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Diocese Holds its First Online Convention

Delegates pass budget, resolutions, and hold elections

Meeting virtually for the first time in its history, the annual convention of the Diocese of Vermont passed a $993,000 budget, requested a plan to move diocesan parishes and properties to renewable energy by 2030, and took steps to ensure all clergy have access to the benefits of the Church Pension Fund.

The convention also granted parish status to St. Paul’s, Wells, and encouraged the diocese and its congregations “to learn the history of our land” as a way of understanding the complicity of the Episcopal Church and its members “in systems that oppress persons of color” in Vermont.

166 delegates and clergy also heard reports from the Anti-Racism Committee and the recently-constituted Visioning Team, which is exploring the diocese’s viability and its future.

Bishop Shannon delivered her annual address in the context of Morning Prayer during the opening session before presiding over an afternoon business meeting. Both sessions were held using Zoom videoconferencing software. The morning session was streamed live on Facebook, and the afternoon session on YouTube.

“At the beginning of the pandemic I often remarked how we are like the early church finding it necessary to reimagine and reorganize ourselves because so much has changed and so much will never be the same,” Bishop Shannon said in her address, a sermon on the gospel passage in which Jesus walks on water. “After months of civil unrest around the plague of racism, the disorientation of COVID restrictions, grief over the loss of people and continued uncertainty, the disciples’ excursion to Gennesaret also reminds me of the times in which we find ourselves.

“My friends, our life right now is like being on a boat in the storm. We are catching it from every side.”

Following Morning Prayer, the convention heard from the diocese’s new Visioning Team, which will be holding town hall-style Zoom meetings with members of the diocese next week as it develops recommendations regarding the diocese’s future. Join the town hall meetings on November 10, 11 and 12 at 6 p.m.

Gerry Davis, the diocesan treasurer, reported that membership in diocesan parishes and attendance at Sunday services has decreased 24 percent in the last decade, while giving has remained steady, but not kept up with inflation.

Only 17 of the diocese’s 45 parishes have youth formation programs, and only 21 are served by paid clergy, eight of whom are full-time. To avert continuing decline that would threaten the diocese’s viability, Davis, who is a member of the team, suggested parishes emphasize recruiting new members to bolster both attendance and budgets.

The Rev. Lisa Ransom, another member of the team, suggested that community engagement is central to the diocese’s future.

“Could this time of exile from our building be a time for us to take inventory of the abundance of resources we may be overlooking and share our resources freely and with gratitude?” asked Ransom, who is executive director of Mission Farm and vicar of Church of Our Saviour, Killington. “Who we are as the church will necessarily emerge as a new identity of Church because we are a new people…and it is God who is doing this new thing.”

The convention heard, via recorded video, from Davey Gerhard, executive director of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) who will be leading the diocese in a year-long webinar series to invigorate congregational giving and fundraising for ministry through storytelling, outreach and faith formation. Called “A Year of Living Generously,” the series will begin on January 5.

The diocese will also be undertaking an Anti-Racism Action project. C. J. Spirito, head of school at Rock Point School, and the Rev. Auburn Watersong, director of the state’s trauma prevention and resilience development program, told convention participants the project will be examining ways in which the church was complicit in slavery and colonization—including study of a letter by Bishop john Henry Hopkins, the diocese’s founding bishop, offering a Biblical defense of slavery. Participants will also screen “I Am Not Your Negro,” a documentary on the African American writer James Baldwin.

The resolution approving the diocesan budget also set the fundraising goal for this year’s Alleluia Fund at $30,000.

A resolution on clergy compensation proposed a diocesan minimum of $67,690, of which $45,826 constitutes the stipend. This resolution also requires parishes to pay deacons $25 per month, an expenditure that will allow deacons to access the benefits of the Church Pension Fund.

A similar resolution, encouraging Total Ministry parishes to pay locally-ordained clergy no more than $25 per month, “as well as make the requisite contribution to the Church Pension Group, for the cleric’s participation in Church Pension Group benefits.”

The resolution on studying the history of land usage asks organizations that undertake such a study to share their stories at next year’s convention.

Debate over the resolution on ending the use of fossil fuels in congregations and diocesan properties focused on the end date of 2030, which some participants thought was unrealistic, and on whether “diocesan leadership” should submit the plan to convention or form a task force to do so. In the end, an amended resolution, calling for a task force to submit the plan, but keeping the proposed end date in 2030, passed with 94 percent of the vote.

The convention also passed a number of courtesy resolutions, including one thanking Lynn Bates, canon to the ordinary and transition minister, for her 25 years of service. She will retire at the end of the year.

“As we step out in faith and do ministry in new ways, as we engage in conversations about racism and white supremacy, as we consider sharing ministry across congregations, as we deepen and grow our financial stewardship, as we expand our connection to our communities beyond Sunday, as we do things we’ve never done before and as we dream new dreams,” Bishop Shannon said in her convention address.

“We might wonder if doing something new is worth it when we consider the cost to our personal comfort and the risk of upsetting long established ways of being and doing church.

I guarantee you that we will make mistakes. We will feel unsure. We will face resistance. We will also experience fear. The challenge will be keeping our eyes on Jesus.”

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