What’s all this I hear about Area Ministry?

Posted on May 5, 2009
If you want to know more about Area Ministry, I encourage you to come to "Sowing the Seeds: Ember Day Diocesan Gathering and Ordinations" at Grace Cathedral on June 6. There will be an Area Ministry workshop that day, followed by the Spring ordinations in the evening. It will be a great day to learn, to be in community, and to celebrate the new ministries of a new group of deacons and priests.

Area Ministry is the Diocese of California’s response to the Vision of the Beloved Community, a vision that we developed during my first year with you. The Beloved Community Process had close to 1,000 participants from all around the diocese, and its major vision points were adopted at a special Diocesan Convention. The central points of the Beloved Community vision we adopted are:

Embodied Justice
Church Vitality
Rooted Spirituality
Organizational Development
Inclusive Community

I was heartened by the visioning process and, as your bishop, am committed to carrying this vision forward. Working as a team, your diocesan staff have developed a mission strategy we call Area Ministry that is meant to help the diocese enact the Beloved Community vision. Everything we have developed for Area Ministry exists in the way of tools to empower your own work, and frameworks for thinking and doing.

 

The three structural elements, its “bones” are: diversity from the outset; collaboration; and embeddedness in community. These three structural elements represent deeply held congregational values in the Episcopal Church. It is equally true that as a denomination we have had great difficulty in living into these values: we are, at the congregational level, not very diverse; we don’t collaborate to any great extent among our congregations; and our congregations are often somewhat removed from the living communities within which we worship.

I believe that if we could learn to be diverse, to collaborate and to be embedded in our communities we would move substantially closer to our vision of the Beloved Community. And while across our denomination these three structural elements represent values that are honored most often in the breach, it is also true that many Episcopalians have significant, meaningful experiences in these three structural areas that are useful in knowing what the overall resultant picture will be once we have all received the vivifying breath of God on these bones!

In workshop settings on Area Ministry, for instance, I have been asking people to remember and recount the time when they experienced the greatest diversity in their lives; when a group of which they have been a part needed to collaborate in order to get out of a stuck position; and when they have experienced the greatest rootedness or embeddedness in a community.

What I have found is that many people report that that while moving into any one of these areas was initially scary and unfamiliar, that eventually the experience was among their most meaningful and valuable. This is a sign that we are on to something – the Beloved Community represents a desired state and one towards which we can actually move by practical steps such as those that provide the framework for Area Ministry.

I’m delighted to tell you that Area Ministry is being taken up all across the diocese, and that the creative stories you are telling about how you are choosing to enact this mission strategy in your community are pouring in. Area Ministry looks different in every community of the diocese, as it should. You are the people through whom God will enflesh and breathe life into these dray bones, which we offer you in humility and in gratitude for our being allowed to be in ministry together.