Racial Justice Takes Priority
  • Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Greeted with an unexpected budget surplus, Executive Council has agreed to create a new staff position at the Episcopal Church Center for racial justice and reconciliation. The council met October 15-17 at the headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Council members also addressed an erosion of trust between Church Center leadership and members of the board of the United Thank Offering (UTO), four of whom resigned in protest amid proposed changes to the group’s bylaws.

The anticipated $1.5 million surplus, the first in 10 years, is primarily the result of “good stewardship,” specifically better than expected contributions from dioceses and higher than anticipated rental income at the Church Center, said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who spoke with reporters during a conference call Oct. 17.

The decision to spend $258,000 in 2014 and 2015 to pay for the work of a staff officer to help foster racial justice and reconciliation came after what the presiding bishop later called “a very hard, conflicted and tense discussion.” She praised council for handling the discussion graciously, according to Episcopal News Service.

After the council approved creating the position, some members called for a review of the way future financial decisions are presented to the council.

“No one doubts that the racial reconciliation officer will do worthy and important work,” the Rev. Susan Snook wrote on her weblog, A Good and Joyful Thing. “However, it is troubling from a process perspective to have one priority funded immediately when others were proposed and not funded (at least not right away).”

Council deferred decisions on requests for funding from the Office of the Anglican Communion Secretariat, the custodian of the Episcopal Church’s archives, as the Diocese of Haiti, and the Diocese of Navajoland, which is expected to run out of money by the end of June.

In 2006 General Convention approved a change to its calculation of contributions to the Anglican Communion. The change resulted in a significantly smaller contribution than in previous years. Anglican Communion officials sought restoration of the previous formula.

Council authorized a faster drawdown on the funds already allocated to the Anglican Communion Office for the next two years, but deferred a decision on restoration of full funding until its February meeting.

Council also postponed until February a decision on funding for rebuilding Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The previous cathedral was destroyed during a devastating earthquake in 2007 that killed an estimated 300,000 people and left 3 million in the capital homeless. Shortly after the earthquake, council promised to provide financial assistance to help Haiti recover and rebuild. The Rt. Rev. Jean Zaché Duracin, Bishop of Haiti, unveiled a dramatic new design for the new cathedral.

The new cathedral will be built to U.S. earthquake- and hurricane-resistance standards, and will be a self-sufficient haven during any future emergency, Bishop Duracin said.

Thomas Kerns of Kerns Group Architects in Arlington, Virginia, told council it would cost $21 million to build the entire cathedral project in 2013 and that the price could increase to $25 million if it takes three years to build.

“We know we cannot build it right away,” Kerns said in a report by Mary Frances Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service.

Kerns said the cathedral will be constructed in phases, beginning with the nave. That first phase would cost $15 million over three years.

Elizabeth Lowell, the church’s development officer, told council members that she has been building a donor base and is confident the money can be raised with sufficient time and publicity.

Council reaffirmed a previous commitment to raise $10 million for rebuilding in Haiti and called for a special churchwide offering January 12.

The rift between the UTO board and Church Center staff was considered serious enough that soon after the council meeting began four UTO board officers, including three new board members appointed by Bishop Jefferts Schori, met in a closed session with the Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission (GAM).

In one of council’s two UTO-related resolutions, members “acknowledged with deep regret the breakdown of communication and relationship between the board of the United Thank Offering and leadership of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.” The other resolution urged Episcopalians to continue supporting the UTO.

Steve Hutchison, chairman of the GAM, called the council meeting a first step in cooperation and collegiality between church headquarters and the UTO.

Steve Waring

Image: Clifton Daniel, Bishop Provisional of Pennsylvania, receives the chalice from Ron Fox, a member of Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

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