Last month we outlined a proposed process for moving into congregational renewal, as developed by the Committee on Congregational Renewal in the Diocese of Bethlehem. This month we will address some implications of this process and some steps for the future.
Implications and Recommendations
The committee feels that at the diocesan level there needs to be a full-time diocesan staff person for the Committee on Congregational Renewal and a budget for a multi-year program. In addition, the committee should regularly bring together the various diocesan committees with the committee as the convener. The committee feels that there is a need to rethink clergy leadership in parishes.
Given both the lack of availability and the cost of clergy, there may be a need to provide greater emphasis on training for lay leadership for worship. There needs to be greater attention given to pastors of small congregations on how to live and to work in rural culture, how to understand the nature of the small church, how to administer in a small church, how to develop church programs with limited resources, and how to manage conflicts. Ways to address these issues might include clergy days on the dynamics of ministry in small and rural congregations, regular meetings of clergy and congregations predicated by their location and size, a course in the Bishop’s School on ministering in the small and rural parish, and workshops at Training Day on issues that affect the small congregation.
There is also a need to establish linkage to the national church’s strategic planning, especially in the area of strengthening congregations. Greater resources for leadership training, especially for those in rural and small communities, need to be made available. There should be a common instrument for strategic planning for congregations to establish mission statements, goals, objectives, and benchmarks. The diocese should re-establish a relationship with Percept for assistance with demographic data. And there is a need to study in greater detail those parishes identified in the State of the Church Report showing significant growth. Those congregations not capable of faithfulness to ministry should be subject to the action of the appropriate diocesan instrumentality for assistance, restructuring, or closure.
Steps For the Future
Across the diocese, preparations are being made for Diocesan Convention, which this year will highlight the report on congregational renewal, From Risk to Opportunities. In addition to the three Diocesan Life articles, each lay and clergy delegate to Convention will be asked to read From Risk to Opportunities, all available on the diocesan website, and to discuss them in each congregation prior to Convention. At each of the three pre-Convention meetings across the diocese, a team from the Congregational Renewal Committee will be present to answer questions from the delegates concerning the Report and its process. At their September retreat, the clergy will be address the issues raised in the Report and the implications for the clergy in the process of congregational renewal.
At the Convention, delegates will break into small groups for two ninety-minute sessions, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Each group of laity or clergy (they will meet separately) will have a facilitator to assist and to record their discussion. The focus of the Friday session will be to review the process set forth in From Risk to Opportunities, and to respond to the challenges set out in Bishop Paul’s address. The focus of the Saturday session will be to initiate the process of sharing with other parishes in the group its experiences, plans, ideas, and methods of each parish in carrying out its mission Each parish will have the opportunity to discuss, plan, and listen to the other parishes and their delegates in their group.
The goal of the small table discussions will be to help us, as diocesan and congregational leaders, to create a vision of mission for our parishes, to learn how to network with one another in doing ministry, and to become part of a process which will help us as a whole diocese create vital congregations engaged in the work of the Gospel. There are variety of programs and approaches available to congregations. For congregations to become vital communities, they must focus on the things that make for effective mission, joyful worship, meaningful formation, caring community, and clear witness to the Gospel. Whatever the approach, we have found that measurable processes that involve a wide spectrum of the congregation and that are grounded in prayer are the most useful. Our goal is congregational leaders who join in renewing the culture of mission and witness in our diocese.
What Can Your Parish Do?
What can your parish do to prepare for Convention and the From Risk to Opportunities process? Here are a few ideas:
(1) Compose a special prayer that focuses on renewal, that can be used at all services and meetings of the congregation.
(2) Send out a pastoral letter to all parishioners setting out proposals for parish involvement in the “From Risk to Opportunities” process.
(3) Create a “Renewal Prayer Group” to pray for renewal and to encourage all parishioners to do the same.
(4) Establish a “Renewal Committee” that can be a liaison with the diocese, the Congregational Renewal Committee and other parishes, to find ways to help and to become involved.
(5) Encourage as many people as possible in the parish to be at Convention in Bethlehem.
(6) Seek to renew each and every ministry in the parish, and to return the sparkle to the mission and vision for the church and for the parish.
(7) Work with the various committees and organizations of the parish in their own renewal process.
(8) Include “Diocesan and Parish Renewal” on the agenda of every Vestry meeting.(9) Have a series of discussions in preparation for the Convention. They can either take place around the Sunday service, or as a “house discussion” on a weeknight. The sessions can adopt the themes from the From Risk to Opportunities document’s process – that is, Prayer, Congregational Discernment, Strategic Planning, Partnerships, Covenanting, and Periodic Review and Evaluation.
Fundamental to all the activities at the parish should be the following:
• Pray. The renewal process means stressing the prayer life of the congregation and the adoption of ‘holy habits’ in our church and personal lives.
• Remember that our parishes are not isolated, but part of the whole ministry of the Diocese.• Recall our baptisms, through which we were adopted into the Body of Christ, and which is the foundation for our common ministry to proclaim the Gospel and serve Christ in the world.