By Kirk Petersen
When members of Executive Council gathered for the one Holy Communion during their most recent meeting, they faced a tattered Episcopal flag draped over the altar. The council met at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Oct. 19-22.
The flag earned its scars through months of service on the wind-whipped plains of North Dakota, where Episcopalians have joined and supported Native American tribes in seeking to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited the camp in September to support the protest.
The Rev. John Floberg, who serves three congregations in the Standing Rock area, presented the smoke-suffused flag to the council. He told council members that 300 tribal, national, and other flags fly at the protest camp, but this was the only flag from a Christian denomination. He choked back tears as he presented the flag to the group for display at the Archives of the Episcopal Church.
Floberg was critical of how local and state authorities have confronted the protesters. “They’re scared to death that we’re digging in for the winter,” he said. “We are digging in for the winter.”
At times more than 4,000 people have been living in the camp in tepees, tents, and makeshift shelters. About 500 of them have vowed to “winter over” to continue the protest, in an area where winter temperatures can drop 30 degrees below zero.
The protesters say the proposed oil and gas pipeline will disturb sacred burial grounds near the reservation, and by tunneling under the Missouri River it will endanger the water supply that sustains the reservation. Pipeline supporters say the pipeline will be less risky than the current practice of transporting oil by rail and truck.
The Executive Council unanimously approved a hastily drafted resolution calling on authorities to “deescalate military and police provocation” and commended the presiding bishop and his staff for supporting the protest.
The church supports the protesters because of their concerns, but also because “decisions were made and reached which adversely affected native communities … when there may have been other alternative ways to accomplish the same thing,” Curry said in a news conference.
“The danger of the Missouri River being polluted is a violation of God’s creation, and potentially harming God’s children,” he said. “We don’t violate cemeteries anywhere else in this country.”
On another front, Executive Council has authorized Episcopal Migration Ministries to raise funds from non-governmental oranizations in support of its mission.
In a four-day meeting in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that concluded Oct. 22, the Executive Council also supported a Chevron shareholder resolution regarding hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) to extract oil from shale formations.
In what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called “the defining moment” of the meeting, the council received a tattered Episcopal flag that flew for months at an encampment near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Episcopalians have joined Native Americans at Standing Rock in opposing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
EMM is one of nine resettlement agencies in the United States, and it was the only one that did not solicit funds from private donors, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies and vice chair of Executive Council.
Most of EMM’s funding has come from government contracts, which inevitably have tight restrictions on how the money can be spent. EMM has been forced to absorb certain ancillary but necessary expenses, which Curry called the kind of costs “that you would use a bishop’s or priest’s discretionary fund” to cover.
The Chevron shareholder resolution would require the energy firm to make an annual report to shareholders about steps it has taken “above and beyond regulatory requirements” to minimize adverse effects on water and on communities from fracking.
In response to a question, treasurer Kurt Barnes said Chevron accounts for less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the trust funds portfolio, and fossil fuel stocks are less than 1 percent. In 2015, General Convention passed a resolution instructing the council’s investment committee “to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy in a fiscally responsible manner.” Barnes said the committee will continue research on how to divest those holdings.
Kirk Petersen is a communications consultant and active member of St. George’s Church in Maplewood, New Jersey.