Year End Report
What Comes After A Decisive Moment?
A year ago, Bishop Mariann Budde announced that the Diocese of Washington had reached “a decisive moment.”
“I propose that we take the time in the next season of our life together—in the next four years—to take stock of key areas of congregational vitality, and do that work in collaboration with one another, rather than individually; that we take time to assess the changes of the world around and within the church together, not alone; that we learn together who our neighbors are, what God is up to in their lives, and how we might know and love them for their sake and for God’s,” she said in her address to the 2016 diocesan convention.
Her vision, she says, is of a diocese that adapts to the new realities facing the church, responds with creative solutions, and isn’t afraid to try new things, especially in getting outside of the church’s walls and into the community. It is a vision that many share.
At convention, delegates and clergy responded by approving a new regional governing structure aimed at fostering collaborations and making parishes more visible and effective members of their communities. Thanks to increased giving from congregations, in mid-2016 the diocese began offering congregational growth grants that have already sparked innovative ministries. Diocesan staff have continued to offer workshops, training opportunities and staff assistance to any parishes in need of expertise, deepened their commitment to educating members on issues of race and justice, and strengthened their ministry to young adults and to fast-growing Spanish-speaking congregations.
A glance at the calendar of diocesan events, or a perusal of the operating budget makes clear the diocese’s commitment to congregational vitality and community involvement, but the story is better told by exploring what is happening in the parishes and communities across the diocese as Episcopalians shape a new church and carry on God’s mission.
Embodying a Vision
St. George’s, Glenn Dale, where Diocesan Council member Diane Clark worships, strives to be a creative parish deeply involved in its community. The congregation participates in Ashes to Go, the liturgical evangelism initiative in which parishes take to streets, transit stops and other prominent public locations to distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday. “That made such an impact. Bishop Budde setting that kind of example is incredible, and it does make folks, even if you have no religious affiliation, stop and think,” Clark says. “She realizes we have to do church different now. Young people especially don’t just want to be sitting in the pew.”
The people of St. George’s don’t just “sit in the pew.” The parish has a close relationship with the nearby Haywood Elementary School which has included a uniform drive, remodeling a classroom to create a library and sending home groceries to help students get through holidays when they aren’t receiving lunches at school.
Partnerships with schools and outreach to students have flourished in recent years. Through St. Timothy’s Literature and Laundry program, members of the Daughters of the King read to children whose parents are washing clothes in laundromats in southeast DC. St. Christopher’s, New Carrolton also encourages literacy through a relationship with the local library. Holy Trinity in Bowie has planted a parish garden where children from the parish school study science. Church of the Atonement in southeast DC sponsors a youth employment program.
Other congregations are reaching out through music. Church of the Epiphany in Forestville, Christ Church in Clinton, St. Barnabas, Leeland in Upper Marlboro and St. received a $10,000 congregational growth grant for quarterly events that will use jazz and hip hop to reach out to young adults and families in Prince George’s County.
“We thought we could probably get people in the community to attend a Friday-night musical event, but we wondered how could we get them into church on Sunday,” says Alethea Long-Green, senior warden at Epiphany. “We thought what if we said, ‘If you enjoy this, come and hear them again. They’ll be performing at our main service Sunday.’ If it’s nice enough, people will come back on Sunday.”
In St. Mary’s County, the people of St. George’s, Valley Lee and Ascension, Lexington Park are embracing the practice of collaboration by getting to know one another better as they prepare for a new arrangement in which they will share a rector but maintain separate facilities. Their new structure is similar to the collaboration between Christ Church, La Plata and Christ Church, Wayside, which also share a rector and staff functions but worship in their own buildings.
Karla DeSelms of Ascension is at the center of things, arranging what the congregations call “foyer groups.” The gatherings don’t actually take place in foyers, but in homes and restaurants. “It is a way to get to know people socially,” she says.
Diocesan leaders don’t just talk about change, they support it. Through Leadership Learning days, anti-racism workshops and the Project Resource and Holy Currencies programs, it gives parish staff and volunteers numerous opportunities to learn how to do what can be a daunting job. Through the expertise of dedicated diocesan staff, it offers parishes services aimed both at keeping parishes operating smoothly and guiding them through sophisticated projects—such as developing a new website—and difficult times, such as clergy transitions.
Catherine Manhardt, a parishioner at St. Thomas, Dupont Circle who works at Church of the Epiphany in the District, attended a workshop on Leadership Learning Day about parish administration and finance.
“It was really useful to have a chance to sit down with people like [Canon to the Ordinary] Paul Cooney, [diocesan treasurer] Paul Barkett and [Director of Human Resources] Kathleen Hall to talk about issues that people face on a day-to day-basis,” she says. “There are people who struggle with financial management and administrative aspects of the parish. I think this is an aspect of ministry that doesn’t get discussed or paid enough attention to, and it can really impact the way you do other ministries. It was really helpful to get a perspective on some of the staffing stuff, writing position descriptions, doing annual reviews, that sort of thing.”
J. J. Boulin is a vestry member at Church of the Transfiguration in the Colesville section of Silver Spring. His multicultural parish includes many immigrants, and parishioners arrive with a wide variety of understandings about church finances. “There are people in our parish who have probably never pledged, who have come to another country that is different than the way theirs operated and may not understand that we don’t operate in the way they operated,” he says.
The diocese offered both Holy Currencies: Stewardship 365, a program developed especially for multicultural parishes by the Kaleidoscope Institute, and Project Resource, a program developed by the Episcopal Church, to parishes eager to develop better stewardship practices and cultivate a culture of giving.
Holy Currencies was demanding, Boulin says, but it was worth it. “We’ve got some pledges in this year from several families that have never pledged before,” he says. “My perception of the process is that you need to get people involved in a variety of things in the church and as they become involved … then that’s going to help our problem with people who come in and haven’t had that experience of giving before.”
Kathleen Alexander chaired the rector search committee at St. Francis, Potomac, which just celebrated the arrival of the Rev. Mark Michael. Alexander, who is a former senior vice president of human resources for Marriott, and other members of the committee had experience in executive searches, but the group was nonetheless impressed by and grateful for the help it received from the diocese.
“I worked very closely with Joey Rick and her experience was very valuable on a number of levels,” she says. “They help you frame your thinking: the types of questions and the types of information you are trying to get at. And she shared with me a lot of the resources that the diocese has.
“We sent a series of communications to the parish,” Alexander adds. “That was a suggestion of the diocese: reach out on a regular basis. Create questions for people to answer in their own way and time.
“Joey came out and did a couple of hour exercise that a good 130 people participated in and loved, and we got a lot of great data out of it,” Alexander says. “The help in designing and planning that and the willingness to come out here and lead it, that was wonderful.”
“At every stage where it could have gotten hung up, it did not. I got a turnaround within a week. In terms of being flexible and working to make things go through rather than hold the things up, they were not a sticking point at all.”
The services the diocese offers are available to anyone who asks, but the diocese focuses particular resources on Latino ministry, campus ministry and social justice work.
“The bishop came here just when I started, when I came back from Mexico,” says the Rev. Javier Ocampo of the Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg. The parish’s Latino congregation had dwindled. “I saw her face with a lot of concern about it,” Ocampo says.
The diocese gave Ascension a congregational growth grant that allowed Ocampo to extend his tenure and broaden his work at the parish. “I am working also at Montgomery College, so my responsibilities grew,” he says. “We started in September. I am just trying to get together with some students and talk about what they want to do. I am trying to be present when they need me. It’s not like a magic thing.
“If we create a family situation here they can feel comfortable here,” he says. “We have a WhatsApp group staying in touch and praying. Since they have their families in their country everybody has this app.”
The diocese has invested in Latino congregations in southern Montgomery County and Gaithersburg, but is beginning to broaden its approach. The Rev. Nan Hillenbrand, who was interim rector at St. James in Indian Head in southern Prince George’s County, said St. James is doing more purposeful outreach to the growing Latino community in its town and in nearby Charles County. “We feel the community is vastly underserved both spiritually and religiously but also with the issues they are facing. We’re of course very concerned about the undocumented workers and what is going to happen to them,” said Hillenbrand, who has worked on this issue with the Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, the diocese’s Latino minister.
“Our first step is to be a much more welcoming congregation for Latinos in our area. They are a large group that is under the radar for many people and we’ve come to the realization that that is just not right.”
The diocese is also deepening its commitment to campus ministry thanks in part to work being done at parishes like St. John’s in Georgetown where the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, the rector, works closely with the Rev. Becky Zartman, the campus chaplain. Their collaboration has its roots in a relationship that began when the diocese hired Zartman’s predecessor, Emily Rowell Brown, a candidate for the priesthood from the Diocese of Alabama, to be the first Episcopal chaplain at Georgetown.
“When I got there the groundwork was already there for us to become more involved in the person of Emily,” Gerbasi says. “To me it made an enormous amount of sense and was effortless for the two of us to brainstorm ways that we the parish could be more helpful to her in her ministry.
“We are the closest Episcopal Church to campus, there are lots of Georgetown alums in the neighborhood and the impact of the university on the neighborhood was enormous.”
Gerbasi says the parish offers students an opportunity to worship in a setting reminiscent of their home parishes and the use of facilities that aren’t available on campus. “We can offer them old people and babies and Christmas pageants and things they are missing from home,” she says. Recently, she says, Zartman and students made Christmas cookies in the parish kitchen.
As the diocese reaches out to new audiences, it is intensifying its grassroots efforts against racism.
Enid LaGesse of Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring, is coordinator of the Race and Social Justice Task Force. She works with Canon Paula Clark on provide administrative and logistic support to the task force. LaGesse, a retired professor of African American and multicultural studies, and is heartened by the increased willingness of people in the diocese to have difficult conversations about race.
“What I see now, especially after the November Presidential election, is more and more people willing to have difficult conversations and more willing to talk about the need for skills to have those difficult conversations,” says LaGesse, who also does anti-racism work with an interfaith group in Montgomery County.
“I feel that after the election this anti-racism and social justice work has just exploded. I would like to see us continue to work with people to see how they can participate. Because I really believe there is a social justice issue for everyone. I would like to be able to see us do that in a way that reaches those individuals.
“They are going to need the tools to be able to do that.”
Bringing it All Together
Adam Kline of Ascension and St. Agnes has seen it all come together: the vision, the skills, the focus and the financial help.
At a Leadership Learning Day last year, he attended a workshop designed to help parishes form relationships in their neighborhood. “I loved the workshop,” he says. “I love all the different leadership things the diocese has been putting on. A lot of things have happened with my parish since then.”
Within the last year, Ascension and St. Agnes has increased its outreach and evangelism efforts. The parish hosts a blessing of the animals, gives candy to children at Halloween (200 children thought this was a good idea) and offers a performance of Handel’s Messiah that this year drew a crowd of about 300. They offer Ashes to Go, and this year hosted a District-wide blessing of bicycles at which Bishop Budde officiated. The church is also on the Logan Circle House tour, which brought in about 175 people who might not have visited otherwise.
“As head of altar guild, I was in chancel and altar area and ended up explaining the via media to a Catholic woman from Ireland,” Kline says.
Ascension and St. Agnes also provides Christmas gifts for about ten children at a nearby elementary school.
The church received $9,000 to develop a monthly Sunday evening service that it describes as a “contemplative casual” alternative to “contemporary praise” worship. The service, which will begin on a nine-month trial basis, will be aimed at young adults including those who are unfamiliar with or estranged from the church, and will conclude with a meal in the parish’s undercroft.
“It’s just like a silent quiet contemplative meditative prayer evening. It’s getting good reviews,” Kline says.
While progress toward a collaborative, community-focused future is visible in much of the diocese, Bishop Budde believes the energy, inspiration and resources that drive this progress comes from an unseen source. “Friends, there is no doubt in my mind that you have cast your lot with Jesus,” she said in her convention address. “And I hope that you know that in faithfulness to him, I have cast my lot with you.”
That faithfulness was manifest at parishes like Church of Our Saviour, Hillandale, to whom Budde and other members of the diocese responded quickly in the wake of a recent instance of racist vandalism and those like Ascension and St. Agnes, where the bishop ministered after the death of the Rev. Lane Davenport, the parish’s rector.
“I am especially enthusiastic about our bishop. I love her leadership style and her spirituality and how she interacts with people,” says Dongbo Wang, a parishioner at Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda.
“The diocese has a role in helping shape what happens in the future, beyond what happens in one church with one group of people. … I think that’s powerful.”