Executive Council Opposes 'Unjust' Immigration Laws

Episcopal News Service. March 9, 2006 [030906-4-A]

Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting March 6-9 in Philadelphia, advised members of the church to follow the call of the Baptismal Covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" in ministering to illegal immigrants, despite any laws that would criminalize such assistance.

The council also agreed to allocate $100,000 from short-term reserves to provide seed money for a "national coordinated defense" for dioceses and congregations faced with efforts by congregants and clergy to take real and personal property belonging to the Episcopal Church with them if they choose to leave and affiliate with other Anglican bishops or church bodies.

The council declared "strong opposition" to any legislation that would make it unlawful for faith-based organizations to relieve "the suffering of undocumented immigrants in response to the Gospel mandate to serve the least among us and our Baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons."

The council accepted Lexington Bishop Stacy Sauls' request to amend the resolution (NAC 044) so that it "calls upon the people of the Episcopal Church to act on their baptismal covenant without regard to such unjust legislation."

House Resolution 4437, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., an Episcopalian from Wisconsin, and Rep. Peter King of New York, would expand the definition of "alien smuggling" in a way that could include such actions as working in a soup kitchen. The bill would classify undocumented aliens as "aggravated felons," thus making it a crime to aid them.

Sauls said the council resolution is "one of the most important resolutions that have come before the Executive Council in this triennium." Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench of Connecticut said the resolution was true to the church's call to be prophetic.

Episcopal Migration Ministries director C. Richard Parkins reminded the council that it called for comprehensive immigration reform in June 2005 and that this resolution is part of that effort. "We have spoken boldly, often and eloquently on this subject," he said.

As a case in point, a letter from Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno was read March 8 to the Los Angeles City Council prior to its vote to oppose H.R. 4437. He wrote that he sees "a great and irrational fear overtaking our country" in regard to homeland security.

"An outcome of this fear is making scapegoats of millions of members of our immigrant population with measures reminiscent of the rounding-up of Japanese immigrants in this city during World War II or the hatred and blame cast at the Jewish community prior to the horrors of the Holocaust," Bruno wrote.

"I am a Bishop in a faith tradition that calls us, through our sacred Scriptures, to welcome and embrace the strangers in our midst, for in them we see the face of Christ," he wrote.

Bruno said that Los Angeles' economy would collapse if legislation such as H.R. 4437 is signed into law. Immigration reform is needed, Bruno wrote, but this bill is not the way to do it.

The council resolution says in its explanation that the church also supports other faith-based bodies who have expressed similar opposition to the immigration measures. On Ash Wednesday, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said that he would tell his priests and lay Catholics to defy any law that would make it a crime to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants.

Defense fund aims to coordinate efforts

The House of Bishops' Ad Hoc Task Force on Property Disputes proposed resolution AF 112 in part because of a concern that some Episcopal dioceses and congregations could face future litigation placing "their financial existence, integrity and stability" in jeopardy.

The coordinated defense would include the collection of legal memoranda, briefs and decisions from dioceses which have already faced such issues. It would also organize the preparation of draft "white papers," response timelines and talking points "in the event of widespread and serious litigation."

Sauls, a member of the task force, said that it is important to be prepared in case there is an increase in the number of property disputes and to have a clearinghouse of information for dioceses and congregations. "In the Diocese of Lexington I would not be able to litigate for long if I have to start from scratch," he said.

Sauls also said that the task force feels that a coordinated effort is needed to help reduce the chance that an unfavorable court ruling in one state could be used as a precedent elsewhere.

Council member Kim Byham said the coordination project will serve to "calm" those who worry that the Episcopal Church is not doing anything substantive about efforts to remove congregational property from diocesan rolls. Ramos-Orench said that the effort will give hope to the entire church and especially to dioceses that are "agonizing with increasing legal costs."

The Rev. Carl Gerdau, canon to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, told the council that the church spent $500,000 in 2005 to defend congregations and dioceses in such disputes. Griswold pointed out that such an expenditure is evidence that the coordination effort is "building on what has already occurred."

The effort would also "develop a more permanent organizational and financial structure" for the defense work. The task force anticipates raising money beyond the initial $100,000 "through its own efforts and sources." California Bishop William Swing convened the task force after an initial meeting prior to the House of Bishops meeting last October, and that diocese will establish an account for the seed money and any future income.

The resolution's explanation notes that "a few parishioners and clergy have expressed an intention to leave...and affiliate with other Anglican bishops," and "in violation of Canon Law...in some cases seek to take with them to their new affiliation the real and personal property belonging to The Episcopal Church." Such actions fail to protect and "make certain that this property is available to those who presently and in the future wish to worship in an Episcopal Church."

The explanation also notes that there may be times when recourse to the judicial system may not be best, and so the task force wants to examine mediation as a way to resolve disputes.

Sauls said that the task force will ask the House of Bishops meeting next week at Kanuga to make it a committee of the house. The council resolution calls for the group to report regularly to the council on its work.

The council also heard from Bishop Michael Ingham of the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of New Westminster, who praised them and the Episcopal Church at large for living out what he called "the six marks of an authentic church in the Anglican tradition": to be at once catholic, evangelical, liberal, prophetic, missionary and inclusive.

Its catholic nature, he said, is shown in its being centered in the sacraments and the value placed on living an ordered-but not narrow-life. "It seems to me that what you want to preserve is a spacious order," he said.

It is evangelical because it is rooted in the Gospel, he said, and tries "to maintain the priority of the Gospel before the priority of the church."

The church is liberal in the sense that it is attentive to God's Spirit "from whatever direction" the Spirit may be speaking, he said.

Ingham sees the Episcopal Church "working hard to be a truth-telling church," and thus prophetic. It is missionary, because it is not just concerned about its own survival. "You know this is a Gospel you simply can't keep to yourselves," he said.

And, he concluded, the church is "unique in the Anglican Communion" for the inclusive diversity of its leadership and for regularly inviting members of other Anglican provinces to its meetings.

The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention and oversees the ministry and mission of the Church. The council is comprised of 38 members, including bishops, priests or deacons, and lay people, 20 of whom are elected by General Convention and 18 by provincial synods.

Resolutions passed at Executive Council follow:

Administration and Finance

A&F 096: Set the dividend rate for 2006 for the DFMS trust fund portfolios available to support the operating budget of DFMS, and for trust funds in the DFMS endowment portfolio that are not available to support the operating budget, at $1.05 per share.

A&F 099a: Confirm and clarify January 2006 action regarding housing allowances for clergy employed by the DFMS.

A&F 104: Distribute 2006 income from the Allan and Florence Gerdau Fund.

A&F 105: Establish the Phoebe Griswold Education Fund to support the work of the Episcopal Church in furthering the empowerment of women for leadership and achieving gender equality throughout the Anglican Communion.

A&F 106: Allocate 50 percent of the income from the Vincent Astor Fund to the Diocese of New York and 50 percent to the Diocese of Long Island for the period 2006 through 2008 pending receipt of appropriate accounting and narrative reports for previously disbursed funds.

A&F 107: Establish the Emma Lou Benignus trust fund to be used solely by the Women in Mission and Ministry program or its successors.

A&F 108: Withdraw $195,000 from the Episcopate Endowment Fund (Missionary District of the Dominican Republic) and be remitted to the Episcopal Church of the Dominican Republic (IED) upon receipt of properly executed request to assist the Church in its efforts to achieve self-sufficiency.

A&F 109: Receives a new bequest from the Emma Lou Benignus Estate.

A&F 110: Appoint a task force to evaluate appropriate signage for the exterior of the Episcopal Church Center to accommodate requirements of potential tenants for the available lease spaces.

A&F 111: Negotiate with officials of St. John's Episcopal School, Guam, terms of repayment of an advance from DFMS for purchase of a land lease-hold.

A&F 112s: Transfer $100,000 from short term reserves as seed money for the House of Bishops' Ad Hoc Task Force on Property Disputes, or any successor committee.

A&F 113: Transfer $3 million from short term reserves to the Episcopal Church Building Fund, pursuant to AF-090, passed in October 2005.

A&F 114: Continue efforts to maximize potential use of the first floor space at the Episcopal Church Center formerly used as a bookstore.

Congregations in Ministry

CIM 045: Endorse a study during the next triennium of the presiding bishop election process.

CIM 046: Approve Episcopal Migration Ministries proposal to provide information on post-Katrina evacuee efforts with a $5,000 Constable Fund grant.

CIM 047: Approve Church Deployment Office proposal to redesign the deployment efforts in part with a $70,000 Constable Fund grant.

CIM 048: Approve Ministries With Young People Cluster and Anglican Global Relations proposal to provide for the first evaluation of the Young Adult Service Corp with a $26,000 Constable Fund grant.

CIM 049: Approve Peace and Justice Ministries proposal to use a $35,000 Constable Fund 2005 grant to take elected leaders to the Holy Land for an exchange of lay and clergy leaders from the U.S. and the Middle East.

CIM 050: Approve Peace and Justice Ministries proposal to support the development of a South African Anglican Conference in February 2007, utilizing $50,000 from the 2006 Constable Fund reserve.

CIM 051: Convey to next Executive Council the importance of appointing members to the Executive Council Committee on the Visual Arts and assisting with its administration.

CIM 052: Direct the Committee on the State of the Church to restore a line in the Parochial Report for reporting congregations' 1% contribution to theological education.

International Concerns

INC 066: Express its appreciation for mission companions who faithfully completed their term of service.

INC 067: Commend the work of "Comicion para Educacion Teologica para Latioamerica y el Caribe" (CETALC), and urges that a process begin that could lead to the establishment of a center for theological education and studies in one of the dioceses of Province IX.

INC 068: Recognize the extension of the existing Companion Diocese Relationship between the Diocese of Tennessee and the Diocese of Litoral (Ecuador) for a period ending on December 31, 2008.

INC 069: Expresses gratitude to the Rt. Rev. John C. Paterson, Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, for his grace-filled, challenging and compassionate presentation to Executive Council.

National Concerns

NAC 042: Review Jubilee Programs.

NAC 043: Instruct DFMS treasurer on votes on certain shareholder resolutions.

NAC 044: Oppose any legislation that would make it unlawful for faith-

based or humanitarian organizations to act to relieve the suffering of undocumented immigrants and calls upon people of the Episcopal Church to act on their baptismal covenant without regard to such unjust legislation.

NAC 045: Urge 75th General Convention planners to make every effort to show the film "Traces of the Trade" on the slave trade in New England to the entire convention.

SIDEBAR: Mission of Pennsylvania diocese highlighted at Executive Council

[ENS] The mission and ministry of the Diocese of Pennsylvania was highlighted during the Executive Council's meeting in Philadelphia March 6-9.

Bishop Charles Bennison Jr. led a group of diocesan leaders in explaining the diocese's efforts to the council, including the purchase of a 600-acre camp on the Delaware River, renovation of the Philadelphia Cathedral and plans for a new cathedral center, efforts to improve ministry discernment and continuing education, a renewed campus ministry effort, and long-standing relationships in Guatemala.

The Very Rev. Richard Giles, dean of the cathedral, said the renovation reconfigured the cathedral's Victorian-oriented space in a way that reclaimed a more basilica-like sense "in the early church tradition."

Assisting Bishop Edward Lee, who is working to revive campus ministry, said the diocese had active ministry in years past but it fell by the wayside. Now efforts at a number of Philadelphia-area colleges and universities are "trying to re-engage a generation that some of us think we have ignored for too long."

The Rev. Rene Mckenzie-Hayward, chair of the diocese's anti-racism efforts, spoke to the council about a recent diocesan survey that found that of the 191 people ordained in the diocese in the last 35 years, only four of the priests and five of the deacons were Black. The survey had a poor response rate because some Black clergy think nothing will be done with the results, she said.

Hayward said fighting institutional racism must be the next anti-racism effort, because institutional racism is "the heart of the matter."