The Diocese of Washington will reorganize itself into eight regions for governance and mission after a unanimous vote at the diocese’s annual convention last Saturday.
The convention also unanimously approved a budget that urges congregations not currently contributing at least 10 percent of their normal operating income to the diocese to increase their giving by one percentage point. Increases in diocesan income will be devoted to funding innovative ministries, securing financial planning and stewardship expertise for congregations, and increasing the diocese’s contribution to the budget of the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde implored delegates to support both measures in her convention address, saying they would prepare the diocese for a healthier and more collaborative future.
“We have come to a decisive moment as the Episcopal Diocese of Washington,” Budde said. “I have come to a decisive moment as your bishop.
“Having served as your bishop for four years, this is what I know: The challenges before us are bigger than any one congregation can meet on its own. The opportunities before us are greater than any one congregation can fulfill on its own. The vision entrusted to us is larger than any one congregation can realize on its own.”
The eight new regions are: Southern Maryland, Northern Prince George’s County, Northern Montgomery County, Central Montgomery County, Southern Montgomery County, Northern Washington D. C., Central Washington D. C. and Southern Washington D. C.
“Each region will elect representatives to Diocesan Council with real authority and accountability back to the regions for decisions made at the diocesan level,” Budde said. “It will take time and effort to build these relationships. Yet the potential for fruitful ministry seems so much greater than if we continue on the individual paths we’re on now.”
The $4.3 million budget assumes more than $410,000 in increased congregational giving to fund congregational mission grants and other initiatives, but spending on those initiatives is “contingent on what our congregations actually give,” Budde said.
By February 3, 34 of the diocese’s 88 congregations had submitted pledges for 2016. Of those, four have pledged to tithe, 15 will increase their giving by one percentage point and 14 more have committed to increase their giving. The total increase in giving over the 2015 budget among these parishes is $ 75,405.
Speaking in support of the budget, Maureen Shea, moderator of diocesan council, said that without improved financial planning and increased collaboration among congregations, “we can predict that some of our churches will grow, some will decline, but most – and that is the key – will plateau. The proposed budget commits to a common life together that is bigger than that.”
“The lion’s share” of additional contributions will fund grants to congregations, Shea said. “Diocesan Council and staff will work out a process for this year so that grant proposals could be submitted in the spring and awards made in the summer of 2016. It is our hope that congregations will join together in seeking funds that strengthen collaborative activities and that the proposed new regional structure will open opportunities for them to do so.”
In addition to asking congregations to increase their giving to the diocesan budget, Budde said she and her staff will begin candid face-to-face conversations with congregations about their giving and their relationship with the wider diocese.
“We’ll start with congregations who tithe or are making a percentage point or significant increase, to express our gratitude and learn how best to partner together,” she said. “Then we’ll talk with those who cannot or choose not to meet the one percentage point increase, so that we might better understand the financial challenges you face and explore strategies to address them. This will be a relationship strengthening exercise, to heal old wounds where they linger and begin to write a new chapter of ministry together.”
The convention unfolded in a new format, but an old setting. Convention business was conducted in a single day for the first time in the diocese recent history, but after two years at Reid AME Temple in Glenn Dale, Maryland, the event returned to Washington National Cathedral.
The Rev. Sari Ateek, rector of St. John’s, Norwood, in Bethesda preached at the convention Eucharist, telling diocesan leaders that “we are all a part of one beautiful divine masterpiece.” TheTheodicy Jazz Collective, led by the Rev. Andy Barnett, led the music.
In addition to restructuring diocesan governance and approving the budget, the diocese passed a resolution submitted by the Rev. Jeffrey McKnight, rector of St. Dunstan’s Church in Bethesda,endorsing an increase in the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. The resolution also asked the diocese and its parishes to “consider implementing as soon as practicable, a policy of paying all direct and indirect support staff … a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour.”
The convention also passed a resolution submitted by the Rev. Carol Flett, the diocese’s ecumenical and interreligious officer, asking parishes and schools to provide educational programs on Islam and urging the parishes, schools and people of the diocese to “advocate for the civil rights and safety of Muslims.”
Kemah Camara and Joe Ricks were elected as lay representative to the Standing Committee. The Revs. Greg Syler and Robert Harvey were elected as clergy representatives to the committee.
The Rev. Cindy Simpson was elected as an at large clergy representative to Diocesan Council, and Kurt Ellison was elected as an at large lay representative.
During the convention, the diocese honored Ann Talty, its former governance officer, who was primarily responsible for coordinating its previous 29 conventions.
The date and format of next year’s convention will be determined based on results of an online survey that was emailed to participants in this year’s convention earlier this week.