by Lionel Deimel
St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon
Individual churches invariably have strong congregational tendencies. This fact is not unique to The Episcopal Church. Churches are understandably concerned with their own financial and programmatic issues. Matters of the wider church, including intermediate bodies (dioceses, synods, etc.) tend to be secondary concerns. We can even see this phenomenon in the recent schism in our own diocese. Many people are assuredly in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh because their loyalty to their parish is stronger than their loyalty to The Episcopal Church. No doubt, our own churches host parishioners who would be happier in the ACNA diocese.
Of course, we have been trying to hold our own parishes together, but, at the same time, we have been recreating our own diocese more or less from scratch. This is not fair; those who wanted to leave The Episcopal Church should have walked out of the diocesan office in 2008 and given us the keys. That did not happen, and we are where we are.
With help from the wider church and the extraordinary efforts of Pittsburgh Episcopalians, we are rebounding from what Calvary’s Harold Lewis is fond of calling “the recent unpleasantness.” Were this not the case, we would not be conducting a search for a new bishop. For a variety of reasons, we are better situated than the rebuilding dioceses of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, or Quincy.
Despite our evident progress, the strain is beginning to show. Our diocese is smaller than formerly, but the number of volunteers needed to run its many governing bodies has not been much reduced. People who were disenfranchised under the previous regime are laboring hard, often holding more than one position, to keep our diocese functioning. We owe these people our deep gratitude. They are tired, however, and they need our help.
It is ironic that our diocese has recovered well enough to initiate a search for a new bishop, but that the search itself is consuming the efforts of very many people who would otherwise be available to help run the day-to-day activities of the diocese. It was not intuitively clear that searching for a bishop necessarily weakens a diocese like ours.
As evidence for this phenomenon, I would cite the fact that we are having a very hard time finding candidates for diocesan offices. Many of the people who would otherwise be in the candidate pool are either helping to find episcopal candidates or planning for the welcome and consecration of the person we ultimately choose as our next bishop.
One of our challenges, then, is to find more people to offer their services in running the diocese. This can be a hard sell; many churches have a difficult enough time recruiting people for their own vestries or other parish bodies. On the other hand, our bishop search has at least focused attention on the diocese, and it is important that we make the most of this opportunity.
Selling the DioceseFor most of the people in the pews, I suspect that the diocese is a source of ecclesiastical services (confirmations, receptions, and occasionally baptisms) and an expenditure line (for diocesan assessment) in the parish budget. For many Pittsburgh Episcopalians who have actually paid attention to the diocese over the years, the diocese and its bishop have been a source of mischief and a cause of great distress.
As we increasingly become a "normal" Episcopal Church diocese, we need to explain to our members that the diocese can be a positive force in our lives. The diocese can help us find a new priest when we need one, help us repair our buildings, and help us get back on track whenever our individual parishes run into difficulty. The diocese provides a safety net that independent congregations do not enjoy. Perhaps even more importantly, the diocese can help parishes band together to do mission more effectively than individual parishes can do on their own. And the diocese offers opportunities for fellowship and friendships in a wider community.
The benefits of the diocese are not immediately apparent to the typical worshiper on Sunday morning. Church leaders need to educate parishioners that the diocese is important—in some cases, they may need to convince themselves of the proposition—and encourage people to volunteer to do diocesan work and to stand for diocesan office.
My own experience, in several dioceses, is that, in the normal course of church life, there is little reporting of diocesan activities, goals, and projects. This is not healthy, as, in many ways, the diocese is the fundamental organizational unit of Anglican life. We need to keep parishioners aware of what is going on at the diocesan level, speaking of it during announcements on Sunday morning, perhaps even mentioning the diocese in sermons.
In this Internet age, our diocese can tell its story more easily than formerly. How many people regularly visit the diocesan Web site, however, or subscribe to its electronic newsletter? Many, but hardly enough. We need to encourage more people to do so, and, for the computer-challenged (or technologically indifferent), we need to post diocesan stories on church bulletin boards and encourage people to read them.
What can you do to get more involved in the diocese and to involve others?