[Episcopal News Service] The Province IX Synod, meeting at the Hotel San Juan, Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic on March 8, passed resolutions aimed at moving the province and Cuba toward financial self-sufficiency, and an additional resolution in support of restructuring the Episcopal Church.
Bishops, clergy and lay leaders meeting for five days, March 5-9, also re-elected Colombia Bishop Francisco Duque as president and Ecuador Litoral Bishop Alfredo Morante Espana as vice president. Gina Angulo, of the Diocese of Ecuador Litoral, was elected secretary; Darling Martinez, of the Diocese of Puerto Rico, was elected treasurer; and Pragedes Coromoto Jimenez De Salazarr, was elected to serve as the Province IX representative for Executive Council.
Synod unanimously adopted a form of Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls’ resolution, which calls for a Special Commission on Missional Structure and Strategy to develop a plan to restructure the church in a way that maximizes resources available for mission.
An effort to move the province toward self-sufficiency began in earnest in March 2011 with a conference in Tela, Honduras. The recent Synod on March 8 adopted a resolution that would allow the Tela steering committee to continue its work as the Committee on Planning and Development of the Province IX Council, and appoint its members “preferably from those who participated in the Tela consultation, with proper representation from the Province IX dioceses and proper gender balance.” And further, “the committee is entrusted to provide advice, companionship and leadership development to Province IX dioceses as they seek to attain sustainability.”
With the support of a $110,000 Episcopal Church Constable Grant, Province IX and various partners – including Trinity Wall Street, Church Pension Fund and the Episcopal Church Foundation – have been developing a sustainability plan that could be implemented in the various contexts expressed in the province’s seven Latin America dioceses, as well as in Cuba.
“To me this is a process with different stages and different phases,” said Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench, global partnerships officer for Province IX, in an interview with ENS before the Synod meeting. “People have to own it and commit resources.”
Each of the province’s seven Latin American and Caribbean dioceses has a development group. However, moving forward emphasis will be directed to maximize existing and potential resources by providing support based on the Dominican Development Group model, and with additional help from Honduras and Puerto Rico, for the dioceses of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador Central and Litoral, said Ramos. Under the model, support also would be provided to Cuba, of which the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the archbishop of the West Indies and the primate of the Anglican Church in Canada have oversight.
“The Dominican Republic has been so successful and the idea, at least from my perspective, is to use it as a way to inspire other dioceses to move in that direction,” he said, adding that the intention is to create development groups using the Dominican model as a frame of reference. “Each situation is unique.”
Success in the Dominican Republic
In the last 20 years, the Episcopal Church in the Dominican Republic has grown from 24 congregations to between 65 and 70; the number of clergy has grown from 12 to between 35 and 40; and the number of schools from seven to 25. In 1998, the Dominican Development Group was established to assist in the development and self-sufficiency of the Dominican Episcopal Church. In 14 years, it has raised $10 million to finance the building of infrastructure, including churches, schools, daycare centers and medical clinics.
In large part, the development group’s success has come through establishing strong partnerships and relationships, said Bob Stevens, executive director of the DDG and an Episcopal Church missionary, in a telephone interview from his office in Florida.
And the number of companion diocese relationships between the Dominican Republic and U.S.-based and Latin American dioceses has grown from four to 13, but he said that’s not to underestimate the impact individuals can make.
“Individuals together can make a significant difference through personal involvement in the mission,” said Stevens. “We’ve happened on to a few major donors and hundreds and hundreds of small donors. For example, in almost 14 years we have transferred more than $10 million to the Dominican Republic. One thing I fear is that the overseas dioceses see numbers rather than relationships. Numbers don’t come until you have a strong track record and established relationships … They must see a dynamic, growing church and the financial support will follow.”
Stevens said he is “very glad” to work on financial self-sustainability at the provincial level and that in the 14 years of the Dominican model’s operation a lot of knowledge has been gained and lessons learned, still the focus has remained the same.
“The focus we have always taken is the ‘non-dependency’ model,” Stevens said. “We wanted to decrease dependence on the U.S. church.”
An ongoing process
Moving forward, Ramos-Orench expects the process to take at least five years.
“It doesn’t happen from one day to another. Sustainability is a process,” he said. “Hopefully there will be some funding made available and the investment made.”
The Episcopal Church’s current triennium budgeted $2,993,830 for Province IX. The draft 2013-2015 budget, which Executive Council adopted and sent to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance in late January, includes a 20 percent increase of $1 million for a total of $5.95 million in grants available for allocation among non-mainland U.S. dioceses. (Specific allocations have yet not been made.)
In addition to money from the Episcopal Church, support for financial self-sufficiency efforts has come from other partners.
From Feb. 27 – March 5, 2011, more than 75 people gathered in Tela, Honduras, for a Province IX sustainability conference supported by Church Pension Group, Trinity Wall Street, Province IX and an Episcopal Church Constable Grant, the latter funding continued sustainability work in the province throughout 2012.
Constable Grant funds have allowed for several leaders to continue to work with the dioceses through 2012, including the Rev. Milton Amparo, a priest from the Dominican Republic and a strategic planning consultant; Humberto Shikiya, the director of the Centro Regional Ecuménico de Asesoría y Servicio (CREAS), a financial self-sufficiency consultancy; and Victor A. Feliberty, a transformational leadership consultant and dean of administration at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.
Following the March meeting in Honduras, a planning committee met in November 2011 in Bogota, Colombia, to refine further the self-sustainability plan.
In a telephone conversation from Puerto Rico, Feliberty explained the work of the consultants as it has developed since the Tela conference.
“What we are doing now is tied to what we started there,” he said. It’s a five- to 10-year development program for the dioceses. I’m working on leadership development, empowering the diocesan teams, and related to that I presented to the planning committee, the importance of developing a cyber platform, allowing them to be interconnected.”
The cyber platform will facilitate interconnectedness and collaboration in support of four areas: continuing education, leadership, planning and resource allocation and financial sustainability.
“[They] are very interested in having us help them create awareness of the local talent, help identify what they have already in human resources, physical resources, technological and financial resources,” said Feliberty. “We are trying to help them make a real assessment of what they have and how they are using it, and how they can rethink the way they are doing things.”
The clergy, he said, need training in administration, planning and project management and the maximization of resources, and how to empower the laity, who often are creative and willing, but not empowered, he said.
By making self-sustainability a priority, it’s expected the leadership will shift the way the province is structured in order to cooperate with an official coordinator and provide the authority for follow-up and oversight to ensure this project can be established, said Feliberty.
The bishop and the coordinating team of each diocese will play a key role “in fostering missional planning, development, and sustainability as a diocesan priority and motivating creative efforts from parishes and local groups,” he added in a follow-up e-mail.
“Without them the provincial project will not be successful. We need each other positively and productively engaged,” he said. “All members of the Body of Christ are required in this job for the sake of the Latin American Church. Our identity and journey as a community of peoples of many colors and ethnic backgrounds, in constant struggle for making a good living for us and our families, is our strongest internal resource for moving ahead together.”
— Lynette Wilson is a reporter/editor for Episcopal News Service. She reported this story from New York.