The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio is getting ready for its annual convention, to be held in Toledo for the first time in 10 years.
Unlike some Episcopal meetings, the Toledo gathering should slip under the media radar with no controversial issues on the agenda.
A group of about 30 clergy and lay delegates from northwest Ohio, bearing 93-page handbooks filled with pie charts and proposals, met last week in the basement cafeteria of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in West Toledo to discuss plans for the convention on Friday and Saturday.
"We're beginning the process to get ready for convention. I'm not going to pretend to get you ready in an hour," said the Rev. Bradford Purdom III, the Cleveland-based canon for congregations.
Approximately 500 people, including 400 voting delegates, are registered for the diocese's 194th annual convention, which will be at the Crowne Plaza. The diocese has about 19,000 members and 88 parishes in 48 northern Ohio counties.
Delegates will vote on several proposals for minor changes in church canons, budget and business resolutions, and proposals expressing support for immigration reform, food security for the poor, and an end to racism. Unlike at some mainline Protestant conventions of recent years, no votes are scheduled on the hot-button issue of homosexuality.
Mr. Purdom asked delegates if they believed it was appropriate to debate and approve social-justice resolutions at a church convention, and whether they believed such resolutions have an impact outside the church walls.
The response was mixed.
One delegate said it was important for Christians to lead the way on matters of social justice.
But another wondered whether a state legislator really cares what the Ohio diocese says about immigration and other issues.
The Rev. Kelly O'Connell, rector of St. Mark's Church in the Old West End, said a resolution's good intentions can get left behind when delegates head home.
For example, she said, she was part of a team that developed a parish-based curriculum following the approval at a recent convention of a resolution opposing human trafficking. But no churches used the curriculum.
"We spent hours and hours on that, and I feel like it dropped into nowhere," Ms. O'Connell said.
One financial resolution set for a vote this year would result in a major change in how parish assessments to the diocese are calculated. Currently, a formula is used that gradually raises the assessment percentage for higher levels of parish budgets. The resolution would set a straight 10 percent "tithe" of a church's "Normal Operating Expenses."
An unofficial straw poll of the local delegates showed they overwhelmingly opposed that resolution, voting 28-1 against.
Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., who was consecrated in April, 2004, as the 11th bishop of Ohio, said in an interview with The Blade last week that "it is important for dioceses to review practices and policies of assessment and corporate giving, and this is one of the ways we do it - through convention as well as finance committees. But I don't know if this resolution will result in a change in the assessment."
He said the annual convention is a time of special opportunity for the church. "I always look forward to gathering at convention, having the chance for the lay and clergy leaders of the diocese to listen to one another and discern together where God's calling us to serve as a church," Bishop Hollingsworth said. "And I'm looking forward to being in Toledo."
On Friday night, he will ordain two men as deacons in a ceremony scheduled at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown. "The deacons inspire and encourage all of us to vocation and servanthood in the church," the bishop said.
The Ohio diocese realigned its deaneries, or regional bodies, into 10 "mission areas," over the last few years, Bishop Hollingsworth said.
He said he wants to learn if the realignment is accomplishing the goal of increased collaboration.
The Ohio diocese also will elect clergy and lay delegates to the denomination's next General Convention, set for July, 2012, in Indianapolis.
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