Executive Council vows long-time support for Haiti, gives church $10 million challenge

Council deals with lengthy agenda on last day of Omaha meeting
February 21, 2010

The Episcopal Church's Executive Council pledged Feb. 22 to stand by the Diocese of Haiti as it continues to minister to earthquake survivors and plans its long-term rebuilding efforts, while challenging the church to raise at least $10 million to help pay for that rebuilding.

The council said (via Resolution WM011) that "Haiti's recovery and reconstruction must be directed by the Haitian people" and affirmed "the authority of Bishop [Jean Zaché] Duracin and the leaders he appoints to request and direct the resources required to rebuild the damaged institutions and impacted congregations of the diocese."

Meanwhile, Executive Council also issued a message to the church, saying that during its meeting it "was exhorted to humility and patience, inspired to action in the cause of justice, and reminded of the importance of the seemingly mundane."

"Meeting in the beginning of Lent we were constantly reminded of the power of God in Jesus Christ to redeem and save, in the moment and for all time," council said before going on to outline the results of its work in Omaha.

The $10-million Haiti challenge, proposed by out-going council member and Diocese of Connecticut Bishop-elect Ian Douglas, grew out of his colleague Mark Harris' call to the council to set aside a tithe from the remainder of the church's 2010-2012 budget for the reconstruction of the church in Haiti. He said that "the hurt to the family" in Haiti "requires a pledge on our part that doesn't come from the largess or the abundance of our lives, but comes from the core and, I would suggest, essentially our flesh." Without such support, Harris said, the future of the church in Haiti will "suffer in ways which we would be very sad to see happen."

Council members said they stand ready to receive Duracin's assessment of the diocese's needs and will review the church's support for the rebuilding effort at subsequent meetings. They also said the council "strongly supports" Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's "efforts to marshal the resources of the wider church" in support of Haiti, and to work directly with Duracin "in ensuring these resources are provided in the most effective manner."

Martha Gardner successfully asked her colleagues to commemorate the death of Lisa Mbele-Mbong during the earthquake by having the council's Haiti resolution state that relief and development efforts ought to recognize the human rights and dignity of all Haitians, especially vulnerable groups, and to ensure that Haitians are fully involved in the planning and execution of all relief and development projects.

Mbele-Mbong, the daughter of Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe General Convention deputy Helena Mbele-Mbong and her husband, Samuel, was a human rights officer for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. She died in the collapse of the UN building during the quake.

The resolution also commends the work of Episcopal Relief & Development and Haiti's neighbors in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic for their assistance.

In addition, the council urged Episcopalians to continue praying for "our brothers and sisters in Haiti" during the Prayers of the People and other occasions, and to support the long-term recovery effort through continued donations to Episcopal Relief & Development's Haiti fund, "recalling that, as our Lord taught us, to care for the least fortunate among us is to care for him."

Earlier in the day, Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development senior vice president for programs, described the agency's efforts in the month since the Jan. 12 magnitude-7 quake. Although dealing with an almost unimaginable level of chaos during the two weeks after the quake, Nelson said, the agency has thus far provided more than 6 tons of food to survivors, is supplying at least 100 tents this week after searching globally for a reliable source, and continues to work on various medical, sanitation, communication and other logistical needs.

She reported that the agency and diocese now believe that between 25,000 and 30,000 survivors are living in more than 60 settlements connected to the diocese.

Nelson showed council an ongoing mapping project designed to help the diocese and the wider church assess the extent of damage to diocesan institutions and track relief efforts. The "extraordinary information-gathering effort" is being led by the Rev. Lauren Stanley, an Episcopal Church-appointed missionary to Haiti and Duracin's liaison in the U.S., who is working with "an amazing crackerjack team" of four young people using a map provided by the U.S. Army's Southern Command, Nelson said.

A partnership between the Episcopal Church in Haiti and the U.S. Army "has rapidly formed since the earthquake," Nelson said. "We're really the first religious organization to be working with the government this way and the hope is that, longer term with a lot of this information, we'll be better able to serve the people."

As rebuilding plans become clearer, Nelson said, her agency wants to ensure that the work is done "in a way that doesn't just build back to what was there before" but to add improvements "to invest in a better future for everyone."

Meanwhile, Nelson said, Episcopal Relief & Development also continues to work with its 46 partner countries and urged council members to tell people not to forget "the wide need" around the world.

"We believe in a God of abundance and we know that as we move forward we can help rebuild the church in Haiti and help engage with all these other ministries," she said.


Also during the meeting

During its final meeting day, the council also:

• Approved a revised 2010 budget based on the 2010-2012 budget passed by General Convention in July 2009. Finances for Mission Committee chair Del Glover said that the committee tried to "remain faithful to those principles and choices" upon which the 2010-2012 budget was based "while respecting the responsibility of Executive Council to make changes as are necessary based on current information." The resulting revision includes a slight increase in anticipated revenue and an even smaller increase in budgeted expenses.

The budget discussion also promoted a renewed plea for the restoration of budget support for the dioceses in Province IX that was reduced during the process leading to the construction of the triennial budget. "We've not received a request more specific than to restore the full amount of the original budget request [for Province IX funding] of more than a year ago," Jefferts Schori said near the end of the discussion. "Council can always consider a specific request for a budget addition or for a particular grant in the future."

The 2010 revised budget is due to be posted here.

• Issued the church's first statement on the war in Afghanistan. Rooting the statement in the Episcopal Church's "long-standing belief that war is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ," Resolution A&N004 remembers "with sorrow those on all sides of the hostilities in Afghanistan who have been wounded, traumatized or killed"; recalls the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 that led to military action in Afghanistan; supports the goal of a just and lasting peace in Afghanistan; welcomes a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops; urges the U.S. and its allies to use force judiciously and protect innocent people of Afghanistan; says that "an escalation in forces need not lead to an escalation in force"; calls on the Afghan government to end corruption and strengthen its security forces; encourages the U.S. and its allies to promote economic development and human rights in Afghanistan; prays for the safety and well-being of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, all those who have been wounded, traumatized or killed, and for a swift and peaceful end to the war; urges Congress to provide for the needs of troops and their families; acknowledges pastoral challenges presented by multiple deployments and combat stress and commends the Episcopal Church's federal ministries office.

The resolution was crafted in the context of a gathering Feb. 20 - 21 in the same hotel of 700 Nebraska National Guard soldiers and their families for pre-mobilization training sessions before their deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq this summer. Their presence "was a constant sobering reminder of the harsh reality that some families are paying a much higher price in our nation's armed conflicts than others," the council said in its message to the church.

• Passed a lengthy resolution (WM009) on Middle East peace-making efforts. Council said it welcomed the peace-making initiatives of President Barack Obama and his envoy to the region, George Mitchell, and urged them to re-double their efforts. The resolution also acknowledged "the tragic histories of the Jewish and Palestinian people as victims of injustice, wars, dispersion and exile, the existential fear and insecurity this has created for both peoples and the distress their conflict has caused throughout the Middle East," while recognizing the commitment of Israelis and Palestinians to the land they regard as their homeland and respecting their national aspirations.

The council's resolution called on the U.S. to pursue a fair and balanced approach to making peace and asserted that peace can be achieved only by a division of historic Palestine into two sovereign states while affirming that a territorial division must include a shared Jerusalem. It also called for Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip. The council said that "the use of force, violence or arbitrary power by Israelis or Palestinians to determine the outcome of this conflict must be condemned absolutely."

Council members urged all Episcopalians to work and pray for "the liberation of Israelis and Palestinians from generations of conflict and for restoration of harmony among Jews, Muslims and Christians worldwide."

The resolution was the result of the World Mission committee's effort to deal with a series of proposed General Convention resolutions that were not acted on at the July meeting.

• Accepted a 2010-2012 strategic plan for itself and established an Executive Council Committee on Strategic Planning as called for in General Convention Resolution A061.

• Heard that its world mission committee had asked the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons to review the fourth section of the proposed Anglican Covenant to see if any changes to the church's constitution or canons would be needed if the Episcopal Church decided it wanted to adopt the covenant. The council said in January 2009 that only the General Convention can approve such a document on behalf of the church. It predicted then that such approval could not come until at least 2012, and not until at least 2015 if it were deemed to require changes to the Episcopal Church's constitution.

• Elected the Rev. Dr. James B. Simons, seven-time General Convention deputy from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, to succeed Ian Douglas, who resigned effective at the end of the meeting. Simons will fill out the remainder of Douglas' six-year term, which expires after General Convention in 2012.

Simons said in a statement emailed to ENS that he was honored to be asked to serve and added that he was "pleased the Executive Council has chosen someone from among the dioceses that are currently rebuilding. In Pittsburgh we have learned that people with differing views can work together to bring all people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Pittsburgh Provisional Bishop Kenneth Price said he was happy "that the councils of the church will benefit even more from those gifts that Jim has shared so well here with us."

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods for six-year terms, plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.

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