My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Lower Yellowstone Cluster of the Diocese of Montana was very well represented at the 113th Convention of the Diocese which was held from October 7 to 9 in Great Falls. Sharon Hatley and Gloria Archdale represented Emmanuel, Miles City and Wanda Dowlin and Nancy Purkett represented Church of the Ascension, Forsyth.
The convention began Friday night at the host church, Church of the Incarnation with an opening session. There were: announcement of convention committees, including our own Wanda Dowlin serving on the Resolutions Committee, election of a secretary and treasurer, explanation of upcoming elections, introduction of new clergy (lots of them) and introduction of special guests of the convention. The evening ended with a lovely candlelit, sung service of compline.
Saturday was quite a busy day. Things began with a healing Eucharist that presided over by Bishop Gallagher who also preached an amazing sermon. It was a wonderful way to start the day. We then a wonderful presentation from the Rev. Canon Paul Bresnahan. Father Paul, as he likes to be called, was my parish priest from the time I was in high school until I started seminary, so it was a special treat for me. Paul talked about community-based congregational development and you will be hearing more about it in coming months. To summarize, he said that we all need to go fishing for people and need to shift from inward looking to outward looking.
After Father Paul’s fascinating presentation, we then heard from Tamara Plummer who works at the headquarters of The Episcopal Church in New York. She talked about the process of Asset Mapping, a really exciting initiative of Episcopal Relief and Development. Next we heard from Canon Sarah Hussey about her work as the diocesan Canon for Church Music. Then we heard about the important work of the Montana Association of Churches from our diocesan ecumenical officer, the Rev. Valerie Webster. Finally, we heard from the Rev. Donna Gleaves about disaster preparedness on the local and diocesan levels.
After a lovely lunch, convention regathered for an afternoon full of official business. We began with elections for diocesan council, standing committee and deputies for General Convention, which will be held in Austin, Texas in the summer of 2018. Following elections, we heard the bishop’s address which was quite positive. The bishop reminded us that our worship is not about us, its about Jesus. He encouraged us to strive to be more grateful and generous and that we are a resurrection-al people. The bishop reiterated the resurrection theme by highlighting growth in the diocese in numbers of active members, baptisms, finances and more! Out of more than one hundred dioceses in The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Montana is one of only a dozen that is growing! After the bishop’s address, the convention received the diocesan budget as approved by diocesan council and heard about results of the election of General Convention deputies.
After a break, the afternoon continued by a wonderful address from our assistant bishop, the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher. She explained that one of her priorities both in her work within the diocese and in the larger church has been on developing Native American lay and ordained leadership. Bishop Gallagher also talked about her work with our ecumenical partners and her time serving as chaplain at Grace Camp at Camp Marshall. Following the bishop, we heard a report on Camp Marshall from Canon Wren Blessing who shared lots of great news about camp. She said there was a waiting list for every camp but one this past summer and lots of great things going on.
Following reports from the assistant bishop and the Canon for Christian Formation, the convention then turned to the legislation and resolutions pending. There were five pieces of legislation that related to amending or revising the canons of the diocese, most of these changes were simple and updating to reflect changes in wider church. The first two changes, one added members of standing committee as voting members of diocesan convention, and the other change was clarifying which clergy would have voting privileges at diocesan convention, were approved after some minor discussion.
The third change was completely replacing the process by which a bishop is elected. Most of the intent was to add more specificity to the process to reflect how elections work now. One important element of this revision was to ensure transparency between the nominating committee, standing committee and other electors. This became an issue as a result of revelations following the arrest of the Rt. Rev. Heather Cook, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland in December 2014 on charges of driving under the influence, hit and run and vehicular manslaughter. These revisions were approved with the recommendation to clarify the duties and responsibilities of the transition committee.
The next revision was clarifying the funding of the diocesan budget. The goal of this revision was to ensure that three items that occur infrequently are adequately funded every year through a revolving account. The events in question, General Convention, which occurs every three years, the bishop’s attendance at the Lambeth Conference, which occurs every ten years, and the process of selecting, electing and consecrating a new bishop are all requirements of being a part of The Episcopal Church. This revision is simply seeking to ensure adequate funding is always maintained so that when the events occur there isn’t a sudden budgetary shock. After some clarification on the fiscal impact of the resolution, it was passed with little difficulty.
The final amendment to the canons proved to be the most controversial. This canonical change was designed to provide the diocesan bishop the ability to provide assistance to congregations in trouble. Currently, the bishop can only intervene in very specific and narrow circumstances and this new canon allows for more flexibility. The canon does not give the bishop the ability to take churches over, instead it simply encourages the appointment of a Consulting Team of lay and clergy members. This Consulting Team will work with the congregation and clergy involved to try to understand the problem or problems that are impacting the church and then report back with a plan of action to the bishop, standing committee, vestry and rector. The majority of the convention approved of the resolution after significant discussion.
Following the complicated changes to the diocesan canons, there were two relatively straight forward resolutions that were both approved. The first resolution called on the Diocese to fully implement a resolution passed at the most recent General Convention, which called on the church to firmly reject the Doctrines of Discovery and Manifest Destiny and to again reaffirm the inclusive and non-discriminatory nature of our church. The second resolution called on the Diocese to support the Freedom in Christ Prison Ministry within the Montana State Prison System and to contribute $1,000 from the 2018 diocesan budget toward that end.
The business of convention closed with announcements of the hosts of the 2017 and 2018 conventions. Saturday night there was a banquet and presentation about the exciting capital campaign for Camp Marshall, Enhancing Holy Ground. It was great to see the amazing plans for the future of Camp Marshall and to learn that they are nearly 50% of the way toward reaching the goal of raising between $750,000 and $1,000,000 in pledges.
The Church of the Incarnation hosted a closing solemn Eucharist service Sunday morning. It was great to see the clergy and laity of the diocese come together to worship in a local church. Bishop Brookhart delivered a great sermon about the need to be bold and to not be a “timid Timothy.”
Overall, it was a great convention and there is lots of great work going on in the Diocese of Montana. Now, in the words of the Diocese’s newest canon, “Let’s go fishing!”
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Stephen C. Day