Building Bridges Update from Listening Sessions

Dear Courageous Disciples,

December 2022 through February 2023, the Building Bridges Steering Committee, the group charged with facilitating the discernment process about the future mission and structures of our dioceses, hosted a series of ten listening sessions, both online and in-person at various locations across both dioceses. We learned a lot of valuable information from the comments that you shared about your priorities, what you value about your faith communities, and what issues you believe we need to address as we discern whether or not to pursue juncture (the canonical term for our potential merger).

The Building Bridges Steering Committee tasked our Intentional Internal Conversations sub team to dig into the notes from those sessions and determine if there are any particular themes emerging from your responses to the questions. Some overarching takeaways are:

  • Many of the things you want to see happening are already taking place or are in the works–but you may not be aware of them at the local congregational level.
  • There is a strong desire to work together and the new bi-diocesan “collaboratives” instituted this spring will provide a structure for much of that collaboration.
  • Collaboration to promote lay leadership of congregations and ministries is also a high priority. Our new congregational prayer partner project is an extension of this priority as well as our renewed investment in formation for congregational development!
  • Prioritizing ministry to people in the first third of life is critical–and we continue to find ways to engage this demographic and learn about what is important to them.
  • We need to continue to work on ensuring that information from the diocesan leadership gets to people in our congregations–and that what is happening in our congregations gets back to diocesan leadership and other congregations; we have much to learn from each other.
  • Although Creation Care did not surface in as many comments, that topic is gaining more and more traction–and as we continue to collaborate in Holy Hikes and engage together in the ministry of Plainsong Farm and the Order of Naucratius–we may want to dig more deeply into how we collaborate around this area.
  • The Episcopal Church’s identity around LGBTQ+ inclusion is helping us to grow, and, with that understanding, we can engage people and have a bigger presence in our local communities.
  • Formation of lay people and clergy is highly important, and we need to find new ways to form us as disciples. We recently took a step forward on a common understanding of formation for holy orders.
  • Finding new, authentic ways to worship is also crucial.
  • Regarding justice issues, people like that the dioceses (and the Episcopal Church) stand for something, such as the joint work we did with other faith leaders on addressing gun violence and our work on LGBTQ+ inclusion and safety.
  • Continuing our work on racial reconciliation and healing for past injustices was also emphasized.
  • Finally, there was much concern about how juncture would impact the relationships between the bishop and the local congregations, as well as concern about overworking the staff, although staff have noted that their workload is more manageable with increased collaboration between diocesan leadership bodies.

The Building Bridges team used the themes emerging out of these sessions and from previous listening sessions to develop new mission and vision statements that we can use through this season of practice and to live into as dioceses, whether operating together, separately or something in-between:

Mission Statement
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.

Vision Statement
A world transformed, in which all God’s children are unconditionally welcomed, cared for, and loved.

These mission and vision statements were presented to and affirmed during a joint meeting of our Diocesan Councils, Standing Committees, and staffs earlier this year.

The three priorities listed under the mission (collaborative communities, innovative ministries, and courageous disciples) will be the basis for goal-setting as the collaboration between the two dioceses continues and will serve as the theme of our upcoming Fourth Joint Diocesan Convention, taking place in Saginaw, October 28-29, 2023.

Thank you for your prayers and your participation in this discernment! We look forward to sharing more with you as convention approaches and invite you to share generously with others in your congregation.

Yours in Christ,

The Internal Conversations Sub-Team
The Building Bridges Steering Committee

The Rev. Janet Gockerman – St. Mark’s, Grand Rapids
Janet Huff-Worvie – St. John the Baptist, Otter Lake
The Rev. Beckett Leclaire – St. John’s, Dryden
Ellen McVey – St. John’s, Midland
Allie Miller – Holy Family, Midland

Support from:
Katie Forsyth – Bi-Diocesan Staff
Katie Ong – Building Bridges Consultant