FORMING MINISTERING COMMUNITIES
A Baptismal Ministry Engagement Report from the Diocese of Nevada
The selected case study for 2007 is focused on the efforts of the Commission on Ministry(COM) to develop an effective and sustainable process that can help individuals and congregations identify their ministries and then prepare and support them with education and mentoring. The Diocese of Nevada has a long history of “Total Ministry” beginning with the work of Bishop Frensdorff. The majority of congregations in the diocese rely on clergy called by their congregations and prepared for ordination while living and working in their own communities. Currently only 9 of the 37 congregations have stipendiary clergy. Of these 4 are in transition with interim rectors. Except for a part time deployment officer and a volunteer Canon to the Ordinary, there is no other diocesan staff that provides focus and direction for congregation and ministry development. This creates challenges for education, support and mentoring for those pursuing ordination as well as congregational formation. The Commission on Ministry has recognized this gap and is working to develop and oversee the processes that congregations and individuals can use for discernment, education, support and evaluation of congregational and ministry development.
The Diocese of Nevada currently has approximately 6,000 members in 37 parishes. There are two “program” size parishes – one in Las Vegas and one in Reno, 6-9 “pastoral size parishes, and 26-29 “family” size parishes. The Diocese is divided into four mission districts. The mission districts, which cover geographical areas of the state have varying degrees of cohesiveness, the least cohesive being the Las Vegas area in the south where the parishes tend to maintain their separateness. The northwest and central areas gather fairly regularly and share program ideas and clerical resources. In October 2006 a missioner was called to serve the Frontier District, supported and serving St. Paul’s parish in Elko ˝ time and the rest of the northeast area ˝ time. (This area was the focus of the 2006 case study.) There is also a developing prison ministry program.
In the past there had been 3-4 regional vicars on the diocesan staff assigned to specific areas of the diocese to provide consultation and guidance in ministry development. A Diocesan School of Theology (one in the north and one in the south) provided the courses for those in the process for ordination. Members of the local parishes were encouraged to participate in taking these courses and to be present for part of the examination process. Most of the courses were taught by the Regional Vicars and the bishop. A written or oral exam for candidates for ordained and licensed ministries was administered by the diocesan Commission on Ministry.
In 2001 adjustments in diocesan staffing were made in response to budgetary
restraints and changing priorities of the diocese. The regional vicar
positions were not able to be funded in 2002. During this time, those
in process for ordination or seeking licensing were required to be more
responsible for finding the classes or other means of acquiring the required
subjects, following a very general list of required subject matter. On-line
courses and instructional DVDs were made available and there was much
less reliance on local educational programs. Several parishes initiated
EFM and Life Cycle programs. There was little accountability, other than
the final ordination examination, which continued to be an oral, or in
some cases written. The COM did begin to use a local form of the General
Ordination Examinations as they began to take a more pro-active role
in following and assessing the preparedness of candidates for ordination.
The effects of the 2003 canonical changes for Ordination prompted the COM in the Diocese of Nevada to take on increased responsibility for helping ordination candidates prepare to serve as ordained clergy anywhere in the Episcopal Church. A process needed to be developed that included accountability and that could be articulated to parishes and individuals. Discernment, education, evaluation/assessment and support are vital in order to develop and maintain a healthy diocese of members who live fully into their Baptismal Covenant.
In addition, the COM has been given responsibility for supporting of the ministry of all the baptized and helping congregations discern a variety of ministries and provide support for education, mentoring and supporting congregational development and ministries of all members, not just those on the ordination track. The COM has recognized that fact the one of the structural pieces missing in the diocese is some person or persons responsible for congregational and ministry development. At the current time members of the COM are taking on that role.
The COM in Nevada has 12 members – 4 from the southern (Las Vegas) area, 5 from the northwest area and 2 from the central area and 1 from eastern Nevada(the frontier) . The COM meets approximately 4 times a year alternating between Las Vegas and Reno. Each COM member is assigned to serve as a liaison with 3 to 4 parishes. The intention is that the COM liaison would be available to be a resource and guide for discernment, education, mentoring and ministry development for their liaison parishes. Some of the challenges include COM members finding the time to fill that role.
Members of the COM are very involved in their own parish and other diocesan activities. Some serve as priests and deacons; some as senior wardens, and most have employment outside the church. Time to visit with other parishes on Sundays is limited. In the rural parishes where parishioners often are so geographically scattered, Sundays may be the only time that members of the parish can gather together. Another challenge is that COM members are not trained in congregational or ministry development and are not able to commit to the time required to work with parishes as a ministry developer.
The COM has been working on developing a set of competencies for each of several ministries; priest, deacon, preacher, worship leader and catechist. The competencies are only a part of the process and probably the easiest piece. The greater challenge is to develop a process that provides the education, mentoring and accountability for the persons and/or congregations on their journey. The vision of a process that would apply to some degree to all aspirants in any ministry call grew out of the work on the competencies for priest.
In dicussing what skills and training were needed for a person called to be priest to function as a priest, we identified 2 different components, both eqully important. “Having” are the academic and skill sets that follow the 7 canonical areas prescribed in the new Canons: Scripture, Church History, Theology, Ethics, Contemporary Society, Liturgics/Music, and Theory of Ministry. But there is more to being a priest than just the having of skills and knowledge. “Being” is needed. “Being” includes Prayer, Pastoral Listening, Spiritual Direction, Theological Reflection, Decision making, Perceptivity, Team Building, Coping, Versatility, Spoken communication and Interactions/Relationships.
The process must integrate the “having” and “being”, and there needs to be a process that includes oversite to assist those in process to integrate the two. A mentorship program would be an effective method. And, while each ministry would possibly have different skills, the idea of a mentor would be a part of all processes. Aspirants would be assigned a mentor, who would continue with them throughout the process. Spiritual Direction would also be a requirement and could be with the mentor, or another person. Mentoring and spiritual direction would continue during Postulancy, and Candidates would a add hands on apprenticeship.
The process would always begin with discernment, and a discernment team would be established. Because of the past practice of discernment committees being set up by the aspirant, were often made up of folks who acted more as cheer leaders, than as a group that would help the aspirant search deeply into their call, we are exploring identifying a mix or 3-5 persons that would include 1 person from within the congregation who knows the aspirant well and can be that personal support. Others would include someone on the edges of the congregation (not a part of the aspirants circle), someone – possibly clergy from outside the congregation. One of the things that began to happen was that the discernment/support groups, if they were all from within the congregation did not provide a perspective of the wider church. And the richness of theological reflection from multiple perspectives was not there.
The mentor program would require that mentors be trained. The ideal would be that on a regular basis, an announcement would go out that would include an abstract that described what a mentor is and the attributes of a mentor. These might include: being self – differentiated, have a good sense of humor, capable of asking the hard questions of themselves as well as of others, developed leadership style, self understanding and awareness, wisdom to not just know things, but how to apply them to life, knowledge of how to deal with conflict and experience in spiritual warfare.
The other piece of the process is the educational requirements. We are aware of an increasing number of resources for personal and parish formation such as the Life Cycles program and EFM. A Fresh Start series is being offered to clergy newly ordained or new to the Diocese. We have utilized on line course offerings from Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) and we have been working with CDSP on hybrid courses – a combination of on line work and a face to face meeting at least once during the course in the diocese. While these have offered options, the valuable piece of discussion, theological reflection with both instructor and classmates is lost, particularly if the person is in a rural community and the only person in that place taking the class. The COM is trying to find ways to recapture and insert that vital part of learning.
The COM is developing a more defined set of courses that should be completed. We are trying to look at multiple delivery systems and most importantly trying to reinstitute classes in the local areas. Classes in the local areas would also allow for more participation in the education process by members of the congregations. One idea is to develop core training teams for each Mission District. One of the challenges is identifying persons who are qualified and have the time to prepare, travel and teach. Some possible resources that could be part of that academic core are those clergy that are seminary trained, full time rectors and retired clergy.
An important component of the education process is developing meaningful assessment and evaluation tools. The COM is setting up a diocesan board of examining chaplains to create and read the local version of the General Ordination Exams (using questions from past year’s GOEs). In addition, we are developing other means of measurement that might take the form of developing a portfolio (particularly for Deacons), written papers or projects.
The COM feels that they are beginning to create a good vision for creating a vital program that encourages each person to identify and claim their ministry, and that supports individuals and congregations in the process of education and growth. The challenge is how to implement and sustain such an ambitious program without Diocesan staff dedicated to ministry and congregational development. We are dependent of people with already full plates (for instance all members of the COM have full time jobs, most outside the church).
1. How can the program of education and mentoring be implemented and
sustained with such limited resources as are currently available in the
diocese. In the present circumstances, how do we balance the time demands
on those who are called to this ministry (ministry development/education),
both clergy and members of the COM?