The Diocese of Southern Virginia is poised to move forward into the future, ready to take some risks to live out the Gospel across our communities and invite others to join us. The hopes and dreams of the Diocese are expressed in this section through a selection of representative responses from both the questionnaire and the Listening Sessions.
“We can no longer wait to receive people as they come in just because we’re here; we now have to follow the model of the early church to heed our Lord’s command to go into all the world in witness to his love.”
“God is calling us to a stronger commitment to evangelism and church growth through the clear proclamation of the Gospel and the creation of multiple opportunities for seekers to visit our parishes.”
“I think God is calling us to show and to demonstrate that we can be God’s people – The Church – who care about one another and all of humanity, even though, even because, we are not alike, and don’t agree on everything. We are not all alike. We do not all agree on everything. But we can be kind to one another, respect one another, and support one another. We should be showing the world around us how to do this. “
“God is calling us to join the Jesus Movement that is led by Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop.”
The “Anglican tradition” has been a part of Southern Virginia since 1607. It has experienced both highs and lows during the past 400 years, but the roots are strong and there is a sense that the time is now to move out in faith and explore new paradigms as we move into the next phase of our journey in Southern Virginia.
Challenges (Opportunities) for the incoming Bishop
The next Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia faces several significant, yet closely related challenges. With good leadership and a willingness to work together, these challenges can become opportunities for both spiritual and physical growth for Southern Virginia.
Our survey and listening sessions indicate that the strong sense of identity and mission at the parish level is not present at the diocesan level. Contact with the Diocesan office occurs most frequently in relation to clergy transition or budget problems. Similarly, the opportunity to interact with the Bishop is often limited to confirmations, and some parishes have indicated that they have not received a visit in years. Parishes in general do not see themselves as a vital part of a vibrant Diocese with a clear vision of purpose and mission. The challenge is to bring our parishes together with our Bishop and discern our common call of how to continue to be the Church in Southern Virginia. How do we connect with, develop and mobilize the rich human potential of all our people in a time of increased expectations but diminishing financial resources?
“I see an opportunity for the Convocation to become a more vital breakout group for each diocesan area. The parishes in each have more in common and this also diminishes the distance factor of participation. I think having weekday/Saturday events where the Bishop attends to the Convocations with a targeted approach would serve the people.”
“I believe God is calling us to make a change, to actively reach out into the world and be a presence there, to embrace the digital/social media component of our culture, to be known. I can feel a desire for these things when the clergy gets together.”
Another significant challenge is the survivability and vitality of our small, rural parishes. Many cannot afford full-time clergy, and the demand for supply and part-time clergy far exceeds those available. The geographical distance between many rural parishes complicates efforts toward sharing clergy or cluster arrangements. A report completed by the Executive Board a few years ago identified that parishes without an assigned priest were overwhelmingly likely to be in decline. Loss of the priestly connection to the Bishop and Diocesan staff weakens their connection to the larger Diocese and increases the feeling of isolation. We must find ways of raising up priests and deacons and look for innovative ways to share resources that will enable these small parishes to thrive and feel full members of the diocese.
“[We need] to reach out to all our parishes especially our rural parishes. Find ways to share resources.”
“We should (and must) be as aware and supportive of the smaller parishes as we appear to be of the grander ones.”
“To build a greater sense of the unity of a diocese so that we may move forward together rather than as individual churches that get together once a year for council. Stronger convocation efforts, joint projects that help small churches have a big impact. For example, several small food pantries in the same city when there could be one united effort.”
As with other dioceses in the United States, the number of young adults, young families and youth involved in churches in our diocese has declined. We need to look at ways to better reach out to these groups and engage them. We are fortunate in Southern Virginia to have an engaged grouping of teens who take part in planning youth events for the diocese. These events draw considerable numbers of young folk from around the diocese. Members of the Youth Task Force are passionate about engaging more young people in new ways. Some of their ideas and hopes are shared in the youth segment of Our Present.
“If presented honestly, the Episcopal Church has exactly what most young people are looking for in the world”
We endeavor to include all God’s children in Diocesan life and remain in communion and prayer with each other even when we disagree.
“To support with unconditional love all people and reject all the -isms that divide. Everything about my faith tells me this. It is the fundamental message of Christ”
“To be a place where anyone can walk in the door of a congregation of this diocese and truly be welcomed.”
“God is calling us to be the Jesus movement, to be open to all of Jesus’s brothers and sisters, to stretch our comfort zones in order to meet people where they are instead of where we wish they were.”
The Way Forward
Meeting these challenges may require a fresh look at the whole set of leadership and decision-making structures of the Diocese; changing, redefining or revitalizing them in order to effectively advance our mission priorities. We are experiencing what Loren Meade spoke about back in 1998.
“We have fostered a way of thinking that leads every church member to expect a full-time professionally trained clergy-person, pulling all sorts of subsidies and subterfuges to cloud over the fact that congregations are increasingly unable to afford that style of living. We continue to foster an image of church that the overwhelming number of congregations do not and cannot pay for.”
Loren Meade, Alban Institute Founder, 1998.
Southern Virginia is ready to explore new patterns of parish, convocation and diocesan engagement as we seek to strengthen relationships so that we can better serve God in our region. There is an energy and a desire to work together on a renewed vision and mission and ways to meet them. Conversations are beginning at the convocation level to discuss ways to work together and to build a common diocesan identity.
“God is calling us to a time of discernment, vision and imagination. We need to create better connections among our parishes, and between our parishes and the diocese. We need to commit in new ways to a focus on mission.”
“The one Priest/one parish model is getting more and more difficult to sustain financially as well as to staff. We have the opportunity to look at new, creative models of Ministry.”
“I would like to see the retired (pensioned) clergy used more actively in helping smaller congregations become healthier, by acting as a mentor to the parish Priest and/or the vestry.”
“To develop a common sense of purpose that will surmount the current disunity. The world is hurting and the church should be healing these hurts!”
“It is vital that all parishes feel & have visible connections & work with the diocese”
“We need missional outreach to the military community – particularly supporting young enlisted personnel and parents/families struggling with multiple deployments. We also need concerted outreach through effective and coordinated collegiate ministries. Racial reconciliation is also critical, as the tidewater area has significant racial segregation and disparities”
Our Hopes …
Southern Virginia is to be one body in Christ united to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
As a diocese we would be united through the power of the Holy Spirit, inspired through the Word and Sacrament of Jesus Christ and filled through the grace of God to do the work we have been called to do.
As a diocese with renewed energy and commitment, we will be prepared for the next Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia and ready, willing and able to invest in our future.