Implementing a church revitalization strategy that leads to healthy, thriving congregations throughout the Diocese of Washington and reverses the trends of decline is one of the three key priorities of our diocesan strategic plan.
One of the first steps we took as a diocese to advance this priority was to commission the 10 new Regional Deans whose mission is to help strengthen relationships and foster collaborative efforts between congregations within our 8 regions and to welcome The Rev. Andrew Walter as Canon for Strategic Collaboration to the diocesan staff at Diocesan Convention in January.
After Convention we got to work, with the Rev. Todd Thomas, Missioner for Revitalization, convening thought leaders from across the diocese to help turn our first measurable objective from vision to reality: providing church health assessments and revitalization strategies to our parishes.
When COVID-19 reached our communities, your diocesan staff immediately redirected all of our energies toward crisis management, pivoting toward delivering services and support to our congregations that would enable them to survive the pandemic.
- With approval from Diocesan Council, we created a parish assistance program that provided $154,000 of support to nine congregations.
- We collected resources into a robust resource hub that, among other things, included information about the Federal Government's CARES Act loans for parishes, guidelines for holding online worship, and a use of church facilities policy.
- We created guidelines for regathering, encouraging congregations to return to in-person worship only when the decision felt right.
- We remained in close contact with diocesan leaders and regional deans.
Vital Signs of Parish Health
Over the summer and early fall, as the flurry of our initial crisis response eased, we turned our attention back to the strategic plan. In October, we introduced the Vital Signs of Parish Health, a diagnostic tool intended to help parishes assess what areas of their operations are functioning well and what could use some adjustment. Resources include an introductory document and a one-page discussion guide.
These vital signs will be the focus for diocesan engagement with congregations going forward, informing everything from leadership transition processes, criteria for ordination, parish visitations, and the measure of fruitfulness for diocesan initiatives.
Diocesan Stewardship and Parish Vitality
At the 125th annual meeting of the Convention on January 25, 2020, the Convention adopted a resolution establishing the Advisory Committee on Diocesan Stewardship and Parish Vitality. The resolution was put forward by a group of clerical members and lay delegates of the Convention to respond to a need to address parishes experiencing challenges in their ongoing vitality and to provide a mechanism for the Diocese to respond to these parishes.
As a result of their work, the Advisory Committee proposed a new canon that would enable diocesan leaders to proactively work with parishes that are facing significant challenges, with the hope that diocesan support and guidance might lead a parish to renewed vitality. Right now, unfortunately, parishes often reach out to the diocese when it's too late, when the problems and challenges have grown so large it's hard to turn them around. Enabling the Diocese to get involved sooner would not only help those parishes, but it would benefit the Diocese as a whole.
The Advisory Committee's proposed canon is now in the hands of the diocesan Constitution & Canons Committee, who are reviewing it and making it consistent with current canonical standards and established language. The actual text of the proposed canon will be made available as soon as possible, and people from around the Diocese will have the opportunity to read and comment on it.
Pivoting to 2021
In 2021, we will work alongside parishes to help them thrive in our new hybrid reality of supporting digital and in-person community, to develop the leadership for this new post-pandemic era, and to continue as Christ's witnesses in our host neighborhoods. Major streams of our activity will include supporting those parishes selected for work with the national Congregational Leadership Initiative, working with the parishes selected for our diocesan Tending Our Soil initiative, and continuing to expand our resources for engaging the vital signs and metrics.