Report from the 106th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia

The 106th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia took place Friday and Saturday, October 21-22 in Seatac under the theme Your Kingdom Come.  Attending were St. Paul’s delegates Collin Morrow, Jim Beckwith, Jon Fedele, Linda Ward, and Linda Telfer.  Ruth Mulvihill was not able to attend, and so first alternate delegate Kaylee McElroy took Ruth’s place as a delegate.  Third alternate Rob Vollkommer also attended the entire convention.

Diocesan Convention is a annual gathering of elected representatives of all the congregations of the Diocese together with our Bishop.  Delegates are elected at each congregation’s Annual Meeting.

Diocesan Convention elects members to serve on our Diocesan Council and Standing Committee and, when called for, elects deputies to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a triennial event.  At Convention the bishop also announces appointments to bodies such as the Commission on Ministry and the Board of Directors.  Convention receives a budget proposal from the Diocesan Council and deliberates on it and passes a budget for diocesan program.  Convention also creates resolutions of policy for the diocese, makes changes to the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Olympia, and hears reports from various ministries of the diocese.  It is also a time for workshops, networking, and fellowship.

Finally, and most importantly, the Convention meets for worship.  Prayer services begin and end each session, and at the close of Convention we all celebrated the Holy Eucharist together, renewed our baptismal vows, and commissioned those elected or appointed to positions of diocesan leadership.  This was inspiring to me.

For the second Convention in a row, I was appointed by the Bishop to chair the Convention Committee on Resolutions of Policy, and the Convention deliberated upon and passed four resolutions of policy submitted to it by the Diocesan Council and the Diocesan Personnel Committee.  One set a clergy salary scale.  A second lowered the rate at which congregations are assessed to support diocesan program.  A third set a policy for family leave for clergy and lay employees of the congregations and institutions of the Diocese.  A fourth made some further provisions for the health insurance program for clergy and lay employees of the Diocesan staff and congregations and institutions.

Rob Vollkommer stood for election to Diocesan Council, but was not elected this time.  Jim Beckwith stood for election to the Standing Committee of the Diocese and was elected.  The Standing Committee is a committee of lay and ordained persons who serve as a committee of advice to the Bishop and have a number of canonically prescribed functions essential to the mission of the Diocese.  Diocesan Council is something like the “vestry” of the Diocese, meeting six times a year to give direction to Diocesan work in cooperation with our Bishop.  Congratulations to Jim and thanks to Rob for being willing to serve.

Delegate Linda Telfer gave me these observations of her time at the 106th Convention:

“I have been to Diocesan Convention several times over the last 20 years, and this was one of the happier conventions.  We seem to at last be maturing as a Diocese, stepping out boldly and confidently to meet our challenges rather than reacting like fearful children to every change.  For example, at a past convention we were charged to move toward equity in benefits between lay and ordained employees: there was a fair amount of moaning about how we were going to pay for equal benefits to lay staff, fear that it would lead either to staff cutbacks in the smaller churches or diminished benefits to clergy.  What a contrast there was this year, when we discussed a resolution aimed at giving paid family leave to clergy and lay alike….  By the grace of God we have stepped out of fear into faith, and it is marvelous in my eyes.”


Alternate delegate Rob  Vollkommer told me he spent time trying to write a well-formed paragraph about Convention, and found it difficult to accomplish in a short time, telling me there were for him "flashes" of "being part of a larger whole.  The time was "spiritual" and "educational."  There were "challenges to my comfort zone," he writes.  There were issues of social justice before him as he considered the Native American presence at Convention and the presentation from our Ministry to Seafarers.  He enjoyed seeing "old friends" and making "new connections," learning about diocesan governance, praising God, feeling "love."

Delegate Jim Beckwith writes with appreciation of a new vision for the Diocese initiated at Convention and spoken to by Bishop Rickel in his Convention address.

“I found that the Bishop's decision to focus outwardly on the congregations instead of inwardly to his office to echo the charge of sending the Apostles out into the world.  This change in focus puts the onus on each congregation to grow by its own inherent qualities.  I particularly liked the idea put forth by our own congregation that each congregation send out visitors to other congregations to learn the others' best practices and maybe even learn to avoid their worst mistakes.  With the Bishop looking outward, instead of inward, this puts the whole Church focused on its work in the world.”

When Bishop Rickel was elected Bishop in 2007 he led us to focus on three priorities, which were Stewardship, Evangelism, and Ministry to those under 35 years of age.  Bishop Rickel, after extensive discussions involving the lay and clergy membership of Diocesan Council, Standing Committee, and Board of Directors (collectively the governing bodies of the diocese) led us in his Convention address to embrace a congregation-centered approach to setting priorities for mission, with the Bishop and staff of the diocese working to support the development of mission on a local basis.

Before the Convention was gaveled into session by Bishop Rickel at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, a series of workshops were held throughout the convention center.  I attended one led by Greg Hope, the Director of our diocesan Office of Refugee Resettlement in Seattle.  Greg briefed us on their work.  In attendance were a family recently arrived from Syria: mom, dad, and two children.  We heard from Greg and from staffer Irene Willis (daughter of St. Paul’s parishioners Dee Willis and Nancy Welliver) about the challenges of resettlement, which include high rents in the Seattle area and the usual challenges facing refugees as they adjust to the ordinary day-to-day challenges of negotiating basic household-supporting activities in an entirely new context.  We heard of the need for more volunteers.

In Diocesan life I continue as an appointee of the Bishop on the Board of Directors, which stewards the financial and property assets of the Diocese.  The Bishop also re-appointed me to serve on the Disciplinary Committee of the Diocese, which we hope never has to meet. The only occasion of meeting is if a complaint is lodged against a member of the diocesan clergy, and their work is to follow the canons of the Episcopal Church to pursue the proper disciplinary action.

I came away from our Convention convinced that we have a healthy diocese with healthy Episcopal leadership and well-functioning diocesan governing bodies, and a lot of creative approach to mission on the part of congregations and institutions of the Diocese.

To listen to and read a text of Bishop Rickel’s address to Convention, click here.