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SOUTHEAST FLORIDA: Convention emphasizes social outreach ministries

By Mary W. Cox


[Episcopal News Service]  The Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, meeting under the theme "…And your neighbor as yourself" at its 37th annual convention November 17-18 at St. Benedict's Church in Plantation, heard its bishop, Leo Frade, highlight the work of more than 35 parish and/or deanery-based ministries that provide assistance for the homeless, food for the hungry and care for children and the elderly.

Through these ministries, Frade said in his convention address, the diocese is fulfilling the second part of Christ's Great Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

He noted that churches in the diocese provide nearly half a million meals per year.

"Our ministry is not only local but also national and international," Frade added, citing mission trips to the Gulf Coast after Katrina, and ongoing relationships of mutual ministry between Southeast Florida congregations and churches in the companion dioceses of the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, as well as Navajoland, Honduras, Jamaica, Madagascar, Kenya and most recently, Cuba.

"We have what I call a healthy diocese," Frade said. "With God's help, lots of prayer and lots of work we have been able to stay together, work together and respect each other's opinion. I have always said that regardless of the conflicts taking place beyond our diocesan borders I am committed to make this diocese a cordial place where there will be room for all."

The diocesan commitment to "loving our neighbor" was also reflected in the bishop's announcement that the Southeast Florida Episcopal Foundation, established in 1998 as a planned giving resource for the diocese, is now Episcopal Charities, transforming and expanding its mission to become the philanthropic and charitable arm of the diocese.

Frade also noted that the $3,413,191 diocesan budget for 2007 includes $20,000 for "Global Reconciliation." This funding supports a commitment to the Millennium Development Goals approved at last year's diocesan convention and will be administered through Episcopal Charities.

Frade challenged each congregation to establish its own fund that would set aside 0.7% of the parish budget for ministries that support the MDGs.

The bishop also reminded delegates that "loving our neighbor" means "we must take care of our own," urging increases in clergy compensation to reflect the high cost of housing in south Florida.

The convention approved clergy compensation guidelines for 2007 that include a 10% increase in the housing allowance.

Two additional resolutions were approved, one changing the diocesan canons to establish "a majority of the membership" rather than "2/3 of the membership" as the quorum for diocesan Executive Board meetings, and the other to suggest that every parish complete a criminal sexual offender background check for any staff member or volunteer working with children or youth.

Guests at the convention included Bishop Coadjutor Laish Boyd and Bishop Suffragan Gilbert Thomson of the Diocese of Nassau and the Bahamas; the Rev. Russell Meyer, of the Florida Council of Churches; and Bishop John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida, who preached at the Convention Eucharist.