During the plenary session of the 107th Diocesan Convention we heard from both the Rt. Rev. William Franklin of the Diocese of Western New York and our own Bishop Sean as they discussed the potential collaborative relationship between our two dioceses. The full addresses are available below.
Why I signed up: I thought it would be a fun weekend in a nice hotel with my husband at my side. I love our Diocesan Convention – this year will be my eighteenth – and I thought it would be interesting to see how other dioceses run their annual conventions.
What I found out: Whoa, there, lady! This was not just a getaway weekend for the Wilds! This was a vitally important encounter with the members of the DioWNY churches and their clergy. The responsibilities were hefty. It was work! Yikes! As I sat at our sparsely occupied table, #39, I realized that I had a job to do for my diocese and my bishop: Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.
I found myself praying this little prayer a number of times during the weekend. Geoffrey, (my spouse) and I sat alone at Table 39 until we were joined by a priest from our own diocese. He encouraged me to move to another table. I sat down beside a lady and said, “Hi, my name is Cheryl, and I’m from Grove City, PA.” She told me her name and we began to make connections. It turned out that Geoffrey and I had vacationed near and in the town where she lives and attends church and that she and I were born ten miles apart in the Southern Tier of New York State. I met a priest at that same table. She was personable and genuine. The ladies at the table seemed a bit skeptical about the arrangement being suggested by the bishops. I got the feeling that they were afraid that they would be giving up control and would be absorbed into the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.
As Friday continued, Bishop Sean was able to answer some of their concerns. He did so in his usual outgoing straightforward manner. My favorite question and answer were as follows:
DioWNY member: (paraphrasing) We would like to see our bishop more than once every three years. Would this mean we would see you only every four years?
Bishop Sean: Yes.
He did go on to explain how he would be available in many different ways to the folks in Western New York and their clergy as well as those in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania. But that simple “Yes” said more about him than his explanation.
It is my belief that his answer impacted many people who were worried about what our bishop was up to with this proposal he and Bishop Bill had made. There was no sugar coating. It was simple and honest.
My favorite part of the weekend was the Eucharist at St. Andrew’s Church. This beautiful structure was packed with people from both dioceses, and I felt that I was among friends. We were all Episcopalians with a common purpose: to share the body and blood of our Lord and Savior and to honor Him and one another.
I came away from the weekend with a huge sense of pride in our bishop and our diocese. I have known Bishop Sean since he was nineteen years old and a member of our congregation at Epiphany. I have seen him grow as he has been called to different positions within the Church. His calling is clear: he is to lead the Church in new directions in order to save the Episcopal Church from a slow, painful decline. He and Bishop Franklin are stepping out in faith to do something that has never been done before: to share administration of two dioceses under one bishop. The benefits of doing so are enormous.
I cannot wait for our Diocesan Convention next weekend at which I will see some of my friends from the Diocese of Western New York!
Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.
Cheryl Wild, as the wife of a priest who is assigned to more than one congregation, attends both Epiphany, Grove City, and Memorial Church of Our Father, Foxburg.
We are all leaders. We’re all used to being the ones leading the meeting, coming up with the ideas, and fostering and supporting the ideas of those on our leadership teams.
What this means is that sometimes when we are included in the creative process for something large and exciting – and we didn’t come up with the idea, and we’re not leading the meeting – that it can naturally be a little strange, and a little awkward.
Further, some of us think in very concrete ways, and others of us think in very fluid and flexible ways. Both are incredibly necessary for our beautiful and diverse church to function. After all, creative problem solvers aren’t always the best administrators, and linear thinkers aren’t always the best when it comes to brainstorming new ways forward.
So when we are being invited to participate in the creative process of making something new, we might be doing the thing we love most, and are the best at. And we might be doing something we find a bit stressful.
However, when we come into the process matters as well. Think about it:
We can come in toward the beginning of the process or toward the end. Both options have positives and negatives.
When we’re invited in at the beginning of a creative process – maybe not at the exact start, maybe we weren’t in the room when the idea was first conceived of, but it’s still early days – then we have the beauty and honor of being the people who come up with all the ideas. We have a chance to put our two cents in and make it even better than it might have been, even more useful to us and the people we represent.
The downside of coming in at the beginning of the process is that it can be messy. Nothing is certain. If it will even work is uncertain. It might be hard to explain to others because we have a lot of question that we don’t yet have answers for. And we know exactly what those questions are, because we’ve been asking them ourselves.
Sometimes if we try to explain where we are in the process to other people when it’s still early days, we can seem like we don’t have all our ducks in a row. And the truth is, we don’t. We’re still figuring out what ducks we need to have, much less to try to get them to all stand in a line.
So it might seem like coming in later in the process would be infinitely preferable. But coming in later has its pros and cons as well.
On the upside, later in the process it’s so much easier to explain it to other people! We can show them the glossy pictures of what it will look like, the architect’s rendering, the budget, the price points, the height of the bell tower, the exactly symmetry of the curve to the walkway, and an idea of who is going to pay for it all. When we come in later in the process, all of our ducks are in a row. We have numbers, statistics, pie charts, success rates, incomes, expenses, staffing plans, timelines, and lists upon lists of who is going to be responsible for what.
This is the stuff of Annual Meetings, and it can be very impressive.
What we don’t get when we come in later in the process is a hand in the pot. We don’t get a say. We weren’t consulted, our opinions weren’t required, and so our own viewpoints, and the viewpoints of our constituencies, weren’t reflected in the plan.
So that’s where we are.
When we’re brought in earlier, it’s messier and there are questions everywhere, but we get a say in what happens, we can change the very course of the project, and even exercise the power to veto it if it seems apocalyptically bad.
When we’re brought in later, it’s clean, clear, beautiful, and easy to present, and it’s also already a done deal which we are being asked to vote upon, or ratify.
We can have one, or the other, but not both. We can have a hand in the creation of a new thing, or we can have the calm certainty of exactly what it’s going to look like, but not both.
Our bishops, in their wisdom, have chosen to bring us in on the beginning of this process. Oh, they went through all the proper channels first to make sure it could be done and they weren’t violating a canon somewhere. And once the proper people said, ‘Sure, maybe, but what’s it going to look like?’ then they turned to us.
It was presented to the clergy at a joint overnight. It was the main topic of conversation. Would the clergy take one look at the idea and veto it immediately? That was an option. They didn’t. They said, en masse, ‘Sounds interesting. I’m not totally convinced. Let’s keep going. Also, here are my list of questions.’
The feeling at the end of the overnight was a tentative hopefulness.
A group of clergy and laity from both dioceses gathered together for an intense two-day session, let by an expert. They came out with seventy pages of questions, which was exactly what we needed from them. Did they at that time come to a consensus that this was a terrible idea and we should scrap it immediately? Not at all. They came up with seventy pages of questions about all that needed to be considered going forward. The feeling at the end of the two-day session was a tentative hopefulness. Now this idea is going to each diocesan convention – WNY in October, NWPA in November. Do we have a resolution to vote on and debate? No. Why?
Because we don’t need one. It’s totally normal and reasonable, and part of our canons, to have a bishop of one diocese become the provisional bishop of another for some set period of time. Happens all the time.
So why are we giving this so much intense thought and treating it like it’s a new process? Because what we’re considering isn’t just a bishop of one diocese fulfilling an administrative role on an ad hoc basis.
What we’re really considering is this: could we really be such good friends and neighbors, one diocese to another, could we be involved in such similar ministry to such similar communities, could we discover such similar new avenues of ministry and outreach that it would just make more sense to share a bishop and a bishop’s staff? Would it make more sense to have some joint committees? A joint convention? What we’re not doing is this: we’re not talking about combining two dioceses into one.
First, that’s a nightmare of red tape at the state level. And the few dioceses who do span across state lines were grandfathered into such red tape issues because the dioceses came before the state lines.
Second, we don’t need to have a combined diocese to be such good friends and neighbors, to participate in such similar ministry to such similar communities, to even share a bishop and a bishop’s staff.
Look at Stafford and LeRoy. Look at Burt and Wilson. They are individuals parishes with individual identities – and shared ministries, and shared leadership.
So that’s where we are: in the beginning of a creative process that builds on what is already allowable and normal in our church, but which may be a beautiful creative solution that takes us into the future with confidence and faith.
The Rev. Sare Anuszkiewicz is a priest in the Diocese of Western New York where she serves at Trinity, Warsaw.
The Rev. Earle King had an organ recital on the books, and he was no more eager than the next busy person to lose two days of rehearsal time to attend a meeting in Erie, Pennsylvania, convened for something called “compression planning.” But he serves on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Western New York, and Bishop Bill Franklin asked him to be there.
In the end, however, King was glad he went. He joined 43 other leaders from the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania convened by Franklin and Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania to explore possibilities for a long-term collaboration between the two dioceses. The session, held at the Cathedral of St. Paul on October 8 and 9, was led by consultants Donna Brighton and Scott Beilke from the Brighton Leadership Group, and followed a process pioneered by the Disney Corporation. In this kind of meeting, called compression planning in business circles, participants record words, pictures and graphics that represent goals, questions, hopes and limitations associated with a particular idea.
The idea, in this case, is that the Diocese of Western New York would elect Rowe as its bishop provisional for a term of five years at a joint convention of the two dioceses in 2018. Franklin reaches the canonically mandated retirement age for bishops on April 3, 2019, so if Rowe were elected, he would assume the role of bishop of Western New York on that date.
But the collaboration would go beyond simply sharing a bishop. The proposal on the table is for the two dioceses to spend 2019-2024 exploring opportunities to collaborate in ways that would increase operational efficiencies and create more opportunities for mission. In 2021, Rowe would ask the two dioceses for a midpoint evaluation.
It’s the chance to explore opportunities for mission that enthused King, despite the loss of his rehearsal time. “I was happy I was there because, particularly on Monday, I began to get a sense of the great opportunities and the obstacles that we’re facing in the two dioceses together,” he said. “Exploring this could bring us enormous opportunity, but we need to know how we will encourage people in Western New York to explore this with an open mind.”
Rose Sconiers, warden of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo, agreed. “I thought it was a good exercise, especially since a lot of people in our diocese think this whole concept is a done deal,” she said. “It was good to sit and talk and find out what the real plans are, and also to meet Sean. He really is a nice person and I think that makes a big difference,” she said.
“At our vestry meeting, someone said this was a done deal,” she said. “I was able to say, ‘No, it’s not a done deal.’ I think it is important that we dispel that myth.”
What is a “done deal,” say Rowe and Franklin, is that the two dioceses will spend the next year exploring possibilities for collaboration and hold a joint convention in October 2018 in Niagara Falls.
The bishops began thinking about this idea as early as 2012, said Franklin, “when we met and looked together at where we are going. Both of our dioceses have big challenges, both have big gifts, and both have Rust Belt resilience.”
So far, possibilities for collaboration have been discussed at two meetings that included participants from both dioceses—a joint clergy conference held in mid-September at the Chautauqua Institution, and the compression planning meeting in Erie. Participants generated hundreds of initial questions, organized them by theme and identified those most important to address.
Some, like “Is there a legal or canonical roadblock that is insurmountable?” can be answered definitively, Rowe said. (There is not.) But it is the others, like “What difference will this make?” that most interest him, and will require conversations with people from across both dioceses.
“If all this is going to be is putting two dioceses together, it’s only going to buy more time to decline. It’s not worth doing,” Rowe told the group in Erie. “But if we’re creating an adaptive playground for experimentation, that to me is exciting. It’s prophetic.”
Joyce Gieza, a 38-year member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Erie, agrees. “It reminded me of the parable of the talents. This is our chance to make maybe just a little bit from what we have been given,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s going to work, but I don’t know how we can say no to trying. To me we would be cowards if we didn’t even try.”
Clergy who attended the September clergy conference are feeling hopeful, King said. “I really believe that Bishop Rowe is really good, and his clergy tell me that behind his back. They don’t have to do that. I have a great deal of confidence in him. And as far as Bishop Rowe is concerned, this is about the mission of the church.
“The challenge is going to be how we make that increase in mission happen,” he said. “What does it mean to have that occur, what are the steps, what are the strategies? Are we targeting people in a different way, are we focusing on outreach?”
Sconiers agrees that Rowe’s leadership is an appealing prospect. “I think one of the opportunities is to have someone overseeing the diocese who is fairly young, who is fairly progressive, who has shown he can relate to the older and the younger people. I think he brings a freshness to the whole process, and I think he has a proven track record. But since he will be over two dioceses and his home base will be in Pennsylvania, will we have access to him? Will we be able to get a meeting with him to talk with him?”
Rowe, who has spent the last three years serving as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem in northeastern Pennsylvania, says that after a six-hour commute between dioceses, the distance between even the furthest parts of the contiguous dioceses will seem modest, and if elected, he would be present in both dioceses regularly.
“My ability to balance this opportunity with my family responsibilities has been an important part of my discernment,” he said. “The last three years have meant a lot of time away from home, but these two dioceses put together are geographically smaller than many dioceses in other parts of the country, and I feel confident that the arrangement is manageable.” Rowe is married to Carly, a Christian educator at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Erie, and they are the parents of Lauren, age 5.
For the Rev. Matthew Scott, vicar of The Episcopal Mission of Warren County, made up of St. Francis and Trinity Memorial Churches in Youngsville and Warren, Pennsylvania, the exploration process is its own reward.
“One of the best parts…was the chance to work with many of the leaders from Western New York in a larger setting,” he said. “I serve on the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains, a ministry we began sharing together three years ago, and while through that I have worked with a couple clergy from the diocese, this helped me to grow a larger picture of the potential fruit of a closer relationship. The energy level of the combined group was contagious and enjoyable, and the real fruit was coming up with questions together as a large group of leaders across both dioceses.”
At the two dioceses’ upcoming conventions—October 27 and 28 in Buffalo and November 10 and 11 in Erie—Franklin and Rowe will present the proposal to the gathered delegates and clergy. After that, they’ll plan a series of conversations and meetings in both dioceses to get feedback, answer questions, and hear concerns.
“Going forward, I would like to hear from those with expertise in the legal and financial areas as to what kinds of options are open to us moving forward,” Scott said. “I would also like some time for us to dream about mission and identity, as I see potentials for broadening the pool of colleagues as we all face the adaptive challenges of the local congregational context.”
Sconiers agrees. “Let’s roll it out to the dioceses and various congregations, and have an honest open conversation and let them know how it will look,” she said. “Change is difficult for people if they don’t understand what is happening; they are going to push back. It’s important to get the input of everybody.”
“If we can generate excitement and curiosity, that would be good,” Gieza said. “That way we’ll see they [the people of Western New York] aren’t any different than we are. They aren’t Pittsburgh and they aren’t Ohio. We are all Rust Belt recyclers.”
Printed copies of this article will be provided for congregations at convention.
Registration for Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community: Diocesan Convention 2017 is now open.
Convention will be held November 10-11 at the Bayfront Convention Center in Erie and is being hosted by St. Mark’s, Erie. A full schedule and other convention information can be found on our website.
As part of our ongoing conversation about collaboration and innovation in the church, we will be welcoming the Rt. Rev. William Franklin and a large contingent from the Diocese of Western New York. This convention will be very mission-focused and the schedule reflects that. The Rev. Canon Scott Slater, of the Diocese of Maryland, will help us continue exploration of our future through a program relating to shared ministry, both on the diocesan and congregational levels, using the work of Brené Brown. To learn more about our program, you can revisit this blog post.
On the schedule you can see that we will have an open house on Thursday, November 9, from 7:00 PM-9:00 PM at St. Mark’s in place of the usual hospitality suite. As many of you know, St. Mark’s recently underwent major renovations, due in part to a grant from the diocese, so they could continue growing their mission and ministry. They are holding the open house as a thank you to the diocese for assisting in their work. All are invited to attend.
Please also note the two pre-convention meetings. The first will be held on October 10th at 7:00 PM at Christ Church, Meadville. The second will be held on October 12th at 6:00 PM at St. John’s, Kane. All are welcome to attend the pre-conventions. We will be talking more about the process of exploring a shared future with the Diocese of Western New York so that all are fully informed prior to convention.
We urge our clergy and delegates to come ready to engage in our conversations. Please do not use the condensed business time as an excuse to not attend the entire convention. The work that we will be doing at the convention, though not the conventional business, will be setting the table for the future of our diocese. We would also encourage those laypeople who are not delegates but who are interested in being a part of this conversation, to please join us as well. We will have plenty of space for those who would like to join us and we would love to have you there.
September 22, 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Last weekend at a meeting of the clergy of the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Franklin announced that he will retire on April 3, 2019, as required by the canons of the Episcopal Church. His letter, which you can read here, says he has returned from sabbatical “full of energy and ideas that we will explore together over that time.” Chief among those ideas, as we discussed with the clergy of both dioceses, is the possibility of our dioceses sharing a future.
At our upcoming diocesan conventions, we will propose that we spend the next year convening discussions among leaders across our region about how we might create more opportunity for mission by working together. This process will culminate in October 2018, when our dioceses plan to meet together for a joint convention in Niagara Falls.
If our discussions in the next year are fruitful, as we hope they will be, we would anticipate that in 2018, the Diocese of Western New York would elect Bishop Rowe as its bishop provisional for five years beginning in April 2019, when Bishop Franklin retires. During the first three years of the partnership, our two dioceses would work together to deepen our relationships and develop shared mission priorities. In October 2021, we would re-evaluate the partnership and then, in October 2024, decide whether we wanted to continue it beyond the five-year mark.
In proposing a partnership between our dioceses, we are not seeking simply to save money, although we believe that will be possible, and we are not aiming just to share a bishop. We believe that our dioceses have complementary strengths and challenges, and that together we are well suited to respond to God’s call in our region. Our communities share an industrial past, a Rust Belt culture, and a love for the natural beauty of the Lake Erie watershed, and our congregations are home to resilient people who know that by working together and staying focused on mission, we can weather uncertain times and a changing church.
Between now and our conventions—October 27 and 28 in Western New York and November 10-11 in Northwestern Pennsylvania—we hope that you will join us in praying about the opportunity we have before us and thinking about your hopes, concerns, and questions. We look forward to being together soon and to embarking on this year of discernment about the future that God has in store for the people of both our dioceses.
The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Western New York Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania
James Isaac Jack Malovich
President, Standing Committee President, Standing Committee
Diocese of Western New York Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania
We have a lot of exciting things going on in our diocese right now and, to reflect that, this year’s convention will not be business as usual!
As part of our ongoing conversation about collaboration and innovation in the church, we will be welcoming the Rt. Rev. William Franklin and a large contingent from the Diocese of Western New York. Just two weeks prior to our convention, we will have sent a contingent to their convention (and there’s still time to sign up to join us! Visit our website to do so). They will join us for our entire convention and we will have ample time to get to know one another.
Those that have attended convention in the past may notice that we will have a different emphasis for the content of our convention. This convention will be very mission-focused and the schedule will reflect that. We will have a more condensed time for business than we usually do so that we have the time we need for learning and conversation.
To help us continue our work on innovation and collaboration, we have invited the Rev. Canon Scott Slater to be with us. Scott has been an Episcopal priest since 1993 and has served in the Diocese of Maryland since 2001. Following nine years as rector of Church of the Good Shepherd in Baltimore, he began serving on the bishops’ staff as the Canon to the Ordinary in July of 2010. In 2015, he became a Certified Daring WayTM Facilitator based on the work of Brene Brown, Ph.D. He will be leading us through a program relating to issues regarding shared ministry, both on the diocesan and congregational levels, using the work of Brené Brown. Please see below for links to videos from Brené, as well as to some of her books. If you are able, we would encourage you to take the time to look at some of her work prior to convention.
We urge our clergy and delegates to come ready to engage in these conversations. Please do not use the condensed business time as an excuse to not attend the entire convention. The work that we will be doing at the convention, though not the conventional business, will be setting the table for the future of our diocese. We would also encourage those laypeople who are not delegates but who are interested in being a part of this conversation, to please join us as well. We will have plenty of space for those who would like to join us and we would love to have you there.
Do you feel you are being called to a deeper ministry? Do you feel that you might be called to ordained ministry?
If so, please consider attending our Explorer’s Day on September 9th at St. Mark’s, Erie. The program will be offered at no cost and will run from 10:00 AM to 3:15 PM (lunch will be provided).
Explorer’s Day is a program that we run jointly with the Diocese of Western New York. It serves as a day of exploration into ministry and as the entry point to the ordination process. We hope that, through this program, participants will be able to better discern their call to ministry and make informed decisions about their next steps.
During this day-long program, we will take a look at the different callings and roles of three of the orders in the church: lay, deacon, and priest. We will do this through theological reflections using the Book of Common Prayer, studying scriptures that show different ways we may be called to ministry, and hearing from representatives of each of the three orders. We will also explain the details of our respective ordination processes.
We held our first Explorer’s Day in January of this year and had good attendance from both dioceses. Those that attended found the program very informative and useful in their journeys. Some chose to enter the ordination process, some discerned that the ordination process wasn’t for them, and some decided that they wanted to continue their prayer and discernment. Attendance does not mean you are entering the ordination process or that you are locked in to anything. This program is intended to be what it is titled: a day of exploration for those who feel they may want to go deeper in ministry.
People who believe they may have a call to ordained ministry or a deeper call to lay ministry are encouraged to attend. If you know someone who fits this description, please share this information with them and encourage them to attend.
A couple of notes: We do require that the priest from the attendee’s congregation accompany him or her, as the clergy will be walking alongside them during this exploration of call. Also, though you do not have to enter the ordination process after attending this event, attendance at this event is required to enter the ordination process.
Collaboration and interdependence are keys to the deepening of our Christian life together. We’ve given considerable attention over the course of the last decade to the idea that, as a diocese, we really are One Church. Yes, we all find ourselves in different contexts, are various sizes, and have different charisms of the Spirit, and still we are united in mission and witness that make us one—all in it together as the Body of Christ. Our challenge to bring the Good News to the world is more apparent than ever and our ability to rise to that challenge is directly related to our willingness to collaborate with strategic partners and rely more heavily on each other.
This fall we take our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York to a new depth by sharing our Conventions with each other—we’ll take a large group to their Convention, and they’ll bring a large group to ours. We’ll have a chance to meet new people, see how another diocese works, and experience new mission horizons. We’ll also have an opportunity to share our particular gifts and richness of our diocesan community. If you are interested in attending the Diocese of Western New York’s convention, you can visit our website for more information and to sign up.
Our convention will follow a bit of a different format this year. Though we’ll conduct the necessary business of Convention, the primary focus of our time will be building relationships and having significant and high impact conversations about the future of our life together. The Convention this fall will be more important than ever, and I appeal to you as your bishop to make every effort to be present. Your voice and your perspective are a critical piece of the next phase of mission.
You’ve heard me say many times that no one is going to innovate in mission and ministry for us. There is no group ‘out there’ in the Church that is going to overcome our challenges and unlock our potential for us. This is our call—right here and right now. I have every confidence that God is about to provide for us ‘infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.’