Dear colleagues in leadership,
It is a custom in the Diocese to send out a summary letter at the beginning of the year highlighting upcoming events and dates to be noted and circled throughout 2017.
This year we do so under the banner focus of being “In mission with Christ through each and all.” I want us to take deliberate time to look at the gift of our calling as people baptized into the body of Christ, and energized by the Spirit of God. We will gather on a Friday or Saturday night in a more informal way to offer our praise to God, listen to the Word both preached and shared in personal testimony from our peers, and seek to recommit ourselves to the life God calls us to live in service and love.
To this end I am suspending my regular visitation rotation and replacing it with twenty weekend gatherings under the banner of Revival 2017. Through the twenty gatherings we will cover each congregation. I hope by now that you have seen where I have invited your congregation to attend and that you are marking the date on your calendar.
We have begun forty days of prayer for Revival 2017, which begins in Durant, and Davenport. We also hope that you will be encouraged to spread the news about the meeting to your ecumenical friends, as well as those who have little connection with Church.
When the diocesan staff met on retreat last month, we developed a mission statement that said that we aimed this year to address the changes in our culture that are impacting the Church as a whole. We felt that there were three areas in which we needed to concentrate, along with support of the Revival 2017. The first is to help deepen and broaden the relationships that we have as Episcopalians across the state. This is about contact and communication as well as partnering and networking. Preparations for the Revival 2017 give us such opportunities and so do the plans for Summer retreat in June, and the invitation to send a congregational team to Baptismal Living Day on April 1, at Fort Dodge.
The youth always lead the way in developing such relationships through the consistent schedule of New Beginnings and Happening as well as the various coming together to ski or for summer camp or Convention Conference. This year Senior High students will have the chance to attend Episcopal Youth Event – EYE – which is a time when thousands of Episcopalian youth come together.
The second way of addressing the challenges of our culture’s changes is to develop our confidence as leaders, and to build leadership among us, non-ordained and ordained. In May we will hold a Preachers’ workshop with help from the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. EPF are also running our clergy retreat this year on the topic of preaching. As clergy we are privileged to have a listening audience each week, and how important it is to become better preachers with some professional development.
Leadership development is going to be an on ongoing emphasis in these next few years. We have held a feasibility study around being able to raise funds for Growing Iowa Leaders: Engaging All Disciples or GILEAD.
The Board has appointed a Task Force to begin looking into the creating of a capital campaign built on your feedback. While the campaign promises to produce resources that will greatly assist us in bringing excellent leadership to the grass roots level of every congregation of any size, we are not waiting to launch new ideas and conversations. Look out this year for programs coming from the Older Adult Ministry Development Team, as well as from those who attended the church-wide Conference called Evangelism Matters. The Board on their retreat live-streamed into the Conference from their retreat center in Newton. Another new project to watch for is the “postage stamp prairie” movement launched by the new Creation Stewards led by Cathleen Bascom.
This too is an important time to keep up our concern for racial reconciliation. I would draw your attention to a Conference sponsored by The Episcopal Church on April 20-22 in Chicago entitled “The Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence.” On the local level Meg Wagner and Susanne Watson-Epting are following up on the Indaba conversation from Convention on racial reconciliation and reparation with possible presentations at the Summer Ministries Retreat in June 23-25. This also extends the work begun through participants of the Trinity Institute 2016 conversations.
All of this will be aided by a third focus which is technology. It is still too dangerous for me to begin tweeting, but I have a lot to learn about deploying cyber opportunities for the sake of the Gospel and for enhancing our diocesan wide sense of common mission. It is my hope that we will have a diocesan wide communications network connecting every congregation by the end of 2017, and that we will learn together how to bring the good news onto the places where people are actually listening and watching – that is in social media. Many of our ordination postulants and candidates are being formed through what is called low residency programs – through which they receive most classes online, and attend in person only two weeks twice a year. A similar methodology is possible for ministry development for licensed leaders within congregations. It is never too late to reinvent oneself.
It is a risky world in which we live these days, and so why should we not take risks to improve our own relationship with God, and with each other; and to take the time to become more equipped messengers for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Culture’s changes threaten to drown out our voices for justice, safety, compassion, equity and peace. All of these things are fruits of following Jesus. It is welcoming one another as God has welcomed us.
In October 2017 at Diocesan Convention we will have an opportunity to share our stories of where Revival 2017 has impacted us. Canon Stephanie Spellers of the Presiding Bishop’s staff will be with us to receive them, and as Missioner for Evangelism and Reconciliation, she will encourage us to go farther, I am sure. We will also be able to tell the tales of where our blue stones of baptismal promises took us since we last met; and where God’s reviving Spirit urges us to go next.
It is never too late to reinvent a Diocese. And that is what I truly believe we are being asked to do.
In the love and peace of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa