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Spring Synod: New England Province Alive with Faith-based Advocacy, Stewardship of Creation, Multicultural Awareness

Spring Synod: New England Province Alive with Faith-based Advocacy, Stewardship of Creation, Multicultural Awareness

“For some reason there is an assumption that the church must remain apolitical.”

Compelling words for some. Fighting words for others. Either way, they are words we cannot ignore.

Social justice is an important aspect of evangelism throughout the Episcopal Church, and it represents just one of the strategic priorities for Province 1, which contains the New England dioceses of Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

In the following report, Elizabeth Parker, a representative of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, details the recent Province 1 Synod, an assembly of lay and clergy delegates that meets each spring to review its efforts and identify new initiatives.

Province 1 Spring Synod Report, April 8, 2017
St. Andrews Episcopal Church, North Grafton, MA
By Elizabeth Parker | Province 1 Lay Alternate

Introduction. I have uploaded a document entitled “The Shape of the Jesus Movement,” which I have found helpful in understanding the church-wide goals that came out of General Convention and are reinforced by this Synod.

Faith Based Advocacy: Evangelism. Social justice issues are moral issues/values and not simply political issues. As a faith-based people we are reminded that the Gospel has not changed. “How do we greet the stranger?” For some reason there is an assumption that the church must remain apolitical.

In his morning presentation to the Synod, John Hennessy, director of the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice, described the ways in which his organization has  educated people on social justice issues and lobbied at the statehouse. Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA), an ally of our Diocese, has been a close equivalent, and Hennessy referred to VIA’s work on the living wage campaign “Toward a Moral Economy.”

Hennesy also mentioned the Election Engagement Toolkit, which has been useful to many Province 1 parishes, as an example of community empowerment. He recalled the look in the eyes of an individual registering to vote for the first time.

This theme expanded into the Loaves and Fishes truck that supports communities in need and is shared by 12 congregations, another demonstration of innovation and cooperation between parishes that reminded me of the summer lunch truck that serves rural children in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

There is a Toolkit for Immigration Advocacy and a wonderful Faith and Citizenship: A guide to Effective Advocacy for Episcopalians, which was written to lobby federal delegates, but can be used for legislators at the state level.

Overall, Maine legislators have been receptive to the lobbying methods of these faith based people, proving that how we deliver our message matters. As someone said, “We are not asking people to go left or right, rather we are asking them to go deeper.”

“We are not asking people to go left or right, rather we are asking them to go deeper.”

To help strengthen our advocacy efforts, Hennessy announced an event that will take place September 15-16. Alexia Salvatierra, author of Faith Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, is scheduled to present a workshop on faith-rooted organizing at the Barbara C. Harris Camp in New Hampshire. More information to come.

Stewardship of Creation. After lunch, Stephanie Johnson, co-chair with Mark Andrews, of the National Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation spoke about the Act of Convention (A30) supporting ecologically responsible stewardship of church property and the formation of a 12-member council with representatives from each Province to oversee $650,000 in grants for creative models that can be duplicated in other parts of the country.

To date, three rounds of small grants ($10,000 or less) have been awarded. In fact, Province 1 received funding for this year’s River of Life: Connecticut River Pilgrimage. Sites in Texas, California and Haiti have also been identified. A new request for proposal is going out, and the people of our Diocese have been asked to recommend potential sites.

To communicate these initiatives to the Provinces, a website is being developed and an administrator will be hired to assist the committee members who are dedicated to this mandate.

Connecticut River Pilgrimage: Stewardship of Creation. Jo Brooks, director of operations for Kairos Earth, gave a presentation on River of Life: Connecticut River Pilgrimage, a 40-day event from the source of the Connecticut River to Long Island Sound that will take place this summer.

The Kairos Earth website will soon provide press releases for parishes to post in their local newspapers, blurbs for weekly bulletins, and a downloadable prayer book composed for the event.

Locally, individuals are encouraged to paddle for a day or attend one of the many events on shore (especially those hosted by our own Bishop Thomas Ely). What a wonderful way to engage in our mission as stewards of creation!

Exploring Multicultural Awareness & Nurturing Cultural Competency: Reconciliation. Karen Montagno, director of congregational resources and training for the Diocese of Massachusetts, presented the initiatives that Province 1 has been supporting in response to C019, A182, and A183.

Since May 2013, three priorities have guided Synod: (1) Offer a Prophetic Voice/Be Social Witnesses, (2) Support Communities of Practice as they emerge, and (3) Provide Resources through grants, web conferences, educational offerings, and personnel that can help with project leadership and resource distribution.

To this end, a virtual book discussion of Howard Thurman’s Jesus the Disinherited—reportedly a favorite of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry—was held. Since then, 12 online presentations on a diverse range of topics have taken place, are of which all available on the Province 1 website.

Facilitator training has been offered which eight people from our Diocese have attended. Curated resources have been distributed to parishes. Tours of culturally significant sights have taken place and are in the works.

This past December, a gathering called “Embracing Gender Complexity” was offered at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center. Groups working to end human trafficking are being supported. And finally, the “Grace for Creation” curriculum based on the Bishops Response to the Environmental Crisis is being promoted.

For individuals seeking to expand their multicultural awareness, The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie is a highly recommended TED Talk!

2016-2017 Synod Report and 2016 Budget. At General Convention there was discussion of disbanding the paid staff for Provinces with the intent that work would be done on an as-needed basis. However, there is a growing recognition that having one person who administers the work of the Province across the board is beneficial. Julie Lytle continues on as the Province 1 part-time executive director.

Province 1 is seeking a treasurer. The budget is not audited yet. In 2018, Province 1 will receive $0 in church-wide contribution. The Province is currently running on diocesan contributions with a reserve and will start to charge a modest fee for events.

Priorities for 2017-18. In addition to continuing support for communities of practice that are active in the Province (New England Deacons Network, Faith Formation Leaders, All Our Children, and Multicultural Awareness and Cultural Competency), the 2017-18 priorities for Province 1 are as follows:

  • Episcopal Lutheran Collaboration
  • Faith-rooted Organizing
  • Summit with Provincial Spiritual Directors
  • Small Church Summit
  • Refugee Resettlement/Sanctuary
  • Revival 2018 – Diocese of Western MA

Future Dates. Synod members and those interested in Province 1 initiatives are asked to save the following dates:

  • May 16, 2017, from 7:30-8:30 PM. Some Province 1 bishops will share their reflections on the House of Bishops Visions Training on Exploring Multicultural Awareness and Nurturing Cultural Competency via web conference.
  • Sept. 15-16, 2017. Alexa Silvestry will present on faith-rooted organizing. The theme will be “organizing FOR instead of AGAINST something.”
  • Nov. 9, 2017, at 8:00 AM. The fall 2017 Synod will take place via web conference.
  • April 6-7, 2018. Spring Synod and General Convention Orientation.

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