Online Convention Passes Pair of Antiracism Resolutions

In its first ever online meeting, Diocesan Convention passed two antiracism resolutions, approved a $3.5 million budget and revised its constitution to enfranchise an eight-member youth delegation.

The convention also passed numerous canonical changes to make diocesan structures more efficient and responsive, and made Project Home Indy, which works with teen mothers and their children, a cooperating ministry of the diocese, thereby allowing its employees to participate in the diocese’s employee benefit plans.

More than 157 delegates, clergy and web visitors heard a keynote address from the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s canon for evangelism, reconciliation and stewardship of creation, and listened to Bishop Jennifer’s convention address, given as the sermon during an online Eucharist that included the Prayer for Spiritual Communion.

In her address, the bishop promoted the work of a task force she appointed earlier this year “to pray, brainstorm, and report to me and the Executive Council on what a diocesan mission strategy might look like if it were built on the foundation of our mission pillars: being beacons of Jesus Christ, offering generous invitation and welcome, standing with the marginalized and transforming systems of injustice, networking with our neighbors and developing lay and clergy leaders for the church of today and tomorrow.”

The group did not avoid painful questions, she said.

“As your bishop I’ve always said that I don’t believe in closing churches, but we may have to close buildings and reimagine what having an Episcopal presence looks like when the traditional model of full-time clergy and oversize building infrastructure is no longer sustainable or faithful,” Bishop Jennifer said.

“The task force wrestled with how we discern when it is time for a faithful but unsustainable congregation to end their current ways of gathering, say goodbye well, and then open themselves for Resurrection and new life. I know from experience that too often we ask these questions too late, and I wonder about what might be possible if we brought the vulnerability and pain we experience during these difficult discernments to our diocesan community. What would it be like if we understood ourselves to be walking together in these times so that no congregation stands alone, especially when their ministry is tenuous?”

Bishop Jennifer said she plans to reinvigorate the Committee on Mission Strategy to continue this work in collaboration with Executive Council.

“I’ve said before that the church as the body of Christ on the move in the world is going to be fine,” she said. “We now know this in our bones as we continue to be church in a time of pandemic. And we may be loath to admit it, but we now know in our bones and in our hearts that the institutional church will not fare as well. And by institutional church I mean the buildings, the structures, the parochial reports that count only numbers in worship and not lives touched, changed and transformed by our ministries. We now know because we have lived it, that if we are more worried about status, structures and safety than saving the lives of people on our doorstep, we need to find another way.”

In her morning keynote address, Spellers said the Episcopal Church needed to shed its identity as the church of slaveholders, industrialists and the owning and managing class.

“Especially when it comes to liturgy and culture, Anglicans still overwhelmingly resonate with English culture and upper-class elite values of order, perfection and sober bearing,” she said. “Those mores, that Anglophilic, formal, classy posture, it’s part of our DNA. It travels across region, race and class.

“That means there is an invisible sign over the door of many Episcopal churches:  ’You will never truly belong here,’ or ‘Leave your culture at the door.’”

Spellers urged members of the diocese to “walk into those places where God is least likely to show up, pay attention, then get ready to be surprised at what God is already up to in plain view.

“And then open your mouth and express wonder, gratitude, praise. Name it and claim it. And invite people to take it deeper. To develop spiritual intimacy with God and in time to grow with a Christian community dedicated to deepening that relationship and living into God’s dream together.”

The two antiracism resolutions, both sponsored by the Indianapolis chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE), are intended as steps toward recognizing the failures of the church’s past.

The first commits the diocese to “sharing, learning, and hearing the truths of the ways our members, congregations, and diocese have been historically complicit, through both commission and omission, in acts of prejudice, discrimination, racism, and systemic oppression.”

It directs the bishop to appoint the diocesan historiographer and a volunteer lay leader from each of the diocese’s six neighborhoods to work under the direction of the local UBE chapter “to gather stories and examples of our historic complicity in acts of prejudice, discrimination, racism, and systemic oppression from our congregations, members, and community partners,” and to examine historical documents for evidence of such involvement or complicity.

The resolution also commits every congregation and its leadership to aid in the collection of these stories and directs the UBE to make a documentary presentation of its work to next year’s convention. The documentary is to be supported by audio and digital collections and made available to congregations after the convention.

The resolution calls for $25,000 for this work. Executive Council will identify a source of funding at an upcoming meeting.

The second antiracism resolution directs diocesan leaders and congregations to work against white supremacy and other forms of racial and ethnic hatred, and to report to the diocese by August 31, 2021, the work they have done “in dismantling systemic racism” through practices including storytelling, listening sessions and through partnerships with other civic and religious organizations.

“The resolutions … offer substantive and clear direction for our ongoing work in learning our history, wrestling with the ongoing legacy of white supremacy in Indiana and our country at large, and working always to building the beloved community God desires for us,” Bishop Jennifer said in her address. “We all have work to do in dismantling these systems; we all have much to learn, and we all have opportunity for transformation and healing.”

Project Home Indy, the diocese’s new cooperating ministry, is a partner of Trinity Church, Indianapolis. It works with teen mothers and their children. As a cooperating ministry, Project Home Indy employees will have access to employee health insurance and retirement benefits at an affordable cost.

The convention moved smoothly through nine canonical changes presented by Canon Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, canon to the ordinary for administration and evangelism. It also amended the constitution to allow what would be—in the diocese’s current organizational structure—an eight-member youth delegation—composed of one high school student from each diocesan neighborhood and two students appointed by the bishop—to participate in convention with seat, voice and vote.

Because the constitutional amendment was passed in the morning, this year’s two-person youth delegation was allowed to vote in the afternoon session.

The convention elected the Rev. Frank Impicciche and Maria Langston to the Commission on Ministry; the Rev. Paul Jacobson to the Disciplinary Board; George Eastman and the Rev. Erin Hougland to Standing Committee and Rose Downs and the Rev. Kirsteen Wilkinson to the board of the Waycross Camp and Conference Center.

The convention also confirmed the election of neighborhood representatives to Executive Council. Those were the Rev. Paul Jacobson of the Edge neighborhood; the Rev. Mary Bargiel of the Waycross neighborhood and Sally Hardgrove of the Crossroad neighborhood.

The convention elected Sean Sullivan as secretary of the diocese and of convention, Laurel Cornell as treasurer and Lee Little as registrar and historiographer. It also confirmed Bishop Jennifer’s appointments of George Plews as chancellor and Todd Relue as assistant chancellor.

Bishop Jennifer extended heartfelt thanks to Susan Steigerwald and Jeffrey Brinkmann, co-chairs of convention; the Rev. Patrick Burke and Kendall Ludwig who prepared the liturgy and the Rev. Holly Rankin Zaher, who organized the pre-convention workshops.

The Eucharistic offertory raised $3,080 for the diocese’s partner dioceses in Haiti and Brasilia. Now through November 20,, the Global Mission Commission will match the first $6,000 donated in support of the diocese’s global relationships. Make your gift online.

© 2021 Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis