A few basics about organization
(Don't be upset if you already know this stuff—it's new to someone else in the room!)
The Episcopal Church, USA is divided into geographical areas called dioceses. Our diocese, The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, is the oldest one in the "wild west" on this side of the Alleghenies. We're 200+ years old (had to get special permission to become organized because we were so few and so spread out). Our diocese covers approximately the northern half of Ohio.
Mission Area Council (MAC)
In other places, this would be called a "Deanery." It is an informal association of several local parishes who send representatives to keep one another up to date and to share with outreach projects. Our rector, Rev. Kay N. Ashby, is the Dean. Members of the MAC are Grace, Mansfield; Harcourt Parish, Gambier; St. James, Wooster; St. Mark's, Shelby; St. Matthew's, Ashland, St. Paul's, Mount Vernon; and Tabor Cottage, Butler.
The representatives from our parish to the MAC are Ann Shelly (MAC Treasurer) and Curt Allen (MAC Secretary).
Each MAC sends a representative to the Diocesan Council. Our representative is Curt Allen.
Latest Diocesan Council information
The Diocesan Council met at Trinity Commons on Thursday, May 17.
The first half of the meeting was what I call B.B.I. material (Boring But Important): financial committee discussion, updates on loans and grants, and a quick update on the coming 79th General Convention. I took away four things:
- On the financial level, the diocese is doing OK. We are declining in number of parishes (two will cease fairly soon) and in membership, but the money projection for the coming year is exactly the same as what we got last year.
- The diocese has a fair amount of investment income, and we already avoid investing in tobacco, liquor, casinos, and for-profit prisons, but a committee is also working to seek out proactive investment opportunities: companies which actually work to make things better. A report on their findings will become available for individual parish members who want to configure their investment portfolios to become more proactive as well.
- Loan and grant money is available for parishes who really need it. It's not a total gift; the parish is expected to provide the majority of the money for a project, but help is available, even for fairly mundane items. One parish needed emergency roof repairs and another emergency parking lot repairs, and grants/loans were approved for both.
- This wasn't a topic of conversation, but I realized that St. Matthew's is in a much better position financially than many other parishes. We do not struggle to pay bills as many do.
The second half of the meeting was devoted to an initiative called Becoming Beloved Community. As a denomination and as a diocese, we are committed to working against racism, and this is our program for working toward that goal. An Anti-Racism Training program is already in place and clergy are already participating in that training.
At our previous Diocesan Council meeting, I raised a question about all this anti-racism training. According to the 2010 census, Ashland City is 95.8% white and Ashland County is 97.3% white. The obvious question, in an environment such as this, is why we should bother. The answer has two parts.
First, racism is a heart attitude, and one does not need to be standing next to a person of another race to be a racist. (If you think about it, a black or Hispanic person in a community which is 30% non-white will probably feel a lot less excluded than a black or Hispanic person in a community which is only 2.7% non-white, so there is a point to reaching out to our neighbors.)
Second, the shift from the negativity of being against something to the positive Becoming Beloved Community stressed our obligation to reach out to those who are dissimilar to ourselves—economic, social, education, etc. When a congregation consists of a group of people who are identical, something is missing.
Training events are already taking place at Bellwether Farm and will soon be announced for other locations.
The Bishop's Time was largely devoted to a report on Bellwether Farm. The summer camp will operate on a very reduced schedule this year, about two weeks, because we are still finding our way. Similarly, financial projections are all guesses because, as Bishop Hollingsworth said, "We are running by the seat of our pants." Construction all seems to be in place, however, and the farm is scheduled for several meetings and conferences (ECW and future Diocesan Council meetings, for example). There has been some discussion of acquiring a farm across the state highway, to be used for a sustainable agriculture program.