Diocesan Convention in Rhode Island

It’s late, and I don’t…um…exactly know what I’m going to say in tomorrow’s sermon, so I won’t say much here beyond a quick narrative. However, I did promise a Convention report, so here goes.

Our day began with Holy Eucharist at 8:30 a.m. I never enjoy liturgies in hotel ballrooms, and this one fit into the pattern: nondescript rooms with poor lighting, wall-to-wall carpet, and a generally uninspiring space. I like music that’s either a cappella or accompanied by real, acoustic instruments. Faux pianos never quite do the trick. Still, there were good things. Our guest preacher was Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, from our newly linked companion diocese. He offered a sermon that was humorous and challenging. Perfect, actually, for the beginning of a Convention, reminding us of the church’s real mission. It was also nice to see our newest clergy assisting in the service, rather than the “usual suspects.”

We then moved to a legislative room for an interminable series of reports. Each one individually was fine, but — wow! — my brain turns to mush after eight reports on anything, no matter how good they are. I was pleased that the parish I serve was included in the Congregational Development Commission as an example of a parish that’s headed in the right direction. I hope our delegation was proud, since it’s the people of the church who are responding to God’s grace helping us to grow and flourish.

In Rhode Island we engage in what strikes me as an odd custom. We read a necrology of those who have died since the last convention. Every congregation can send as many names as they like. There were 246 names read out. While I applaud our recognition of the communion of saints, I can never quite figure out how this fits with Diocesan Convention. My official suggestion for next year: let’s read out the names of those who have been baptized since the last convention — the newest saints.

After noonday prayer and lunch, there were hearings on the resolutions. For complicated reasons having to do with espresso, comfortable chairs in the lobby, and good conversation, I cannot report on the hearings here. Following hearings, we resumed our legislative session with consideration of five resolutions. We quickly — without any debate or even audible “no” votes — passed three resolutions on immigration. The most assertive of them criticizes our governor’s crackdown on immigrants. There was much (annoying) discussion on process related to a resolution on disaster preparedness, but it finally passed. Lastly, we approved a resolution asking us to undertake a look at the ways in which the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island benefited from the slave trade in the 19th century.

After the obligatory courtesy resolution affirming our love of our bishop, apple pie, puppies, and flowers, we finished up at about 2:30. It was an OK, if uninspiring day. My goal is to be part of a Diocesan Convention one day that helps to recharge people’s spirits. I hope we might take note of some Conventions from places where this happens. Thoughts, dear readers?

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9 Responses

  1. Steven says:

    I have several well tested antidotes
    1) Several NYT crosswords, preferably Friday or Saturday
    2) Fully charged laptop with screen privacy filter
    3) Friendly nickel bets on how many times the speaker will use the latest buzz words in a given amount of time

  2. Jon says:

    Your convention only lasts one day? If so consider yourself lucky, in my diocese it takes all weekend (except when it starts on Thur. night, then it ends on Sat.). Even with spending more time it’s all reports with a few videos telling folks about what’s going on in the other parishes in the diocese.


  3. Catherine says:

    You failed to mention the great powerpoints!!!

    Actually I have been thinking about what would make a convention more productive. So I had a thought. After the Bishop’s Address – where she pokes us with the end of her crosier and tells us things like we have sufficient resources to do what God calls us to do – (we all certainly have more than the disciples at our disposal), that we sit down and discuss this and create “take-aways” for ourselves. Listening to fabulous CD committee reports,great sermons and great addresses doesn’t leave us wanting to do anything, but having some type of discussion following any one of these items could really create space for the Holy Spirit to operate.

  4. Bill Locke says:

    I’ve heard that those courtesy resolutions were just wonderfully read; presentation is everything.

    Catherine – the powerpoints were well done; thanks for your good work.

    How DO we make this an energizing time for our life as a diocese? Good presentations, challenging questions/discussions, our own attitudes as we come to Convention… I miss the dinner/social time. Surely we can handle gathering twice a year for dinner and connecting as the Episcopalian people of God.

    Bill Locke

  5. Susan Wright says:

    I don’t know if others would find this interesting, but I would have like to find out more about a diocesan commission or two; clergy may already know about all this. But I would have like to have met the members of various commissions and learned about the commission’s focus and how I might fit in to one.

    I also like Catherine’s idea of bringing something away with us to share with our parishes. We at Ascension did end up sharing our insights, ideas, energy and inspiration with the folks who came to our adult forum Sunday morning. THis resulted in a pretty good discussion on mission and ministry, generating some new ideas and excitement.

  6. Dee Tavolaro says:

    I would like to second the thoughts of the Good Dean of the Blackstone Deanery – I too miss the dinner. The time to converse with one another about the challenges and successes we all face in our individual parishes.

    Catherine – as always wonderful job on the tech stuff.

    How do we take away the stigma of Diocesan Convention. The whole, “let me make sure I have a sharp stick with me to get through convention” sets the stage to have a discouraging time at convention.

    Maybe it is time to recreate Diocesan Convention. I know it is a business event, but business as usual doesn’t seem to be working.

    The question we need to answer is the same question we are called to in our parish life. How do we combat the idea and practice of, “But this is the way we’ve always done it!”?

  7. Scott Gunn says:

    It seems to me that the recent approach to Convention planning has been “less is more.” The goal is to do the necessary work in the minimum amount of time. I think that’s about 180 degrees wrong.

    The goal of Diocesan Convention should be the strengthen the mission and ministry of the Diocese. Sure, we have some business to conduct. But we also have lives to transform and ministers to empower. It seems to me that we need to focus on doing things richly, not quickly.

    Just because we have a Convocation in the spring does not mean that we should have a minimalist Convention.

    Personally, I’d like to see the dinner return. We don’t have enough fellowship in our Diocese, so the dinner is essential. I’d like to see a festival Eucharist — in a church — with massed choirs, glorious processions, and the whole nine yards. This service should be the sort of thing that we’d invite folks from our congregations to attend and it would amaze and delight them — and remind them that we are part of a celebrating Diocese.

    We need to receive more reports — from Diocesan Council and all the Commissions of the Diocese — in writing, ahead of time. Perhaps we’d have breakout sessions where someone who is interested in the Commission on Ministry could go and learn about their work.

    We also need to make sure we’re following our own rules. We’ve gotten pretty loose lately with canons and rules of order. That does not set a good example for our congregations. The Bishop asked for financial transparency in our congregations; the Diocese should model this by distributing full financial reports to Convention delegates. As a member of Diocesan Council, I see these reports regularly, but everyone should be able to see them (on the website and in print for delegates).

    OK, enough from me. What do others think?


  8. Barbara Mays-Stock says:

    Hi Scott,

    Well, that has to be the best report of any Convention that I ‘ve ever seen! Funny and just the right amount of pique!

    Actually, all the conventions that I have been to over the years have the Necrology, so I didn’t know that it was optional. I’ll bring it back to the debriefing. Yes, I agree that reading all those reports is a great antidote to sleep deprivation, but what can we do? And anyway, I know you really live for this!! LOL

    I also agree that written reports are better, and I really like the part about the Convention being about ministry and transformation. So, want to join the committee? I think I have the power to knight you.

    It was nice to see you there. Enjoy being the Great Pumpkin tonight!

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