Representatives of Church’s Provinces Ponder Future, Mobilize to Work Together
By Titus Presler
Last April I went to the synod meeting of Province I, which is the Province of New England, in Worcester, Massachusetts, because the subject was preparing for General Convention, for which I was one of the clergy deputies from Vermont. It was a useful meeting, but during it I got drafted to be on the Executive Committee of the province. And then earlier this month I was one of several representatives of our province to attend the annual Provincial Leadership Conference, held in Newark, New Jersey
“Synod?” you might ask. “Province?” might be your follow-up question. “What’s this all about? And is it important?”
Those are good questions, and they’re questions that have been asked for some time at the churchwide level as well. In fact, an effort in 2015 to do away with the nine internal provinces of the Episcopal Church prompted creation of a task force that brought resolutions to the 2018 General Convention that changed some aspects of the provinces, but left the provincial structure intact.
At the Newark meeting, the eighteen or so representatives who attended from provinces around the church had this background in mind as we reviewed reports of work carried out by the provinces, discussed the functions of provinces, and moved toward closer collaboration in the future.
But first, what’s the rationale for provinces at all? They came into being at the General Convention of 1919 as a way to relate dioceses to one another regionally and thereby enhance the work of the church as a whole. The Episcopal Church covers a large geographical area, obviously, and it was thought that mobilizing the church at a level between the diocese and the churchwide levels would be useful.
So there are nine provinces. We in Vermont are in Province I, the Province of New England, which includes, predictably, the six other dioceses in our region: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Neighboring Province II includes the six dioceses in New York state and the dioceses of Newark, New Jersey, Cuba, Haiti, the Virgin Islands and Europe. Province IV covers dioceses in the Southeast, Province VII the Southwest, Province VIII the West, Province IX the Episcopal dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean – and so forth. Some other Anglican churches also have internal provinces; Canada and Nigeria are examples.
In addition to Bishop Tom Ely always representing our diocese, the lay delegate from Vermont to the Province I Synod is Eric Davis, with Elizabeth Parker as the alternate, and the clergy delegate is the Rev. Robert Wilson, with the Rev. Lee Alison Crawford as the alternate. The Province I president is the Rev. Kit Wang of the Diocese of Maine. Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut is the vice president. The province’s half-time executive director is Dr. Julie Lytle, who is resident in the Diocese of Massachusetts. With me as treasurer, we four meet monthly via Zoom.
Provinces no longer receive support from the General Convention budget, so Province I’s income of about $100,000 comes mostly from proportional contributions from the seven dioceses.
Especially functional and robust, Province I has ten ministry networks for support, consultation and training: Diaconal Ministry, Exploring Diversity, Faith Formation, Evangelism, Creation Stewardship, Campus Ministry, Spiritual Direction, All Our Children, Human Trafficking, and Seed Money for Growing God’s Mission. An especially effective joint effort of the provinces over the past year was a series of webinars about various aspects of the business anticipated at the 2018 General Convention, which was useful for bishops, deputies and Episcopalians in general.
Still, the question hovers: Do we need provinces? A written reflection from one provincial representative not present put the question of relevance starkly: “What is our role? . . . Seems to be just another layer of the same cast of characters with very little connection . . . Provinces were set up in a horse and buggy world, which we no longer live in.” To that we might add the question: “With all sorts of networks just clicks away on my screen, why do we need a provincial network?”
Provinces continue to be appropriate and helpful precisely because contemporary life is so network-focused.
Well, the conviction of those who gathered in Newark was that provinces continue to be appropriate and helpful precisely because contemporary life is so network-focused. In-person encounter still matters, geography still matters, and issues in the church often need regional as well as churchwide attention. For instance, four New England states are among the six least religiously affiliated states in the USA, which means that we have similar challenges to address in evangelism.
My personal view is that Episcopal provinces are a bit like the United Nations. People wonder how effective the U.N. is, but if we didn’t already have it we would be inventing it. Similarly, if we didn’t have provinces I think we would be trying to invent similar regional affiliations within the Episcopal Church. Doesn’t it make sense that we dioceses in New England have a lot in common and a lot to share with one another as we seek to fulfill God’s mission?
Titus Presler is priest-in-partnership at St. Matthew’s Church in Enosburg Falls.