Saturday, October 13, 2012

Diocesan Convention Update - Saturday, October 13, 2012

     In the Bishop's annual address, he said Nevada is in a time of heavy clergy turnover.  The new Standing Committee is working really well and meeting more often.  We have overhauled our financial affairs.

     Last year, he emphasized relationships.  It appeared many congregations across the state were not fighting with each other, but that's because we're not speaking to one another.  This year, our priests and deacons have been talking a lot more.  The process of convention is beginning to feel more relational.  There are some congregations that are at Level 4 crisis: Flight or fight.  He's noticed these kind of churches are often also in conflict with the diocese and neighboring churches.  Being connected outside our walls is important.  He spoke of community organizing efforts in Las Vegas and Reno and the support our churches had given.  He gave a specific example from a new member at Trinity in Reno (yay!) inspired by our involvement in the community through the ACTIONN, our new interfaith community organizing project to improve education and alleviate unemployment in the Reno-Sparks area.

     The Bishop talked about how the Episcopal church in Nevada is growing.  each year of 2009 through 2012 at a rate of anywhere from 12% to 28% last year.  He said he knew how such statistics can be disconcerting; we're used to telling the story of our decline.  This got a good chuckle out of the delegates.

     The Commission on Ministry has revised lay servers licensing.  Ministry development has created gifts discernment workshops for most of the parishes.  They have clarified the procedure for ordination.  The bishop joked that we tend to put people trying to become deacons or priests through so much that they are angry at the church, and then we ordain them. 

     The Bishop hopes we will continue to make new connections to continue growth.  We have been historically anemic on evangelism and stewardship. Nevada was once supported by the national church as a territorial church, and that has created an attitude where stewardship wasn't that necessary.  Those times are long gone.  We have made investments this year to improving both stewardship and evangelism.

     "We need to be visible," said Bishop Dan.  He spoke of volunteer projects on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Dan volunteered last MLK Day, but he was the only Episcopalian there.  There were banks, frat houses, Starbuck's, but no churches, and they were shocked a church was there.  He challenged us to put 300 Episcopalians across the state in volunteer project on this next year's MLK Day.  He jokingly referred to this as the BBHAG (The Bishop's Big Hairy Audacious Goal!)  If we choose to grow again next year, we can grow next year.  It is not just because of our organizational  health, but because so many people need the Good News in their lives.

     Dan felt we also need to address stewardship.  Not teaching stewardship infantilizes our people.  Teaching it, grows strong, mature Christians. Doing this would allow the Diocese to reduce the asking (the percentage of a parish's income that goes to the Diocese).  His goal is to reduce it to 20% (from 25%) within the next five years.  But, it will take evangelism and stewardship.

     One challenge to our relationships is communications.  We are looking to create a communications strategy.

     The Bishop concluded his annual address by saying we need a vision and a plan for our life together.  The Bishop has appointed someone to create that vision through whatever strategic planning method.  But the diocesan vision can only be supportive of a parish, so it must start with the parishes.  Our mission cannot just be survival.  Parishes need to create their own visions.

     Stewart, the Director of Camp Galilee, the Episcopal Church Camp at Lake Tahoe gave us a status update.  The camp has experienced growth and there are a number of new construction projects underway.

     Virginia Warren spoke to us about planned giving, that is, including the Episcopal Church in our wills.  There is now a program in place that not only includes planned giving, but provides assistance with making a will, and funeral planning.  Most of us hate to think about this, but it is a pastoral responsibility of the Church to help our members with this.

     You might not realize that our own Stefani Schatz, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, is also the President of the state Diocese's Standing Committee.  She spoke about how well the Standing Committee is working together and meeting more often through the use of technology.  She said she both felt they took care of day-to-day business, but also sparked support and encouragement for local parishes.  She said that the Standing Committee is interested in our input and is listening as we engage in strategic planning for our future.  She closed by leading the entire congregation in a singing of "Allelu, allelu, allelu, allelujah, Praise Ye the Lord."

     During today's business sessions, we revised the canons to be adjusted to the new reality of a streamlined Standing Committee, established a companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Machakos in the Anglican Church of Kenya, and passed our annual budget. 

     We closed our convention with a splendid Eucharist supported by a pick-up choir made up of volunteers from among the delegates.  The delegates at the convention decided our collection from this liturgy would be donated to Camp Galilee to help provide sponsorships for children.  Our Episcopal Camp at the Lake has never turned away a child because of inability to pay.

     I'm not quite sure how many years I've been going to these - somewhere over twelve years - but it's always amazing how much we get through in just a couple short days! 

     We have a nice celebratory banquet tonight, and I'm looking forward to being back in Reno tomorrow afternoon!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Diocesan Convention Update - Friday, October 13, 2012

     You can sure tell which ones of us grew up in Nevada. The Diocesan Convention in Las Vegas opened with the singing of Home Means Nevada, except we substituted "Church" for "Home". When I was at Robert Mitchel Elementary School in Sparks, everyone sang our state song as part of our morning exercises. Newcomers to Nevada got the pleasure of learning it!

     We've all heard the discouraging statistics about the decline of the church, most recently from a Pew Research poll, but our keynote speaker, Bob Honeychurch from the National Church, was one of the first I have heard the emphasized the great opportunity embedded in this. We all woke up when he referred to some old church traditions as the "holy crap" that had accumulated. He said the ground in which we are planted is too valuable for us not to take this seriously. There are many people in our society who describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious," but sadly our churches could sometimes be described as "religious, but not spiritual." Too often, people come to us looking for God, and we give them church. They come looking for ways to make sense of the chaos in theirs lives, and we give them a list of committees they could serve on. We are tempted to equate the Good News with all the trappings, but if we could focus on what's really important -- giving people an authentic experience of the Christ -- all those other concerns about how we should minister, and whether our churches would grow, would be taken care of. We must find ourselves firmly planted in the world that is... where God is already actively involved.  He suggested we need to find ourselves in that Exodus story. We're in the wilderness right now, in a strange land, time, and culture not of our own choosing. But we are not alone. God is with us on this journey and is leading, just as God did the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  We are called to where the world's deep hunger and our faith meet. That is the gift of being the church today.

     There is great news on our budget. In 2013, we have a balanced budget for the first time in a long time. Applause! Net income is better than forecasted, so we're also ending the year well in the black. We will also be able to help fulfill specific financial grant requests from local congregations. When all is said and done, we are a $10,000,000 organization!  Amazing!

     We watched a very moving video report on Latino Ministries. Bishop Dan said it started out as a way to help the Latino community, but they have enriched us. I hope to post the video soon!

     We spent much of the afternoon in various interest groups focused on an exercise called "mapping assets" where we look at talents we as individuals and as a diocese can bring to bear in the areas of evangelism, Camp Galilee, communications, ministry development, and education.

     Later, we worked on committee appointments and canon revision, all too titillating to be described fully in this humble blog.  In the evening, open hearing were held on miscellaneous reports (kind of an "open mic" for different folks who want to make announcements) and the budget (for the truly wonky folks who love the details!)

     We ended with a presentation from the deputies who went to our national General Assembly this summer.

     The Trinity group all went out to dinner at a place called the Ranch House.  The food was great, and breaking bread in one another's company after a long day was refreshing.