Recapping Annual Convention: change and opportunities in ECCT

In his convention address on Saturday, Bishop Ian Douglas looked at the last year in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut through two lenses – change and opportunity. He said, “Change and opportunity can result in feelings of excitement and fear, joy and anxiety.” This past weekend’s convention was full of change and opportunities – and while few may have experienced fear and anxiety over some of the new changes, I believe the overall experience of our convention was that of excitement and joy. 

For the blog today, I wanted to take a journalistic approach to recapping our time together conducting business on Saturday, in something I like to now call a “blogalistic approach.” 

The 235th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut was held on Saturday, October 26, 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut and it was one full day of business, with Convention Worship following the next day.

To begin our day, the first change people witnessed was the registration process. Since this year ECCT went (almost fully) paperless, registration went… well, fast. In a post-convention email, Alison Hollo, Senior Administrator for the Office of the Episcopate, wrote, “It was so fun to see everyone’s reaction after they gave their name’s and were (or were not) handed a blue “voting paddle,” they couldn’t believe they were done!” No giant blue folders with endless papers and papercuts, or holding up the wrong color during voting, folks just got a nametag and one voting paddle. The change in registration allowed for more opportunity for folks to socialize.  

After registration and a cup of coffee, we opened convention with prayer and bible study. As a community rooted in Christ, we rooted ourselves and our time together in scripture. Bishop Laura Ahrens led the group of over 550 Episcopalians through Dwelling in the Word, a bible study practice commonly practiced throughout ECCT, on Mark 1:9-11. The theme: “Remember Your Baptism.” Bishop Ahrens focused on several crucial questions that came up to her in her reading of the Gospel, including, “how do we support our children, youth, and young adults?” 

Youth @ Convention!

ECCT addressed this question through the inclusion of young people with the Youth @ Convention (Y@C) program. The five youth members participated in different aspects of convention; floor discussions, Sunday’s worship, and even an overnight at St. Monica’s, Hartford.

“Youth @ Convention gave the youth delegates an opportunity to have their voices heard, and get some insight into the nitty gritty of how our church functions,” said Rob Laughton, one of the three leaders for Y@C and the Associate for Youth and Family Ministries at Trinity, Southport.

For the second year, ECCT utilized the World Café Method to focus on six questions in six separate rooms on the following topics: addressing the causes of injustice, climate change, formation for children & youth, forming disciples, racial healing & justice, and young adults. 

Rather than sitting in the large ballroom tackling a long list of resolutions, the World Café Method created smaller spaces for folks to focus on the topics they are the most passionate about, and work towards action steps. It is a hands-on approach which allows more voices to be heard, more conversations to be held, and more work to be done. 

Marcus Halley, the new Dean of Formation for ECCT said, “The World Café conversations raised a lot of great ideas from the gathered body… there was an embrace of differing voices that I found inspiring.” The change in how we do business allowed for the opportunity for more business to get done.

After lunch (which was delicious, any tiramisu makes this blogger happy), convention continued with reports from the six breakout groups. These reports included the main topics from each room, action steps moving forward, and overall reflections on the process. 

Listening to each group offer reflections and their report on the variety of topics showcased all the work that is being done in ECCT, and where the pulse of the church is at currently. Some of the reports commended upcoming resolutions, while some proposed what individual parishes and communities will do to address their topic going forward. 

Making an appearance on social media as a way to bring some humor to a long day was a bingo boardcomplete with some of Bishop Douglas’ favorite phrases and other common experiences of past conventions. 

Bishop Douglas’ convention address, as mentioned earlier, focused on the changes and opportunities ECCT has faced in the last year and will face in the coming year. He discussed the strides and the work still needed to be done with the Season of Racial Healing, Justice, and Reconciliation, the recent new hires and retires of the staff at The Commons, and the changes and opportunities within ECCT parishes. Included in his address, Bishop Douglas offered statistics of ECCT, comparing where the church was in 2011 to today. 

“Of the 169 Rectors and Priests-in-Charge leading parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, 107 were full time and 62 were part time; which translates: 63% of our parishes had full time clergy and 37% had part-time clergy. Today, a short eight years later, of the now 157 parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, 60 are served by full-time clergy and 97 by part-time clergy. By percentage: 38% of our parishes have full-time clergy and 62% have part-time.” 

Those numbers are not unique to ECCT, Bishop Douglas said, and the model of one full-time priest for one parish is not a reality anymore across the whole Episcopal Church. 

This change however, brings a new opportunity through the try-on pilot project Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age. Bishop Douglas shared the good news of 10 parishes engaged in the commitment to develop spiritual and/or financial resources to further participate in God’s mission in their neighborhoods and across ECCT. One truly spectacular moment of his address was when he announced that in less than one year, over 3 million dollars had been pledged to support parish and diocesan – wide projects to participate in God’s mission. The room filled with applause.

Following the bishop’s address, the convention moved into debating and eventually adopting eight resolutions. Two of the resolutions were parish merges, bringing new opportunities for these parishes. The congregations of Grace, Broad Brook and Grace, Windsor merged together to become Grace Episcopal Church, Windsor. Church of Our Savior, Plainville and St. John’s, Bristol merged to become Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Plainville and Bristol

The other resolutions included the 2020 Budget of Convention, Clergy Compensation, Young Adults: Evangelism and God’s Mission, Intentional Episcopal Communities, First Consideration of an Amended Diocesan Constitution, and Organization and Conduct of Worshiping Communities.

Something that was very notable this time around was the adoption of all 8 resolutions, without a single amendment. A senior priest later told Bishop Douglas that of the 43 Annual Conventions they attended in Connecticut, this was the first they could recall of no amendments to any resolutions. 

“I truly believe that that was a testimony to the positive conversations that were held in our World Café sessions.  We remain indebted to Adam for his creativity and vision in bringing the World Café process to Convention,” Said Bishop Douglas.

There were quite a few changes made at Convention, which brought about many opportunities. 

“It is easy to look at Convention these past couple of years and identify how it has changed,” the Rev. Adam Yates, Secretary (and mastermind) of Convention said.  “But the truth is that we have been working on this change for much longer than that. The opportunity that all this transformation presents us is fundamentally the opportunity to fall in love with one another as fellow companions in discipleship. And from this place of love for one another, to face whatever uncertainties and trials the world may present us as we pursue Jesus there.”

With the final resolution passing unanimously, the 2019 Annual Convention of ECCT was in recess. 

As business ended, the festivities began at Christ Church Cathedral for a centennial celebration of our Cathedral. Choirs from around the diocese and the community of Hartford offered music to a festive Evensong. 

The Rt. Rev. Anne Dyer, Bishop of the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney in Scotland, preached on the importance of Cathedrals as places “where people come to find Jesus and go away changed.” 

Bishops Douglas and Ahrens, along with the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, Dean of our Cathedral, welcomed the Rev. Lynsay Downs as a Canon to our Cathedral. Downs is from the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, and the Rev. Rebekah Hatch will be welcomed as a Canon to their cathedral this coming week. 

The congregations at Christ Church Cathedral hosted a dinner after Evensong for the community, which ended our evening. 

From the left: the Rev. Rebekah Hatch, the Rt. Rev. Anne Dyer, the Very Rev. Lynsay Downs, the Rt. Rev. Laura Ahrens, the Very Rev. Migulina Howell, and the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas.

And that, my dear siblings in Christ, was Saturday of Convention. Sunday consisted of a worship service with all of ECCT gathered at the convention center. And rather than another 1300 word blogalistic approach to that experience, I will offer you two things: a live-stream of the whole service and this Friday, the next episode of Coffee Hour at The Commons, which will be the sermon given by the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris. 

Go in peace. And also, excitement and joy.

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