Tuesday, October 23, 2012


         A Bishop’s review of a diocesan convention is about as well informed as a stage manager’s review of a play. The stage manager is preoccupied with the lighting, the props, etc. – and cannot pay attention to the acting or even the script. I have the worst possible perspective on our Convention. I can report on the feedback I have received and the buzz I have heard.
         The dominant words have been “mellow,” “smooth,” and “conflict free.” People noted the absence of “squabbling,” “bickering,” and “quarrelling.” It seems we experienced some harmony in our relationships. People also noted that the convention was shorter, less expensive, and proceeded at a gentler pace with longer breaks for informal mingling, shopping the vendor area, and catching our breath.

         All of that sounds pleasant enough, but maybe a little sleepy. It may have been a sleepy convention. If so, that’s ok. We need rest. But I am not sure it was sleepy. During our several table discussion exercises – asset mapping, Bible study, and discussion of my address – and during the special mission group asset mapping exercise, the conversations looked and sounded quite energetic. The sticky notes from the table discussions are imaginative, creative, out of the box. Leaders of special mission groups are making appointments to discuss ideas that came out of their group process.

         What to make of this? Perhaps we had a different kind of energy going in a different kind of process. Maybe there was more imagining of new possibilities instead of haggling over limited options. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at each of those small group conversations. I don’t know what happened, but it sounds like it was good. Note: these were conversations among people from all over the diocese at randomly assigned tables. Could this be a small step in knitting our relationships together? Too soon to say.

         One thing did puzzle me. Of all the things I said in the Bishop’s Address, the one thing I expected to get a response was the goal of reducing the assessment on parishes by 5% over the next 5 years, regardless of what happens at the national level, and by a larger percentage if the national assessment on dioceses goes down.

         I was surprised that reducing the financial burden on parishes met such a ho-hum response. I have been trying to figure out why that should be. First possibility, people don’t believe it will actually happen. Second, meeting this goal depends on congregations engaging in evangelism and stewardship programs – maybe people would rather pay the 25% assessment than do that. Third, maybe each congregation is itself ready and willing to engage in evangelism and stewardship, but they do not believe other congregations will do so.  Fourth, we may have grown accustomed to slaving under and complaining (rightly) about the 25% assessment, and don’t really want to give it up. It is such a familiar, comfortable misery. Fifth, if we had the extra revenue left in the parish coffers, we would then have to imagine and carry out a new mission. That could be threatening

But I have no basis whatsoever for any of these ideas – they are pure speculation. Any insights others have on the reduction in the assessment question would be welcome. I announced it as my goal, assuming the diocese would share it, but I could be wrong.

On the business side of convention, we did not do a lot, but what we did was helpful. First, we cleaned up the new unified board canon defining the make up and role of the Standing Committee, and passed the complex 2-year process of transitioning into a pattern of staggered elections so that each Mission District will elect a member to Standing Committee each year. The main thing accomplished by this year’s amendment is to empower Mission Districts to elect the Standing Committee. This is the first time we have placed actual governance authority in Mission Districts.

Empowering Mission Districts this way does call them to exercise a bit more disciplined process for one or two meetings each year, but should not interfere with their continuing informal ways of doing whatever else they do (which varies widely from District to District). What the Diocese needs from Mission Districts is for the people who will be at convention to: 1. Elect the Standing Committee. 2. Review and comment on the proposed budget, canon revisions, and resolutions. That will enable us to transact the business of the diocese more effectively, in smaller groups, with time to make the changes people recommend.
People have pointed out to me that there are various glitches and inconsistencies in our diocesan canons. Cleaning up canons is like housework. Like “a woman’s work” the Canon Committee’s work is never done.” None of these defects is fatal to our common life; so we will work on them a little each year, giving top priority to things like the governing board structure that actually affect our mission.

We also passed a resolution for a companion relationship with the Diocese of Machakos (Anglican Church of Kenya). That is just a proposal. They would have to accept by a similar resolution at a future convention of their own. We shall send flowers and wait.

Finally, Grace in the Desert was an excellent host and coordinated a lovely Eucharist. The Bare Bones Blues Band played and sang splendid jazz music. Various suggestions have come in for next year in Fallon – including more opportunities for dancing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Today, I was at one of our Neon City hospitals attempting to visit a hospitalized deacon. I failed. She had already been discharged. But there may yet have been a reason for me to be there.

As I left through the ER doors, a woman outside the ER called me. “Sir, are you a priest? Could you help me? The hospital says the police should take me home but the police said the hospital would do it and left me here.”

In a jumbled way, she told me her story. She had been raped, beaten, and robbed by her ex-husband in a parking lot. Now here she was. The word “battered” is so apt for battered women. Bruises, swollen face, scrapes on her face, arms, and knee. She needed a ride. She stood as if her back was in spasm. She needed help just stepping down from the sidewalk to the asphalt. Yes, “battered” was a good word. “Broken” would have worked as well. Her mind seemed dazed. She couldn’t focus.

I took her to the pharmacy to get her muscle relaxants and anxiety medication, then helped her find her car. The doors had been kicked in on both sides, the side view mirrors were smashed and dangled like broken wings, one window was broken out. But she drove it away.

She had no family in Nevada other than her 7-year-old daughter. Most of her income from working as a cosmetologist was gone. No she did not ask me for money. She just wanted a ride. I wondered whether, if she had been more of a princess, the police would have had time to take her back to her home or her car at least. But she wasn’t. So she was stranded.

I am glad I was there. It didn’t cost me much to do her a little good after others had done her so much harm. But what if I hadn’t been there by the providential grace of God?

This is the level of care we provide to battered women while the Violence Against Women Act is still in force. But its survival beyond the current fiscal year is a tough battle in Washington, See, http://www.peoplesworld.org/gop-stalls-violence-against-women-act-renewal/.

Nevada leads the nation in per capital cases of women killed in domestic violence. How that issue has failed to make headlines in the current political season is a wonder and an amazement to me. Protecting women from brutal assaults, prosecuting the perpetrators, and providing some modicum of support to the victims – at least a ride home from the hospital – strikes me as the bottom line for civil society.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

State Of The Diocese Of Nevada: 2012

I.              INTRODUCTION

A.   Transitions

This has been an extraordinary year of transition.
A lot of things are shifting.
For one thing, we are in the midst of a lot of clergy turnover.
All Saints, Grace in the Desert, Christ Church, St. John’s, St. Mark’s,
St. Patrick’s, Epiphany, and St. Paul’s Virginia City
         have all been in transition this year.
Transitions cost time and money,
and they elevate anxiety.
Congregations cannot move forward
         while they are preoccupied with choosing their clergy.

But All Saints, Grace, and St. Mark’s have now extended calls
We hope to have good clergy leaders in place
         at all of these congregations very soon.

B.   Governance

On the church governance front,
we have streamlined our leadership structure
         to serve parishes better.
Our unified board Standing Committee
         has vastly improved diocesan leadership.
They meet more, communicate more,
gather the information they need,
and make timely decisions.
We always had good people on the Standing Committee,
         but the tangled web of our organization kept them
                  from doing their job.

The Standing Committee has appointed
working and advisory committees to deal with
finance, investments, and property.

They have provided guidance on real estate issues,
         and helped us balance our budget,
redesign our chart of accounts to reflect what we actually do,
and invest our savings in more profitable ways.

C.   Relationships

Last year I emphasized our relationships around the diocese.
We are not fighting but that’s because we aren’t speaking.
We have retreated to our neutral corners  after old
– perhaps even forgotten – battles.
I said then, and I say now, there is no a silver bullet for relationships
         and it isn’t going to change over night.
But this year our priests and deacons
have been communicating more.
Women from around the diocese gathered in Tonopah
to discuss how parish ECW’s might support each other.
Yesterday, they organized themselves into a Diocesan ECW.
Our conventions seem to be becoming more relational.
It isn’t the 2nd Coming
     but some people are beginning to talk to each other.

Changing the tone of out diocesan relationships
can make a difference for parish relationships as well.
We have several congregations in Level 4 Conflict
     that’s the fight/flight kind of conflict
where somebody has to leave.
In most cases where members of a congregation are seriously
at odds with each other,
the congregation is at odds with the diocese
or their neighbors in the diocese.

I don’t know which comes first.
It’s probably a chicken and egg thing.
But our internal and external relationships go hand in hand.

If we form a larger network
of personal relationships in the diocese,
that will help parishes contain their conflict at healthier levels.

D.  Social Ministries

Relationships among churches and church members is crucial.
But they are not the only relationships essential to our health.
Being connected to people outside the church walls
is just as important.
All over the diocese, I see that churches
connected to their communities flourish;
         while disconnected churches wither.
This year we have made encouraging moves on that front.

In Las Vegas, we have formed Nevadans for the Common Good,
an interfaith community organizing effort
         to combat child sex trafficking, improve education,
         speak out for immigrants, and improve life
                  for the vulnerable elderly.
Our Latino congregations led the way.
Then 7 of the 9 congregations in this Valley
turned out in force for the founding Convention.

ACTIONN is a parallel project in Northern Nevada,
         focusing on jobs and education.
Trinity and St. Paul’s, Sparks led the way by joining ACTIONN, and  
every Episcopal Church in the Reno-Sparks-Carson area
was present to support ACTIONN’s founding convention.

E.   Church Growth

In terms of Church growth, we are jump-starting evangelism
         after a no-growth stagnation that persisted
for at least 20 years despite Nevada’s remarkable
population explosion during that time.
To avoid growth during that boom too some work.

Three years ago we began to address this stagnation in two ways.
First, we invested in Latino ministries.
Second, we began a small, underfunded evangelism program
     just a sign here and an ad there.
Result: Average Sunday Attendance for the diocese
         in 2010 rose by 12% over 2009.
Average Sunday Attendance in 2011 went up over 2010
         by an additional 22%.
The most dramatic growth
         was in Latino congregations;
but congregations that did not have Latino ministries,
like Grace in the Desert and Holy Trinity,
         also showed solid growth.

Church growth in Nevada is naturally disconcerting.
So, when I released these numbers,
people tried to help me find  where they were wrong.
I don’t blame them a bit.
People of my generation remember Paul Simon’s lyric
         “I can’t get used to something so right.”
And folks a little younger recall the immortal words of Garbage,
         “I’m only happy when it reains.
Besides their skepticism was rooted in facts.
When you consider
that nationally mainline denominations are shrinking,
that our congregations with Level 4 Conflicts were losing people,
that some of our larger churches  were in transition  
and attendance always goes down during a transition,
         that in 2010 Nevada’s population
went down for the first time since 1920
     and rebounded by only half a percent in 2011,
add that all up and statistics showing growth rates
of 12 and 22% sound wrong.

Well, they were wrong.
We failed to include the numbers
from our 2nd largest Latino congregation
and from one of our smaller Latino congregations.
The actual growth was even larger than reported.

F.    Ministry Development

The vitality of our diocese depends on calling, training, licensing,
and ordaining people for ministry in the church.
Since we lost the Regional Vicars about 7 years ago,
         that essential part of our life has been a challenge.
It still is – but we are beginning to regroup.

This year the COOL & MDC revised and clarified the training criteria
for most licensed lay ministries.
They will establish will get to deacons and priests next year.
This year, the MDC provided training for Basic Discipleship presenters
         and facilitators so that we can offer the foundation course
         for lay ministries anywhere in the diocese.

The MDC also provided training
for Gifts Discernment Workshop leaders.
Gifts Discernment is the second step in preparing for ministry,
         and it is now available in most of the diocese.

The COOL has begun clarifying and simplifying,
         our discernment process for ordained ministries.
That can’t be done all at once.
But this year we began the work.

II.            THE COMING YEAR

As we consider what we might accomplish together next year,
         let me reiterate, it’s all about the relationships.
We can set all sorts of marvelous goals.
But whether they amount to a hill of beans
         depends 100% on our relationships.

This coming year I plan to introduce our clergy
         to new processes for building relationships.
We can build relationships and learn conflict management skills
at our Small Church Workshop this November.
I hope we will find new ways to connect with each other
         throughout the diocese.

Only if we make those connections, can we generate
the synergy it will take to overcome
our historic areas of weakness.
A.   Church Growth & Stewardship

Our diocese has historically been anemic on two counts
     evangelism and stewardship.
As a missionary diocese living off the national church dole,
         we got into a habit of passivity.
So we were weak on evangelism and stewardship.

We propose to double our investment in evangelism next year.
We have segregated the rental income
from the old St. Stephen’s property for a new church plant.
The Standing Committee has authorized one grant and made several
         accommodations on parish assessments
         strategically designed to invest in church growth
                  instead of church maintenance.

Many businesses came out of the Great Depression stronger
than they were before.
Without exception, they followed this simple strategy:
“Cut maintenance costs and invest in growth.”
That’s what we have done – cutting our rent in half,
         cutting travel costs, reducing communications overhead,
         while investing in growth.

When the churches in transition have clergy leadership in place,
         they can resume growth.
If the Churches in Level 4 Conflict learn to work together,
         they can grow again.
Our host congregation is a prime example.
Grace was stagnant for years because they were mired in conflict.
Then they stopped fighting and got on with the mission.
Result: For the past five years,
they have been one of our fastest growing congregations.

Being visible signs of the gospel in our communities
         is part & parcel of evangelism.
Where I have served before, Churches were leaders
         in Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together,
         and MLK Day service projects.
Last MLK Day, I volunteered at a community center.
There were identified groups of volunteers
from banks, Starbucks, and fraternities
-- but no churches.
When other volunteers learned I was from a church,
         they said “Where is your church.
                  If a church actually serves the community,
                  I’d want to be part of it.”
But I was the only Episcopalian in sight and I don’t have a congregation.

So that sparked the BBHAG.
My goal for next MLK Day is to have 300 Episcopalians
         at work sites around the state
                  wearing our T-shirts and hats.
No preaching: just admit you are an Episcopalian,
         and serve your community.
That will grow our congregations.
I will need coordinators in each of our parishes
         to organize that project.
If we choose to grow next year, we can do it  
     not just for the sake of our institutional vitality
     but because there are people all over Nevada
           who need some gospel.
If we extend our church growth rate for a 4th consecutive year,
         we can say we’ve turned that one around.

Stewardship is almost as important as evangelism,
         not just because it takes money to sustain mission,
         but because failing to instill stewardship
spiritually  infantilizes our people.

This year our Diocese joined The Episcopal Network for Stewardship
and made their resources available to all of our parishes.
A few parishes have begun solid stewardship programs
         in the past four years --  though most have not.

Next year we will begin a small tentative stewardship program,
         just as we began evangelism 3 years ago.
If we steadily improve our evangelism and stewardship,
         we can reduce the parish assessments
and still fund a diocese.
I do not have the authority to make this promise.
But I can and will state this goal.
I want to reduce the percentage of the parish assessment
         by at least 1% each year for the next 5 years.

We can adjust the formula for the assessment all we want.
But the real burden is the 25% rate.
Parishes cannot flourish with that lodestone around their necks.
Shifting the burden from one parish to another is not the answer.
Instead of just shifting the load, we need to lift the load.

My goal is to reduce the assessment to 20%
within 5 years regardless of what happens in the national church.
National restructuring may lower the assessment on dioceses.      
If and when that happens,
we may be able to reduce the assessment faster and more.
But cutting the 1st 5% is up to us.
It takes two things: evangelism and stewardship.

B.   Communications

One obstacle to our relationships is weak communications.
In recent years, we have tried experiments,
         with some hits and some misses.
But we have never developed a comprehensive communications plan.
The communications questionnaires you have received
are part of that planning.
In the coming year, we will implement
a new communications package. 

C. Strategic Planning

 Finally, we need a vision of and a plan for our life together.
To that end, I have asked Jim Koehn
         to form a Strategic Planning Task Force
                  to help the Diocese draw its own big picture.
Tools like asset mapping,  Canon Chuck McCray’s 4T Days program,
         and studies of the 5 Marks of Mission,
                  are all part of finding our direction.

But there cannot be a strong diocesan vision or plan
         unless it percolates up from the plans and aspirations
                  of congregations.
The framework of any diocesan plan is to support
         parishes in their mission strategies.
We cannot have a plan or vision for the  diocese
         unless parishes first discern their own missions.

The diocese cannot tell a parish what its mission is.
Parishes must find their own missions, make their own plans,
         so we can weave those ideas into a whole.

When I ask some of our parishes about their mission,
         they say that it is just survival.
But what is the point of surviving?
Remember Miracle Max in the Princess Bride
         shouting to the comatose Wesley,
“Hey you in there, what you got to live for?”
Each of our congregations needs an answer to that question.
I hope the Task Force will develop a strategic plan for the diocese,
         but more importantly I hope
                  their work will prompt parishes to do their own planning,
                  form their own visions, figure out
                  “what they got to live for.”
I hope we will not rush to an answer.
I hope this will be a process that lasts several years
         so  it can keep dreaming, keep thinking,
         and keep working out how to be the Body of Christ together.