Deputies celebrate advance of Navajoland resolution creating missionary diocese

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 25, 2024
Navajoland deputies

Navajoland Deputy GJ Gordy, joined by other Navajoland deputies, addresses the House of Deputies on June 25 after it approved a resolution elevating the area mission to a missionary diocese. The resolution now heads to the House of Bishops for final approval. Photo: Scott Gunn

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The House of Deputies capped its June 25 legislative session by celebrating Navajoland deputies and the Episcopalians they represent after the house approved Navajo Episcopalians’ request to elevate their area mission to a missionary diocese.

The more than 800 deputies on the house floor, in a vote by acclamation, stood to applaud and cheer Navajoland’s deputies as House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris invited them to come forward and join her on the stage. Deputy GJ Gordy gave a brief speech, thanking the house for its vote.

“Navajoland is ready for this next leap,” Gordy said, underscoring the more than four decades that Navajo Episcopalians have dreamed of greater autonomy, including the ability to call their own bishop. “We want to participate in the vision of The Episcopal Church as you do, as equals while holding onto our cultural traditions.”

The resolution elevating Navajoland to a missionary diocese, C009, still awaits final adoption by the House of Bishops, yet the scene in the House of Deputies unfolded as a poignant but happy celebration after the historic vote.

“It was really hard not to cry. It was incredibly moving,” Ayala Harris said at a news conference after the June 25 session. “It’s historic and amazing to be in the room where that happened.”

The Episcopal Church created Navajoland as an area mission in 1977 to serve Episcopalians in regions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah where the Navajo Nation reservation is located. Area missions’ bishops are appointed to the role by the House of Bishops rather than a local convention. By becoming a missionary diocese, Navajoland’s members could elect their own bishop while continuing to receive financial and other support from the wider church.

“We have come a long way, a long journey,” the Rev. Cornelia Eaton, a Navajoland deputy and canon to the ordinary, said during the discussion period before the vote on C009. “We are the hopes of our ancestors and what our elders prayed for.”

The deputies’ Rules of Order normally allow for only three people to speak on a resolution if they are all in favor, but Ayala Harris called for that rule to be suspended so all the Navajoland deputies could speak and without time limits.

“This is who we are,” the Rev. Leon Sampson said, and in seeking to become a missionary diocese, Navajoland is “striving to empower the voices of our community.”

Resolution C009 is the culmination of a process initiated in 2022 by the 80th General Convention, which passed an earlier resolution entrusting Navajoland “to establish its own rules and procedures for a process of discernment for the calling of a bishop that reflects the values, teachings, and traditions of the Diné.”

Navajoland leaders worked on the plan with the church’s Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons, and in January 2024, a special convocation in Navajoland voted in favor of the request for missionary diocese status.

It is unclear when C009 will be scheduled for a vote in the House of Bishops, which has not yet released its legislative calendar for the rest of the week.

Separately, the proposed 2025-27 churchwide budget plan includes $800,000 over three years for a bishop serving Navajoland and an additional three-year block grant of nearly $1.5 million to support Navajoland’s congregations and ministries.

The 81st General Convention is convened June 23-28 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. C009 is one of four resolutions expected to transform the church’s roster of 108 dioceses. Resolution D051 would reunite the dioceses of Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Eau Claire as the Diocese of Wisconsin, and Resolution C025 would merge the dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan into the new Diocese of the Great Lakes.

Those diocesan mergers likely will be taken up and adopted toward the end of this General Convention. The fourth resolution, B006, advanced to the House of Bishops on June 25 after the House of Deputies adopted it earlier in the afternoon, before the Navajoland vote.

Under B006, the small area mission of Micronesia, which includes the Pacific islands of Guam and Saipan, would be incorporated into the Diocese of Hawai’i.

Hawai’i Deputy Roth Puahala noted the “close commercial and historical relations” between the islands that make up Micronesia and the state of Hawai’i. This also would be something of a “return home” for the church in Micronesia, he said. Guam once was part of the Missionary District of Honolulu, which later became the Diocese of Hawai’i.

The Micronesia mission currently includes the Pacific islands of Guam and Saipan. There is one Episcopal congregation on each island. Hawai’i Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick already serves as Micronesia’s bishop in charge on behalf of the presiding bishop, and all clergy in Micronesia are canonically resident in Hawai’i.

Like the Navajoland resolution, the Micronesia resolution was approved by acclamation with deputies standing and cheering the resolution’s advance.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Tags