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Deputies Give Navajoland a Joyous Welcome

With fanfare, prayers of thanksgiving, and presentation of gifts, the House of Deputies on June 25 raucously approved the bid of the Navajoland Area Mission to become the Missionary Diocese of Navajoland.

Resolution C009 now goes to the House of Bishops, which no doubt will approve it as well. Then the Episcopalians among the Diné will be able to elect their own bishop for the first time since the mission was established in 1978.

Nine bishops have had jurisdiction in the vast Navajo Nation at the juncture of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, occupying an area larger than West Virginia. All of the bishops have been appointed by either the House of Bishops or by the Presiding Bishop.

The first bishop elected by the missionary diocese will not be the first Diné bishop. That honor went to the Rt. Rev. Steven Tsosie Plummer, who was elected by the House of Bishops and served as Bishop of Navajoland from 1990 until his death in 2005.

His daughter, the Rev. Cathlena Plummer, told the deputies: “What this resolution means for us as the Diné people is the ability to be seen and heard and share our spirituality. And we long for another Diné indigenous bishop.”

Several members of the Navajoland deputation testified in favor of the resolution, and some delivered part of their testimony in their native language. When the time came to vote, President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris invited the deputies to stand and vote with applause, touching off an extended standing ovation.

The Navajoland Area Mission comprises nine small churches scattered across that vast territory. The total membership of about 775 is smaller than the smallest “full-fledged” domestic dioceses, and the communities are poor. Navajoland will always need churchwide financial support.

But Navajoland plays a unique role in the Episcopal Church, combining Christian faith and Episcopal tradition with Navajo spirituality. In addition to sustaining the Diné, Navajoland is a powerful symbol of respect for Indigenous Episcopalians throughout the church.

“We’ve been striving … to empower the voices of our community to be able to identify ourselves as Diné Episcopalians,” said the Rev. Leon Sampson. “The Jesus movement that we strive for as Episcopalians has the same theology as [the Diné]: I will walk in beauty. And therefore, not only do we get to be part of you, and we’re asking to learn from you,
but we have something to offer, and you can learn from us.”

In other business, the deputies approved some minor modifications to the Title IV clergy disciplinary process, but shot down a proposal to collect statistical information on Title IV cases to determine whether there is a disparity of treatment based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Creating a statistical database is a key part of plans to reform the Title IV process, but Resolution D015 was deemed overly complicated and unrealistic. It called for collection of data going back to 1996 from the Church Center and all of the dioceses.

“We believe there are significant practical challenges to implementing the resolution as drafted,” said Christopher Hayes of the Diocese of California, chair of the Title IV committee. In rapid succession he listed nearly a dozen such challenges, ranging from lack of a budget request for the effort to the difficulty of gathering data on clergy who may no longer be alive, or former clergy no longer subject to the discipline of the church.

The matter was referred to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons for further study, followed by a report to the 2027 General Convention.

The deputies also approved a proposal to fold the handful of Episcopal churches and institutions in Guam and Saipan into the Diocese of Hawaii, whose bishop has overseen their ministry for many years.

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