The 149th Diocesan Convention, which was held October 3, was a groundbreaking meeting for the Diocese of Bethlehem. Due to limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s gathering was the first convention of the Diocese of Bethlehem which was held virtually rather than in person.
“This COVID moment has compelled us to ‘be church’ in new and innovative ways,” said Bishop Kevin D. Nichols. “This year’s convention is just one of many examples of how we are adapting and evolving to meet the needs of the people of our diocese.”
Though holding convention virtually created some technical challenges, it also provided the opportunity for more visitors to be involved. Hundreds of people, most from the diocese, but others from across the globe, tuned in to the convention livestream.
“A great joy of technology is that because the Diocesan Convention was streamed live on Facebook, I was able to watch it on my television!” said Millard Cook, Parish Administrator at Trinity Church in Bethlehem and member of Trinity Church in Easton. “That was amazing!”
Bishop Kevin presented five emerging priorities for the diocese in his address, which acted as themes throughout the convention: 1) Vibrant and stable congregations, 2) Racial justice and advocacy for the most vulnerable, 3) Lay and clergy formation, 4) Creating new faith communities, and 5) Diocesan partnerships.
The topic of racial justice was at the forefront of this convention, with the issue playing a key role in the bishop’s address, and a resolution committing the diocese to the work of “racial justice making, repairing, healing, and reconciling” passing with overwhelming support.
“We understand our calling to be envisioning and creating a process to bring the whole diocese into this work of justice and reconciliation,” said Judith Dickerson, a member of the diocesan Racial Justice & Reconciliation Task Force and member of Trinity Church in Easton “This needs to be a top priority for the mission of the diocese and its members.”
The convention also recognized the importance of investing in more intentional engagement with Latinx communities within the diocese, enthusiastically passing a resolution to “commit ourselves joyfully to a missional and evangelistic focus which will strategically lead to greater Latinx engagement in our Diocese and parishes.”
“As it is clear that our cities and towns are more diverse than ever, there is a growing number of people from across Latin American countries in our region that are longing and searching for a welcoming faith community to be a part of,” said Leonardo Velez, a member of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity’s Latinx community. “Our vision is for a more direct and intentional engagement with Latinx folk already in our congregations and with those in the communities surrounding our churches that we hope will join us in the future.”
The diocesan Envisioning Team expressed its hope that new Convocation structures will help foster the work of cooperative ministry in churches across the diocese.
“Our hope for our Convocations is to develop new relationships between parishes and to rekindle old bonds, to grow those relationships through combined ministry and fellowship, and to create opportunities to serve our neighbors and communities together,” said the Rev. Dennis Reid, a member of the Envisioning Team and rector of St. Alban’s in Sinking Spring. “We hope that our Convocations…will help foster new ideas and events that help us to live into the mission of God as we have come to know it in the Diocese of Bethlehem.”
The budget that was passed at this year’s convention reflects this shift in ministry focus, with tens of thousands allocated to the work of Convocations, Ministry Fellowships, and Community Missional Support.
“I am so pleased that the people of our diocese have committed themselves to the work of racial justice and reconciliation, and to reach out to our Latinx brothers and sisters in our communities,” said Bishop Kevin. “I am looking forward to this new chapter for our diocese, as we continue to build upon a vision that we cannot yet fully see or know.”