The theme of this year’s Diocesan Convention, which met in Salem Nov. 13-15, was “A New Spirit.” Convention was a mixture of education and inspiration around this theme, plus business and celebration of mission and ministry throughout the diocese.
Thursday evening over a hundred of the convention’s delegates gathered at St. Paul’s, a large and hospitable church in south Salem, for a pre-convention hospitality evening that included a soup supper in the church’s gym hosted by the Willamette Convocation and presentations about Salem area outreach programs. Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network provides overnight shelter and meals for homeless families each week in a different participating congregation. During the days, other resources are offered at a day center to help them find affordable housing, learn useful life skills, and get continuing support after they settle in a home. Years ago St. Paul’s started the Helping Hands program, which now provides clothing and household items for adults and children, without charge, to anyone in need, including appropriate clothing for job interviews and for work. The evening ended with a very beautiful Taize service hosted by St. Paul’s musicians. On Friday, St. Paul’s music director, Paul Klemme provided the music for the convention Eucharist, in the form of a very fine jazz quartet and an excellent cantor who did improvisational riffs on the service music.
The Rt. Rev. Brian J. Thom, Bishop of Idaho, was the keynote speaker, truly a highlight of the convention. He reminded us that to get a new spirit we will have to give up something to make room for it. Then he posed several questions to help a congregation discern what its new spirit might look like. After identifying welcome as one of the most important factors influencing whether a person would return to a church after a first visit, Bp. Thom entertained and invigorated us with a slow-motion demonstration of exchanging the peace, a reminder of the importance of this tradition in the liturgy and its impact on welcoming visitors, who may be feeling insecure at this time in the service. The point is to be intentional as you do this, not distracted by friends or concerned about how many hands you can clasp.
Bishop Thom’s message was very well-received, and it also served to orient the morning’s group work, to explore and gain a better understanding of the relationship between fostering “a new spirit” in our Church and achieving “vitality” in our congregations. Invited by Canon Sara Fischer and members of the Congregational Vitality Task Force, we worked in small groups containing members from diverse parishes. A series of exercises led each group to a form a list of words or phrases that describe creative and effective interactions between a parish and its larger community. The next day the different small groups worked to cull out of the compilation of all the lists ten essential characteristics of a vital congregation.
The Convention provided many opportunities to support continuing and new ministries. The offering collected at the Eucharist, $2087.50, will go to the camping commission for scholarships this year. The Commission on Poverty and Homelessness collected $2500 from the raffle of 47 baskets. This money will be added to the Thanksgiving offerings provided by the churches in the diocese and eventually distributed in grants to those who apply.
A new Diocesan Outreach Project was announced. It will be “Educate for Hope” to help the people in the Christian village of Zebabdeh on the Occupied West Bank of Palestine. Funds will be provided to the children to attend the Latin-Patriarch school in their village. The diocese is working in partnership with the Diocese of Los Angeles in this project, collecting contributions through Holy Week 2015. The “business” of convention falls into three basic categories: elections, resolutions and budget. The elections portion was conducted smoothly, with essentially no contests.
Four resolutions were presented. Resolution #1 gave notice from General Convention of many small adjustments to the Book of Common Prayer lectionary in order to align it with the Revised Common Lectionary. Resolution #2, on the Inclusion of Prayers for our Enemies in Common Worship, brought the discussion to a more personally engaging level. The resolution calls on our parishes “. . . to include prayers for the well-being and salvation of our enemies, both personal rivals as well as enemies of the nation, in our rites of public worship.” It arose out of its author’s chagrin at the triumphalist reactions he saw to the killing of Osama bin Laden. On a voice vote, the resolution passed unanimously.
Resolution #3, adopted by the convention, commends the New City Interfaith Initiative on Family Homelessness to the consideration of other congregations and communities in the diocese. It is a program in Portland that sounds very similar to Salem’s outreach to homeless families who are working toward stability and self-sufficiency.
The most controversial business to come before the convention was Resolution #4 in Support of Palestinian Human Rights. The abbreviated version which passed, after over an hour of debate, called for three actions: 1) for churches and members to join in solidarity with Palestinians based on study of two resources – Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace and A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering; 2)for the diocesan Committee on Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) to study divestment from companies “profiting from [Israel’s] military occupation of the Palestinian Territories” and report back to the next convention; 3) to encourage all members and congregations in the diocese to divest from the same companies.
Though a group to study the issue was established at the 2013 Convention, no resolution was presented regarding divestment from fossil fuel companies. Instead the now-named Socially Responsible Investment committee asked all delegates to “vote” on a chart of social justice issues that might be included or excluded from a new socially responsible portfolio that could be created within the diocesan investments to allow interested investors to move some or all of their funds away from companies they deem ethically undesirable. The committee will report back to next year’s convention.
As chair of the Diocesan Council’s Budget Committee, the Rev. Tony Hutchinson presented the budget to the convention. The new model was well received and it was adopted unanimously.
In 2015 the convention will be held in the Rogue Valley, giving churches in that area the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from working and worshipping with a wider gathering of the Body of Christ, as delegates or volunteers or observers. For more information on the work of convention or other ministries represented in the exhibit hall, talk to your congregational delegates or a diocesan staff member.
Diocesan thanks to writers and delegates, Suzanne Lang, Allan Miles, Becky Snow from Trinity, Ashland.
Edited by Canon Neysa Ellgren.
All documents from the 2014 Convention can be found in the Convention Archive.