By: Barbara Edwards
“Nevertheless, the kingdom has come near.” That was the theme of the 2021 Diocesan Council which was held in February. Because it was my first time serving as a Delegate to the Council, I wondered how that theme was going to be developed over the two day conference.
Since I had no way of comparing, I wondered how this virtual conference would differ from the usual in-person get-away conferences that have traditionally been the format. I wondered if the content would be less impactful and if the participants would miss the usual fellowship and comradery.
And I realize now in retrospect how very little I knew about the Diocese of West Texas at all. I had visited the diocesan office a couple of times in the past, and remembered the beauty of its physical surroundings and the air of “importance” that seemed to permeate the execution of business in various forms as I walked through the halls. Those halls had artwork and crafts on display from various countries in the world where we are present with our missions. I knew intellectually that the Diocese of West Texas was our governing body but that pretty much was the extent of my knowledge of the Diocese. Yet having just finished up my three year term on our Vestry, it turned out my vestry experience was a sound foundation for what I was about to experience at the Council of 2021.
By all accounts the format of the Council was as it has always been – with the Bishop’s announcement of the theme, his address to council, the passing of the budget, the voting on new members for the various diocesan committees, the annual reports from the same committees and various other presentations woven throughout. The conference was in webinar format, and for me, there truly are some positive aspects of virtual conferences. With my computer in front of me and my earplugs in, I was able to hear every word of each presentation without the distractions that naturally come along the way in a large group session.
I am not a “business-minded” person at all, but through my vestry experience I have gained a full respect for the financial aspects of running a church. And so it is with the Diocesan budget. The bottom line for me is that it takes strong financial health to support the outreach programs that touch the lives of those we serve. Therefore the financial reports turned out to be of interest to me, even if I do not understand their intricacies fully. Simply put, healthy finances provide the platforms that allow positive change to happen in the lives of others in very specific ways. Both the financial and outreach efforts are sorely needed at the church level and at the diocesan level. They go hand in hand.
As the presentations and reports unfolded at the conference, my awareness of all of those outreach platforms grew and grew and I was in awe of the many areas in which the Diocese reaches out to others. I understood why each Diocesan committee was so vital. I had no idea that we had partnered with a diocese in South Dakota and were serving the Lakota Nation. I had heard that we had embarked on serving the Navajo Nation in the four corners area of our country, but had no idea the extent of our involvement which included building clinics and schools – the kinds of things that eventually will be self-sustaining. The Honduran and African water missions and health and hygiene programs continue to be in full swing. And there is an entire mission revolving around Immigration and Migrants. And I had no idea of the extent of the Camp Capers programs or the fact that we have a new camp director there. I learned of our continued support for the seminary programs in Sewanee and in Austin. And I was reminded of the Curate program and the Bi-vocational program for pre-ordained and newly ordained priests. And I learned more about TMI and all of our Episcopal schools.
As a result of this conference experience, my image of the Diocese has gone from the “air of importance” I’d experienced in the halls of the Diocese on earlier visits to now envisioning our Diocese as a kind of great umbrella covering and protecting all of the outreach efforts that pour out God’s love throughout our Diocese and to places that are so in need within our nation and beyond our borders. It was such a stunning awareness that happened for me over the two-day virtual conference.
All of that happened in the time of Covid-19 with all of its perils and forced limitations. The Bishop was so proud of the innovations and creativity provided in the many churches that make up our Diocese of West Texas. Collectively, we kept on helping our own and reaching out to others in new and different ways. We will not always be in peril or have forced limitations. But perhaps we can continue to remain innovative and creative which will allow us to continue God’s work as we have during these difficult and uncertain times.
Was the virtual format of the diocesan conference less impactful? I think not. Was there a lack of comradery? Definitely not as evidenced in our St. Philip’s group texting that was active during our breaks and sometimes lengthy voting times. The witty and clever repartee was really fun. Of particular note was Fr. Mike’s memes that were totally hilarious and most memorable!
But most of all, I came away with a sense of real gratitude for belonging to something much larger than ourselves, and a sense of new purpose for the coming year. The past year was hard and we are not out of the woods yet for many reasons. Nevertheless, the kingdom has come near.
For additional information regarding 2021 Council, click here.