October 12, 2011

Charting a New Path

The economic news in Dayton, Ohio, isn’t good.

Long a manufacturing hub, the city has acutely felt the national financial woes. One in 10 workers are unemployed, and job loss is among the highest in the state.

But leave it to the Episcopal churches there to find a silver lining.

For the past 2 ½ years, the wardens of the Dayton area have met quarterly. Note: the clergy meet for clericus gatherings as well. That’s pretty common. But what is unusual is the lay leadership committing to regular meetings to find creative ways to collaborate during these troubling times.

They have developed a comprehensive list of all the outreach services provided by the different congregations, from help for the hungry and homeless to national and global mission efforts. This list is much more than simple data gathering. It has provided an opportunity to see where the congregations can combine their ministries – and highlight any holes in service.

Says the Rev. Mike Kreutzer, the dean of the area: “With our wardens’ leadership, the congregations have used this information to cooperate on multiple projects, validating our conviction that we can often accomplish our mission more effectively by working together than we can by acting separately.” 

This isn’t a complicated lesson – most of us learned early that many hands lighten the load. But putting it into practice takes conviction, commitment and compromise. 

The folks in Dayton recognize they can’t operate on a silo-congregational model. But rather than throw up their hands in frustration, they’re creating a new, more sustainable and effective model. 

In addition to a collective list of the outreach ministries, the congregations have joined together for a community food pantry, a separate feeding ministry and Habitat for Humanity projects. They also come together for combined worship services and have pulpit swaps so parishioners can experience different homiletic styles. 

Sure, the axiom is true that necessity is the mother of invention. But we’ve all seen congregations in similar situations make different decisions. Sometimes they hunker down and ignore the problem. Other times, they aren’t willing to make the compromises that come with  new ways of operating. 

In Dayton, known as the birthplace of aviation, congregations are charting a new path, with both laity and clergy leading the way.