“…So that we may become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren.”
Diocesan Strategic Plan
As people gathered by region and special interest cohort in 2019 to begin listening to where the Holy Spirit was guiding the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, one conviction rose again and again: we had to make an intentional effort to serve the needs of our youth and young adults so that we could become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren. When the time came, the team tasked with drafting our Diocesan Strategic Plan molded that belief into a goal: to launch or relaunch three worshiping communities focused on rising generations.
In part, this goal emerged from the recognition that the average age of nearly all our congregations is significantly higher than that of their surrounding neighborhoods, Bishop Mariann shared in her address to Diocesan Convention this past January. “It is clear,” she said, “that the churches with the greatest success in growing young are those that make reaching rising generations their top priority.” In her address, the bishop issued an invitation to individuals interested in joining this effort.
Nearly every congregation in the diocese wants to be a spiritual home for rising generations and we are committed to providing resources and opportunities for that important work. The new faith communities initiative, however, asks different questions. Where in our growing population of young adults is The Episcopal Church underrepresented or not present at all? Where might God be calling us to offer something new? Whose spiritual needs are not being met?
In June, diocesan staff began working with experienced church planters from ACS Technologies–the company behind the powerful demographics tool MissionInsite–to help us discover what communities hold the greatest promise for new worshiping communities and dig into the specific context of each area under consideration.
Chuck Salter and Emily Reece–our ACS Technologies partners–prepared an extensive demographic report that identified regions with high and growing concentrations of young people. After prayerful deliberation, diocesan staff ultimately discerned four potential areas:
- Bowie, MD
- Downtown Silver Spring, MD
- Brookland/NoMa, DC
- LaPlata/Waldorf, MD
In late October, Emily and Chuck were on the ground visiting churches in these four areas exploring the possibility of partnership. The site visits were followed by a workshop on Saturday, October 29 for those who responded to Bishop Mariann’s call to be part of this work along with members of the congregations in the targeted areas and diocesan staff.
During our time together, we learned that it is likely that these new faith communities will not be the “bricks and mortar” based communities we are accustomed to, but they will need the support and input of existing nearby communities. We also learned that relationship building is essential for planting new faith communities. It is only by being in relationship with the people where we want to plant that we can know their needs and how to engage them.
At the end of the workshop, participants were invited to take their next step, from praying for this vital work to committing to being part of the initiative. I will repeat that invitation here. Please pray for us as we take our next faithful steps in growing younger as a diocese and please contact me if you’d like to take part.
Creator God, we seek to find new ways to share your message of love beyond the walls of our church buildings and ask you to send us leaders who are called to this work. Plant the gospel in their hearts and empower them with the Spirit, that they may see and hear the people they are sent to reach. Grant them joy, wisdom, and freedom in the midst of challenges; give them enough fruit for encouragement; laughter and humility to soften their hearts, refreshment for sanity; grace to support their teams; and resources to minimize their stress. In all things encourage them with your constant presence and knowledge of your love through Jesus who is our guide.
The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery
Canon for Congregational Vitality