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Feb 20, 2018 | EDOT Staff

Answering God's Call is Vocation of Church and People

“Take action in the power of the Holy Spirit,” said the Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander in her sermon at the opening worship for the 169th Annual Diocesan Council, in Waco, February 15. The Bishop of Edmonton challenged delegates and clergy to find the space where they could “hear God’s call let our lives speak wherever we find ourselves. God has a mission for us,” she said. Echoing Council’s theme of Whom Shall I Send? Who Will Go for Us?, the Bishop admonished that “God expects an answer! We have to be bold and respond, ‘Pick me’ even if we are terrified.”

The following day, plenary speakers challenged nearly 1000 clergy and lay leaders to “get dirty” and uncomfortable in facing racism. Before Bishop Andy Doyle delivered his annual presentation to Council on Saturday morning, delegates welcomed a new bishop assistant, approved the election of a bishop Suffragan and approved a $11M budget. Several new congregations were feted: Hispanic, Sudanese and South Indian. 

Bishop Doyle’s Challenge to the Church
“We continue to lead,” Bishop Andy Doyle told delegates, clergy and visitors in his presentation to Council on Saturday morning following the conclusion of Council’s business. Noting profound changes and challenges in today’s world, Bishop Doyle said, “Our vocation is to serve by transforming volatility into vision, uncertainty into understanding, complexity into clarity and ambiguity into agility. We are to be present and to serve. It is God’s mission of reconciliation with the world.”

The Bishop noted the diverse and expansive ways in which congregations had served neighbors throughout and following Hurricane Harvey as one example of how the Episcopal Church was bringing transformation to communities throughout the Diocese.

“It is our vocation to go and by sharing and doing, we will grow, both numerically and in our understanding of God,” he said, but, he noted, there is a looming crisis in leadership.

“In The Episcopal Church, ordinations have fallen by 26 percent in the past six years and retirements are outpacing ordinations by 43 percent.”

Clergy vacancies are more difficult to fill, an issue that is exacerbated when “our simple growth plan for the next decade will require 30 new full-time positions,” he said. “This shortage combined with the growth of lay-planted missions and the need for clergy to help plant, sustain and grow our congregations means that we are headed towards a cliff regarding vocations,” the Bishop warned, saying changes to the process were needed so that access and cost of seminary did not stand in the way of someone answering God’s call to them. 

In addition to a process review, Bishop Doyle said that financial issues of family insurance and updating compensation systems was also needed.

He challenged congregations to not only consider the vocation of the Church, but to raise up new leaders, both lay and those who are called to ordination. “Raising up future missionaries of the Diocese of Texas is not a diocesan staff project,” he said, “It is the work of every Christian community.” 

He called on all present to listen for God’s voice in their lives. “We are called to co-create with God,” he said, “…through the handiwork of ordinary people invited into extraordinary work, the vocation of the Church is an act of service and love … “

“God is asking, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ and we will answer with boldness and clarity and unwavering vision, ‘Here am I, Send me,” Bishop Doyle concluded. A full recording of his presentation can be found here 

Suffragan Election Approved
Because of the mandatory retirement of Bishop Suffragan Dena A. Harrison at age 72 next year, Council approved the election of a new bishop suffragan for the central and western region of the Diocese. The process will begin this year with the election taking place at the 170th Council in The Woodlands, February 21-23, 2019.

Amplifying the Episcopal Church’s Reach
Canon Joann Saylors reported that the original vision of developing 50 missional communities by 2020 had expanded to 75 by the end of 2018 because the original goal already had been surpassed with 67 missional communities in place.

“Missional communities are formed by a common interest to serve the community, nurture meaningful relationships and cultivate Christian community for those who will not, or cannot, participate in a traditional congregation,” Saylors explained.

While the number of missional communities continues at an exponential rate, more traditional church plants also help grow the Episcopal Church’s influence within the neighborhoods of the Diocese’s 57counties in eastern and central Texas. In 2018, the Diocese inaugurated relationships with Good Shepherd Episcopal Indian Church (worshipping at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Stafford) and St. Philip the Evangelist, a Sudanese congregation currently hosted at Christ Church Presbyterian, in Southwest Houston. While San Romero, a new Hispanic church plant, worships at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in west Houston, the Rev. John Soard will lead a missional community in the northeast area of Houston and explore the best location for another church plant, Holy Family Episcopal Church. Five other locations are also under consideration for additional plants in the next few years, Saylors said. “Even as new communities continue to grow, the health and vitality of existing congregations remains a priority,” she said.

The far-reaching destruction from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 created opportunity for many churches to partner with others to aid in recovery efforts and to improve the long-term health of their communities, Saylors explained. “Churches became distribution centers, host sites for volunteers and meeting spaces for community leaders,” she said. She praised efforts that were “outward-facing ways that helped their communities begin to heal.”

Saylors also reported an increase in campus ministries with four new ones in 2017 toward the long-term goal of 40.

$11M Budget Approved
Sam Dodson, chair of the Executive Board’s Finance Committee, presented the $11M Budget for approval, first reminding Council that it did not include more than $5M in recovery funding related to Hurricane Harvey. The 2018 budget reflects a “breakeven budget” that is 7.2% more than the 2017 budget, Dodson explained. While health insurance premiums continue to increase, the Diocese benefits from an annual $5M contribution from Episcopal Health Foundation toward overall health care costs for clergy and lay staff premiums. The Diocese of Texas also reached its goal of committing 15 percent of its budget to support The Episcopal Church.

Following a brief discussion regarding increases in compensation, Council approved the 2018 budget. The Rev. Rob Price had offered an amendment to cap individual compensation increases in the diocesan budget at 5% but the amendment failed 43 to 57 percent.

In his remarks, Price voiced concerns that corporate standards were reflected in pay increases which “subverted the theological integrity of our common life and fatally compromised the credibility of our moral witness.” His amendment, he said, protected raises given to staff, provided additional resources to vulnerable congregations and encouraged the Executive Board to set aside a commissioned report and recommendations for future budgets.

Flint Risen, a member of St. Paul’s, Katy spoke against the amendment, noting that, “As a Council, we put forth nominations to lead us as a Diocese. The Executive Board and Finance Committee have been diligent in making recommendations and while we should continue to have conversation about fair compensation, we should approve this budget.”

The Rev. Morgan Allen, spoke against the amendment. As one of two clergy members of the Executive Board’s Remuneration Committee, Allen told delegates and clergy at Council, “We had full support and transparency of diocesan office and discovered that it was a challenge to identify a common point of comparison.” He explained that the committee had asked “to do a deeper study of compensations within the Diocese to provide balance to Mercer Report,” and that in working with Church Pension Group and the data they had access to, he felt the salary increases to be “appropriate.”

Donations of $12,348.00 collected at opening worship on Thursday evening, will go to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, Dodson said.

Linda Mitchell, Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese of Texas, was elected treasurer; the Rev. Canon John A. Logan, Jr. was re-elected secretary; the Rev. Genevieve Razim (Christ Church Cathedral, Houston) and Ed Ziegler (Holy Comforter, Spring) were elected to the Standing Committee; David Harvin (St. Martin’s, Houston) was elected to the board of Church Corporation; Patricia Houser (Trinity, Houston) was elected to the board of University of the South; and the Rev. Daryl Hay (St. Andrew’s, Bryan), the Rev. Pedro Lopez (San Pedro, Pasadena), Rhonda Fanning (St. Martin’s, Houston), Flint Risien, St. Paul’s, Katy) and Debbie Allensworth (St. Andrew’s, Pearland) were elected to the Executive Board.

Constitution and Canonical Changes Approved
Maria Boyce, chair of the Committee on Constitution and Canons provided proposed amendments which changed the size of a quorum at Council from ¼ to ½ and added representation at Synod meetings to the duties for elected deputies to General Convention. Both were approved. 

Presented for a first reading were a new preamble for the Constitution and Canons (one had not before existed); changed language in the Constitution that clarified authority by changing references from “bishop” to “bishop diocesan”; updated terms for several positions to reflect current terminology and to regularize it with the rest of the Constitution. All were approved without discussion.

Canonical amendments revised titles to more accurately describe the Canon, expanded language to provide for diocesan vision of providing communities beyond church campuses and regrouped special categories of non-parish communities together. All were approved for first printing in the Diocesan Journal.

Changes to Canon 3, which allows parishes to host community gatherings of a secular nature, was also approved to give greater flexibility to congregations in the use of their buildings.

An additional canonical change, which was approved, reduces the percentage of confirmed communicants required to serve on Episcopal High Schools board from two-thirds to 60 percent.

Size of Council to be Studied
Bishop Andy Doyle cautioned delegates that the Executive Board would be addressing the size of Council over the next three years. “We are becoming too large of a governing body, which limits the places we can meet,” Bishop Doyle explained, noting the “sensitivity” of the issue, he said Executive Board would consider changes in the number of lay delegates. All clergy are delegates, parishes each elect four delegates and missions elect two each. There were 637 seated at this year’s Council. 

“While we are not large enough for some venues, we are too large for most of the others,” Bishop Doyle said, adding, “We have difficult decisions to make.”

Plenaries Challenge Delegates
Brandi Holmes, Segunda Joseph and the Rev. Matt Russell, three members of Project Curate, Houston, challenged Council members to actively engage communities that are different from their own. Project Curate provides a series of opportunities for people of faith to gather in order “to work out race issues in a Christian imagination,” particularly looking at ways in which racism influences “our Christianity in how we live,” explained Holmes. 

“As a white male, I understand that we have to break down our desire for security and control. Russell, a Methodist minister said. “We have a willingness to bring others to the table as long as they understand we own the table [and that needs to change],” he added.

Joseph pointed out that trust and truth formed the basis of building new relationships, but said it was not easy work. When she first joined Project Curate, Joseph said she asked herself, “Am I equipped to work with people I don’t understand and [who] I don’t trust?” 

Russell explained that members of Project Curate meet regularly to discuss difficult questions and make pilgrimages to one another’s neighborhoods. “It’s hard for me to pray, ‘Give us today our daily bread,’ when I have two weeks-worth of bread in my refrigerator and there are people less than 10 minutes away who have none. We operate in different worlds,” he said, adding, “My [previous] mode was attempting to serve and retreating back to a safe place.”

“My Christianity was wrapped up in my being a white male,” Russell said. “A part of me pushed back when others spoke [in Project Curate gatherings]. ‘I’m not a racist,’ I thought. [When racism becomes a] structural, an institutional sin, we no longer need personal racists because the structure holds it up,” he said, assuring delegates that the work of being in relationship with others who are different was not comfortable or easy work. “Quit denying what the Holy Spirit is asking us to step into. Ask who is my brother/sister and what claim does that have on our lives,” he said.  

Russell suggested three books for further reading: Dear White Christians by Jennifer Harvey; The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A link to the full text of Bishop Alexander’s sermon, delivered February 15 at First Baptist Church, Waco, will be included in the Diolog e-news and on the diocesan Facebook page as soon as it is received. 

The 170th Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas will be held at the Waterway Marriott in The Woodlands, February 21-23, 2019.