The Changing Shape of Church

The Changing Shape of Church

Dear Friends in Christ:

Blessings on this mid-February day.  Things continue to be quite busy in the diocesan office and particularly busy around the issue of clergy and congregational transitions. Partly this is true because we have individuals who are completing their seminary training this spring and returning to the diocese looking for work as a deacon/priest.  This reality increases this work done by our Canon to the Ordinary as does the fact that we simply have a higher than normal number of congregations in the search process at this time.

At present there are 15 congregations in some form of transition discernment. We have a few larger congregations looking to hire a full time priest, we have several medium size congregations looking to hire someone part time, and we also have some small congregations hoping to find a priest who will partner with them on a very part time basis. In addition we have congregations looking for assistant clergy.  A few of our congregations, challenged by changing circumstances, are looking to imagine ministry in a way that is new or at least quite different than what they have experienced in the past.

One new challenge we seem to be facing in the Episcopal Church is a clergy workforce that moves less often with priests who limit their searches to a smaller geographic area. It is now more difficult to hand congregations the same number of good candidates as we did in the past. It has always been true that finding priests to serve as full time clergy is easier than finding priests willing and able to work in a part stipend situation. Now it is even true that congregations seeking full time priests do not get the large pool of candidates they used to. I can only assume that clergy today stay in place a bit longer, and when they do search, family situations such as a spouse’s job or where the kids live plays a larger role in the decision making process.

Another challenge we are facing as a church concerns how to assist congregations who find themselves in changing circumstances and want to build a new model for ministry. The challenge is twofold I believe.  Congregations need assistance to do the hard work of discerning a radically new vision for ministry and the diocesan institutions that serve to assist these congregations need help to be ready to hear a radical new approach to ministry. Therefore, I am working with Canon Neysa and a small group of consultants to develop a way of doing this radical discernment and I am working with other experienced people to prepare the various diocesan decision making bodies for this work as well.

I invite you to keep the congregations in search and the clergy seeking new situations in your prayers as well as to keep the diocesan staff in your thoughts as we assist these congregations and clergy in the work of discernment and transition.

+Michael