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Reports

Bishop’s Address

October 17, 2020
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Ph.D.
Bishop Diocesan

Last year in my address to our 235th Annual Convention I spoke about how God is calling us to embrace this “new missional age” as a time of change and opportunity. Little did I, or any of us for that matter, know when I spoke to you on October 26th, 2019 how our world was going to change in 2020. None of us could have imagined how the realities of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, white supremacy, and anti-Black bias in our nation would so unalterably affect, and infect, our lives since we last met in Convention. Added to these twin pandemics is the unprecedented increase of wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South, brought on by the specter of global warming, even as we are living through one of the most divisive and acrimonious political seasons that any of us can remember. And underneath these crises and challenges is the insecurity and volatility of the financial markets, the loss of businesses and rise of unemployment, and the threat of economic collapse. Could any of us have imagined we would be in such a state as we are in now? What is our vocation as Christians, as a church, in this unforeseen time?

Here we are this morning, in a completely online Convention, living in the midst of these challenging times that none of us could have conceived. And yet I believe that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has been preparing us for the challenges of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias. For we in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, in our ongoing faithfulness to God’s mission or restoration and reconciliation, have been open to and embracing of the changes and opportunities God has put before us over the last decade. And, as a result, I believe that we, Episcopalians in Connecticut, have never been better prepared to be about God’s mission in Jesus than we are now! The Holy Spirit has indeed been leading us into God’s future, and that future is now!

One way that God has been leading us into God’s future that is now, is how our parishes are open to embracing new models of clergy and lay leadership. On numerous occasions I have pointed out that ten years ago, approximately 40% of our parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut were served by part-time clergy. Today the number of parishes that have, or are seeking, part-time clergy is 94 out of a total 155 parishes. That is 61% of our parishes being served or searching for part-time clergy. Given these changes, it was evident that old models of parish leadership and liturgical life that presupposed that each parish needed to have a full-time clergy person had to change dramatically. The Rev. Canon Lee Ann Tolzmann, our Canon for Mission Leadership, spent her last sabbatical imagining how clergy and lay leaders could work together in new ways to support parishes in these changing circumstances. Her recommendations, in a paper titled “Transition is the New Normal,” was presented to the clergy of the diocese at a Clergy Day on February 22, 2020 (three short weeks before we were all shut down by COVID-19).[1] In “Transition is the New Normal,” lay leaders are called to take their rightful place as licensed lay ministers providing for worship leadership, preaching, pastoral care, and evangelism; and lay leaders have stepped up in incredible and profound ways since March 2020. Thanks be to God. “Transition is the New Normal” has prepared us to embrace new models of parish leadership and liturgical life that are crucial for living in this time of COVID-19 and well beyond.

In a similar way, over the last year we have witnessed the impressive ways that our parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut have embraced the digital landscape. In online worship, virtual choirs, zoom coffee-hours, and vestry meetings, we are all learning how to adapt to our ever-evolving communications environment. Even before COVID-19 struck, our new Canon for Mission Communications and Media, Jasree Peralta, was hard at work envisioning how we might better tell the stories of God in the people, parishes, and Regions of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. To that end, our ECCT Communications and Media department decided to use the resources previously dedicated to publish CRUX, our annual diocesan-wide hard copy magazine distributed at Convention, to support a more robust digital storytelling platform through multiple online venues including: our podcast Coffee Hour at the Commons, our biweekly blog ECCT Stories, and more digital content, like audio/video interviews and special features, to be available on a newly designed ECCT website planned for spring 2021. This move to a more robust digital platform centered on the sharing of our stories was planned well before COVID-19 drove us all to the “land of zoom,” and is yet another way the Holy Spirit was leading us into God’s future that is now.

You will see in the budget that is coming before us this morning a newly designed and formatted Budget of Convention. The new budget is much more accessible, transparent, and aligned with the ministries that we participate in through our Common Mission Support. If you compare the proposed 2021 budget with the 2020 budget passed by Convention last year, gone are the untitled “Schedules” many of which had long ago fallen into abeyance. Instead what you shall see in the budget coming before us today are clearly marked areas of ministry that reliably reflect our common life. In addition, the budget has been reformatted from 654 line-items and 13 pages to 278 line-items and 6 pages for ease of reading, greater transparency, and clear alignment with our commitments in God’s mission. These changes were a long-time coming and were brought about by the dedication and hard work of our Canon for Mission Finance and Operations, Rosanna Rosado, her incredible finance team, and the Finance Committee of the Mission Council. Thank you all.

I believe that God has been preparing us for the future that is now through the Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age initiative that we embraced, starting in 2019. The purpose of the Joining Jesus initiative wasto develop spiritual and financial resources across the parishes of the diocese to help us engage more faithfully with the changes in the world around us. Working with missiologist Alan Roxburgh of The Missional Network, initially teams from ten parishes and our Cathedral were coached in the spiritual practices of: listening to God in scripture and in our neighborhoods, discerning what God might be calling us to do next, trying on experiments that open us up to God in new ways, reflecting on what God has revealed to us in the experiments, and then deciding about how God wants us to be different in the midst of the changes we are experiencing. Nine parishes have continued to walk this journey of discovery together. They include: Trinity/Brooklyn, St. Peter’s/Cheshire, Christ Church/Easton, St. John’s/Essex, Grace/Hartford, Trinity/Torrington (which also includes members from St. Paul’s/Bantam and St. Michael’s/Litchfield) and St. John’s/Vernon. The spiritual practices of listening, discerning, trying on, reflecting and deciding have not been restricted, however, to these nine parishes, but rather they have infused our life across the Regions of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and also in the leadership bodies of our diocese. Our Canon for Mission Collaboration, Tim Hodapp, working with Alan Roxbough, have now expanded the discipline of the five spiritual practices to assist parish leadership in addressing the twin pandemics through a new offering called Leading Out of the Crisis, which will be available to all lay and ordained leaders in ECCT. I believe that our embrace of the five spiritual practices of listening, discerning, trying on, reflecting and deciding fostered by Joining Jesus in a new Missional Age has uniquely positioned us to be about God’s mission in these changing and challenging times. Our embrace of the five spiritual practices have indeed prepared us for God’s future that is now!

The other side of the Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age initiative has been raising up financial resources at the parish and diocesan level for new engagement in God’s mission. With the assistance of CCS Consulting, paid for by the resources of the Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (our diocesan endowments), over 550 individuals and 13 parishes have participated directly in the Joining Jesus fundraising initiative. Here I want to extend a profound debt of gratitude to these individuals and parishes that have given so generously to this fundraising initiative. And I also want to give a huge shout out to Tiffany Reed of CCS Consulting who has worked tirelessly and faithfully in our midst for over 2 ½ years, helping to raise funds for parish and diocesan projects. And God has richly blessed our efforts!

You might recall from my Convention Address last year that in 2019, the initial pilot phase of fundraising, six small to medium sized parishes (who otherwise might not have had the capacity to undertake a parish campaign had it not been for the Joining Jesus initiative) raised $2,100,000 for new parish projects. Added to that were pledges and gifts of close to $900,000 from additional individuals to support four diocesan-wide projects; for a total of $3 million new dollars raised in 2019 for God’s mission across Connecticut.

Given the success of the 2019 pilot phase of the Joining Jesus fund-raising initiative, your Mission Council, acting as the Board of the Missionary Society for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, chose to engage Tiffany Reed and CCS for an additional year of fundraising assiatnce in 2020. Initially 9 parishes stepped forward to undertake parish-based fundraising initiatives in 2020. Little did we know, however, that the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, white Supremacy and anti-Black bias in our nation would affect and infect our lives so dramatically this year. As a result, two parishes, that had not yet started their campaigns, chose not to continue after the March COVID-19 shutdown. Seven parishes though, trusting in God’s leading and providence, decided to continue on, pivoting completely to online fund-raising efforts. These 7 parishes were: St. James/Danbury, Christ Church/Easton, St. Andrew’s/Madison, St. Peter’s/Milford, St. Mark’s/Mystic, St. Paul’s/Shelton, and St. Paul’s/Wallingford. And God has blessed their faithfulness and their efforts. Together they have raised $3,100,000 for parish projects. Added to this are new individual gifts and pledges to diocesan-wide projects of close to one million dollars. In other words, the Joining Jesus fundraising initiative in 2020 has raised $4,100,000 dollars, (3 million dollars of which have been raised since the March 1 COVID-19 shutdown!)

What we have accomplished together over the last two years in the Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age fundraising initiative has been phenomenal. In total, we have raised over $7,100,000 dollars for new enterprises in God’s mission across Connecticut.

The strategy of the Joining Jesus fundraising initiative presupposed that parishes would contribute 20% of the money they raised to one or more of four diocesan-wide projects, as chosen by the parish leadership. These projects grew out of a Needs Assessment done across the six Regions of our diocese in 2018 and included: an entrepreneurial fund to resource new undertakings in each of our six Regions; support for new intentional Christian communities, such as college chaplaincies and young adult service corps; the redevelopment of our Cathedral into a flexible, multi-purpose space to serve ECCT and the wider community; and enhancement of Camp Washington’s facilities as a resource for Christian formation for all ages. Recognizing the need for additional funds to assist Episcopalians in Connecticut in our efforts to dismantle racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias, in the summer of 2020 the Advisory Committee of the Joining Jesus fundraising initiative added a fifth diocesan wide project called “Becoming the Beloved Community” to undergird our diocesan anti-racism efforts. (I’ll say a bit more about this fifth project in a moment.) Taken together, parish and individual contributions to the five diocesan-wide projects total just over $2,900,000 and are distributed as the following:

  • Region Entrepreneurial Fund: $830,000
  • New Christian Communities: $180,000
  • Cathedral Redevelopment: $1,200,000
  • Camp Washington Enhancements: $580,000
  • Becoming the Beloved Community: anti-racism efforts: $110,000

While raising over 7.1 million dollars in less than two years, with almost $3,000,000 going towards the five projects that support all the parishes and Regions in the diocese is noteworthy, perhaps the most significant accomplishments of the Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age fundraising initiative are: 1) we in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, even in the midst of the twin-pandemics, are looking forward in God’s mission with hope and trust in the love of Jesus, and 2) we have undertaken this fundraising initiative together resulting in a new culture of, and capacity for, philanthropy across the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. With these new resources the future for our work together in God’s mission is now!

This year we in the United States, especially white America, have been waking up from the intoxicating ignorance and perverse privilege of white supremacy. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have laid bare the reality that America’s original sin of slavery continues to infect our lives in the death-dealing realities of racism, white supremacy, and anti-Black bias. As followers/disciples of Jesus – God incarnate, the who came to overcome the sin and separation that alienate us from God and one another – we affirm that each person is uniquely created in the image of God. As apostles of God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation, it is our God-given vocation to dismantle racism, white supremacy, and anti-Black bias in our own hearts, in our church, and in our nation.

We in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, in our faithfulness and trust in God’s leading, committed ourselves to the work of dismantling racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias long before Ahmaud, Breonna, and George were killed. In 2017, this Convention passed the resolution “Affirming Racial Reconciliation” calling on our diocesan leaders to “study and witness to the impact of the sin of racism on our common life.[2] As a direct result of the 2017 resolution, our 2018 Annual Convention passed a further resolution: “Affirming Racial Justice, Healing, and Racial Reconciliation.” This far-reaching resolution invited parishes and diocesan leadership to take specific steps during a two-year Season of Racial Healing, Justice and Reconciliation in order to “encourage and enable congregations to begin opening hearts and minds; recognizing the reality of white supremacy and bias against people of color; and awakening Episcopalians in Connecticut to the need for concerted action to address the ongoing injustice of the racial divide.”[3] Much has been accomplished over the last two years in our nascent steps to address the sins of racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias in our midst, thanks to the faithfulness and leadership of the Racial Healing, Justice and Reconciliation Ministry Network and the good work of our Racial Justice Resource Coordinator, Kelli Ray Gibson. But there is so much more we need to do.

Coming before us today is an even more robust resolution brought to us by our Racial, Healing, Justice and Reconciliation Ministry Network: “Resolution #7 – Acknowledging and Confronting Systemic Racism, White Supremacy, and Anti-Black Bias.” This resolution, which I whole-heartedly support, challenges our parishes and our whole diocese to go even further in our anti-racism efforts. It calls on parish and diocesan leadership to undertake specific anti-racism training programs; directs parishes and worshipping communities to discover and document historic racism in their congregations and communities as well as to report on their ongoing participation in racial healing, justice, and reconciliation efforts; and creates a task force to look into the possibilities of reparations. The resolution also invites Bishop Laura and me to focus on dismantling racism, white supremacy, and anti-Black bias in our visitations (which we have already begun to do) and calls on me to create a senior diocesan staff position with appropriate funding to advance all of these efforts. To that end you will see that the budget that is coming before us has a new ministry area of Racial Justice and Reconciliation with $150,000 set aside for anti-racism training and consultation. In addition, while our budget does not provide for a new a senior staff person, I plan to appoint a new Canon for Racial Justice and Reconciliation in mid-2021, when we have a transition and shift in portfolios among our current team of canons. The future is now in our commitment to dismantle racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias!

Before I end my address, I want to give each and every person who is part of this Convention the opportunity to participate in the Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age initiative and advance our efforts to dismantle racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias by making a gift/pledge, right here and right now. If each person on this zoom webinar made a gift/pledge of $100 a year for five years to the “Becoming the Beloved Community” project, our diocese would gain an additional $300,000 to assist with our anti-racism efforts. So please consider making a pledge of $100 a year for the next five years, or a one-time gift of whatever you and your household are able to offer. And if you can give more than $100 a year for five years, we hope you will consider doing so.  There is so much work for us to do. To make a pledge or gift, go to the Joining Jesus webpage at www.episcopalct.org/joining-jesus/ right now and hit the “Give Now” button. Take this opportunity to participate in our collective ongoing work of becoming the beloved Community. I will give us a minute now to make a gift/pledge. After you have made your pledge, please write in the zoom chat function that you have made a pledge so that we can all support one another in our giving and efforts towards becoming the beloved community. Thank you so much.

Companions in Christ, the future that God has been calling us to, God’s future, is here and now! We, in God’s providence, have been preparing for this challenging time brought on by the twin-pandemics of COVID-19, and racism, white supremacy, and anti-Black bias, for years – even if we did not know it. The changes that we have been about for some time, led by the Holy Spirit, have formed us to be the Church that God wants us, and needs us, to be in the midst of these twin pandemics. Our efforts together to: support lay leadership, develop new forms of communication, raise up spiritual and financial resources through the Joining Jesus in a New Missional Age initiative, and dismantle racism, white supremacy and anti-Black bias, have empowered us for a time like this. Let us be the agents of Jesus’s transforming love and grace that the world, our nation, and our neighborhoods are so much in need of. God’s future is now, and we are called and empowered to be about God’s new creation. Thanks be to God!


[1] See Canon Tolzmann’s address at the Clergy Day here: https://www.episcopalct.org/video-gallery/transition-is-the-new-normal-for-all-of-us/  and the paper:  “Transition is the New Normal” is here:  https://www.episcopalct.org/Customer-Content/www/CMS/files/TINN_Official.pdf

[2] https://www.episcopalct.org/FileRepository/DownloadFile.aspx?FileID=1628

[3] https://www.episcopalct.org/FileRepository/DownloadFile.aspx?FileID=1696