151st Diocesan Conventionby Pete Alexander and Lisa Yocum on February 23, 2023
We had an opportunity to represent St. Margaret’s at Diocesan Convention and we are both very grateful for the opportunity. The Opening Worship was held at Trinity Cathedral at 6:00 p.m. Friday night February 17th, and the Very Rev. Amy Meaux the Dean of the Cathedral greeted everyone at the doors of “our Cathedral”. The service was Evening Prayer with Holy Communion and was Rite 1. It had been a while since I attended a Rite 1 service, and it reminded me of the history of our liturgy. The music at the service was exceptional, it included O Gracious Light, The Song of Mary and the Song of Simeon and was led by Dr. Colin MacKnight, Director of Music/Organist, Trinity Cathedral. The Gospel reading was Mark, 12:28-34 and the Rt. Rev Larry Benfield, Bishop of Arkansas gave a sermon about Jesus’ response to the question, “Which commandment is the first of all”? Bishop Benfield shared the importance loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. A special offertory was taken to benefit an organization to be decided during the Convention. The evening was concluded with a warm reception at Chancellors Hall.
The Convention kicked off at 7:30 am Saturday at the Episcopal Collegiate Lower School with exhibits from Christian opportunities like Episcopal Service Corp and Prison Ministries. A light breakfast was served that allowed for catching up with friends from the Diocese. The business session commenced promptly at 9 am to a packed room of tables that held the representatives from various congregations. We sat with a group from Trinity Church Van Buren. Throughout the day, there were three worship sessions lead by various members of the Diocese to ground the attendees. The Bishop introduced the members of various committees and commissions and obtained concurrence of new appointments as required. From St. Margaret’s, The Rev. Mary Vano serves as the Chair of the Commission on Ministry, John Adams is a member of the Commission on Ministry, and John Allison serves on the Commission on Church Architecture and Allied Arts. The Church of South Sudan received a grant from the Keller Fund for Mission based on a relationship between the Bishops that began at the Lambeth Conference, and international conference of Anglican Bishops.
After a break, the delegates voted for the nominees for Diocesan Committees and Boards. The Bishop communicated a proposed change to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church that would change the definition of the Prayer Book. This change will have to be approved twice and communicated to church at Diocesan Conferences between General Conventions. Thomas Alexander, Seminarian shared that the change would simplify trials of new liturgy and allow the General Convention to make changes without opening the entire Book of Common Prayer for revision. The delegates also voted on a proposed canonical change to establish a 501c3 to operationalize Camp Mitchell. The Special Nominating Committee for the Bishop’s election recommended a canonical change that would revise the process of nominating candidates from the floor.
After the voting, several presentations were made that included a Camp Mitchell update from Rebecca Roetzel, who previously worked at Ferncliff and Heifer Ranch. Rebecca shared her love of Camp and described herself as a Camp Kid. She characterized Camp Mitchell as “hallowed ground” and shared her vision of making it a “place of shared space”. Her report highlighted a lot of opportunities for everyone. The Episcopal Church Women honored the Rev. Joanna Siebert, MD as the Outstanding Woman of the Diocese. Joanna received a standing ovation from the Convention. Jerry Adams gave a heartfelt presentation about the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SEFT) and how the recent earthquake has increased the need for help even more. The Convention later awarded the offerings collected Friday night to the SEFT.
A sit-down lunch was served to the attendees giving everyone more time to meet the participants from their table and at the conference. After lunch, a Diocesan financial report was given. The Diocese ended 2022 with $114K surplus. After continued support to Camp Mitchell, St. Francis House and other programs like the Intern Curacy Grants, the Diocese is budgeting a small deficit that will be covered by reserves. The conference wrapped up with several proclamations ranging from support of Bishop Benfield and outgoing Chancellor Cannon John Tisdale to a proposal to reduce the percentage given to the Episcopal Church. Bishop Benfield was given standing ovations on three separate occasions for his leadership of the Diocese over the last 17 years. The Convention will reconvene on August 19th, 2023, at Trinity Cathedral to vote for the new Bishop. The next Diocesan Convention will be held February 16 and 17, 2024.