Bishop's Writing / May 2022
Dear Friends in Christ,
Since I last wrote to you, coronavirus has continued to surge across our region. I’ve had a visitation postponed, and several of the clergy of the diocese have been ill, one significantly. Let’s remember the most vulnerable among us, and let’s remain cautious and vigilant in our communities.
This month I want to continue raising thought questions for the Episcopal Transition Process.
Recently, both the Trustees of the Diocese and members of Diocesan Council have begun to ask questions about Mission Strategy. What would the diocese do if we had more money? Do we think our current diocesan strategy is sustainable? What is God calling us to?
We do have a powerful Mission Strategy in place, and that is to sustain and support parishes and clergy by means of diocesan grants. Recognizing that once we sell a property our church is gone for good, we’re trying to maintain our presence in our communities. Some 30 of our parishes receive such grants. The goal is always to strengthen parishes so that they no longer need the grants. But… is it working?
When I left for the Diocese of Maine in 2008, the Diocese of Rochester was 54 parishes. Now, it’s 44. That’s a nearly 20% decrease. A quarter of our parishes are without a resident priest, and some parishes can’t afford even quarter time. It seems unlikely that they will be able to call a priest. All this is driven by economic and demographic forces much larger than our churches. Is there a need for a different approach? How should the resources of parishes and the diocese be directed?
Some dioceses have regional vicars, diocesan employees, who have oversight of several congregations in a region. Some dioceses encourage larger congregations to partner with smaller congregations to work together and share resources. Some dioceses have a training program for lay pastoral leaders who administer parishes. In this diocese, we’re thinking about extending the oversight of resident clergy to cover congregations where there is no resident priest. We’re thinking about calling one priest to serve several parishes. We’ve tried clusters in this diocese in the past, and nobody much likes them. We fear the loss of identity and independence. Yet some form of close collaboration and sharing of resources will be essential if we are to sustain our parishes.
What’s your vision? What do you think God wants for us? What sort of strategy grabs your imagination? What would you be willing to share with others in order to maintain your church? This challenge is a major focus of the present moment in our diocese and will undoubtedly be a major agenda item for the next bishop.