As you might recall from a few week’s ago, the Acts 8 Moment, a group of Episcopalians seeking to Proclaim Resurrection in The Episcopal Church, has taken on a three-round BLOGFORCE Challenge on subsidiarity. Question one dealt with congregations, asking “What is the mission of the congregation?” You can read my response here and the round up of all posts here. This week’s question bumps us one level higher to what church types like to call the mid-level judicatory, or in The Episcopal Church, the diocese. Again there are two questions to answer: What is the mission of the Diocese? How should it be structured to serve its mission? Here goes.
On Saturday, February 21st at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, Alabama, the 44th Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast elected the Rev. James Russell Kendrick as its 4th Bishop. In the months leading up to that election, we were invited, as a diocese, to pray the Collect for the Election of a Bishop found on page 818 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It seems to me that this prayer sums up not just the ministry of a Bishop as chief pastor, but also makes a bold statement about the mission of the diocese. To me, the mission of the diocese is quite simply, to equip us for our ministries. Certainly there a few ministries that are best done at the diocesan level, but to my mind that list is very, very small. As the hub from which congregations radiate, the diocese should serve to facilitate the ministries of each member congregation. It should serve as a hub of communication, of best practices sharing, of training, and of support.
I live and work in a diocese that has a very small staff. With 5.6 full-time equivalent employees, the structure of the Central Gulf Coast is almost entirely focused on administration. The Bishop’s Secretary, the Financial Secretary, the Diocesan Secretary, and the Diocesan Administrator all work, for the most, to keep the system running. A 0.1 FTE Canon to the Ordinary and a half-time Diocesan Youth Coordinator are the two positions that exist in order to equip us for our ministries, while the Bishop does his best to keep the myriad plates spinning, all the while changing hats as often as he checks his email. A three person communications team works as contract employees for the Diocese in order to help tell our stories, but they are grossly underfunded to do that work.
Realizing that this structure does not facilitate congregations in their ministry, my suggestion has been and would be to re-prioritize the paltry staff budget so that at least 50% of the time and money spent in the diocesan budget is used for equipping and engaging in ministry. In my diocese, for example, this would look like
- The Bishop – a 50/50 ministry/administration office (1 FTE)
- A Canon to the Ordinary- Ministry (1 FTE)
- A Diocesan Administrator/Financial Officer – Admin (1 FTE)
- Executive Assistant serving the Bishop and Canon – 50/50 (1 FTE)
- Communications Administrative Assistant – 50/50 (1 FTE)
- Youth Ministry Coordinator – Ministry (.5 FTE)
This means that 3 FTE are focused on ministry and 2.5 FTE are focused on administration. We can’t eliminate administration, but it shouldn’t be the overwhelming mission of the diocese. Equipping congregations for ministry and serving as a facilitator of communication, dioceses can help their congregations flourish and help us move away from being a lose confederation of congregationalists toward once again being The Episcopal Church in a geographic region, serving to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.