May 2022
Beyond the Pews

Bridges to the Future: Addressing the Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic on Faith Communities

How is your faith community meeting the hardships and opportunities of the pandemic? As we emerge from the pandemic, how can you address your contextual needs? While some congregations and dioceses were more impacted than others, all experienced financial, physical and emotional pressures. The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) was fortunate to receive additional funds from the Lilly Endowment to support the economic and financial sustainability of local faith communities. ECF’s grant, Bridges to the Future: Positioning Local Faith Communities for a Post-Pandemic Church, is designed to provide “bridge” funding for participating dioceses and their congregations to help them move from a state of economic uncertainty to a more sustainable and effective ministry model. These funds are specifically targeted to dioceses with underrepresented and underserved communities most impacted by COVID-19, i.e., predominately Black, Latino/Hispanic, Indigenous, multi-cultural and rural. This article shares how some dioceses are meeting the need for change and adaptation with new ministry models to ensure the sustainability and vitality of these communities over the long-term.

Shaped by Faith encourages collaboration and partnerships

The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania launched their Shaped by Faith initiative in 2019. Bishop Scanlan invited parish teams to meet in regional cohorts and begin strategizing “right-shaped” models of leadership that address the present challenges of parochial ministry. From the beginning of this work, particular need was identified in the Northern Tier region of the Diocese, a largely rural area which has experienced marked decline in membership, operating income and clergy availability. Additionally, the long distances between Episcopal neighbors in this area has led to a cultural disconnect with each other and the wider Diocese.

Funds from the Bridges grant will help resource collaborative models designed to break down this sense of siloed ministry. The newly implemented role of a regional missioner has already increased the collaborative spirit of the region and worked to deepen missional partnerships. An exciting and emerging opportunity involves the repurposing of a dormant parish house with the capacity to draw members from across the Diocese. Moreover, Northern Tier residents will have access to formation and spiritual development opportunities and exposure to other members of their diocesan family that will help combat the isolation in this region.

Congregations in Detroit Church Partnership find fresh hope for the future

A new ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan is the Detroit Church Partnership. In a time when mainline protestant congregations, including the Episcopal Church, are losing members and congregations of color are finding themselves particularly hard hit, the Detroit Church Partnership offers a creative way to address these issues. Three congregations, including The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, have joined together, to share a full-time priest, who will serve as rector of two of the congregations and as an Urban Missioner at the Cathedral.

This arrangement allows these three congregations to share resources, create joint ministries, and explore new configurations for compelling, dynamic projects that transcend congregational boundaries. Lay leaders report that having a gifted clergyperson dedicated to the growth and development of their congregation has renewed their hope for a compelling Gospel-driven future. This venture is funded by the individual congregations, the Diocese of Michigan and ECF’s Lilly Endowment grant.

Essential support for a new vision for native ministry in Minnesota

The Episcopal Church in Minnesota will focus on convening key leaders to discern what’s next for native ministry in Minnesota. As the congregations are led primarily by unpaid lay leaders, the ECF grant will add essential resources to jumpstart the vision that is emerging in these faithful communities. The Diocese anticipates hiring a priest, in partnership with the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, to explore the possibility of a joint Lutheran-Episcopal ministry in the Ojbwe congregations of Northwest Minnesota.

The goal of the project is to use local, diocesan and wider Church resources to ensure the financial sustainability of whatever shape emerges during 2022. The hope is to cultivate, once again, a strong network of leaders to partner together in supporting one another’s ministry and to create a vibrant community that spans geography.

During this 2022 Bridges grant period, each bishop and diocesan staff member is experimenting with innovative models and providing missional, strategic, administrative and financial support for these new ventures. By partnering with both clergy and lay leadership, the dioceses’ faith communities are feeling empowered, challenged and supported in their emerging ministries.

Compiled by ECF staff in collaboration with Diocesan teams.

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This article is part of the May 2022 Vestry Papers issue on Beyond the Pews