Diocesan Strategic Plan Process Begins
August 27, 2015
Bishop Dietsche today announced the launch of a process to develop a new strategic plan for the Diocese of New York. The text of his letter follows, and can be read/downloaded as a pdf by clicking here.
A HOUSE BUILT ON ROCK:
INAUGURATING THE STRATEGIC PLAN
FOR THE DIOCESE OF NEW YORK
September 2015 – November 2016
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.
My dear brothers and sisters,
I am very happy to announce that the leadership is in place to launch the process of developing a strategic plan for the Diocese of New York. You will remember that in my address to the convention last November, I hoped to begin this process in the spring of this year. However, as I reviewed the potential facilitators of our process, I came to believe that we would be best served by the superlative gifts of the Reverend Gay Jennings, who has helped lead other dioceses of significant size and complexity through just such processes, and with great success. It was not lost on me, however, that Gay is the President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, and that this was a General Convention year, and that it would not be realistic to ask her to take this on until that convention had come and gone.
Early in my conversations with Gay, she proposed that she co-facilitate this process with Mr. Steve Smith, with whom she has led such processes in the past, and who brings an exceptional weight of experience in Episcopal Church structure and finance. All of our conversations since the General Convention have been among the three of us, and I am confident, excited and inspired by the team of Gay and Steve, and of what they may bring to our common life and future in this diocese.
From the start I had expected that we would be prepared to bring restructuring resolutions to the 2016 convention of the diocese, and that is still our intention. We are ready to begin.
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INTRODUCING OUR FACILITATORS
Gay C. Jennings currently serves as the president of the House of Deputies for The Episcopal Church and vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Before her election she served as the Associate Director of CREDO Institute with oversight of curriculum development and more than 120 faculty members. She was the Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Ohio for 17 years and served in hospital and parish settings before serving on the bishop’s staff.She is a nine-time deputy to General Convention and The Episcopal Church’s clergy representative to the Anglican Consultative Council.
Gay has extensive experience consulting with congregations, clergy, dioceses, and bishops. She has worked with nearly 25 dioceses and bishops in such areas as mutual ministry review of the bishop, organizational development and structural reorganization, staff development and personnel matters, Title IV training and case management, risk management, and congregational and vestry consulting. She was a search and transition consultant for congregations and dioceses for 22 years. She has also been a presenter or keynoter at numerous clergy conferences, gatherings of church-related organizations, and diocesan conventions.
Her bachelor’s degree is in religion and anthropology from Colgate University, and she received the Master of Divinity degree from The Episcopal Divinity School.
Steve Smith served for twenty years in senior roles for financial services firms including five years as Executive Vice President of the Church Pension Group in charge of its property-casualty and medical insurance operations. He now maintains a part-time practice as an executive coach and as organizational consultant to not-for-profit organizations. Coaching clients include executives at five Fortune 500 firms, and consulting clients have included three Episcopal dioceses. He travels frequently to client locations throughout the East and Midwest.
Steve has also served the Episcopal Church as a volunteer in a variety of way. He has been treasurer of two parishes (St. Luke-in-the-Fields, New York and St. James, Arlington VT), of the Diocese of Vermont, and of Province One. He currently serves as trustee of the Diocese of Vermont and chairs its Loan Review Committee. He is also trained as a diocesan companion, representing the diocese and supporting congregations who are in discernment to identify new leadership. He has been a deputy to General Convention and has twice served on the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance of The Episcopal Church.
His bachelor’s degree is in economics from the University of Michigan, and he obtained an MBA from Harvard University.
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BACKGROUND FOR THE STRATEGIC PLAN
Seven years ago the economy of the United States went off the rails, and much of our life since then has been shaped by recession, reduced resources and declined assets, and increased stresses on the church in a time when we were already dealing in many areas with a larger dynamic of decline. In 2009 we passed a permanent reduction to the assessment formula, yet we continue to struggle with a daunting assessment arrearage. We found that we had an increasing inability to continue the level of support we had long provided to struggling and poor congregations, and in a great many of our churches, questions of survival began to consume the energies of the parishes and their leadership. There was a fear in the church, a circling of the wagons. Some wondered if the great days of the church were over, or if the church itself was in peril.
Yet, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of our death were greatly exaggerated. We’ve heard the counsel of the angels, and we are not afraid. The current existing structures and finances of the diocese may not be long-term sustainable, but we are stable, and most important, the gospel of Jesus is being proclaimed everywhere in the things we say and in the things we do.
In anticipation of starting on a strategic plan for the diocese, we embarked on a diocese-wide Indaba process of cross-cultural conversations in 2013 and 2014, with participation from about a third of our parishes. I asked that we develop together “a shared understanding of our common life.” We discovered in that deep engagement with one another a solid foundation across our diocese not easily seen in a cursory or surface glance. We discovered that the conventional measures of health and strength — numbers and dollars — only tell a part of the story, and not necessarily the most significant part. We saw the fingerprints of God all over our churches, and the mission of our dear Jesus being lived out, given expression, and transforming the lives of people in every place. At our diocesan convention nine months ago our clergy and delegates spent time at round tables, and we raised up and celebrated the health and vitality of our churches and diocese through the anecdotal sharing of stories of miracle and wonder.
We are ready to address the infrastructure of our common life. To talk about the life to which we are called by God, the mission we have been given, the ministry which is the work of our lives, and how we shape it and grow it and pay for it. To think about the Church as we have known and loved it, and the Church we may need to be or become to serve the good people God has given us in a new century, a different time. We are living in days in which the racial and economic injustices in the society in which we live are being raised up in bold and troubling outcries of suffering, and explosions of violence, while the internal challenges of being church can occupy all of our attention. It is time to engage anew the questions “What does it mean to be the Church?”, “What do we owe to one another as baptized people; what is our responsibility to those around us?”, and “What does it mean to call our churches ‘sacred places’ and our congregations ‘the body of Christ’?” I am confident that we are ready for that godly work.
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GOALS OF THE STRATEGIC PLAN
The purpose of the strategic plan is to recommit ourselves to the mission given to us by God, to assess the work we do in the name of God, and to create good, sustainable structures to shape and support that mission. The work of the coming year will identify opportunities, strategies and vision for the mission we have been given that are sustainable, innovative and accessible. This will require of us a review of our governing bodies and practices with an eye toward adapting our common life to advance that mission. We must develop a common understanding of, and name, the marks of a healthy congregation, while providing avenues for the bishop and diocese to intervene in settings of catastrophic decline. We will distinguish between those congregations that need short-term assistance to come through a troubled time from those where intractable poverty demands a permanent commitment from the diocese, and we will create and shape new structures for support of local ministries. We will propose canons to give recognition and standing to new and innovative local ministries that are not necessarily parochial. We will re-examine our participation in global mission and our financial commitment to the larger life of the church. The diocesan assessment budget must be a missional document that reflects the work God has given us to do, expresses our common commitment to that work and our support of it, and which gives clarity about our priorities.
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THE CONGREGATIONAL SUPPORT PLAN AND OUR SUPPORT OF SMALL AND STRUGGLING CONGREGATIONS
The Congregational Support Plan (CSP), as we know it, will sunset at the 2016 Convention of the Diocese of New York. All churches currently in the CSP will continue under their current contracts until then. I am convinced that the CSP was one of the most significant creations of Bishop Grein’s episcopacy, and that through the CSP almost a third of the churches of the diocese were given the relief they needed to address the challenges of their local life and ministry, and find a way forward toward sustainability and thriving. However, during the financial stresses of the last six years, and the reduction of assessment income to the diocesan budget, some two thirds of the parishes once supported through the CSP have been involuntarily removed from the plan, and we must recognize that the CSP no longer is able to carry the burden of the purpose for which it was created.
We are committed, however, to continuing to provide appropriate and needed support to small, struggling and poor congregations, and to naming the accountabilities expected of such churches. As the line item for the Congregational Support Plan has been reduced in the diocesan budget, other lines have appeared — the Harlem Initiative, the Regional Pastorates, etc. A significant piece of the Strategic Plan work will involve the development of new missional and budgetary structures to keep our commitments to our struggling churches, to assist congregations and regions toward local sustainability, to help transition churches where appropriate away from diocesan support to self-determination, and to identify those places where we have an ongoing or permanent mission responsibility to provide for the church’s ministry in communities which cannot do so without significant help. The last time this diocese crafted a mission statement for itself, it was that the diocese will “maintain an effective church presence in poor communities.” That was in the 1970s, and in 2016 we will explore what that means in our day, and what it requires of us.
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FORMATION OF AN ADVISORY BOARD FOR THE STRATEGIC PLAN
Over the next several weeks I will be forming an Advisory Committee, made up of ordained and lay representatives from the parishes of our diocese, to work with Gay and Steve, and me, over the next year in the formation of the Strategic Plan and the resolutions we will bring to the 2016 Convention of the diocese. This Advisory Group must be made up of people who have a demonstrated commitment to a new missional future for a united and mutually-accountable diocese — the kind of commitment shaped by the transformational possibilities discovered through our Indaba process — as over against the local or parochial self-interest that might be wedded to financial and missional structures whose time has passed. The Advisory Group must represent the larger and wealthier richly-programed parishes of the diocese as well as the poorer and smaller churches that serve communities of fewer resources. It will be urban and rural, multi-ethnic-and-lingual, and encompass the geographical diversity of the diocese.
After Labor Day I will be extending invitations to members of our diocese to serve on the Advisory Group, but I also ask those who would like to serve in this capacity to let me know. Understand that we may not be able to accommodate everyone who expresses interest, and in every case the demands of the economic and cultural diversity described above will govern the shape and makeup of the group.
I expect to have the Advisory Group formed by September 21, and will ask participants to meet with Gay and Steve on the afternoon of October 8 in Diocesan House.
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WHAT COMES NEXT?
In September Gay and Steve will read and review a number of documents reflective of our common life and the recent financial history of our diocese. This will be an opportunity for them to study the map of the diocese — where the population centers are, where we see the most vibrant diversity of peoples, where we have deeply invested in struggling churches. They will review our budget, and the actions of the Trustees, the Council, the Standing Committee and the Adjustment Board. By the time they make their first visit to the diocese in October, they will be well versed in the profound ministries and strong witness of this diocese, as well as our challenges.
On October 7th and 8th Gay and Steve will be in New York. This will provide an opportunity to meet with the diocesan staff, conduct individual interviews, meet with our financial officers and chancellor, and have their first gathering with the Advisory Group. By the time of our diocesan convention in November we will be able to launch the regional “Indaba-style” conversations that will give everyone an opportunity to name priorities and to give voice to the hopes and fears that always accompany change. At the November convention an outline of the work to be done over the twelve months to follow will be rolled out. Everyone will be given the opportunity to be part of this, and to give voice to your own hopes, and your fears, of being Church in changing and challenging times. I always say: If something is worth doing, it is worth having fun while we do it. And I think we are going to have a good time. With every good wish, I remain
The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York
August 26, 2015