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Feb 11 | Carol E. Barnwell

Missional Church is Focus of 168th Council

Grounded in Scripture and Worship

From the opening worship of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ 168th Council, Thursday evening to the opening gavel on Friday morning, being “missional” and building “missional communities” were reflected in worship and business as more than 900 delegates, clergy and visitors gathered.

A standing room only congregation gathered to worship on Thursday, February 9, 2017, hosted by Trinity. This year, the Diocese’s annual meeting was extended from two to three days, during which delegates approved the hiring of an assistant bishop, passed a $10.7M budget, continued to clean up Canons to reflect actual practices and delete outdated language and elected new members to the Executive Board and new deputies to the 2018 General Convention. Plenaries challenged delegates to read Scripture with a new eye, commit to holy habits and to make a point of knowing one’s neighbors. The Diocese also bid farewell to Canon Mary MacGregor, who retired this week. In a fitting tribute, Bishop Andy Doyle, presented MacGregor with a water well for a poor community in Tanzania to honor her many years of dedication to the Diocese.

A festival Eucharist on Friday featured the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, Bishop of Washington, D.C. as preacher and a diocesan-wide choir. Bishop Budde, noting the achievements of the Diocese of Texas, encouraged those present to “testify to what you’ve seen,” and continued, “We need one another’s sight and testimony.” 

The Diocese’s annual meeting expanded its schedule according to Bishop Andy Doyle, so delegates could “spend more time together in conversation” to consider each congregation’s particular community and context in order to leave the building and “go out into the world to love our neighbor.”

BHAG

“This,” Bishop Doyle said, “is what it means to be a missional church.” The shift Bishop Doyle seeks to encourage in the Diocese of Texas is in what it means to be “missional.” Instead of asking, “Why don’t they come?” while “stuck in our sanctuaries,” the Bishop wants to encourage active participation beyond church walls in answer to particular needs of “neighbors.”

To that end, three plenaries, two followed by a story of missional life in different parts of the Diocese, challenged delegates and clergy to reimagine what and where they might take the Gospel. Bishop Doyle admitted that this shift will be uncomfortable and in his presentation to Council referred to Bishop Claude E. Payne’s (seventh Bishop of Texas) earlier vision of a Diocese of Miraculous Expectation, one that had a BHAG (a big, holy, audacious goal) as his inspiration for the future of the Diocese of Texas.

“His vision captured our imaginations and it captured mine,” Bishop Doyle said. “We are once again capturing the mission of Jesus … challenged by a vision for change [driven] by the Holy Spirit.” Acknowledging the tension leadership feels during times of change, he encouraged members of the diocese to take up the challenge of reaching beyond their church campuses to create a broader definition of “church,” noting that 47 percent of the Diocese’s 154 congregations had experienced growth over the last five years. Currently, the Diocese has nine campus missions, 27 missional communities and 16 additional ones in development. “We are trying to engage in holy risk taking,” Bishop Doyle said, adding that the Diocese is no longer hindered by a “one size fits all” church model.  “We want to expand, and embrace, and begin to fund creative mission and people and churches with the courage to take a holy risk,” he said. Bishop Doyle’s address to Council can be heard here.

“Answering Jesus’ call today, in this time, in this place, is going to challenge us. And if we are being completely honest, what I’m asking us to do is to exhibit new behaviors and ways of engaging the world that, frankly, we don’t yet know how to do,” he said.

He framed the plenaries by reminding those assembled that the Episcopal Diocese of Texas “is to be a mission organization for Jesus,” explaining that there will need to be changes in structure, habits and the way in which the faithful see the church and the world in a “rapidly changing mission context.”

Missional Plenaries

The first two plenaries were given on Friday by the Rev. Francene Young, vicar of St. Luke the Evangelist, Houston and the diocesan transition missioner and the Rev. Beth Magill, associate missioner for congregational initiatives for the Diocese.

Young’s presentation asked delegates to reconsider where they looked for Jesus and encouraged reading Scripture with a missional point of view.

“Does our reading of Scripture enhance our capacity to love God and our neighbor?” Young asked, adding that, “There is no place, no person, no city, no situation, no neighborhood, where God is not already present doing what God does.”

Magill, sought to instill “holy habits” that would enhance this missional lens in seeking a broader viewpoint of “neighbor.” She suggested these habits would bring “new life” to churches and their communities if church members would commit to share a meal with three people each week; listen to their story (70% listening and 30% talking); read Scripture and pray consistently. “These cost little more than effort,” she said, and added that if followed, would bring people closer to living into a missional identity.

Young’s plenary was followed by a presentation from the Rev. Jefferson Davis, vicar of All Saints’, Cameron who spoke of his small congregation’s efforts to feed school children during the summer. After a year of feeding school children during the summer, the church has expanded the ministry and created a network of community partners to help.

The Rev. Pedro Lopez, vicar of San Pedro, Pasadena, followed Magill, and along with bishop’s committee member Diana Torres, shared a snapshot of the extensive ministries carried out by members of San Pedro. These include support and training for their members as well as an active ministry of community engagement with area partners. The vibrant congregation has expanded their facilities while supporting multiple ministries to serve the community. “We believe that welcoming and ministering to the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger among us, is essential to our life in Christ,” Lopez said.      

Jason Evans closed the Council on a high note. “Missional communities exist when we participate in God's mission of reconciliation beyond the walls of the church through relationship and worship,” Evans said, encouraging Episcopalians to look strategically at their neighborhoods and get to know their neighbors. He said there were many people who would not attend church, but nevertheless, were in need of a loving Christian community and that church members need to pay attention, not only to how they “gather” but also how they “scatter.”

“An increasing number of your neighbors are waiting for you to meet them where they are and to share God’s good news with them,” he said. Hear Evans' plenary here.

Finances Continue to Improve

The Diocese’s new CFO, and newly elected treasurer, Linda R. Mitchell, reported that the current balance sheet reflected cash and marketable securities up to more than $200,000 and that the Diocese is debt free. Total expenses were under budget in 2016 by more than $350,000, leading to accumulated total net assets of more than $850,000 at the beginning of 2017.  Dr. John Hancock, speaking for the Executive Board’s finance committee, presented a $10.7 M budget, nearly one half million dollars more than 2016, which was approved by delegates and clergy. Financial details are included on the diocesan website at in addition to a pre-council video explanation. Visit www.epicenter.org/council for a full financial report beginning on page 136 of the Journal.

Previous to the vote on the budget, the Rev. Rob Price, rector of St Dunstan’s, Houston, and the Rev. Lisa Hunt, rector of St. Stephen’s, Houston, questioned the “theology of clergy compensation implicit” in the 2017 budget.  “The model that was used to establish the salaries for the top diocesan clergy positions was established by Mercer,” Hunt said, noting the consultant’s clients are corporations.  “We don’t see the Church of Jesus Christ as a corporation nor our bishop as a chief officer,” Hunt and Price said, adding, “If we model our life to the world as merely another corporation, whether for profit or not, how are we to be light?  How will we be salt?”

“We understand this budget is going to pass,” Price continued, “but recommend a wide and inclusive conversation before next the budget is presented to this floor because that budget might not be passed,” he added, questioning how this increase would speak to congregations who couldn’t afford increases or to clergy who were not compensated per diocesan policy, specifically non-stipendiary bi-vocational clergy.

The Rev. Merrill Wade, rector of St. Matthew’s, Austin, responded as a member of the group that had worked with Mercer to study the remuneration. While he admitted, “compensation equity is a real challenge,” he said Mercer worked hard to understand the Diocese and that the sale of St. Luke’s Hospital had changed the scope of work for diocesan leadership “dramatically.”

Elections

Every three years, the Diocese elects deputies to General Convention. With an approved change in Canon’s this year, these deputies now also serve as representatives to the regional Synod. Elected as General Convention deputies are:

Clementine Arana, Epiphany, Houston; Jerry Campbell, St. Alban’s, Waco;

David Harvin, St. Martin’s, Houston; Luz Montes, San Mateo, Houston; and the Rev. Susan Kennard, Trinity, Galveston; the Rev. Patrick Miller, St. Mark’s, Houston; the Rev. Alex Montes-Vela, St. Mary Magdalene, Manor; and the Rev. Chuck Treadwell, St. David’s, Austin. The Rev. Chuck Treadwell was also elected as trustee of the University of the South, Sewanee, TN. Linda R. Mitchell and the Rev. Canon John A. Logan were elected by acclamation as diocesan treasurer and secretary of the Diocese respectively. Marcia Quintanilla, San Mateo, Houston and the Rev. Hannah Atkins, Trinity, Houston were elected to the Standing Committee and Helen Toombs, Palmer Memorial, Houston was elected to the Church Corporation. New Executive Board members include Rebecca Brindley, St. Michaels, Austin; Gregory Vincent, St. James, Austin; Michelle Allen, St. Augustine of Hippo, Galveston; the Rev. Simón Bautista, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston and the Rev. Lisa Hines, Calvary, Bastrop.

A full list of nominations and appointments by the Bishop to committees is available on the diocesan website.

Constitution and Canonical Updates Continue

Maria Boyce, chair of the Committee on Constitutions and Canons brought 17 proposed amendments to the floor of the annual gathering. Amendments to the constitution require a two-year process during which they are presented for a first reading without vote and proposed in the second year for approval requiring two-thirds vote. Two constitutional amendments were presented for a first reading this year: one changing the amount for a quorum from one fourth to one half and the other adding representation at Provincial Synod to the requirements for elected General Convention deputies. Fifteen proposed canonical amendments continued to refine and clarify the diocesan Canons. In 2016 the Canons were reorganized into five titles to group related matter appropriately. This year, amendments addressed obsolete or outdated language, addressed provisions currently inconsistent with diocesan practices, updated Canons to reflect the sale of St. James House and a final one reducing the size of the St. Vincent’s House board in order to fill vacancies with well-qualified members more easily. Full text on all these changes and an explanatory video are available at www.epicenter.org/council or contained in the Journal, Volume 1.

New congregations

Mary MacGregor, Canon for Congregational Vitality, announced the Bishop’s consent to the formation of South Congress Episcopal Community (SoCo), a parochial mission of St. David’s, Austin. She also said that a new fellowship, named San Romero Episcopal Church, is currently meeting at St. Christopher’s, Houston. MacGregor, who will retire following this Council, further reported that the Bishop had approved St. Barnabas, Houston’s, request to be remitted to mission status. Additionally she said the Diocese had been in talks with Holy Emmanuel CSI (Church of South India) to possibly accept them as a mission congregation of the Diocese, and welcomed their representatives to Council. Members of SoCo and San Romero arrived on Saturday morning to ring—very loudly—the Great Commission bell to delighted applause of delegates. 

Healthy Communities for All

Episcopal Health Foundation’s President and CEO, Elena Marks, gave delegates an update on the four-year-old foundation, formed from proceeds of the St. Luke’s Hospital sale. “Charity is not enough and the status quo does not result in healthy communities,” Marks said. “We can transform lives, organizations and communities,” she added, explaining that through research, data and skills, the Foundation is building strong coalitions of community partners, training congregations and working with leadership to advance transformational outreach, which is a more sustainable model, she said. Since 2013, the Foundation has granted $240M, returning $60M to the Texas Heart Institute, funding the Great Commission Foundation with $126M, supplementing clergy health insurance at $5M annually to relieve congregations of the cost and granted more than $8.5M in diocesan-related grants and $30.4M in other grants. The Foundation is currently developing a new strategic plan, sharpening grant making procedures and growing congregational partnerships, Marks said. Community engagement is also increasing. “The sum of EHF is greater than its parts,” she concluded.

The 169th Council will be held in Waco on February 15-17, 2018.

Audios of Bishop Doyle’s sermon, presentation to Council and plenary presentations are available at: epicenter.org/council. Full budget details, Constitutional & Canonical amendments, bishop’s nominations and appointments and resolutions see www.epicenter.org/council for links.

 

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