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Episcopalians: Meeting in the Dominican Republic influences decisions of Executive Council
Wed, 5 Feb 2003 13:50:43 -0500
February 5, 2003
Episcopalians: Meeting in the Dominican Republic influences
decisions of Executive Council
by James Solheim
(ENS) Clutching their passports, sunscreen and Prayer Books,
members of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council gathered in
the Dominican Republic January 27-30 for a rare meeting outside
the United States--and the setting made a substantial difference
in some of the council's decisions.
Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin welcomed council members to the
Iglesia Episcopal Dominicana and "a third world country" where
he said about "20 percent of the eight million people live on
less than $1 a day and the income of our middle class is below
the poverty level in the United States." Despite the economic
and political turmoil, the diocese has grown from 24 to 45
parishes in the last decade.
At the opening Eucharist at Epiphany Church in Santo Domingo,
council members encountered a clear challenge. "God knows why
you are here," said the Rev. Jean Monique Bruno in his sermon.
"He sent you for a certain purposeYou are not only here to
carry out the policy of General Convention, to give orientation
to the Episcopal Church, to work on the unfinished business of
the Executive Council. But mostly you are sent by the Lord to
teach us, to witness to the Gospel, to proclaim to this country
that the Lord God has a plan for it."
Bruno added that "the Dominican Episcopal Church needs the vital
support of your physical presence and the prophetic word to
continue the work entitled to her by the Lord." He noted that
Bishop Holguin had issued a pastoral letter last December,
endorsed by the clergy, "in which we expressed our concerns and
preoccupations for the degradation of Dominican society. The
pastoral letter was an SOS launched to all sectors of society"
but "mainly aimed at those in power to remind them of their
duties as representatives of the people" and to "denounce the
corruption" in society. He described an economy that is "very
fragile and uncertain," unemployment, a justice system that
doesn't work, drugs that are destroying the young, and lack of
access to good education and health care for the poor.
Mercy, love and justice for all
The council responded in several ways. They passed a strong
resolution saying they had "heard of the plight of a large
portion of the Dominican population who are poor and who often
times have their circumstances aggravated by corruption in the
government and private sectors." The resolution exhorted
"members of the judicial system to administer justice so that
swift judgement can be provided to those who have been without a
definitive sentence and imprisoned for far longer than can be
morally justified. We ask the government authorities and
judiciary to put into practice mercy, love and justice for all."
Council member Louie Crew of Newark said that the resolution
was "our answer to the plea in the sermon."
In a move that could have long-term implications for the
Dominican Republic and other churches in the developing world,
the council voted to add $472,000 to the proposed budget for the
next triennium for dioceses that receive grants from the
Episcopal Church. They also added $258,000 for Native American
Introducing her amendment, Becky Snow of Alaska said that seeing
the church in the Dominican Republic had convinced her "to think
about the importance of our support for overseas dioceses." She
said that it did not make sense to cut the support for those
least able to absorb the cuts. "There is no excuse for not
supporting this work so integral to our church."
The Rev. Patrick Mauney, director of Anglican and Global
Relations at the Church Center, told council that there had been
no increases in support for those dioceses since 1991 "despite
very significant growth." He said that the grants "don't
reflect current realities" and a thorough review "is way
Council also adopted a policy for more accountability in the
granting process. "To be eligible for funding beginning in 2004,
annual compliance with requirements of the canons is required,"
including financial audits, accounts of the work being
supported, and diocesan reports based on parochial reports. "We
must have a handle on how our money is used--and this is a
beginning," said the Rev. Robert Sessum of Lexington, chair of
the international concerns committee. Treasurer Ralph O'Hara
said that accountability is a growing concern--in the church and
the corporate world.
Council had to address a developing conflict over the use of
funds in one of the dioceses supported by block grant. It
adopted a statement that said: "The Executive Council committees
on administration and finance and international concerns
considered a report by the Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews, bishop for
Pastoral Development, of recent concerns regarding the
management of the financial affairs of the Diocese of Ecuador
Central, particularly the use of grant monies contained in the
national church's budget for that diocese. After further
discussion with Bishop Matthews and the Chancellor to the
presiding bishop, the committees expressed support for the
manner in which Bishop Matthews and the Treasurer were currently
handling discussions with the bishop of the diocese and
disposition of the grant monies, including the unusual, but
appropriate, steps to see that clergy salaries and pension
premiums in that diocese are paid directly by the national
church pending the successful completion of an independent audit
of the finances of the diocese."
As council members gathered they were aware of "rumors of war"
in Iraq. Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold repeated his concern
that "the rhetoric is inflammatory. People are prickly and on
edge." The Rev. George Werner, president of the House of
Deputies and vice chair of the council, said, "We're in a time
Council unanimously endorsed Griswold's public statement on
Iraq, "The challenges of global citizenship," released January
30, commending it to the whole church.
Controversy over GTS decision
Even before adopting the agenda, however, the council, on a
resolution by James Bradberry of Southern Virginia, voted
decisively to go into "private conversation" to deal with what
he called "the issue of whether we have relevance as a council
in the future." Some council members were confused, others were
angry, over issues surrounding the decision they made at the
last council meeting in Wyoming, asking a committee to create a
letter of agreement that would further the possibility of a move
of the Church Center to a new facility on the campus of the
General Theological Seminary in New York.
"There were two bodies of opinion over what happened in
Wyoming," said the Rev. Stephen Lane of Rochester in an
interview. "One was that the negotiating committee was told to
bring a letter of agreement to the January meeting of
council--and the presiding bishop supported that decision. But
others think that the committee was told to continue the process
seeking the letter until or unless they ran into obstacles they
couldn't surmount. The presiding bishop's memo of December 4
became that obstacle and the committee members said they
As a result, some council members were feeling "a sense of
betrayal," Lane said, because it appeared that the presiding
bishop short-circuited the process and ended any further
consideration in what Bradberry said was a "unilateral
undermining" of the council's role. "And then the seminary
jumped in and said that it was over," even before the council
could respond, said Lane, while others thought the process had
reached one of its possible outcomes.
When it came time for the council to vote on the resolution to
"discontinue" the joint exploration, there were a dozen
abstentions, a sign that "many still thought the decision had
been taken out of the hands of the council," Lane said.
Asked if the trust levels between the management team and
council had been damaged, Lane said that the expansion of the
council's executive committee will make it easier to keep open
the lines of communication and consultation between meetings of
the full council. "It's a great idea and will prevent people
from getting disconnected."
During a presentation of the $125,441,000 budget, Griswold said
it was a "constricted budget" based on a projected shrinkage of
$10-12 million in the face of economic realities--but $2 million
will address 20/20 energies to build increased membership and
participation in the life of the church. For example, the budget
provides funds for a national identity campaign, drawing on a
series of ads produced by Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that
reach out to "seekers" but also "reinforces a sense of who we
are corporately." Dan England, the church's director of
communication, showed a sample of the ads and council members
responded with enthusiasm. "People are asking, Where's our
church? So we decided to test the waters for this national
campaign," he said.
O'Hara said that the budget represents a "very fine and
exciting" effort to support priorities established by the
council. Pat Mordecai, chief operating officer of the church,
said it responds clearly to the energy of the church and its
efforts to reach out to youth, revitalize and transform
congregations, reaffirm commitment to diversity, promote peace
and justice, reach out to those who do not know Christ, and
reaffirm partnerships with other members of the worldwide
In other actions the council
*welcomed Bishop Lloyd Allen of Honduras who made a presentation
on the five dioceses of Province IX in Latin America who are
"ready to reclaim their place" in the church;
*thanked Tom Hart, director of the Office of Governmental
Relations in Washington, DC who has resigned to accept a new
position with an agency that will address issues of trade, debt
and HIV/AIDS in Africa;
*expressed dismay over the bombing of the chapel at the Ahli
Arab hospital in Gaza, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese
*heard presentations by Episcopal Church missionaries Drs. Anita
and Michael Dohn, who are working in preventative medicine, and
Bob and Ellen Snow who are working on the diocesan staff.
*approved a final draft of the council's Blue Book report for
--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.
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