More than 550 Meet via Zoom for Diocese’s First Online Convention

The Diocese of Chicago has held 183 annual conventions, but the one that took place on November 21 was the first to happen online.

Using the webinar setting in Zoom videoconferencing software, more than 550 clergy and lay delegates debated resolutions, reviewed the $4.97 million budget and listened to Bishop Jeff Lee’s final diocesan convention address.

The diocese will meet again via Zoom on December 12 to elect its next bishop.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the diocese to hold its convention online, “has revealed the fragility of jobs and money and access to healthcare … amplified the ravages of institutional racism … [and] thrown into even starker relief the chaos and rancor and deceptions of our political life,” Lee told the convention, which had more than 80 viewers watching on YouTube. “In all of this I hope we are also rediscovering what is absolutely essential to our identity as Christians.”

“[W]e will all be judged, not for what theological positions we have held, not because of our many splendid churchy accomplishments and achievements, not because of our religious feelings or pious thoughts,” said Lee, whose address was given during morning prayer as a sermon on the conclusion of the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. “No, the text says, we goats and the sheep will be distinguished simply because of what we have done, how we have responded to the needs, the hopes and the heartaches of our fellow human beings.”

Before debating legislation that included three resolutions related to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the convention heard a report on the challenging budgetary landscape the diocese is facing from the Rev. Courtney Reid, director of operations, and the Rev. Dr. Jane A. Clark, chair of Diocesan Council’s budget committee. (A narrative budget and a budget summary are available online.)

“Largely due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our churches and our members, we are budgeting a 15 percent decrease in … pledges [from congregations to the diocese] for 2021,” Reid said.

The pandemic has accelerated a recent trend in which congregational giving accounts for a diminishing share of the diocesan budget. In 2008, the “common mission share” accounted for 74 percent of the diocesan budget. Next year it will account for 48 percent.

Income from the diocesan endowment ($165,000), the Bishop’s Appeal ($114,000) and the newly developed Fund for the Episcopacy ($75,000) account for an increasing share of the budget. But, as in seven of the last nine years, the diocese will rely on an unsustainable draw on the Bishop’s Funds—a collection of funds to aid the diocese, its congregations and agencies, established in 1853—to cover its operating deficit.

Draws on the Bishop’s Funds were 11.4 percent in 2019, and 20 percent this year. The budget projects a 23.8 percent drawn next year. “At the rate we are going, funds will be depleted by 2025,” Reid said.

Relief, however, may be in sight, she added.

In September, the Bishop and Trustees announced that it intends to offer the diocesan headquarters at 65 East Huron Street in Chicago for sale next year “to create a significant fund to invigorate mission and ministry for years to come,” Reid said. “This sale would bring financial security and opportunities for ministry that our lack of a historic endowment has previously limited.”

The legislative agenda for convention was set in large measure by the diocese’s Peace and Justice Committee, which submitted three resolutions linked to the conflict in the Holy Land. (Read the resolutions as passed or rejected.)

A resolution rejecting Christian Zionism passed with more than 90 percent of the vote. Among other things, it calls on the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to “not only reject the theology of Christian Zionism which is inherently antisemitic” but to “condemn the political policy positions that it sponsors and financially supports, which include Israel’s expansion across the entire land of Palestine-Israel and the displacement of the Palestinian people…”

A resolution asking the Episcopal Church to call on Congress and the president “to oppose legislation that penalizes or criminalizes support for nonviolent boycotts on behalf of Palestinian human rights” also passed with 90 percent of the vote.

The convention balked, however, at a resolution asking the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to recognize that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people “corresponded to the definitions of apartheid elaborated in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and set out in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

The resolution also asked the church to ask the U. S. government to withhold military funding from Israel “until Israel eliminates apartheid laws, respects Palestinian human rights, and stops violating international law.” It was defeated after several speakers said the use of the word apartheid was inflammatory and imprecise, and that the resolution would complicate the ministry of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The vote was 58 percent to 42 percent.

Convention approved a $10,000 seed grant to the Community Purchasing Alliance, which describes itself as “a buying cooperative serving schools, churches, and other mission-oriented property owners.” Supporters said the grant would not only “put economic justice at the center of our procurement processes,” by working through businesses owned by people of color, but also help save the diocese money.

The resolution that underwent most intense debate regarded clergy compensation. The initial resolution setting minimum compensation for full-time clergy at $47,800 if housing and utilities are provided by the church, and $65,600 if they are not, was defeated on a 52-48 percent vote, largely because it set no minimums for part-time clergy or lay employees. A motion to reconsider passed with 57 percent of the vote, after which the original resolution was amended twice.

The convention eventually passed a resolution that set the original minimums for full-time clergy and extended those minimums—calculated proportionally by hour—to part-time clergy. The resolution, which passed with 74 percent of the vote, also established a task force to consider minimum compensation standards for part-time clergy and lay employees.

The convention elected the Rev. Miguel Briones and Toni Daniels to the Standing Committee and the Rev. Amity Carrubba, James Barrett, Michael Mattson and Robert Neal to Bishop and Trustees. With the concurrence of the convention, Bishop Lee made numerous appointments to diocesan bodies including, Diocesan Council and the Commission on Ministry, which are available online.

In one of its numerous courtesy resolutions, the convention thanked the Rev. Greg Millikin and Stephen Buzard and their team for the artful, prayerful worship services on the evening of November 20, and the morning of convention

The diocese will convene on Zoom webinar on December 12 at 9:30 am to elect the thirteenth bishop of Chicago.

“I have loved this diocese for a long time — long before I could ever have imagined being called to serve it as its bishop,” Lee said in his final convention address. “Some of the most important spiritual friends and mentors in my life were formed by the Diocese of Chicago. And my love for this church, this diocese, has only grown and deepened over the last twelve years. You have taught me more than I could have imagined about the extravagant, tender, fierce, transforming love of God.”