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Episcopalians pass racial reconciliation resolutions, elect officers at churchwide convention in Baltimore

The Episcopal Church made good on vows by its leaders to take vigorous action against systemic racism, passing a number of resolutions aimed at promoting racial reconciliation — and electing minority candidates to two key churchwide positions — at its 80th general convention, a gathering of nearly 1,300 representatives that wrapped up its legislative duties Monday afternoon in Baltimore.

It took the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, the governing bodies of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., little time to give their overwhelming approval to what was perhaps the most widely publicized of the more than 400 resolutions it considered during the convention. Both voted to accept a proposal to set aside about $2 million a year to create a churchwide coalition for racial equality and justice.

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Made up of a voluntary association of Episcopal dioceses, organizations and individuals, the group is to “facilitate, coordinate, encourage, support and network” efforts in support of “racial justice and equity and the dismantling of white supremacy” inside and outside the church.

Once the coalition is formed, it is to be backed with a startup fund of $200,000 per year between now and 2024, when the 81st general convention is held in Louisville, Kentucky.

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The resolution is one of the more impactful measures church leaders have developed in recent years to compensate for the role its early leaders played in supporting and benefiting from slavery and the systems of racist oppression it helped entrench in American society.

Convention delegates — more than 100 bishops and about 1,200 clergy members and lay representatives from across the denomination ― also approved a resolution that would dedicate about $2.5 million over the next two years to create a task force further investigating the church’s association with Indigenous boarding schools in the United States.

The U.S. government, aided by several Christian denominations, created and operated hundreds of the schools between the 1860s and the 1960s, moving Native American children from their homes and families and to the schools to “civilize” them with Eurocentric educations. The Episcopal Church is believed to have had links to at least nine of the schools.

The call for greater diversity inside and outside the denomination also found expression in the election of officers. Voters elected Julia Ayala Harris, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Oklahoma, as president of the House of Deputies, and the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, a priest in the Diocese of Olympia in Washington state, as the body’s vice president.

Harris, who is Latina, and Taber-Hamilton, who is of Shackan First Nation ancestry, will become the first people of color serving together as leaders of the House of Deputies.

“This week, the Episcopal Church committed itself and its resources to the reckoning with its past in order to create a more just, inclusive, and authentic future,” Harris, 41, said in a sermon Monday — including the election of someone who grew up “a little brown girl” to one of its highest positions.

The delegates also approved the church’s proposed budget of $100.5 million for the next two years, passed a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and approved a measure calling for trial use of a revised liturgy for Good Friday services. The liturgy the church traditionally uses has long drawn criticism for its apparent suggestion that “the Jews” helped bring about the crucifixion of Jesus.

One question that sparked heated debate centered on where future conventions should be held. One resolution proposed that the church reconsider holding the next one in Louisville because abortion has been banned in Kentucky in the wake of last month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed abortion rights nationwide.

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The resolution, which would have directed the church not to hold future conventions in states where abortion is banned, was defeated in the House of Deputies, 408-377.

As legislative business drew to a close, the House of Bishops issued a statement naming “the climate crisis” as an overarching challenge that affects every social justice issue on which they acted over their four-day meeting.

The Episcopal Church encompasses 22 nations and territories; the vast majority of its members live in the United States.

The convention was a truncated version of what church leaders had originally planned. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, whose 10-year term as president of the House of Deputies ended Monday, ordered the assembly shortened from eight days to four due to concerns over a potential coronavirus outbreak.

Usually held every three years, the conventions have drawn as many as 10,000 attendees, including nonvoting observers. This year’s version, originally scheduled to take place in Baltimore last July, was postponed 12 months due to the severity of the coronavirus pandemic at the time.

Attendees were required to present proof of vaccination, take daily tests for the virus and wear masks indoors, among other precautions.

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As of Monday morning, 26 new cases of COVID-19 had been reported at the convention, according to Dr. Rodney Coldren, a former federal health official expert who helped craft safety protocols for the meeting. Coldren said that without the protective measures in place, he would have expected about three times that number of cases.


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