The Arc of Life in Our Diocese: Ministry Among Rising Generations

by | Oct 21, 2021

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

In my last article, The Arc of Life, I posited that one of the most important questions to ask ourselves is “Where am I in the arc of my life, or in a particular phase of life?” And I suggested that it is an equally important question to ask in Christian community, particularly for those in leadership. 

Where the Diocese of Washington is in the arc of our common life is something I ponder nearly every day, as I discern with the diocesan leaders where we can best invest our resources in service to God’s preferred future.

January 2022 marks the beginning year three of our five-year diocesan strategic plan, launched at the 2020 Diocesan Convention, two months before the COVID pandemic redefined every aspect of our lives. Thankfully, the strategic plan’s clear vision, well-articulated goals, and incremental approach toward accomplishing those goals have proven sturdy as we’ve navigated everything that’s happened in the last two years. 

In Regional Gatherings that have just begun, and in the 2021 Annual Report that will be available in Advent, we can gratefully document collective strides made in the priority areas of congregational vitality, spiritual and leadership development, and striving for justice. The Congregational Vital Signs, Tending Our Soil Initiative, School for Christian Faith and Leadership, Sacred Ground Circles, Reparations Task Force, Afghan Refugee Response Team, and the ministry of our Regional Deans are among the first fruits of the strategic plan. These endeavors are not one-time goals to check off a list, but are the foundation for all ministry initiatives going forward. 

As we look to year three, two new goals will require the careful cultivation of our soil and attentiveness to the seeds of new life that God plants within and among us. I’ll focus on one here and write about the other next time, as well as speak of both of them at regional gatherings. I do this as an invitation to a process of communal discernment and planning. 

The first of these new goals, as stated in the Strategic Plan, is as follows: We will launch or relaunch three worshiping communities focused on rising generations so that we become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren. The emphasis here is to create communities whose first priority is on rising generations, that is, adults roughly 35 and younger. Most of our congregations want to be welcoming to rising generations, and some are. But a simple survey of faith communities with real numerical growth in younger demographics demonstrates that they have made it their top priority, not one of many. 

Our diocese is unusually well positioned for such a ministry focus, given the favorable demographics of our regions. Younger adult populations in Washington, DC and Maryland differ greatly according to class, race, culture, and educational levels and thus we will need multiple strategies. Some young adults are single; others are partnered and raising children. Some are working in high pressure vocations; others are chronically underemployed or vocationally adrift. Some have been families who have lived here for generations; others are first or second generation immigrants. 

The greatest resistance to past diocesan efforts has come from existing congregations that don’t want to lose their young adults to a new endeavor, and from some of our younger adults who are content in their congregations and prefer a multi-generational community. We have also been scattered in past efforts, with inconsistent leadership and several false starts. We need to learn from our past, discern carefully and collaboratively, and begin again in a posture of learning and adaptation.

My question to each Regional Gathering is this: What areas in your region might be particularly good soil for such experimental endeavors, and who among you feels called to be part of the exploratory conversations? Some new beginnings already exist and could be a place of greater investment. A congregation might feel called to name ministry to rising generations as its top priority. Other possibilities could involve collaborative efforts across several congregations and university ministries. 

God willing and with our faithfulness, I pray that in early 2022, we will identify up to three new expressions of Episcopal life and worship, with a priority on rising generations. If you would like to be part of such exploration in your region, please speak to your regional dean or feel free to email me directly. 

The majority of people in our congregations are over the age of 60. That is actually good news for this initiative, for as I wrote last time, those of us who are 60 or older are in the season of generativity–the time when our life’s work is to make room for rising generations and to invest in them. It’s not easy to de-prioritize ourselves, except for those we love. This ministry initiative must be one of love, not institutional survival, or it will fail. 

Next time I’ll focus on the second new goal for 2022 as stated in the Strategic Plan: We will promote Creation Care practices in all our faith communities.