complement this music. A special limited-edition piece of art by a Georgia artist also has been commissioned, and a copy will be presented to each parish in the diocese.

A special centennial celebration dinner featured remarks by Elizabeth Allan, wife of Bishop Allan; Richard Perry, chancellor of the diocese; and Jim Marshall, editor of a new book that chronicles the history of the diocese.

The year will end during the 101st Annual Council meeting in November 2007 to be held at the Cathedral of St. Philip.

Delegates also passed resolutions to support the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and extend the relationship between the Diocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro.

The Diocese of Atlanta comprises 53,363 Episcopalians worshipping in 93 congregations.