Presiding Bishop’s opening remarks to Executive Council

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The following are the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting through January 11 at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, MD.

 Executive Council opening remarks
January 9
Maritime Center, Linthicum Heights, MD

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

I want to begin by telling you something of the responses made to two initiatives requested by this body and by General Convention.

I made a visit to the Dominican Republic and to Haiti just before Christmas, to learn more about the difficulties experienced by people of Haitian descent who live in DR, particularly those whose ancestors have been there for nearly a hundred years.  The Executive Council considered the plight of the stateless persons of Haitian descent last February, and, among other things, asked me to lead a fact-finding mission to those two nations and dioceses, and that as a Church we both advocate and educate Episcopalians about their circumstances.[1]  We had a series of very informative encounters with people who are directly affected, with human rights workers, and with Haitian and Dominican Episcopalians who are working to respond.

The history is long and more complicated than I can address here today.  You can expect a series of stories from Episcopal News Service on this topic, and A&N will get a fuller report in their committee meeting.  The reality is that people of Haitian descent who have been born in the DR since the 1920s are liable to have their citizenship and identity papers revoked, if they haven’t already lost them.  That means they cannot go to school, get formal employment, marry legally, cannot register the births of their children, or cannot travel.  They can’t even get a cell phone without identity documents.  The governmental responses when people complain often seem frivolous, yet experience shows that when challenged with the help of human rights lawyers, local courts often decide in favor of the people who have lost their documents.  But it is an expensive, lengthy, and complex process.  The Supreme Court rulings there that have led to this crisis have been denounced as illegal by the Latin American Human Rights Court, to which the DR is subject, as a signatory to human rights covenants.  Activists and intellectuals in the Dominican Republic believe this is part of larger political ploy to keep the populace anxious about immigration and the current political leaders in power.

As a Church we are considering a variety of advocacy responses, and I know that A&N will discuss these possibilities further.  I have already raised the issue with other members of the US National Council of Churches, and we are seeking other partners.  Let me note that there have been similar attempts in the United States to remove the guarantee of citizenship for those who are born here.  The Dominican situation has moved beyond that stage to deny citizenship to people whose parents or even grandparents were born on Dominican soil.  Nor is this kind of situation unique to people of this hemisphere.  Many Latvians are also effectively stateless.

I ask your prayers, your awareness, and your solidarity with people who know something of what it is to be a slave in Egypt.

At the same time, there is abundant good news in Haiti, in terms of progress and healing after the earthquake, and hope for a beginning to the reconstruction of the cathedral and for St. Vincent’s School for the Handicapped.[2]

The second matter I want to make you aware of is the result of a resolution of the last General Convention that asked me to develop an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with equal representation of Episcopalians, Jews, and Muslims, to model and encourage similar efforts and dialogues by others.[3]  I am happy to tell you that a group of about a dozen have been assembled and will make that pilgrimage shortly.  After hearing a variety of narratives and meeting with a broad spectrum of residents, religious leaders, and government officials, we hope to return with learnings that can be translated into our own congregations and local communities. I will have a more detailed report for you at our March meeting.

I want to devote the rest of my time about the remainder of our work leading up to General Convention.  I understand the work of this Council to be the facilitation of God’s mission – through shared financial resources, program initiatives, and active solidarity with the least of these.  In this triennium we have organized that work through the 5 Marks of Mission.[4]  We engage in God’s mission as a way of loving our neighbors, and find ourselves transformed in the process of sharing one another’s joys and burdens.  It’s a very concrete witness of the principle of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, claimed by the Anglican Communion (MRI) more than 50 years ago.[5]

The center of that statement of principles is probably this sentence, “Every church has both resources and needs.”  It is a call to share what each church has for the welfare of the whole body.  The language sometimes sounds dated, but the meaning is contemporary:  “We need to examine our priorities, asking whether in fact we are not putting secondary needs of our own ahead of essential needs of our brothers.  A new organ in Lagos or New York, for example, might mean that twelve fewer priests are trained in Asia or Latin America.” While this document was written to address realities across the Anglican Communion, it applies equally to more local parts of the body of Christ – to congregations, to dioceses, and to this province called The Episcopal Church:  “Full communion means either very little, if it be taken as a mere ceremonial symbol, or very much if it be understood as an expression of our common life and fortune.  We all stand or fall together, for we are one in the body of Christ.  Therefore we must seek to receive and to share.”

The budget that we will pass on to Program Budget and Finance should reflect that theological understanding.  The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, if it is being faithful, should employ its resources for the welfare of the whole body of Christ and indeed the whole world.  Our constituent parts, i.e., the dioceses that make up this part of the body of Christ, should expect this challenge to participate in the life of the body of Christ joyfully, in ways that demonstrate love of neighbor equal to love of self.

The TREC report proposes a canonically mandated level of financial participation in the churchwide response to God’s mission, in the same way that audits are expected of every diocese, in the same way that every part of the body is expected to care for the dignity of vulnerable persons, in the same way that each diocese is expected to share the same canonical limits and privileges adopted by the General Convention.

We have not held one another to account for the life and the hope that is within us.  We have embarrassed the parts of the body that lack the basic financial resources necessary to full and vigorous life as a diocese in this Church. We have often failed to respond to their cries for help.  At the same time, we failed to expect the full participation of other parts of the body in response to those cries for help.  We need new courage and honesty, and we may need more accurate definitions of what a diocese is, and what constitutes a missionary district.  We live with a theological and ecclesiological tradition that says that a diocese has most of what is needed to be self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-propagating.  If a diocese is unable to do those things, it ought to be understood as something more like what we formerly called missionary districts –parts of the body that are dependent on the larger body for support and partnership.  Our current situation has a number of dioceses that are transparently dependent on churchwide resources for their growth and development – most of Province IX, the four dioceses in the United States that have large indigenous populations, the Convocation of Churches in Europe, the dioceses of Haiti and the Virgin Islands and I would add the dioceses that experienced the exodus of church leadership. We have some level of churchwide agreement that it is important to encourage and support their growth toward that ideal of a healthy diocese.

We also have a number of dioceses that cannot or do not share of their resources in ways that are asked by the General Convention.  We should not shame them.  We should be providing the necessary assistance toward self-governance, self-sustenance, and self-propagation.  Some dioceses seem to be capable of self-sustenance and even of self-propagation within their own bounds, but not of the form of self-governance that understands that no part of the body ultimately stands alone.  Self-governance is perhaps more about loving neighbor as one loves oneself than it is about passing resolutions and budgets.  After all, budgets are concrete demonstrations of where we have put our heart and treasure.

I want to leave you with some questions for the budget work we will do here.

Does this budget give evidence of mutual responsibility and interdependence?

Does it ask each part of the body of Christ for what is needed to support the growth toward full and abundant life of the more dependent parts of the body of Christ?  I believe that means it ought to start with need, rather than an artificially determined base income.  It should expect and plan for full participation by all who are able.

Does this budget strengthen and heal the whole body, raise its capacity, and increase its generativity for mission? Generativity may be a better word for self-propagation –it means to make more life and liveliness, not only daughter communities.

Does this budget serve the least of these, whether we’re talking about individuals, dioceses, or other mission efforts?

Does this budget increase dependence, or does it encourage growth toward generativity?

Some of the most creative work that has happened in this triennium has been the result of open-ended partnership possibilities in the Five Marks budget, like the Mission Enterprise Zones, like growth in the Young Adult Service Corps, and the grant to Episcopal Service Corps to help it become self-sustaining, and the self-sustainability initiatives in Province IX.  Those initiatives invited risk-taking, growth, and creativity – they did not foster dependence.  They are the fruit of a response that’s based on abundance rather than scarcity.  Jesus’ read on this is, “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  That’s ultimately the work that our budget is meant to foster.


[1] AN019, February 2014  https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/9410

[2] http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/01/08/presiding-bishop-on-the-fifth-anniversary-of-the-earthquake-in-haiti/

[3] B019, www.generalconvention.org/resolutions/download/372-1343999763

[4] proclaim good news of the kingdom; teach, baptize, and nurture new believers; respond to human need through loving service; transform unjust structures, challenge violence, pursue peace and reconciliation; care for the earth: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/five-marks-mission

[5] http://anglicanhistory.org/canada/toronto_mutual1963.html

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