It is back to school season! I hope you and your loved ones have had a restful and rejuvenating summer. We had an engaging and fruitful General Convention where as a Church we studied, deliberated, took decisive action and worshipped for about eleven days basking in the warm hospitality of the Bishop and saints of the Diocese of Utah in Salt Lake City and, significantly, the leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the clear highpoints of Convention was when we elected our next Presiding Bishop, Michael Bruce Curry. Our hearts were overflowing with joy that we are a vibrant church with a great sense of hope to grow the “Jesus Movement,” as he fondly refers to it. While we are sorry he is unable to join us for our Diocesan Convention this year due to his newly inherited calendar, we are thrilled that he will be with us next year at our Convention for a visit extended over a week! More details on this later.
While we must wait for Bishop Michael to join us, we will not wait to thoughtfully engage the issue of racial reconciliation now, at Convention, and beyond. A letter from the Presiding Officers of the Episcopal Church encourages us to observe Sunday, September 6, in a significant way: “Racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement and action is a top priority of the Episcopal Church in the upcoming triennium. Participating in “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” on September 6 is just one way that we Episcopalians can undertake this essential work. Our history as a church includes atrocities for which we must repent, saints who show us the way toward the realm of God, and structures that bear witness to unjust centuries of the evils of white privilege, systemic racism, and oppression that are not yet consigned to history. We are grateful for the companionship of the AME Church and other partners as we wrestle with our need to repent and be reconciled to one another and to the communities we serve.”
After a grueling schedule at General Convention, we took some time off as a family for some exploration of natural parks in Utah. I then took some time off to visit my mother in India, which was a treat in itself. I did (almost!) everything she wanted me to do and took her everywhere she wanted to go. She set me up to preaching in my mother tongue, Tamil, at the Church of South India parish in Kalliancaud, a church that my maternal grandfather helped found. It was a treat and quite amazing to worship with eight hundred people at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning! Religion is different in the south – even in India! This congregation currently supports 64 missionaries, by itself!
Summer has also offered us the opportunity to continue important work within our diocese. Over the past few months we have had several initiatives of thoughtful engagement. These have included issues such as health insurance, staffing assessment (I will have information on this next week), stewardship of 935 East Ave., a rural health mission in Belmont, and more. A brief summary on each of these engagements would be in order:
The Health Insurance Task Force completed its work in early June and Diocesan Council, Human Resources Committee and I have received their recommendations. The key recommendations that Council has incorporated into the proposed 2016 Diocesan Budget are:
Offering a choice of three Cigna Dental plans through the Church Medical Trust for 2016, allowing participants to tailor coverage to their needs (only pay for what you use).
- Increasing equity by providing the same dental benefits to all eligible employees (clergy & lay receive the same benefit).
- Reducing both administrative costs and the risk associated with managing a self-insured dental plan.
- Expanding retiree medical coverage by establishing an employer-funded Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) for all eligible clergy and lay retirees. This new HRA benefit replaces our previous practice of upgrading Medicare supplemental coverage, for eligible clergy only. And, it makes better use of resources: 90% of our expenditures for HRA plans will go to retirees compared to less than 33% of the premiums we paid to upgrade coverage.
- I am also looking into providing a safety net to address any hardship situations that may arise as we move into this new way of supporting our lay and clergy retirees.
The Trustees have engaged in discernment around the stewardship of Diocesan House. The Building & Property Committee of Trustees has begun an evaluation of how we can best utilize Diocesan House to support of the mission of the Diocese – to grow and develop congregations. The Committee is considering:
- Current & future utilization of Diocesan House, relative to ongoing operating costs and capital expenditures.
- Alternative uses of Diocesan House: How is this resource best utilized to support the mission of the Diocese?
- Options for alternative office space for the Bishop’s staff - and the criteria for evaluating any potential future space.
- Impact (positive and negative) that any potential change may have on our Diocese.
- As the Committee and Trustees evaluate these issues over the next several months, we will be engaging various stakeholders, partners and leaders to gather input and get feedback on key issues.
Finally, when we closed St. Philip’s in Belmont, NY (Allegany County), we were not sure how the future mission of the church would continue in that place. I am happy to report to you that we are engaged in discussions with the Board of Ardent Solutions (formerly Rural Health Network) about the potential ways in which we could partner with them to expand the ministry started by St. Philip’s. Ardent works with social services agencies to provide much needed health, education and transportation services in Allegany County. This partnership is an opportunity to not only share our buildings and financial resources, but also a way we can engage our congregations to support this important mission and ministry in the Southern Tier of our Diocese.
Each of these areas of progress would not be possible without the extremely committed leaders throughout this diocese who dedicate time, energy and a forward-looking vision. We are grateful for such healthy leadership. The Nominating Committee is looking for a few such faithful, forward-looking leaders right now. If God is calling you to serve with us to help grow this Diocese in vibrant spiritual, missional and numerical ways, please consider making yourself open for nomination.
You can find more information at http://episcopalrochester.org/nominations