Council tries to give hope, leadership ‘for those who are not at the table’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 7, 2014

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] Dominicans of Haitian descent, human trafficking and “derogatory” athletic team names were among the issues the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council addressed Feb. 7 during the closing sessions of its meeting here.

The council declared its solidarity with Dominicans of Haitian descent, who they said “have been made essentially stateless” when the Dominican Republic’s constitutional court on Sept. 23, 2013, ruled that any children born of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic were ineligible for citizenship. The court also ordered Dominican authorities to audit birth records back to June 1929 to determine who no longer qualifies for citizenship, according to the New York Times.

Saying that the court decision could prompt a “potential large-scale tragedy,” council’s resolution urges the church’s Office of Government Relations to encourage the United States and the church’s ecumenical and interreligious partners to advocate for such Dominicans. It encouraged that office’s Episcopal Public Policy Network to educate and alert the members of the church to the issue, and encourage advocacy within their churches and communities.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori also was encouraged to lead a fact-finding delegation to the Dominican Republic together with ecumenical and interreligious partners, and report to council.

Diocese of the Dominican Republic Bishop Julio Holguín told ENS shortly after the ruling that “the constitutional court has made a big mistake with that ruling,” pointing out that many of those affected were descendants of immigrants, most of whom came to the Dominican Republic, by agreement between the two governments – Dominican and Haitian – to work primarily cutting sugarcane.

Human trafficking work to be coordinated
Council voted to reaffirm the 77th General Convention’s commitment to fighting human trafficking as expressed in Resolution D-042. Lelanda Lee, chair of the council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking, said it had become obvious to that committee that the work needed on the issue is so complex that a coordinating committee was needed.

The resolution directed the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to appoint the committee by March 31 “in order to assure the effective, thorough, and collaborative implementation of the policies adopted by the 77th General Convention.”

Lee said the resolution fits with what the committee feels is its role of “giving hope and giving leadership for those who are not at the table.”

‘Pejorative or disparaging team names’
In another Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking-sponsored resolution, the council joined what has become a nationwide effort that has reached to the White House to convince the National Football League’s Washington Redskins team to change its name.

The resolution decries the use of “pejorative or disparaging team names,” reminding the church of its commitment to the Baptismal Covenant, which vows to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. The members anchored their call to end the use of such names in the church’s multi-year efforts to fight racism.

The resolution calls on athletic organizations at all levels to follow the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s policy to penalize collegiate athletic programs that use pejorative or disparaging team names, images, mascots, and behaviors. The members also asked local dioceses and churches to address the issue of pejorative or disparaging team names if their local schools and community sports teams use such names.

Also, the resolution urges the NFL to “not to allow a major football event like the Super Bowl to occur in Washington, D.C.”

Council member Terry Star, a Lakota from North Dakota, thanked council for noticing his concern about such names via his tweets.

“I’ve been fighting with this issue since I was in high school 22 years ago,” he said.

Plan for Province IX sustainability
Council agreed to an 18-year effort that a report calls “a bold plan with a worthy goal of establishing self-sufficient sustainable models of mission and ministry for the dioceses of Province IX.”

Martha Gardner, chair of council’s Joint Standing Committee on World Mission, said that the issue of sustainability “has been emerging over a number of years.”

The churchwide staff’s Second Mark of Mission project team recommended the plan to council with the suggestion that it concentrate on those dioceses already furthest along in their efforts to move out of dependence of the church’s historical block grants model. The Diocese of Dominican Republic, with a self-stated goal of achieving self-sufficiency by 2015, will be the initial focus, followed by the Diocese of Honduras and then Colombia.

As each diocese attains self-sufficiency from the block grant program, they will in turn commit to working with the other dioceses to help them achieve the same goal.

“The overall commitment of block grant dollars from the churchwide budget would be maintained in order to provide revenue for this development work, and for the next diocese in line to deeply engage in the focused work of self-sufficiency and sustainability,” the team said in its report.

The team also said such a long-term project will require “commitment, trust, and flexibility” as “the landscape and realities may adjust and change over time,” requiring some sort of covenant agreement which may need periodic renegotiation.

In other business, the council:
* Gave its consent to the Joint Standing Committee on Planning & Arrangement’s selection of Austin in the Diocese of Texas as the site for the 79th General Convention in 2018.

The selection must also be approved by the 78th meeting of convention in Salt Lake City in 2015.

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, the church’s executive officer, addressed members’ questions about placing the convention in a diocese that has historically been among those giving a small amount of their income to the churchwide budget. He said that prior to including the diocese on the list of possible sites, he and the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies talked with Bishop Andy Doyle and learned of his “personal commitment … in leading the Diocese of Texas towards full participation in the life of The Episcopal Church included the attendant financial responsibilities and other responsibilities.”

That commitment, he said, was reiterated during meetings between the site selection group and the diocesan leadership. “We are satisfied that we had explored this in some detail,” Barlowe said, adding that the Standing Committee is “delighted” in the “trajectory” of participation that was explained to them.

The Episcopal Church asks dioceses to contribute 19 percent of their income annually to the churchwide budget. Each year’s annual giving in the three-year budget is based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $120,000.

In 2013, Texas has pledged 6.7 percent ($463,959 of its $7,094,500 of income), according to information here, due to be approved this weekend, shows a 2014 pledge of $755,338.

The last time General Convention met in a Province VII diocese is 1970, which is a longer hiatus than for any other province, Barlowe said.

More information on the selection is here.

* Authorized spending up to $95,000 for additional professional expertise to assist in the review and analysis of future options related to the Episcopal Church Center in New York. The decision came after the council met in executive session to hear a report from its subcommittee that is exploring the issue.

General Convention Resolution D016, passed in July 2012, said “it is the will of this convention to move the church center headquarters” away from that building.

A year ago, council received a report that said “God’s mission of reconciliation is best furthered” by remaining at 815 Second Ave. in Manhattan and consolidating DFMS operations at the church center to free up even more space to rent to outside tenants than the 3.5 floors that were then leased out. This choice would be “in the organization’s best interests financially, both in terms of budget effect and for long-term investment purposes,” according to the report.

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the church’s corporate entity, currently rents 2.5 floors to the Ad Council, one floor to Permanent Mission of Haiti to the United Nations and one floor to the Lyceum Kennedy International School. The church center has nine floors of office space.

The study that produced the report began in February 2012, five months before General Convention met, when council’s Finances for Mission committee asked DFMS management to study the possible relocation of the church center. It was conducted by the 10-person Executive Oversight Group.

* Agreed to market a parking lot in Austin, Texas, that was purchased in 2009 as a potential site for relocating the Archives of the Episcopal Church. The archives is now located on the campus of the Seminary of the Southwest, also in Austin. Revenue from the parking lot operation has covered the interest on the loan and has allowed for repayment of some of the principal. The property is “no longer likely to be in the best financial interest of the Society,” but has appreciated in value since purchase, according to the resolution’s explanation.

Council passed a related resolution calling for a working group to renew efforts to find a suitable location for the Archives.

Summaries of each resolution that council passed at the meeting are here.

Some council members tweeted from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). 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.

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