I have had so much fun since I joined the Bishop’s Staff as her Canon for Congregational Life last May. I have been challenged and inspired by the people of our diocese and the variety of our congregations. In these times, it can seem that the church we knew or wished for is not the church we have. We are all aware of reports of decline in attendance and the increase of “nones” in our culture (people who claim no specific faith group “membership”). While I do hear a lot about the challenges of these times as I visit around the diocese, I also see tremendous creativity, passion and commitment. I am excited to be a part of God’s work in this place in a time such as this.
I have now visited or had significant contact (such as meetings with clergy and/or wardens/vestry) with over 50 of our 96 congregations. It is clear a lot of the challenges are similar if the parish has 20 on a Sunday or 80 or 250, and the things that seem to be going nicely are often similar as well. Faithful leaders wonder what is next for their parish and how they are doing compared to other parishes. This highlights how important it is to continue and grow circles of conversation and to establish new ones between clergy and other leaders all around our diocese and among parishes in the same area. It can be especially important and fruitful to have this conversation about challenges and areas where improvement is needed.
One area I notice in many churches could be improved is how people are welcomed on arrival, and then included in what’s going on that day. We will have a workshop on welcoming people at Church Leader University in March! Welcoming people into our common life is vital in a time when research says so many people are desperately lonely and feel invisible and disconnected. As our Bishop says, it is truly a matter of life and death. Welcoming people so that they can experience fullness of life in a Christian community is an essential ministry, and an example of an area that needs new ideas and energy for the needs of people today.
That is a big part of what I find exciting about this time – the fundamentals remain the same and there is also so much need and room for creativity. These times in parish life call us to ask hard and deep questions about how we do “the things we have always done.” Why can’t we have church school on a different day or time? How do we keep everyone safe? How can we divvy up work and ministry so that no one feels stuck or overburdened doing the same job or too much work? How do we exercise leadership when people are so busy? How do we explain what it means to be an Episcopalian? Some of the most rewarding times I have had so far are with the many clergy and lay people who understand this and are eager to try new things! It is also wonderful to come together in different ways, to discuss such matters, we had great fun at our first “Clergy Conversation Lunch” discussing “preaching the season” and have more such gatherings scheduled.
I have also been really impressed by the hard and important work being carried out by Vestries and Search Committees around our diocese. One surprise has been that a lot of parishes in Transition seem to feel they are in competition with other parishes for clergy, particularly because there are so many parishes in Transition. This is not the case! Each parish is uniquely special, and all clergy are not seeking the same thing. That said, it is interesting how much the landscape for clergy transitions has changed in even the last 10 years. It is another area of parish life where we have to ask, how should we be doing this today? I have really enjoyed working parishes in Transition, I am delighted by the great clergy we already have and the new ones coming into the diocese. I am eager to continue supporting parishes in this significant work!
In sum, I am grateful to be in this incredible diocese and am so happy to be serving God with all of you.