By: Melodie Woerman
On January 1, the Rev. Joseph Kovitch began a new half-time position as missioner for the Central Ohio region of the diocese, and already he is making connections and providing help to the 16 churches in his charge.
The diocese has had a missioner in Southeast Ohio for several years, but Canon to the Ordinary John Johanssen said basing a missioner in Columbus came out of a need for churches to be better connected following the pandemic. “Missioners are to make connections,” he said, “to help congregations work with each other and to gain some efficiencies.”
Kovitch said that he has undertaken two major initiatives in his first three months. The first involves helping congregations deepen their spirituality by identifying local spiritual directors—people who are trained to assist others in deepening their spiritual life—and gathering them to be a resource for parishes. The spiritual directors will also assist at an upcoming gathering titled “Naming Our Losses in the Midst of Easter Hope,” where clergy and laypeople in the region can come together to recognize and lament the losses of recent years. The event, which is open to all, takes place on April 30 from 9:30 am. until noon at All Saints, New Albany.
Kovitch’s other initial effort has involved creating connections between seven parishes in the region that are undergoing some kind of significant change, related either to clergy transitions or issues of financial sustainability. “I’ve brought them together to talk, to ask questions, to see where they might share resources,” he said. “I want to help them move from surviving to thriving and looking at how to adapt.” He is also exploring ways for churches to share not only resources but also stories of resilience. “Every church is doing something in the community,” he said. “How can we celebrate that and share the stories that might inspire others?”
Next, Kovitch hopes to foster lay leadership in the region’s congregations. “How can we empower and equip laity who feel a stirring toward leadership in their parish or the region?” he asks.
Johanssen said the new missioner position is a one-year pilot project that may be replicated in other areas of the diocese, like Cincinnati and Dayton. “We don’t know what the deliverables of the position are,” he said, “but we want him to try things. Get people connected, given the challenges of clergy and lay leaders in the church post-COVID.”
Kovitch, who has a doctor of ministry degree in mission making from Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland, said he thinks the key elements of being a missioner are “to be a really good listener and just pay attention,” which can help him see patterns and questions that congregations may have in common but don’t recognize. “Maybe the missioner is just curious…an individual who asks questions and convenes conversations and then sees what happens when God shows up.”
He also hopes to strengthen connections between congregations and the diocese. “Every one of the 16 parishes can connect to the missioner exactly the way they need to,” he said. “The beauty is that churches are already doing amazing stuff, and maybe the missioner can ask, ‘How can we highlight this story and share it?’”
Johanssen said that response from clergy has already been positive. Kovitch has “a really sweet spirit,” he said. “He wants to see what the opportunities are and what can work.”
Besides his new role as missioner, Kovitch is also the priest at St. Matthew’s, Westerville, and a diocesan church planter. All of his roles, he says, involve helping the church change faithfully. “We need to keep reimaging who we are in the current day without losing the core of who we are as the Episcopal Church,” he said.
Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer for Canticle Communications, and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.