As a task force explores opportunities for common mission between the Episcopal dioceses in the Commonwealth, a separate group is beginning work within the Diocese of Massachusetts to take a look at collaborations here—those that are already happening and new ones called for by changed and changing ministry circumstances.
Bishop Alan M. Gates asked for the creation of this Collaborative Ministries Working Group at last November’s Diocesan Convention, noting in his annual address the need for more and new models for collaborative ministry within the diocese given the increasing number of congregations served by part-time clergy and of bi-vocational clergy who work both church and secular jobs.
Collaborative ministry needs and opportunities already have been the topic of conversation for some time among individual congregations, in deaneries, with the regional canons in their work with clergy in transition and congregations, and within diocesan commissions and committees involved with diocesan mission strategy, the ordination process, and clergy compensation and benefits, among others.
“We find ourselves at a crucial moment to seize this energy,” Gates said to the convention, and the Collaborative Ministries Working Group’s task will be “to consolidate these conversations and move them forward in a more structured and coordinated way.”
The group is to report back to the Diocesan Convention this November.
Among the initial core group of organizers are the Rev. Canon Kelly O’Connell, the regional canon for the churches in the diocese’s Southern Region, and the Rev. Megan Holding, Episcopal chaplain at Northeastern University and Boston College and a member of the diocesan Compensation and Benefits Committee.
“It’s almost like the cogs in old machines, all these conversations are happening, here and over there, and—I feel this way a lot in the church—sometimes they touch and push each other forward, and there are times when cogs don’t interact at all,” Holding said in a joint interview with O’Connell.
The first step, Holding said, is to “just try and get our conversations in conversation with each other.”
O’Connell and Holding described the work ahead as both challenging and hopeful.
“As the church moves forward into whatever God is calling us to do and to be, we have to have these conversations and be flexible in how we do things. It calls us to creativity, I think. So I see this work as really transformational in the long term,” O’Connell said.
Because it’s hard to imagine the unknown, collecting and sharing stories will be an important part of the work.
“What’s happening at the parish that has a quarter-time clergy person and has structured things with flexibility so they can actually make that manageable? Or the parish that has closed its Sunday school but has created this intergenerational formation ministry?” Holding said.
“I think the more we can collect about what is happening, and how it works and what the benefits are, it shows us how the Spirit is moving in the church. It’s really about joining in partnership so you can do more together, and I think that is part of the cultural shift that is happening in the church. There is something profoundly hopeful about the way the Spirit works in this.”
As part of its pre-work, the group is putting together several listening groups in May focused on current collaborations and, from there, will pinpoint topics that merit deeper exploration and expand the working group over the summer to start work in the fall.
“What we’ve realized in coming together, and the reason for a variety of listening groups, is that this is not a single-issue kind of conversation,” O’Connell said. “There are issues around the clergy, issues around compensation, questions and conversation to be had around use of buildings, and parishes collaborating together, and sharing a clergy person. So there are a whole variety of issues that all kind of fold into this heading of ‘collaborative ministries.’ We are figuring out how we address each of these conversations so that something fruitful comes out of all of them.”
--Tracy J. Sukraw