April 22, 2021: A Report from the Diocesan Special Convention

By Heidi Rasciner, Vestry Member and Convention Delegate

This past weekend vEnessa Acham and I represented All Souls as Lay Delegates at a Diocesan Special Convention to consider a new Canon on Diocesan Stewardship and Parish Viability. The idea behind the Canon is that when a parish’s continued viability is seriously threatened, there needs to be a broader conversation, as struggling parishes draw heavily on Diocesan resources.

The proposed Canon was developed by an advisory committee (which included Jonathan Nicholas from All Souls), refined in response to a series of Diocesan-wide listening sessions, and then further revised over the course of several hours of prayerful collaboration and discussion on Saturday. During the discussion, we heard from one delegate about a parish that received help from the Diocese, and it “made all the difference”; we also heard as another delegate speculated about a parish that might have survived if such a Canon had been in place.

The new Canon enables the Diocese to step in and act as a source of guidance and strength, even in cases where the parish leaders can’t agree on a way forward. The Canon seeks to do this in a way that respects a parish’s autonomy, and is not intended to be punitive; instead the hope is to intervene early enough so that a parish can be restored to health. This fits in with one of the three main pillars of our Diocesan Strategic Plan, which aspires to “revitalize our churches to grow the Jesus Movement.”

Once a determination is made that a parish needs help, Diocesan Council appoints a committee comprised of clergy and lay representatives, including individuals designated by the parish, to conduct a formal assessment of the parish’s health and viability. Although focused on struggling parishes, the list of considerations for this assessment includes specific criteria that can be used by any parish as a source of best practices. Some are simple, business-like standards related to legal compliance and financial soundness, but the assessment goes beyond a simple checklist or spreadsheet, and is intended as a holistic review of the whole parish. As an example, the Canon identifies a healthy parish as one that maintains faith formation programs and outreach programs; a healthy parish also supports ministries relating to welcoming and connecting with the community in which the parish is located. The Canon also identifies capable parish leaders as those who participate in Diocesan Convention, as well as training and leadership programs (like the programs offered by our new Diocesan School for Christian Faith and Leadership).

The assessment report is submitted to Diocesan Council, which then has a wide range of options it can recommend to the Bishop, including implementation of a parish revitalization plan, a change to mission status, a combination or cooperative agreement with another parish, or even closure of the parish. Whichever recommendation our Bishop adopts, she will seek to “strengthen the Body of Christ in the Diocese of Washington by helping support all Episcopal communities of faith.” 

 

Last Published: April 30, 2021 8:18 AM
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