By the time that this blog entry hits the “inter-webs” the document that it references will have been presented to ten different groups in our diocese totaling almost 250 people. (7 Convocations, Standing Committee, Staff, and Council of Trustees) For some, this review of the “Restructuring Initiative” document will be the recitation of old news and for others, it will be completely new. No matter what level of familiarity you may have with this information, I hope that it will be received as “raw material,” in the process of being shaped and formed- by a small committee of representatives from the Standing Committee and the Council of Trustees- and by you, seeing it here, perhaps for the first time.
After just 6 months’ time in our diocese, I have come to see that my biggest learning so far is coming to understand how much I still have to learn about Central PA and the way that God is calling us to participate in God’s mission. Ours is a complex diocese that includes a diversity of cultures, churchmanship, communities, economic resources, assets and challenges. We face critical social issues of gun violence, opioid addiction, racial injustice and environmental degradation. We are blessed with excellent colleges and universities in our diocese, the richness of agricultural heritage and industry, amazing natural resources and historical landmarks that reflect some of the most significant time in our country’s development. We alone can claim Gettysburg, the Yellow Breeches Creek, the Grand Canyon of PA, Penn State and the rockiest parts of the Appalachian Trail. These are a few of the marvels of our diocese that I’m learning about and, more importantly, in which I am beginning to discern how to serve God in this context. I look forward to continued discoveries and learning about this special place and her people.
In the meantime, I have discerned some early recommendations for change, revealed to me by my virtue of my nascent understanding of our diocese and the gift of “fresh eyes.” These changes- to be massaged and shaped by a small committee and presented at Convention in the fall- can be understood in three broad areas: Parish-Diocesan Leadership Relations, Formation, and Building Capacity in Parish Communities.
Riddle me this: If God is already active in the world and our invitation is to join God in the work of healing and reconciliation… and if the construct of the parish is (yet) the primary point of contact for God’s faithful to engage in God’s mission… doesn’t it make sense for diocesan leadership to do all it can to support, empower and encourage the congregations (parishes) in their work? Makes sense to me. And, yet, in the top-down model of our hierarchal church, too often this support and encouragement can get lost or misinterpreted and we end up with a system where the parishes don’t feel supported in spite of the good work of the staff. It can appear that the diocesan leadership is both funded by the parishes and holds (most of) the chips.
I’d like to turn this idea on its head.
It makes sense to me that the diocesan leadership exists to serve and provide resources to strengthen the parishes and to grow participation in God’s mission in our world.
We like to talk about “the diocese,” and, yet, this is a word that has a double meaning. When I talk about “the diocese” I refer to our 64 congregations and our 12,000 people. When others talk about “the diocese” they refer to the 8 folks who work at 101 Pine St. in Harrisburg. By increasing our understanding of “the diocese” to include all of us (and referring to those folks on Pine St. as “diocesan leadership”) it begins to turn the picture around… to a healthier way of serving God and God’s mission. It is subtle but so important. This is a change that is about shifting understanding. It does not involve money or people or any moving parts. It is about developing an ever-increasing graciousness in our relationship between parishes and the entity of diocesan leadership.
God calls us to ever-grow in our relationship with God. We aim to grow into the “full stature of Christ” and to achieve “the mind of Christ,” knowing that this is a life-long journey. In our diocese, we have an amazing facility for supporting Christian Formation in the Stevenson School For Ministry. Formerly the School for Christian Studies, the school has a long history in our diocese and serves as a solid foundation for continued development in this important area.
The Stevenson School is in the process of forming a three-year strategic plan to address the best way to offer quality programming, instruction and resources for lay and clergy formation. My hope is that the school can continue to offer discrete courses in its hybrid real-time and on-line format for anyone interested in deepening their walk in faith. Additionally, it is my hope that the school can continue to form candidates for diaconal ministry in our diocese and hone its program for priestly formation, as well. We sorely need to find ways to form candidates for ordained ministry in a diocese where 2/3rd of our jobs are part-time. We have an opportunity to become a leader in the field of formation by building a solid program using local resources, developing relationships with nearby seminaries and working collaboratively with our diocesan neighbors in Pennsylvania.
Formation for children, youth and young adults has been named as one of the top priorities in our diocese. It is my hope that the Stevenson School could offer resources and support for all “ages and stages” and coordinate the efforts of so many wonderful volunteers who already work in the area of formation in our Sunday schools, youth programs, Godly Play, retreats, Happening events and mission trips. There is so much that is already going on in formation for our young people; the Stevenson School’s new format will serve to support and enhance that work.
The re-imagining and strengthening of the Stevenson School will require an extraordinary effort on the part of its faculty, Board of Advisors and Dean. And, I believe that this work is one of the places that God is calling us to serve as leaders and to run, hard, at making the school the best that it can be. To that end, part of the re-structuring initiative invites the appointment of the Dean as a full-time position. (currently, the position is half-time.)
The third major part of the Restructuring Initiative includes the formation of 7 Mission Resource Teams- one for each of our Convocations. These Mission Resource Teams will each consist of 4 members, lay or ordained, who will serve to strengthen the work of the parishes and build capacity in areas of Finance, Stewardship, Evangelism & Community Engagement and Transition Ministry.
As I have traveled around our diocese, I have begun to understand the cultural differences between our regions and am coming to see that a model that empowers “neighbors helping neighbors” is a more appropriate way to strengthen congregations, rather than building one generic team of “consultants” to be “deployed” from the central office. This new model has at its core the idea that the talent and gifts needed in each region are already present. The diocesan leadership function is to raise the gifts, offer support and training to build the teams and then to encourage their use throughout our convocations. Each member of the Mission Resource Teams will receive training in their specific discipline through the Stevenson School (ie: a course on Parish Financial Practices for the Finance Team members) as well as a course on Leadership Development that will help to prepare the team members to be effective supports for our congregations.
The Mission Resource Teams will be recruited and overseen by two of the Canons on our diocesan leadership staff- the Canon for Finance & Operations and the Canon for Congregational Life & Mission.
Please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like a full copy of the Restructuring Initiative in Power Point form that includes several charts and diagrams.
I look forward to its presentation at Convention in October in a revised and refined form as we continue to move forward, serving God’s mission.