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Diocesan leadership engages a "new way of living together"

Joining God in Shaping Our Future
Suzanne Willian

Over the past year, many in our diocese have been dwelling in the third chapter of Joshua. In this story, our spiritual ancestors, led by Joshua, are camped one side of the Jordan River. After spending forty years in the Sinai wilderness, they are preparing to cross the river into land that has been promised to them. Our Bishop shared some of his experience with this reading at our recent Diocesan Convention: “the passage invites me to make the connection between who we are as God’s people today with our spiritual ancestors who took great risks and discovered a divine hope.”

The Joshua story has sparked imagination in our Bishop and many of our diocesan leaders. A biblical narrative was initially shared at last fall’s Listening Tables and perpetuated as the theme of Diocesan Convention earlier this year:

Our diocese is on a journey to join God in shaping our future. On one side of the Jordan, our congregations and diocese are guided by problem solving, by fixing our buildings and budgets. The promise of our destination, the other side of the Jordan River, includes a new way of living together based on five core practices – listening, discerning, experimenting, evaluating and living into a new future.

Coming out of Convention, congregations were invited into the core practices via a Listening Excursion, a three-month period of listening. (Representatives from 43 of our congregations participated in the Listening Excursion kickoff on March 4.) But engagement of these core practices isn’t limited to congregations. A process of post-Convention discernment engaged in by Diocesan Council and a series of Listening events initiated and announced today by diocesan staff are two of many examples of current leadership work directed by the core practices.

Diocesan Council set aside time in its February and March meetings to reflect upon this year’s "unconventional" Convention and begin to discern what a new way of living together might mean for the role and work of the Council. Their reflection followed a series of progressively more thought-provoking questions: How did you experience Convention? What are you learning? How do you think the Spirit might be nudging you, as individuals and as a leadership group?

Council members appreciated that our 2017 Convention honored Bishop Beckwith’s 2016 Convention message, “Business as usual is no longer an option.” They felt the time spent listening to God in scripture, to each other, and to our neighbors offered an opportunity to be spiritually moved. Congregations and individuals felt part of something larger; there was an energy; people were more engaged. When considering the implications of Convention and our diocesan journey, Joining God in Shaping Our Future, to their role as a governing body, there was discussion around becoming less task-oriented. Council members pointed to the necessary and essential tasks in their set of responsibilities and simultaneously wondered if they are called to something different, something bigger.

Prompted by the departure of the diocese’s Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries, diocesan staff has formed a team (roster listed at the end of this article) that includes parents, clergy, and youth ministers. The team will spend the next eight weeks listening to our youth and those who care for them. They will also begin to explore how our diocese, in partnership with congregations, can best support our youth and young adults as we journey together. (Please don’t hesitate to contact John King on the diocesan staff,, if you are interested in joining.)

The process includes a series of Listening Events for a variety of target audiences including congregational leaders, parents, youth ministers, clergy, and most importantly, our youth:

  • The first listening event is a lunchtime discussion at Vestry University on March 25. Vestry University registration closes March 15.
  • All ages are invited to Listening Tables on Sunday, April 2 at Episcopal House in Newark (2 - 2:30 registration and refreshments, 2:30 – 4 Listening Tables) and Tuesday, April 4 at Church of the Saviour in Denville (6 - 6:30 registration and refreshments, 6:30 – 8 Listening Tables). Please register here.
  • Youth-only Listening Tables will also be hosted in late March/early April at Christ Church in Short Hills, St. Alban’s in Oakland, St. Peter’s in Essex Fells and Christ Church in Newton. Please watch your email and the diocesan website for dates, locations, and registration.

Coming out of these listening events, the exploratory team will name what they are hearing and learning and begin to discern the implications of those learnings to youth ministry in our diocese. The team will also identify next steps towards a “new way” of youth ministry.

Youth Ministry Exploratory Team Members

Heather Allen (St. Clement’s Church in Hawthorne)
John Bartz (St. Luke’s in Montclair)
Susan Ellis (St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange)
Janet Hager (St. Stephen’s in Millburn)
Deborah Gregory-Fink (St. Andrews in Harrington Park)
Nate Huddleston (Calvary, Summit)
The Rev. Kathryn King (St. Alban’s in Oakland)
John King (Diocesan staff and St. Andrew’s Harrington Park)
Annie Pike (Epsicopal Church of St. Luke and St. Mary’s in Hope)
The Rev. Bowie Snodgrass (Christ Church in Short Hills)
The Rev. Diana Wilcox (Christ Church Bloomfield and Glen Ridge
Suzanne Willian (Diocesan staff and Christ Church in Short Hills)