A Report on Diocesan Convention
Dear St. Paul’s:
At the end of October, the Diocese of Massachusetts held the 237th Diocesan Convention. The day started out with a moving Eucharist, and in lieu of a Sermon, Bishop Diocesan Gates gave his annual Bishop’s Address. If you would like a full copy of Bishop Gates’ address, which you can read here. There were several orders of business addressed, a brief summary of which I've written up for you here.
The 2023 budget was approved unanimously. The 2023 budget included an annually updated formula for calculation of clergy compensation and benefits, which applies to full-time rectors, vicars, priests-in-charge, and interim priests.
The resolution presented by the Racial Justice Commission entitled Establishing the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts Reparations Fund passed without discussion or dissent. At the 2021 Diocesan Convention, a resolution passed to charge the subcommittee on reparations of the Racial Justice Commission was tasked with making recommendations as to the creation of a diocesan Reparations Fund to make amends for funds obtained by the Diocese that were a result of the enslaved labor of African and Afro-Caribbeans. Funding for the Reparations Fund will come as follows:
- An initial investment of $3 million to establish investment income for the fund, which shall come from Diocesan Council funds, income from, and Bishop Gates’ unrestricted funds;
- 15% of the annual draw from unrestricted trusts to expand the initial investment; and
- 3% (approximately $330,000 annually) of total revenues, beginning in the 2025 Operating Budget, until a total of $11,100,000 is raised.
Given that the 3% draw from the budget does not begin until 2025, the Reparations Fund will have no impact on the Operating Budget until 2025. The $11.1 million fund is not a mathematical or precise number; as described by the Diocese of Maryland, “that figure was not a mathematical computation, but a moral one.” The Diocese of Maryland’s explanation, which we all felt was incredibly powerful, can be found here. While we were only shown approximately 10 minutes (beginning approximately 15 minutes into the video), we highly recommend the sermon in its entirety.
A second resolution presented by the Racial Justice Commission entitled Equipping Ordained Leaders for the Work of Becoming the Beloved Community, also passed with a nearly unanimous vote (Anecdotally, it appeared that most of the votes in the negative had to do with the wording of the resolution, not its substance or principal). The resolution establishes a requirement for all newly-ordained clergy, as part of their training, to undergo racial justice training, through a learning component, a practical component, and a conversational component.
Three resolutions were proposed by the Committee on Resolutions:
- Establishing Minimal Assessable Compensation for Permanent Deacons – Passed unanimously. Deacons, historically, have been uncompensated. This resolution was presented to compensate Deacons $25.00 per month, with an 18% assessment on earnings to be paid into the Church Pension Fund (CPF). While the $25-per-month seems minute, compensating them with this amount allows access to the CPF, which is otherwise prevented under current pension law. In addition to access to a pension, Deacons will have access to CPF resources, including wellness resources, financial planning assistance, investment management, and estate planning. The CPF supports resolutions of this sort, and the passing of this resolution brings the Diocese of Massachusetts in line with other dioceses in New England.
- Resolution to Support and Engage with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival – Passed. The Poor People’s Campaign is committed to fighting the injustices of systematic racism, poverty, militarism, ecological devastation, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism. The Episcopal Church of the United States is a partner with the Poor People’s Campaign, and dedicates resources and support to its mission. By passing this resolution, it creates a unified call within the Diocese of Massachusetts to support the Poor People’s Campaign.
- Fostering Right Relationships: The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Indigenous Episcopalians, and Our Indigenous Neighbors – Passed as Amended. This resolution seeks to further the work of the Racial Justice Commission by including not just Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, but to include Indigenous People as well. This resolution seeks to foster a relationship with Indigenous groups in our Diocese, and to ask: “Walking together, how can we make things right?” This resolution does not establish a clear path forward, but rather, starts the process of working with our Indigenous neighbors to figure out the best path forward. Amendment: An amendment was proposed by the proponents of this resolution. After speaking with members of Indigenous groups, the wording of the resolution was changed to appropriately reflect the desires of those groups, but did not affect the substance of the resolution.
As many of you know, Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris is retiring on March 31, 2023. Prior to her retirement, Bishop Harris is taking a long overdue sabbatical, and as such, her last day in her current role is December 31, 2022. Given that the search process for a new Bishop Suffragan is long (typically 16-18 months) and is prohibitively expensive, Bishop Gates, in his Bishop’s Address, proposed appointing an Assistant Bishop, a role authorized by church canon but vacant in Massachusetts for thirty years. Following his proposal, the Standing Committee proposed a Resolution to Appoint Assistant Bishop. Bishop Gates, with the advice of the Executive Committee and the approval of the Standing Committee, has the authority to appoint an eligible bishop for this position. While concerns were raised about Bishop Gates using his authority to appoint an Assistant Bishop without a full search, the priority of the Diocese in the coming years is contributions to the Reparations Fund; the high cost of a search committee would detract from that work. Additionally, Bishop Harris has an extensive role within the Diocese; the Diocese would lose that work during the period of a search committee.
A final resolution, Resolution in Thanksgiving to God for the Episcopacy of The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, acknowledged and thanked Bishop Harris for her years of service, and acknowledged all of her contributions to the Diocese during her tenure.
All members of the delegation are happy to provide any additional information on the resolutions passed or business addressed during the 237th Diocesan Convention. If you would like additional information, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Ian McR. (Delegate, author of this report)
Kim P. (Delegate, unable to attend)
Sarah W-R (Alternate, and voting Delegate)
Rev. Becky (Rector)
Images below: Friday evening hymn sing & A light moment with the bishops following the service.
Photos by Tracy J. Sukraw