Dear friends in Christ,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we said in our last communication to the diocese, the Standing Committee held an all-day work session on May 20. We were guided in our work by two consultants, Bishop Chilton Knudsen and Ms. Anne Schmidt. The purpose of the work session was to review all the data we have collected in the last few months, to reflect on what we have learned, to make plans for immediate next steps, and to set benchmarks for when we will be ready to appoint a search committee for our next diocesan bishop.
Before any of that work, we opened our day with prayer. We set a scriptural theme for this time of transition. Our hope is that this scripture will guide our work and the life of our diocese as we live in this time of transition.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:17-20)
We chose this theme because we see deep connections with where our diocese is now and where we must go.
- In Christ all things are made new. Our transformation is brought about by the grace of Jesus Christ, not by our own work
- Reconciliation is our ministry. As the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer says, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We have reconciliation work to do inside our diocese and beyond.
- We are ambassadors of Christ in the world. Our ministry is not just inward, but focused outward, bringing Good News and reconciliation to the world.
In time, we will offer materials to encourage Bible study of this passage in congregations of the diocese.
What We Heard
Over the last few months, we have run a diocesan-wide online survey; held online listening sessions with lay leaders, clergy, and parishioners; contracted with a consultant to meet with every member of diocesan staff; contacted many clergy for individual conversations; and we have received direct communication to firstname.lastname@example.org and to each of us individually.
Please see the report of our data gathering with summaries of each separate learning activity. At the highest level, we can summarize into these points:
- Our diocese has many strengths, and people are generally hopeful about the future.
- At the same time, there are considerable challenges now: lack of trust in leadership; low energy and low satisfaction, especially among clergy; a sense of disconnection; regional divides among geographic areas of the diocese.
- Most people we heard from said they want the Standing Committee to “take time” to make our diocese stronger and healthier before we appoint the search committee and begin the search for our next bishop.
- We heard that Bishop Breidenthal’s alcohol addiction is central in the minds of some people, while others believe this is essentially a non-issue.
Again, please review the report to see more details. We would be pleased to answer questions about the data we have gathered.
Immediate Next Steps
Our diocese has benefitted from the pastoral care of Bishop Ken Price over the last few months. Clergy especially have appreciated the monthly Zoom calls Bishop Price has hosted. We have asked Bishop Price if he will continue in his current role until July 31, and he has graciously agreed to do so. We are grateful for his leadership and care. Bishop Price, along with Bishop Nedi Rivera and Bishop Wendell Gibbs, will also continue to be invited to exercise their ministries within our diocese.
We have developed draft benchmarks to help us understand when we have reached the point at which it will be time to appoint the search committee. These benchmarks involve diocesan culture, including level of trust and energy; connections among congregations and clergy; community among the clergy; and addressing issues of regionalism. It will take us some time to finalize the benchmarks and the language, and we hope to share them this summer.
We are continuing to work on some specific areas of concern. Our project of contacting all active clergy is ongoing. We had hoped to finish in Eastertide, but we still have connections to make. We are working on issues of regionalism, and we will share more about our plans in the weeks to come. There are other projects, and they are all connected to the overall themes set out above. Stay tuned for details over the summer.
Longer-term Next Steps
As we mentioned in previous communication, our sense is that our diocese will benefit from the leadership of a provisional bishop from outside our diocese. We talked with several bishops, and we are now in conversation with a bishop who we believe will offer the leadership we need. There are some details to sort out, but we hope to make an announcement within the next two weeks.
Our hope is to call for an online special session of diocesan convention to be held in the middle of July for the purpose of approving the call of a provisional bishop to begin work on August 1. This bishop would exercise the same authority as a diocesan bishop, thus the Standing Committee would no longer be the ecclesiastical authority.
The bishop with whom we have been talking would serve in our diocese through the transition time. We don’t know exactly how long that will be, because we do not know how long it will take to complete the necessary benchmarks. However, once the search committee is appointed, the process leading to the search, election, and ordination of our next diocesan bishop will take 12-18 months. It is possible the search committee will be appointed in the 2022, but it could also be 2023. We will share the benchmarks this summer.
No diocese is perfect. Our goal is not perfection for Southern Ohio. Rather, we want to increase the sense of community, collegiality, trust, satisfaction, and energy before we look to our next bishop. By doing so, we believe that the Diocese of Southern Ohio will be in a stronger, healthier place.
In Christ, all things are made new. We believe that as we renew our journey as followers of Jesus, our congregations will be more vibrant, our leadership will have a clearer sense of mission and ministry, and our whole diocese will have a clarity of purpose. To make space for this season of refreshment and renewal, we want to look always toward our crucified and risen Lord, who offers the grace of transformed lives.
Let us pray.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We wish you every blessing of Christ’s reconciling love. We are,
Your Standing Committee
Mr. Larry Hayes, president
The Rev. Phil DeVaul, vice-president
Dr. James Allsop
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Cook
Mr. Barry Feist
The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, secretary.
Connect with the Standing Committee at email@example.com.