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Feb 14, 2016 | Carol E. Barnwell

167th Council Wrap Up

Delegates at the 167th Council of the Diocese of Texas heard Bishop Andy Doyle’s strident call for unity and a focus on mission, passed of $10M budget, adopted a much needed reordering of Canons, approved voting rights for youth delegates, honored Treasurer Bob Biehl and welcomed a new diocesan transition minister, the Rev. Francene Young.

 

Two new worshiping communities, Church of the Cross, Austin and St. Isadore, Spring, were officially recognized and electronic voting made a debut. Canon 43, also known as the “moral canon,” was deleted from the canons, left out of an omnibus measure that packaged several proposals into a single document considered in one vote.

 

Bishop Doyle’s address quoted liturgist Dom Gregory Dix, referenced “The Dude” and the Blues Brothers. “We have reached a particular moment as a diocese,” the bishop told more than 650 clergy and elected delegates. “Having chosen to set aside our differences, our faithful undertaking of God’s mission here is flourishing,” he said.

 

New Transitional Minister

Canon Kai Ryan announced the appointment of the Rev. Francene Young, rector of St. Luke the Evangelist, as the new transition minister. Young “joins the staff already deeply familiar with our Diocese,” Ryan said. “Her years of concentration on talent acquisition and diversity and inclusion programs will strengthen our efforts to develop the most diverse, passionate and effective clergy cohort of any Diocese in the Episcopal Church.”

 

Young was vice president in human resources for a Royal Dutch Shell before she was ordained. She grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and attended the Baptist Church until she was introduced to the Episcopal Church, which she joined at 17. When she was a junior in college, she led a parish on Cleveland’s near west side during their transition between rectors. She has held many lay leadership positions and is a member of the diocesan Commission on Ministry, the Commission on Black Ministry and president of the Board of Trustees for Westover School, an all-girls private school in Middlebury, Connecticut. She holds a masters in public health from the University of Pittsburgh and an undergraduate in social services from Cleveland State University.

 

Constitution and Canons

A majority of clergy and delegates approved an omnibus measure that represents a massive reordering of the church’s laws proposed by the Diocese’s Executive Board. The reorganization adopts the style of The Episcopal Church Constitution and Canon, brought together related canons, combined others and removed Canon 43 on Moral Discipline (499 in favor/144 opposed).

 

Before the vote, the Rev. Russell Levenson, rector of St. Martin’s, Houston, read a letter of dissent signed by 19 clergymen. The letter affirmed their support of Bishop Doyle and “the necessity to work shoulder to shoulder with our fellow presbyters … toward the … the mission and ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” While agreeing with the need for a comprehensive revision of the Diocesan Canons, they dissented from any change in the status of Canon 43, believing that deletion of it constituted abandonment of the “biblical teaching on marriage.”

 

“We are deeply disheartened that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Texas have chosen to extend the sacramental rite of marriage to same-gender couples; however, when we disagree with the Church’s actions, we will do so openly and transparently,” Levenson read. The letter also expressed gratitude for the provision for bishops and priests to “exercise their conscience regarding the sacraments of marriage without fear of discipline or penalty” as well as the affirmation of the same from Bishop Doyle (Resolution A054, 78th General Convention).

 

Bishop Doyle thanked Levenson and the other authors for “such a thoughtful and prayer-soaked statement,” for their support, their commitment to the diocese and the mission of Christ. He said he believed the canon limits the powers of congregations to choose their own rector and it seeks to limit the bishop’s power , which constituted a “very dangerous precedent for every congregation and all future bishops.”

 

Referring to his white paper on Unity in Mission, the Bishop reiterated his support of fidelity in marriage, saying that the unity the Diocese of Texas has exhibited throughout 19+ years of debating sexuality issues has served as a beacon for the rest of the Church for how to remain united and focused on mission despite “great and serious difficulty.” He said further that “this Diocese will be a place where each congregation and individual, lay or clergy, will be free to act in accordance with their Gospel-shaped conscience. Russ simply could not have said it better: ‘Jesus’ embrace includes all of us,’ even when we differ on this topic.” The vote Read the Bishop’s full remarks here.

 

The debut of electronic voting made electing new representatives to the Executive Board, Standing Committee and others very easy. Unique credentials allowed all clergy and delegates to use their own or borrowed mobile devices to vote . The new process eliminated previous years’ bad ballots, which regularly ran about 5 percent. Even those unfamiliar with mobile devices were able to vote quickly, in some cases with the help of fellow delegates and numerous IT assistants.

 

Canon Mary MacGregor reported that Church of the Cross, Lake Travis had been recognized officially as a mission of the Diocese and announced the formation of St. Isidore Episcopal Community, a mission of Trinity, The Woodlands. Representatives of both came forward to ring the Great Commission bell.

 

Budget

Diocesan CFO and Treasurer Robert Biehl reported that the financial condition of the Diocese continued to be strong throughout 2015. Biehl, who is retiring this year, detailed some of the significant changes that he has overseen during his tenure including: bringing the diocesan accounting system up to GAAP standards, providing more transparency; unifying two budgets into one; reducing the diocesan budget as a share of parish revenues from 15 percent in 2010 to 8.5 percent today; development of a comprehensive database system, and growing the assets of three foundations from $107.8 M to $146.4M. Additionally, Biehl was on deck to help establish the Episcopal Health Foundation from the $1B plus proceeds from the sale of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and the subsequent establishment of the Great Commission Foundation from a tithe of those proceeds to support future mission and church planting initiatives.

 

Sam Dodson, chair of the Executive Board’s Finance Committee presented the 2016 budget. He said projected growth of 5.7 percent in assessment revenue was attributed to growth in congregational revenues. A modest increase in insurance premiums is due in large part to an increase in the number of clergy covered although Episcopal Health Foundation defrays $5M of the annual health insurance expenses. Delegates approved the $10.2M budget, 47percent of which goes to ministry and mission amplification: campus missions, wellness and care and increased focus on enhancing the strength and vitality of our parishes and missions.

 

Biehl will retire in 2016 and was honored during the opening Eucharist for his 16 years of service to the Diocese. The reception Friday evening was a chance for many people to say “thank you” to Biehl, who has been on the Diocesan staff since 2000. “The gift Bob has given is truly from the deepest part of his soul,” Bishop Doyle said. “He has built strong relationships with both lay and clergy, responding to a diversity of needs with grace and humility.”

 

Dodson has worked closely with Biehl on diocesan business for a number of years.

 

“Bob has been an invaluable source of advice and counsel on a variety of matters,” Dodson, a member of St. James’, Houston, said. “We have worked closely to increase the clarity and transparency of the Diocese’s finances and I have always welcomed his thoughts. Perhaps one of his greatest gifts is his ability to build relationships with both large and small congregations and with his financial acumen, share effectively the importance of their stewardship in the overall mission of the Diocese,” he added. “This is an attriute that we will certainly try to find in our search for Bob’s successor.”

 

Offering

Biehl asked delegates for approval to grant the previous evening’s offering to the Seafarer’s Center in the amount of $5,605.26 and “$5 Canadian.” According to the Rev. Lacy Largent, chaplain to the Seafarers Center, delegates donated generously from a list of items requested to help her serve the thousands of seafarers who come through the Port of Houston annually. She received more than 300 pocket Bibles and an additional $540 in donations. She said the approved offering would help provide much needed pocket-sized Bibles, work gloves and more.

 

Elections

Secretary of the Diocese:
The Rev. John A. Logan, Jr.

Treasurer of the Diocese:
Robert J. Biehl

Standing Committee:
David Bollinger, Good Shepherd, Tomball
The Rev. Christine Faulstich, Epiphany, Houston

Executive Board:
Ellen Eby, Holy Comforter, Angleton
Maria Figueroa, San Francisco de Asis, Austin
Betsy Sullivan, St. Dunstan’s, Houston
The Rev. Freda Marie Brown, St. Vincent’s House, Galveston
The Rev. Eric Hungerford, St. James, La Grange

Trustee of the Church Corporation
Charles Hall, St. John the Divine, Houston

Trustee of the University of the South, Sewanee
Michael Lewis, Christ Church, Tyler

 

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