For 161 years, clergy and lay delegates from churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas have met for an annual convention in order to elect people to office, pass a budget and conduct other business. From the days of the Civil War, through economic recessions and depressions, even to times when the diocese was without a bishop, Diocesan Convention has continued, year after year.
On Oct. 24, in the midst of a pandemic that has required months largely without in-person church services or meetings, to protect the health of members and their communities, a convention still took place but in a format never seen before – a combination of small, in-person gatherings and individuals participating from home, all connected by video conferencing that also was livestreamed to YouTube.
Afternoon Session, including the convention Eucharist
About half of the 195 voting members chose to participate individually by Zoom video, with the rest meeting in a church in one of the 11 minsters. Everyone in those gatherings was required to wear a mask and to sit at least six feet away from others.
Rising levels of the coronavirus in four counties meant that representatives from churches in those counties were not able to be part of minster gatherings but participated from home.
Bishop Cathleen Bascom presided from one of the classrooms in the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, while other members of the diocesan staff ran various elements of the Zoom meeting from other locations in the diocesan offices.
In her address to the convention, the bishop said the theme, “joined and knitted together,” represented the way the meeting had to take place – people in various places joined together by online technology.
She then described the way the diocese has engaged in the past year with the Minister Project, which she described at the 2019 convention. Minsters are groups of churches that work together to enhance ministry by sharing resources and exploring needs in their respective neighborhoods.
Bishop Bascom, noting the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, said, “none of us could have imagined last year the challenges we have been through since last we met as a diocese.” But just as a knitted garment can stretch beyond its usual shape, “that is what has happened in the body of Christ in Kansas this year.”
In the early afternoon, all voting members was placed into an online breakout room, one for each minster location, with those at home joining the minister associated with their church. Groups then discussed a variety of action items proposed by the seven new diocesan task forces, with the goal of selected two or three for the coming year.
Introductions and presentations by video
Throughout the convention meeting, the work of youth, young adult and campus ministry, and the new Bethany House and Garden, were highlighted by videos, and the presentation of checks to the four outreach ministries receiving Alleluia Fund grants also took place by video:
- Trinity, Arkansas City, for a new Blanket Box Ministry
- Grace, Winfield, for a new Blanket Box Ministry
- St. Martin’s, Edwardsville, for its Hallelujah Trail
- St. Thomas’, Overland Park, for its Godly Play Giving Project
A special “Loaves and Fishes” Award went to St. Jude’s, Wellington, whose 2019 award for its Blanket Box Ministry inspired other such ministries this year.
Videos introduced delegates and clergy to those from the diocese who are attending either residential seminary or Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, the recently serving members of the Council of Trustees, delegates representing youth and campus, and members of the diocesan staff.
The annual awards also were presented via video:
- The Bishop’s Chair Award, given to a lay person for outstanding ministry: Stephan Mann, St. Luke’s, Shawnee and a member of the Council of Trustees
- The Canon’s Award, given to a priest for outstanding ministry: The Rev. Gar Demo, rector of St. Thomas’, Overland Park, and canon for congregational mission
- The Archdeacon’s Cross Award, given to a deacon for outstanding ministry: Deacon Jim Cummins, St. Francis’, Overland Park
The proceedings were streamed live to the diocese’s YouTube channel, and the concluding service of Holy Eucharist with Spiritual Communion, filmed at Grace Cathedral, also was posted there.
Results of convention business
The following people were elected to diocesan offices during the convention, using an online voting platform for the first time:
- Council of Trustees, at-large clergy member: the Rev. Ashley Mather, Grace Cathedral, Topeka
- Council of Trustees, at-large lay member: Diana Waddell-Gilbert, Good Shepherd, Wichita
- Disciplinary Board, clergy members, 1-year unexpired terms: the Rev. Christine Gilson, retired, and the Very Rev. Torey Lightcap, Grace Cathedral, Topeka
- Disciplinary Board, lay member, 1-year unexpired term: Jeff Ellis, St. Michael and All Angels, Mission
The convention also affirmed the election of new clergy members of the Council of Trustees from each of the diocese’s four convocations:
- Northeast: Deacon Jim Cummins, St. Francis’, Overland Park
- Northwest: The Rev. Greg Doll, St. Mark’s, Blue Rapids and St. Paul’s, Marysville
- Southeast: The Rev. Mary Schrom Breese, Epiphany, Sedan
- Southwest: The Rev. Andrew O’Connor, Good Shepherd, Wichita
The convention also adopted the proposed mission plan (budget) for 2021 in the amount of $1,923,187, along with a schedule of apportionment payments to come from each parish to help fund the plan.