This year, the Diocese of Spokane began a new effort to invest in local, lay leadership, training them in the skills and equipping them with tools to be part of building vital, dynamic, and sustainable faith communities. Diocesan Council approved four Regional Developers, who have worked hard to create resources for leadership, and two regional gatherings, each Fall and Spring.
On Sept. 29, vestries, treasurers, wardens, and other lay leaders gathered in each of the four regions to learn vital leadership skills in day-long seminar, led by that region’s developer and presiding member. (Read more about Diocesan leadership here) Learning skills of spiritual discernment, fiduciary and legal obligations for churches, and planning, leading and organizing. Regional gatherings finished with pre-Diocesan Convention information.
“Folks are hungry for connection and new learning as leaders in the Diocese,” says the Rev. Canon Paul Lebens-Englund, Regional Developer for the Northeast region and Canon to the Ordinary for the Spokane Diocese. “I’m particularly heartened by hearing feedback that folks aren’t feeling like passive observers of church decline, but are being equipped as active agents for creative, concrete, focused change.”
Starting place for leadership
Part of the regional gatherings, says Lebens-Englund, is to give lay people a starting place to work on leadership skills. “We’re reinforcing that ‘mission’ — committed, transformational encounter with the world around us — is the key focal point for grounding ourselves in what God is up to in the world and, having done that, taking our cues from the hopes and needs of those we serve. The world will continue to tell us that their hopes and needs don’t resonate with much of what we spend our time on — and we can either be offended by that feedback or illumined by it.”
Leadership is always challenging. The Rev. Jan Griffin, Regional Developer in the Southwest region, says, “We are striving to equip congregational leaders with best practices and proven tools to use for discernment of God’s call to mission in their context.” Identifying and growing energetic new leaders in their congregations, and exploring the context in which their congregations exist, are important milestones on the road to faithful and effective service of God’s mission in their communities.
Future gatherings in the Spring and Fall will continue to build upon what was learned this year. “I was delighted to see the enthusiasm and energy that was bubbling at every table during the practicing of the exercises,” says the Rev. Anne Barton, Presiding Member of the Southwest region and rector at St. Timothy’s in Yakima. “The comments we received from our Southwest Regional Day mentioned again and again how nice it was to sit with and share time and fellowship with folks from other congregations. I think the greatest challenge was the density of the day packed with many new models to begin to embrace. The chance to begin to practice the models during the gathering was helpful to participants.”
“Next spring will simply be a better version of this past spring,” says Lebens-Englund. “And next fall will be a better version of this fall. The focus will remain on identified leaders and equipping them to effectively lead the change that is required of us.
“Should the Regional Development Team make new ventures, it will likely be into the realm of normalizing how we do vestry retreats, mutual ministry reviews, direct consulting, and continuing to increase the number of capable, committed consultants across our four regions,” he says.
“The coolest part of the gathering was that we actually practiced the skills we were talking about — and especially that we focused much of our time together on hearing God speak to us through scripture and through our conversations together,” says the Rev. Bill Osborne, Presiding Member of the Northeast region, and priest at St. Stephen’s in Spokane.
“Listening to God’s nudges will be essential as we try to envision the future for congregational ministry,” he says.
Lebens-Englund concludes: “I think the Regional Development Team, and Susan Cleveley in particular, need to be thoroughly celebrated for the incredible amount of prayer and vision and work that went into developing the template for our annual spring and fall regional gatherings. This has been an immense undertaking for all of us, but we’ve committed to it because we believe this is an essential focal point for growing into our uncertain future. This is truly one of the finest teams of folks I’ve ever worked with. Great vision, creativity and, even more importantly, concrete follow-through.”