This has been an extraordinary year of transition.
A lot of things are shifting.
For one thing, we are in the midst of a lot of clergy turnover.
All Saints, Grace in the Desert, Christ Church, St. John’s, St. Mark’s,
St. Patrick’s, Epiphany, and St. Paul’s Virginia City
have all been in transition this year.
Transitions cost time and money,
and they elevate anxiety.
Congregations cannot move forward
while they are preoccupied with choosing their clergy.
But All Saints, Grace, and St. Mark’s have now extended calls
We hope to have good clergy leaders in place
at all of these congregations very soon.
On the church governance front,
we have streamlined our leadership structure
to serve parishes better.
Our unified board Standing Committee
has vastly improved diocesan leadership.
They meet more, communicate more,
gather the information they need,
and make timely decisions.
We always had good people on the Standing Committee,
but the tangled web of our organization kept them
from doing their job.
The Standing Committee has appointed
working and advisory committees to deal with
finance, investments, and property.
They have provided guidance on real estate issues,
and helped us balance our budget,
redesign our chart of accounts to reflect what we actually do,
and invest our savings in more profitable ways.
Last year I emphasized our relationships around the diocese.
We are not fighting but that’s because we aren’t speaking.
We have retreated to our neutral corners after old
– perhaps even forgotten – battles.
I said then, and I say now, there is no a silver bullet for relationships
and it isn’t going to change over night.
But this year our priests and deacons
have been communicating more.
Women from around the diocese gathered in Tonopah
to discuss how parish ECW’s might support each other.
Yesterday, they organized themselves into a Diocesan ECW.
Our conventions seem to be becoming more relational.
It isn’t the 2nd Coming
– but some people are beginning to talk to each other.
Changing the tone of out diocesan relationships
can make a difference for parish relationships as well.
We have several congregations in Level 4 Conflict
– that’s the fight/flight kind of conflict
where somebody has to leave.
In most cases where members of a congregation are seriously
at odds with each other,
the congregation is at odds with the diocese
or their neighbors in the diocese.
I don’t know which comes first.
It’s probably a chicken and egg thing.
But our internal and external relationships go hand in hand.
If we form a larger network
of personal relationships in the diocese,
that will help parishes contain their conflict at healthier levels.
D. Social Ministries
Relationships among churches and church members is crucial.
But they are not the only relationships essential to our health.
Being connected to people outside the church walls
is just as important.
All over the diocese, I see that churches
connected to their communities flourish;
while disconnected churches wither.
This year we have made encouraging moves on that front.
In Las Vegas, we have formed Nevadans for the Common Good,
an interfaith community organizing effort
to combat child sex trafficking, improve education,
speak out for immigrants, and improve life
for the vulnerable elderly.
Our Latino congregations led the way.
Then 7 of the 9 congregations in this Valley
turned out in force for the founding Convention.
ACTIONN is a parallel project in Northern Nevada,
focusing on jobs and education.
Trinity and St. Paul’s, Sparks led the way by joining ACTIONN, and
every Episcopal Church in the Reno-Sparks-Carson area
was present to support ACTIONN’s founding convention.
E. Church Growth
In terms of Church growth, we are jump-starting evangelism
after a no-growth stagnation that persisted
for at least 20 years despite Nevada’s remarkable
population explosion during that time.
To avoid growth during that boom too some work.
Three years ago we began to address this stagnation in two ways.
First, we invested in Latino ministries.
Second, we began a small, underfunded evangelism program
– just a sign here and an ad there.
Result: Average Sunday Attendance for the diocese
in 2010 rose by 12% over 2009.
Average Sunday Attendance in 2011 went up over 2010
by an additional 22%.
The most dramatic growth
was in Latino congregations;
but congregations that did not have Latino ministries,
like Grace in the Desert and Holy Trinity,
also showed solid growth.
Church growth in Nevada is naturally disconcerting.
So, when I released these numbers,
people tried to help me find where they were wrong.
I don’t blame them a bit.
People of my generation remember Paul Simon’s lyric
“I can’t get used to something so right.”
And folks a little younger recall the immortal words of Garbage,
“I’m only happy when it reains.
Besides their skepticism was rooted in facts.
When you consider
that nationally mainline denominations are shrinking,
that our congregations with Level 4 Conflicts were losing people,
that some of our larger churches were in transition
and attendance always goes down during a transition,
that in 2010 Nevada’s population
went down for the first time since 1920
and rebounded by only half a percent in 2011,
add that all up and statistics showing growth rates
of 12 and 22% sound wrong.
Well, they were wrong.
We failed to include the numbers
from our 2nd largest Latino congregation
and from one of our smaller Latino congregations.
The actual growth was even larger than reported.
F. Ministry Development
The vitality of our diocese depends on calling, training, licensing,
and ordaining people for ministry in the church.
Since we lost the Regional Vicars about 7 years ago,
that essential part of our life has been a challenge.
It still is – but we are beginning to regroup.
This year the COOL & MDC revised and clarified the training criteria
for most licensed lay ministries.
They will establish will get to deacons and priests next year.
This year, the MDC provided training for Basic Discipleship presenters
and facilitators so that we can offer the foundation course
for lay ministries anywhere in the diocese.
The MDC also provided training
for Gifts Discernment Workshop leaders.
Gifts Discernment is the second step in preparing for ministry,
and it is now available in most of the diocese.
The COOL has begun clarifying and simplifying,
our discernment process for ordained ministries.
That can’t be done all at once.
But this year we began the work.
II. THE COMING YEAR
As we consider what we might accomplish together next year,
let me reiterate, it’s all about the relationships.
We can set all sorts of marvelous goals.
But whether they amount to a hill of beans
depends 100% on our relationships.
This coming year I plan to introduce our clergy
to new processes for building relationships.
We can build relationships and learn conflict management skills
at our Small Church Workshop this November.
I hope we will find new ways to connect with each other
throughout the diocese.
Only if we make those connections, can we generate
the synergy it will take to overcome
our historic areas of weakness.
A. Church Growth & Stewardship
Our diocese has historically been anemic on two counts
– evangelism and stewardship.
As a missionary diocese living off the national church dole,
we got into a habit of passivity.
So we were weak on evangelism and stewardship.
We propose to double our investment in evangelism next year.
We have segregated the rental income
from the old St. Stephen’s property for a new church plant.
The Standing Committee has authorized one grant and made several
accommodations on parish assessments
strategically designed to invest in church growth
instead of church maintenance.
Many businesses came out of the Great Depression stronger
than they were before.
Without exception, they followed this simple strategy:
“Cut maintenance costs and invest in growth.”
That’s what we have done – cutting our rent in half,
cutting travel costs, reducing communications overhead,
while investing in growth.
When the churches in transition have clergy leadership in place,
they can resume growth.
If the Churches in Level 4 Conflict learn to work together,
they can grow again.
Our host congregation is a prime example.
Grace was stagnant for years because they were mired in conflict.
Then they stopped fighting and got on with the mission.
Result: For the past five years,
they have been one of our fastest growing congregations.
Being visible signs of the gospel in our communities
is part & parcel of evangelism.
Where I have served before, Churches were leaders
in Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together,
and MLK Day service projects.
Last MLK Day, I volunteered at a community center.
There were identified groups of volunteers
from banks, Starbucks, and fraternities
-- but no churches.
When other volunteers learned I was from a church,
they said “Where is your church.
If a church actually serves the community,
I’d want to be part of it.”
But I was the only Episcopalian in sight and I don’t have a congregation.
So that sparked the BBHAG.
My goal for next MLK Day is to have 300 Episcopalians
at work sites around the state
wearing our T-shirts and hats.
No preaching: just admit you are an Episcopalian,
and serve your community.
That will grow our congregations.
I will need coordinators in each of our parishes
to organize that project.
If we choose to grow next year, we can do it
– not just for the sake of our institutional vitality
– but because there are people all over Nevada
who need some gospel.
If we extend our church growth rate for a 4th consecutive year,
we can say we’ve turned that one around.
Stewardship is almost as important as evangelism,
not just because it takes money to sustain mission,
but because failing to instill stewardship
spiritually infantilizes our people.
This year our Diocese joined The Episcopal Network for Stewardship
and made their resources available to all of our parishes.
A few parishes have begun solid stewardship programs
in the past four years -- though most have not.
Next year we will begin a small tentative stewardship program,
just as we began evangelism 3 years ago.
If we steadily improve our evangelism and stewardship,
we can reduce the parish assessments
and still fund a diocese.
I do not have the authority to make this promise.
But I can and will state this goal.
I want to reduce the percentage of the parish assessment
by at least 1% each year for the next 5 years.
We can adjust the formula for the assessment all we want.
But the real burden is the 25% rate.
Parishes cannot flourish with that lodestone around their necks.
Shifting the burden from one parish to another is not the answer.
Instead of just shifting the load, we need to lift the load.
My goal is to reduce the assessment to 20%
within 5 years regardless of what happens in the national church.
National restructuring may lower the assessment on dioceses.
If and when that happens,
we may be able to reduce the assessment faster and more.
But cutting the 1st 5% is up to us.
It takes two things: evangelism and stewardship.
One obstacle to our relationships is weak communications.
In recent years, we have tried experiments,
with some hits and some misses.
But we have never developed a comprehensive communications plan.
The communications questionnaires you have received
are part of that planning.
In the coming year, we will implement
a new communications package.
C. Strategic Planning
Finally, we need a vision of and a plan for our life together.
To that end, I have asked Jim Koehn
to form a Strategic Planning Task Force
to help the Diocese draw its own big picture.
Tools like asset mapping, Canon Chuck McCray’s 4T Days program,
and studies of the 5 Marks of Mission,
are all part of finding our direction.
But there cannot be a strong diocesan vision or plan
unless it percolates up from the plans and aspirations
The framework of any diocesan plan is to support
parishes in their mission strategies.
We cannot have a plan or vision for the diocese
unless parishes first discern their own missions.
The diocese cannot tell a parish what its mission is.
Parishes must find their own missions, make their own plans,
so we can weave those ideas into a whole.
When I ask some of our parishes about their mission,
they say that it is just survival.
But what is the point of surviving?
Remember Miracle Max in the Princess Bride
shouting to the comatose Wesley,
“Hey you in there, what you got to live for?”
Each of our congregations needs an answer to that question.
I hope the Task Force will develop a strategic plan for the diocese,
but more importantly I hope
their work will prompt parishes to do their own planning,
form their own visions, figure out
“what they got to live for.”
I hope we will not rush to an answer.
I hope this will be a process that lasts several years
so it can keep dreaming, keep thinking,
and keep working out how to be the Body of Christ together.