A POST-EASTER UPDATE ON OUR SEASON OF PRACTICE
Blessed Easter! May the spirit of the risen Christ fill us with hope and joy and keep us curious!
It has been over a year since you called me to join you and I am excited about our odyssey of healing and new life in Christ together.
As we’ve leaned into our life together as dioceses and as our Building Bridges Steering Committee has conducted its work in listening and facilitating our discernment process in our Season of Practice, we have some exciting announcements and updates to share with you as clarity rises from our collective wisdom. Thank you for your prayers and participation in discerning our forward movement together in Eastern and Western Michigan.
Here are some crisp highlights for what’s ahead for us as Easter people:
We are organizing ourselves into three geographic “collaboratives.”
To nurture increased relationship (a rallying cry across nearly all listening sessions earlier this Spring!), starting in May, we will transition our current organizing structures to three geographic “collaboratives” that span across the two dioceses. This way of organizing ourselves will honor our existing relationships and nurture new ones.
Collaboratives will be areas, supported by a canon, where clergy and congregations can support each other. Our goal is that collaborative members can explore ways they might work together for the advancement of mission and ministry in the parish and in the diocese as a whole. Collaboratives will also allow us to experiment with ways that we might effectively structure ourselves in the future.
Due to canonical implications, we are intentionally using the language of “collaboratives” rather than “regions” to help facilitate this practice out of a place of flexibility and curiosity about what we learn.
I invite our clergy to continue praying and attending our Clericus gatherings, the upcoming Clergy Retreat, and to provide feedback as we walk together.
Click here for a spreadsheet of congregations according to collaborative.
Click here to view the new collaboratives as a map.
We are celebrating departing staff and preparing to welcome new staff.
Western Michigan’s Canons Missioner, the Rev. Canon Valerie Ambrose and the Rev. Canon Anne Hallmark, will retire at the end of May as previously announced. Please help us celebrate our beloved colleagues as they prepare to depart. We will celebrate Val on May 23rd at Grace, Grand Rapids (RSVP) and Anne on May 31st at Grace, Traverse City (RSVP).
We are in the process of searching for and calling the Northern, Central, and Southern Collaboratives’ staff Canons who bring expertise in congregational development and transitions, while each holding special focus on coaching congregations around (1) Formation, (2) Digital Communities, and (3) Beloved Community and Creation Care. All canons will be shared staff across both dioceses.
The Rev. Canon Tracie Little, current Canon to the Ordinary serving Eastern Michigan, will serve one of these collaboratives with the focus on formation. It is my prayer that the two additional Canons will be called this spring and summer, to be in place by August. We will have exciting news to share about our first new call in May.
We are looking ahead and planning for decision-making about the future of our dioceses.
We have worked in partnership between our dioceses since 2019, listening and sharing, building relationship and developing responsive, innovative ministry together. While the Building Bridges Steering Committee has work yet to do and has not yet issued their final report and recommendation for our future together, they have consulted with our Chancellor and Standing Committees to ensure we remain open and on track with timelines for all possibilities, including potential juncture between our dioceses.
The first opportunity for the General Convention of The Episcopal Church to act on a juncture would be next summer 2024. While holding this reality, the Joint Standing Committee of Eastern and Western Michigan, with the support and recommendation from the Building Bridges Steering Committee, have determined that we will not hold a vote on juncture at the fall convention later this year. Our fall convention will focus instead on continuing to deepen relationship, entering big conversation, and consider more deeply our proposed mission and vision. If juncture is ultimately recommended and our communities are ready, we would anticipate calling for a special convention in the Spring of 2024 to bring a vote of the dioceses.
Now let me provide added background for those who desire more information.
Who are we? We are followers of Jesus as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. (More below.)
Where are we numerically? Numerical growth follows clear and consistent practices of hope. (More below.)
Where are we going? Thanks to the Building Bridges Steering Committee, we have a compelling and hopeful vision. Our vision and mission will help us follow Jesus and grow in spiritual and missional ways into the future. (More below.)
Let us move forward as wounded healers with curiosity, and love in the name of the risen Christ!
The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh
The Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan
Who are we?
We are followers of Jesus as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
Here’s a snapshot of who we are in terms of current benchmarks of congregational size in our two dioceses. We are:
Four “Program Size” congregations with an ASA of over 150 and a baptized membership of approximately 400
28 “Pastoral Size” congregations: 18 Western + 10 Eastern, with an ASA of over 75 people and a baptized membership of about 150
65 “Family Size” congregations: 32 Western + 33 Eastern; with an ASA of less than 75 people a baptized membership of about 100. Most of our family-size congregation have an ASA fewer than 30.
Four seasonal chapels, all in Western Michigan.
And we have several communities who gather beyond congregation — Plainsong Farm and Ministry, the Order of Naucratius, Camp Chickagami, Episcopal Youth Camp, and Holy Hikes Great Lakes — all are reaching new populations and leading us further beyond our walls.
That’s over 100 worshiping mission stations within our part of the lower peninsula shore to shore.
We are working to build Leadership Teams for each Collaborative to accompany and support congregations that need help visioning and making progress with their vision to thrive in ministry. More on this at this year’s Convention.
Where are we numerically?
Numerical growth follows clear and consistent practices of hope.
We are moving in our discernment to optimize our capacity for growth in mission and ministry. To do this with some clarity, we need to have a grasp numerically using our current but limited benchmarks.
We begin by acknowledging that we are declining dioceses like most dioceses in our area. According to our parochial data, during 2012-2021, we declined by 38% in Eastern Michigan and 31% in Western Michigan. I have noted that decline is not a gospel value. In my opinion, the decline of numbers in the mainline churches is a result of resigning to trends of cultural Christianity. In the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, our prayer ought to be, “save us from weak resignation…” as leaders.
During this period, while I was serving in the Diocese of Rochester, we declined by only 9.7% in baptized members. We changed the trend of decline with intentional redirection and focused investment in congregational development. It is possible with common prayer and a shared plan.
We are working to build Leadership Teams in partnership with Thriving in Ministry (an initiative based out of Virginia Theological Seminary) for each Collaborative to accompany and support congregations that need help visioning and making progress with their vision to thrive—more on this at this year’s bi-diocesan convention.
We need you and your leaders to join us as confident and collaborative practitioners of congregational development. I urge you to join us for the inaugural session of our bi-diocesan College for Congregational Development this summer. Click here to learn more and start assembling your team.
Where are we going?
Thanks to the Building Bridges Steering Committee, we have a compelling and hopeful vision. Our vision and mission will help us follow Jesus and grow in spiritual and missional ways into the future.
The following draft mission and vision statements were recently presented to our diocesan leadership bodies for feedback, developed by the Building Bridges Steering Committee reflecting what they’ve heard and collected across the last few years and especially in our recent online and in-person series of Listening Sessions. I invite us to live into this vision and mission, remaining open to new learnings and feedback as we continue in partnership.
Our Vision: A world transformed, in which all God’s children are unconditionally welcomed, cared for, and loved.
Our Mission: Called by Christ to proclaim and embody God’s boundless love for all creation, we grow:
Collaborative communities of faith, walking the journey together.
Innovative ministries, stretching beyond our walls.
Courageous disciples, striving to transform systems of injustice.
We nurture relentless hope for a world longing for mercy, restoration, and peace.