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Convention Creates Executive Council, Increases Support to Parish Leaders

The diocese passed a balanced $1.47 million budget, adjusted the composition of a key governing body and signaled its desire to remain in relationship with other members of the Anglican Communion, even those who hold punitive attitudes toward queer people, during the business session of its annual convention held November 9 on Zoom.

The diocese also received a positive review of Bishop Shannon’s tenure to date from an outside consultant and elected leaders to various governing bodies.

Convention events included an online pre-convention session on November 2, during which diocesan leaders answered questions about the budget and resolutions; an in-person gathering at the cathedral on Saturday, November 4, which included a sermon by Bishop Shannon and presentations on Appreciative Inquiry by the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija of Try Tank; and the nearly five-hour online business session November 9 at which eight resolutions were debated and passed.

In her convention sermon at the cathedral, Bishop Shannon returned to the story of Peter walking across the water toward Jesus for the final time in a three-year cycle. During those years, the diocese has endured a pandemic, catastrophic flooding and a budgetary crisis. In that same period, the diocese passed a major revision of its governing and financial structures through the work of the THRIVE Task Force and began experimenting with constellations, a new form of clergy sharing and multiple parish collaboration.

“Peter decided he needed to do something he had never done before, so he asked Jesus to make it possible,” Bishop Shannon said. “When he became afraid, instead of abandoning the mission and getting back in the boat …. Peter called out to Jesus, ‘Save me!’ Save me.

“My friends, going toward Jesus is not an action without risk. It is not something we can do without fear,” she said. “It’s okay to be afraid. This doesn’t have to stop us.”

In presenting the budget, Michael Shapiro, interim chief financial officer, made it clear that the diocese has no reason for immediate financial concern. The 2024 budget is six percent larger than the 2023 budget, yet it is balanced, and includes only a modest 5 percent draw on the income from the diocese’s various endowment-like funds, he said.

The budget includes an increase of $86,620 for training, programs, retreats and support to clergy and lay leaders in both constellations and stand-alone congregations. It does not fund the position of canon to the ordinary for cultural transformation, occupied by the Rev. Canon Walter Brownridge, who ended his service to the diocese on November 15. In thanking him for his ministry, Bishop Shannon said, “He joined us early in 2021 … and set to work immediately offering guidance drawn from his long experience in the church as we pursued God’s vision for Beloved Community in historically challenging circumstances. We have all benefitted, perhaps without knowing it, from Walter’s extensive network of contacts developed over a career in ministry … Walter, thank you for challenging us and for walking with us.”

Since joining the diocesan staff early in the year, Shapiro, a consultant with South Burlington-based Gallagher, Flynn & Company, LLP, has worked to give the diocese a comprehensive understanding of its finances, locating resources that had previously not been accounted for. His work has reduced concerns raised in a 2021 financial assessment that the diocese was heading toward a “financial cliff.”

“I think you are a real blessing for this diocese,” Jack Manning, a delegate from Calvary, Underhill told Shapiro after the budget had passed. “And I just want to say thank you on behalf of all of us because it is a big deal and I’ve learned a lot about what we need to look to for our balance sheet as well.”

The convention passed eight resolutions on topics ranging from clergy compensation to the use of pesticides. The two that occasioned greatest debate were focused on church governance and church relations within the Anglican Communion.

In attempting to streamline the diocesan governing structure, the 2022 Convention approved a resolution from the THRIVE Task Force that got rid of the Diocesan Council and vested new authority in an expanded Standing Committee. However, as Tom Little, the diocese’s chancellor explained, the committee does not include the bishop. As a result, he said, the new governing canons had “the unintended consequence of disempowering our bishop from work on a critical body” that deals with finances, investment, budgets and real estate issues. That, he said was “a mistake that we wanted to correct at this time.”

A new resolution, proposed by the Canons Committee, emerged from “an extensive series of discussions” among leaders of various governing bodies,” he said. It returned the Standing Committee to the traditional role assigned to it by the canons of The Episcopal Church, while creating a new Executive Council. The council is composed of the bishop, the president of the Standing Committee, the president of the Trustees, the chair of the Commission on Finance, the leaders of several other diocesan bodies and up to three additional members appointed by the bishop.

The Rev. Dr. Rick Swanson, rector of St. John’s in the Mountains in Stow, offered an amendment that would have given the convention, rather than the bishop, the power to select the three additional members, but it failed on a 77 percent to 23 precent vote. The resolution then passed on a vote by orders. (Clergy 43-4. Laity 64-3.)

A resolution on supporting LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) Anglicans, passed in a heavily amended version that removed what several proponents of the resolutions referred to as its “teeth.”

The original resolution had been developed during a year-long dialog after a similar resolution was tabled at the 2022 convention. It was supported by numerous LGBTQIA+ leaders in the diocese. Proposers, including the Venerable J. Stannard Baker, who presented the resolution, wanted Episcopal bishops, under certain circumstances, to refrain from participating in the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of bishops in the Anglican Communion that has happened every decade or so since 1867.

They also sought, under such circumstances, to redirect the Episcopal Church’s support for the Lambeth Conference to The Human Dignity Trust, which works globally to challenge laws that persecute LGBTQIA+ people. 

As debate began, the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, rector of St. Matthew’s, Enosburg Falls, proposed an amendment that removed any reference to redirecting funds or refraining from meetings, leaving a resolution that urged Episcopal bishops to work for the greater acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people in the Communion, in the Episcopal Church and in the larger society.

 Presler said the “attitudinal shift” in the Anglican Communion toward a great acceptance of queer people has come “not through boycotts or ultimatums” but through “people talking with and seeing the life and ministry of LGBTQIA+ people.” The resolution in its original form, he said, would make the Episcopal Church “the mirror image” of anti-gay bishops in the Communion who had refused to attend recent Lambeth Conferences.

“This is not simply about people in the United States not being allowed into the conversation equally,” Baker replied. He said the sponsors of the resolution had been in touch with African allies who said the resolution was needed to counter anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in several African countries. “This goes beyond the politics of Lambeth to a life and death situation for queer people,” he said.

The amendment passed on a 57-37 vote.

The in-person session of the 2024 diocesan convention will be held on November 9, and the online business session will be held on November 14. The pre-convention meeting will be held online on November 7.

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