It has been my custom for several years to send a monthly communication to the clergy of the diocese. It’s been entitled “From the Bishop” and focused on the gatherings, events, news, opportunities, challenges, etc. that, at that moment, I believed to be most important for our life together as leaders, ministers of the Gospel, and servants of the people of God. A few days ago, I sent a farewell message to the clergy of the diocese, and immediately after, Mr. Gary Allman, the diocese’s Director of Communications, reminded me that there were many non-clergy to whom I had not expressed my farewell. I seize that opportunity today. Thanks for the reminder, Gary.
I shall try to be brief but summing up all we’ve achieved together in West Missouri over the last 10 years, 6 months, and 8 days is not easily accomplished. Nevertheless, here goes!
- In 2012, West Missouri teamed up with the Diocese of Kansas to inaugurate the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry. This merger of the dioceses’ two schools for deacons and priests was quickly joined by the Dioceses of Western Kansas and Nebraska. The school prepares persons for bi-vocational ministry (mostly), trains people for lay ministry licenses, and brings academic and spiritual enrichment courses to all and any who wish to attend.
- Fr. Steve Rottgers, the diocese’s Canon to the Ordinary, and I created Leadership Boot Camp back in 2014 to help leaders, clergy or lay, to understand the tasks and challenges of leadership better. To date, nearly 100 people have completed the wide-ranging, 10-session course.
- Along the same line, the diocese began to hold training days for wardens, vestries, clergy, parish administrators, and treasurers. Through a series of workshops during these all-day events, which were named “Bishop’s Days”, new and existing parish leaders were given an opportunity to examine what their elected positions required and how their service fit into the larger leadership needs of West Missouri and The Episcopal Church.
- In 2012, the diocese’s Annual Convention adopted a new, diocesan canon that established an orderly and mutually communicative process by which parishes can seek relief if their canonically mandated share of support for the diocese becomes too burdensome. This same canon requires the diocese’s Treasurer and the staff’s Finance Administrator to be on the watch for parishes that might be falling behind and to initiate conversations leading to aid or relief. Since that time, communication between the diocese and at-risk congregations has been smooth, shame-free, and in each instance has reached workable solutions that support the needs of all levels of ministry.
- Parochial assessments have been reduced 5 times between 2012 and 2020, resulting in less pressure on parishes to support the diocese and instead freeing their financial resources to better support their local work.
- In 2015—following the advice of its Finance Committee—which was excellently led by the diocese’s Treasurers and facilitated by the Diocesan Staff—the Diocesan Council researched and clarified the origins, purposes, and subsequent permissible use of each diocesan restricted and unrestricted fund. Furthermore, consolidating the several funds into a single investment in the Comingled Fund of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society has generated significantly increased returns, so good, in fact, that the diocese’s investments (aka the endowment) have grown by roughly $4.1 million in the last 6¾ years (growing from $8.1M at the start of 2015 to $12.4M today). This growth has occurred even as annually—for the last 5 years—the diocese drew out 5% of the corpus’ value to support diocesan operations.
- West Missouri once had 4 deaneries. When it became necessary to move to 3, the deaneries were also given an enhanced purpose. Deaneries were empowered, and resources were allocated, for them to do ministry programming at the deanery level, meaning between the parish level and the diocesan level. The goal was to give deaneries the means to do whatever they needed to do to enhance local ministry, to encourage collaborative initiatives, and to give decision-making authority to those who were the key stake holders. It took a while for the deaneries to get used to thinking about mission and ministry rather than just governance topics, but each has evolved its own approach to fulfilling its enhanced purpose.
There’s more left to tell than is reasonable to impart, so a few more very briefly:
- The diocesan staff has worked tirelessly to modernize office procedures, improve office technologies, and revamp internal and external communications across the diocese.
- The Diocesan Council now begins each year with an annual orientation and visioning retreat.
- The Standing Committee and Diocesan Council are committed to meeting together 4 times each year to ensure they are collaboratively marching along parallel paths in pursuing their duties to the diocese.
There’s much more I could describe, but perhaps the most important thing we’ve accomplished together is a shift to a new way of being in ministry together. “One Ministry in West Missouri” has become a mantra of sorts as we grow to know and live out the reality that we need one another, that no parish is an island unto itself, and that none of us can ever say to another sister or brother, “I have no need of you”. The success of one member, or one ministry, or one parish enhances us all; the failure of one diminishes us all. Therefore, we stand in support of and in solidarity with one another and the Lord Jesus Christ. It needs to be so!
Now, thank you to all of you. It has been a singular honor to be your bishop. I am forever changed and forever appreciative. It’s been both a challenge and a blessing, and despite all the accomplishments I listed above (which make me proud of this diocese, and a little proud of myself, too), the thing I will remember most is the people whose paths crossed mine and Donna’s in such profound and positive ways. Truly, it’s you folks, your faces, names, and stories, that will stay with me. Again, thank you; I am grateful.
Be courageous. Have contagious courage when those around you are filled with fear.
Be faithful. Have the robust faith that inspires those who waver.
Be blessed. Have the commitment to be a blessing one to another.
Be kind. Have the gentleness of guardian angels toward your sisters and brothers.
Be just. Have the strength to speak up and stand with the oppressed.
Be humble. Have the grace to know you are not omniscient.
And the God you worship will give you his strong and inner peace.