What do you get when you combine a love for the church, strong collegiality, and a willingness to engage the difficult issues facing the church with honesty? You get my experience of the latest clergy retreat.
I was invited by Bishop Sean and Vanessa to make a presentation at the diocesan clergy retreat this past February at Olmstead Manor. It was an honor as a lay professional to be included in a clergy event, let alone make a presentation at such an event. The openness and welcome I experienced from all of my clergy colleagues was a joy – there was a deep sense of mutuality and support for each of our ministries.
The entire retreat was a series of peer-led presentations on the future of the church and the issues associated with that future. Presentations were given by John Downey, Stacey Fussell, Jason Shank, Melinda Hall, Bishop Sean, and myself. Each of us come from very different congregations and contexts each with unique assets and challenges.
What was so exciting about the retreat was that all of our presentations acknowledged the challenges facing the Episcopal Church with honesty – mainly that mainline Christianity is in decline across our country. Not only did we begin with the same basic premise, but each presentation ended with a love for the church, love for Jesus Christ, and the hope of the resurrection to be manifested in our diocese.
The most fascinating part of the presentations was how each of us through our individual contextual lenses addressed the challenges and how to resolve them for the sake of the Gospel. Some of us focused on statistical trends, others on life cycles of churches, some on the need for planting churches, others on the church’s need to be more visible in the community, and I focused on the need for authentic relational community between three equally important entities: God, church leaders, and congregants.
Why did this retreat excite me? Because the presentations showed just how diverse and gifted are the leaders of our diocese. The Spirit of God manifested in powerful ways through those open, honest conversations showing us that innovation and resurrection are possible. And not only are innovation and resurrection possible, but we have been given the resources on all levels of leadership from laity to clergy, from our smallest congregations to the diocese as a whole, to make the changes necessary to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our beloved Episcopal tradition for generations to come. Now that’s Good News!
Craig Dressler is Associate for Parish Life at St. Mark’s Erie.