We are on a Journey
In my journeys around the diocese for Sunday visitations and to meet with clergy, I’m discovering what all of you already know: we’re tired. We’re tired of the pandemic and the constraints it has placed on us. We’re tired of two years of uncertainty. We’re discouraged that we seem to be facing an unending string of Covid variants and surges. We’re tired of having to offer hybrid worship to an increasingly diverse community. We desperately want things to return to days of stability and predictability and to function in the ways we’re most comfortable. We want to be together again and for everyone to come back to church.
The pandemic gets a lot of blame for our tiredness. We have been stretched in ways we never imagined just to offer worship week by week. Yet, truth be told, the pandemic in many ways simply accelerated and clarified trends that were well underway before March 2020. The things we grew up with – rising wealth, lots of Episcopal children – are things of the past. Our congregations have been aging, membership has been declining, for more than two decades. Our need to connect with young people in new ways and to be present in our communities in new ways has been an ongoing challenge. Our red doors no longer attract interest.
Much of what we have been as The Episcopal Church has depended on stability. Income streams for parishes, career tracks for clergy, and work in our communities have relied on the expectation that things won’t change much from year to year, except to improve slightly. And that world is gone. We all know that from watching our children try to find career paths and stable employment. We all know that from watching our parish incomes decline.
So, what to do? That’s the question the Diocesan Council and the Trustees have begun to wrestle with in talking about Mission Strategy. Our strategy has been to support parishes through Congregational Development and Mission Partnership grants. Is that strategy working? Is there a strategy that might be more effective in providing clergy leadership and strengthening parish missions? How might we connect more effectively with our communities?
My own sense is that we need to be willing to try new things, to take risks, to seek partnerships with community groups and businesses, in ways we haven’t before. We need to recognize that online worship will continue to exist alongside worship in person and that the pandemic will continue to demand flexibility. When something is working well, we need to affirm and support it. When something isn’t working, we need to ask why we keep doing it.
Finally, and perhaps most important, we need to take care of ourselves. Rest and refreshment are essential in this environment. We need to enjoy the summer. And we need to trust that God walks with us, that God may be in all the chaos inviting us to new ways of being. God loves us even when we don’t feel loved. So, say your prayers, spend time with your loved ones, and look for God to show up in unexpected ways. We’re on a journey, and the only thing we can do now is take the next step.