Racial Justice, Mission Strategy Move Forward at First Online Convention

In a joint convention held online on November 7, the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania passed budgets for both dioceses, agreed to undertake congregational conversations on racial justice and reconciliation, formed a joint Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination, and granted convention seat and voice to members of the James Theodore Holly Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

More than 200 delegates, clergy, and online visitors joined a morning convention session to hear Bishop Sean give his annual address, and listen to reports (59:00 mark) from the Mission Strategy Advisory Group and the Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination.

In his address, the bishop compared the bond between the two dioceses to the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi.

“Ruth did not need to stay with Naomi,” he said. “The path of leaving to go back to her mother’s home was the traditional answer. Anyone listening to this story would have expected that—maybe even demanded it.  All the wisdom of the day would have pointed in the direction of the expected answer. Go back to your mother’s home.  You know the path there. Elect ‘your own’ bishop. Show people we can still do it the same way. Do what’s expected.”

Instead, Bishop Sean said, the people of the partnership dioceses have followed Ruth in choosing a different path. “So while it was a surprise to others,  it was no surprise to us that before a pandemic that shut down our churches as we’ve known them, before the economics of our time squeezed us, before the issues of our day reached epic proportion—before all this—we discerned another way.  We stepped out in faith and took a risk for partnership; partnership in the gospel.”

He pointed to the work of the Mission Strategy Advisory Group, formed after last year’s convention, as evidence that even during the pandemic, the work of developing a “mission map for the future” has moved forward. “We know enough to do the next thing—chart a course—but we must still continue our discernment and rely on God for direction,” he said.

After conversations with leaders across the dioceses, the mission strategy group identified five priorities—service and outreach, pastoral leadership, race justice, and communications—and decided on several new initiatives, said the Rev. Canon Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, canon for strategic change.

The group proposed a resolution the convention adopted, forming a joint Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination, which broadens the scope of a body formed in the Diocese of Western New York in 2018. It announced a new grant program to provide seed funding “to encourage innovative and creative mission and ministry, particularly in places which may lack funds to take risks,” which will be led by the Rev. Canon Twila Smith, canon for mission development. The group also plans to hold an online conference for wardens on February 20.

In its report, the Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination asked the convention to support the resolution calling on congregations to hold “conversations to promote the spiritual and structural change required for racial justice and reconciliation.” By early 2021, the Mission Strategy Racial Justice Working Group will provide suggested resources for holding these conversations. The Commission also asked those present to take a “Pledge of Faith and Action Against Racial Injustice,” and provided suggestions for individuals and congregations to dismantle racism.

During separate afternoon business meetings, the conventions of both dioceses committed to joining a six-diocese regional disciplinary board that will take effect in January if it is approved by the Diocese of Ohio at its convention on November 14. Other participants in the new arrangement—the Dioceses of Southern Ohio, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh—have all ratified the plan.

The Diocese of Western New York passed several canonical amendments intended to correct clerical and typographical errors, while the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania postponed indefinitely discussion of a canonical amendment that would have allowed the bishops of Province III or the House of Bishops to elect a bishop on its behalf.

The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania elected Cheryl Wild, the Rev. Matthew Scott and the Rev. Mary Lord to Diocesan Council and Donna Billioni and the Rev. William Ellis to the Standing Committee. Scott was also elected to the Constitution and Canons Committee, as was Robert Guerrein.

The Diocese of Western New York elected Sue Stanislawski, Reid Heffner and the Rev. James Clement to Diocesan Council, and elected Saxon Cobb Deck and the Rev. Kim Rossi to the Standing Committee. Robert Matson and Karen Gengo were elected as trustees.

Bishop Sean appointed members of the new joint Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination, the joint Commission on Ministry, and appointed the Revs. Stacey Fussell, Diana Leiker, Carol Carlson, Luke Fodor, Matthew Scott, and Randi Hicks Rowe to the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains.

In the Diocese of Western New York, the Revs. Randi Hicks Rowe (Northern Region), Colleen O’Connor (Genesee), Luke Fodor (Cattaragus/Chautauqua), Ann Tillman (Southern Erie), Ellen Brauza (Central Erie), and Vicki Zust (Eastern Erie) will be regional deans in 2021. The Rev. Elizabeth Hadaway and Peter Snodgrass will serve on the Constitution and Canons Committee, while Justice Rose Sconiers and Howard Gondree will constitute the Dispatch of Business Committee and the Rev. Sare Anuszkiewicz, Patrick Bradley, and the Rev. Nick Evancho will serve on the Resolutions Committee, which Elisabeth Brauza-Hughes will chair.

In the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Sean appointed the Rev. Adam Trambley as secretary, Robert Armstrong as treasurer, Jeff Mills as assistant treasurer and James Steadman as chancellor. The Rev. Martha Ishman and Gretchen Tome will serve as the Credentials Committee, and the Dispatch of Business Committee will include the bishop, Steadman, Trambley, the Rev. Matthew Scott and Anne Bardol. The Nominating Committee will be the members of the Standing Committee excepting those with one year remaining on their terms. Robert Guerrein will be historiographer, and the Rev. John Downey will be the ecumenical officer. The regional deans will be the Revs. Mary Norton (Northwest), Adam Trambley (Southwest), Bill Ellis (Southeast), and Stacey Fussell (Northeast).