After diocesan convention unanimously passed both a resolution to restructure the diocese’s regional structure to enhance collaboration in ministry and a resolution urging increased congregational commitments to the diocesan budget, the obvious questions were: what happens next, and what difference will it make?
Members of Diocesan Council, the Standing Committee and the Commission on Ministry met on Saturday, February 20 with Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and diocesan staff to begin to sketch out the processes through which those questions will be answered.
In a day-long gathering at the 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, almost 50 participants discussed ways to foster a spirit of collaboration within the eight new governing regions in the diocese, develop a process for making financial grants to support parish and regional initiatives and sustain enthusiasm for increased giving to the diocesan budget.
“It was a good day with a lot of probing conversation,” Budde said. “We know that people are eager to learn how the resolutions that were passed at convention will affect them and what kinds of opportunities it will allow them to create. But we also want lay strong foundations for this new and important work. After this gathering, we are ready to invite regional leaders together to discuss their hopes and ideas for fruitful ministry.”
While the plan to realign the diocese from six regions to eight in order to increase congregational collaboration passed unanimously at diocesan convention on January 30, participants in the gathering said that many people are either not aware the diocese has been restructured or do not understand why.
A number of participants said they supported the reorganization because they had already benefited from collaborative ministries. The Rev. David Wacaster of Good Shepherd, Silver Spring spoke of a powerful collaborative Good Friday service that he said persuaded him of the importance of multi-parish collaboration. Paul Brewster of St. Alban’s in the District, said his church’s experience opening a parish-based mission trip to Appalachia up to the wider diocese was a good example of the potential of sharing successful programs among congregations.
Participants were clear, however, that there was work to be done and obstacles to be overcome in persuading congregations to collaborate. “I’d like to see people who participate in similar ministries creating their own networks,” said the Rev. Cassandra Burton, rector of Christ Church, Clinton, which participates in Conference Call Church, a means for people who cannot attend church to participate in services.
Other participants spoke of the need for parishes to give up guarding their turf rather than sharing resources. “We need to think of ourselves collectively as the Body of Christ in our regions,” said the Rev. Stephanie Nagley, president of the Standing Committee.
Participants also spoke of the importance of continuing to persuade congregations across the diocese to continue investing in the diocese’s focus on congregational vitality. Giving to the diocesan budget increased $133,380 this year after Budde asked congregations contributing less than ten percent of their normal operating income to the diocese to increase their giving by one percentage point.
The bishop will lead a five-person delegation to Project Resource, a three-day conference being offered by the Development Office of the Episcopal Church and the College of Bishops in Atlanta in June. The program trains participants in effective financial development, membership growth, communications and planning.
The bishop’s offer to make financial planning information available to congregations was important in securing support for increased giving, several participants said, as is developing clearly articulated process for granting funds to new ministries and projects.
“It will be important to keep good news about the projects you are supporting coming out,” said Jim Jordan, chair of the diocesan finance committee. “We need to be able to measure how well these projects are working and why.”
The council, Standing Committee and Commission on Ministry broke into working groups for the afternoon session with the council focusing on how to conduct the congregational finance consultations that Budde called for in her convention address. Wacaster said it was unrealistic to assume the bishop would be able to participate in such sessions with all 88 of the diocese’s congregations. He suggested developing several teams to conduct the conversations.
Work on organizing the new regions began soon after the meeting. This week clergy in Central Montgomery region met with Joey Rick, Canon for Congregational Vitality, to explore ways of collaborating in ministry in a region that includes northern Bethesda, Kensington, Potomac, Rockville and several churches in Silver Spring.
“After two days of exploring what it means to be the Kingdom of God in Central Montgomery County, we have a strong sense of what the area needs and what gifts we can leverage to support it and one another in good ministry,” said Rick.