TEC Executive Council Plans for New Initiatives

02.29.16 | by Episcopal News Service

    [Episcopal News Service – Fort Worth, Texas] The shape, scope and structure of the Episcopal Church’s pledge to address racism, practice reconciliation and become a church of evangelists has begun to be built, the Executive Council learned at its Feb. 26-28 meeting. And the council put some important pieces of that work into place.

    In doing so, council began living into a call to action sounded at General Convention last summer. During the meeting, council members “focused greatly on fleshing out how we as a churchwide community will engage the work of evangelism and racial reconciliation,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said during a post-meeting news conference, adding that council joyfully embraced that work.

    The General Convention in July adopted a 2016-2018 triennial budget that included $3 million for starting new congregations with an emphasis on assisting populations, including Hispanic communities, $2.8 million for evangelism work and a major new $2 million initiative on racial justice and reconciliation.

    “The Episcopal Church, meeting in a community of governance, was led to consider and embrace a different form of vocation in the life of the Episcopal Church, and that’s what we’re doing,” the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president and council vice president, said of General Convention’s actions during her closing remarks. Now council is “working so hard to provide infrastructure” for the convention’s decision that the Episcopal Church has “a vocation to evangelism, reconciliation, church planting.”

    Council, she said, is figuring out “how we as a church will live out this new manifestation of a corporate vocation.”

    It was clear during the course of the meeting that while racial justice and reconciliation and evangelism efforts might be separate line items in the triennial budget, they are all closely tied together when it comes to reaching a “world crying out for the good news of a God who is in the business of loving and blessing and making whole the broken people and broken systems of this world,” as the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers described it in her Feb. 28 sermon during council’s Eucharist.

    Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism and racial reconciliation, outlined the emerging plans that include an “evangelism summit” that would be the first step in building a network of evangelists across the church. There are planned initiatives in digital evangelism, including finding “ways to create meaningful links with people online [by] listening to their deepest longings and questions” and training Episcopalians in using social media for evangelism. The plans envision an experiment with Episcopal revivals that would, in part, “train local teams to practice relational evangelism and deep listening with their neighbors, schoolmates, friends, co-workers,” she said.

    The evangelism summit is scheduled to take place November 17-19 in Dallas. Anne Schmidt, from Transfiguration and the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas Evangelist Carrie Boren Headington are co-conveners of the conference. 

    "It's to inspire, empower and equip people for evangelism so they have the resources to take back to their churches to execute," Schmidt said. "This is a big deal, so it's pretty exciting. It's more than about growing the church, it's about spreading the Good News." 

    Headington said it is an honor for the summit to be held in Dallas. "Practitioners in the field of evangelism from across the Episcopal Church nationwide will gather and share best practices with one another," she said. "All of us who have been seeking to raise up evangelists in our various diocese are delighted to gather together. It is our prayer that all Episcopalians will be ignited to be ambassadors in their respective contexts." 

    Council also heard how Curry, Jennings, the vice presidents of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, several staff members and other leaders throughout the church met earlier this month to begin developing a plan for racial reconciliation work that will be rooted in listening. “A whole church engaged in truth-telling and story-sharing, listening to diverse neighbors and engaging in mutual transformation” is how Spellers described it.

    And council helped to set in motion plans to expand the church’s efforts in church planting and developing new ways of building and nurturing faith communities. EDOD Bishop George Sumner and the Rev. Mike Michie, rector of St. Andrew's in McKinney serve on the Church Planting Task Force.

    "Our meeting in Baltimore was encouraging and productive. We are not only looking at ways to faithfully administer the grant money, we are also looking at ways to develop systems of coaching, encouragement and assessment for church planters, Michie said. "The Diocese of Dallas has a great legacy in church planting and we have much to share. We have things to learn, too, and I am thankful to God for affording me the opportunity to learn about what is happening nationally and to bring it back home."

    Council passed a 2016 budget that included allocations for many of the new initiatives. That budget is due to be posted here soon.

    “We covered an amazing amount of ground and learned about the wide variety of potential ministries before us,” the Rev. Susan Snook, chair of council’s committee on local mission and ministry, said during her report to the Feb. 28 plenary. “It’s a great time to be an Episcopalian and it’s a great time to be part of the Jesus Movement.”

    Episcopal News Service plans additional coverage of the emerging details of these efforts in the coming days.

    In other action, council:

    • Elected its representatives to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and to the Anglican Church of Canada. Steven Nishibayashi of the Diocese of Los Angeles will be council’s representative to the ELCA’s Church Council. Noreen Duncan, Diocese of New Jersey, will represent council on the Canadian church’s Council of General Synod. Currently, the Rev. Stephen Herr, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is the ELCA liaison to Executive Council, and the Very Rev. Peter Wall, dean of Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ontario, represents the Anglican Church in Canada.
    • Agreed to a proposal from the Diocese of Texas that came via the church’s Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangementsto attempt to raise $100,000 to pay for a larger worship venue for a special Eucharist during the 2018 meeting of General Convention in Austin, Texas. The churchwide budget already provides for a 3,000-seat worship space expandable to 5,000 in the Austin Convention Center. However, council was told that the diocese senses a wider opportunity for evangelism by having a Eucharist in the Palmer Center, about a mile away. Jennings, a member of the planning and arrangements committee, said that the diocese hopes to have between 5,000 to 6,000 members of the diocese attend the Eucharist. That number would be in addition to the large number of convention participants who normally participate in the daily Eucharist. “It was very clear that the budget could not stretch to accommodate this and those in that diocese are willing to look for the funds to pay for it,” she said. The Rev. Stan Runnels, council member from the Diocese of West Missouri, cast the sole vote against the authorization. He told council before the voice vote that agreeing to raise this money was “adding gasoline to the fire” that burns in some parts of the church over whether General Convention should meet in a diocese that does not pay the full asking to the churchwide budget. The Episcopal Church currently asks dioceses to contribute 18 percent of their income annually to the churchwide budget. It will drop to 16.5 percent for the 2017 budget and 15 percent in 2018. Each year’s annual giving in the three-year budget is based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $150,000. Jennings told council that the Diocese of Texas currently gives 13.3 percent of its income and recently has been increasing that percentage amount. In 2013, Texas had pledged 6.7 percent ($463,959 of its then $7,094,500 in eligible income). The deadline for reserving the Palmer Center is March 25, according to the resolution that council approved, and signed commitments for the full cost must be received before any contract is signed.

    A summary of resolutions council passed during the meeting is here.

    Previous ENS coverage of the Fort Worth meeting is here.

    Council next meets June 8-10 at the Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chaska, Minnesota, southwest of Minneapolis.

    The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council is composed of 38 members – 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seat and voice but no vote.

    – The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.