November 2019
Embracing Change

Change: It’s All Connected

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

A few years ago, the Rev. Courtney Reid preached a sermon for the observance of All Saints that I’ve pondered often since becoming the Bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis in 2017. In part, the sermon was about quantum entanglement. She said, “The idea of entanglement is just the idea that two things that are separated in space can still be the same thing. And the particles within these objects remain connected even though they are physically apart – they are entangled. What excites one, excites the other. What moves one, moves the other. What hurts one, hurts the other. And when we become entangled, we are changed. When we are entangled, we are neighbors.”

No easy path to healthy entanglement

Her words have stayed with me because I’ve come to understand that the role of bishop is largely about keeping a diocese in healthy entanglement. There is no one easy “hack” to making our congregations and diocese more healthy and vital. Instead, we are learning that healthy entanglement and engagement with sibling congregations and our local communities can certainly help. We are learning to assume that collaboration is possible and to seek out partners in our work and ministries.

The geography of the Diocese of Indianapolis makes this entanglement and collaboration easier in some places than others. Half of our congregations are concentrated within the greater metropolitan area of Indianapolis. The other half are scattered throughout the rest of central and southern Indiana. There is a large swath near the southwest corner where there are no Episcopal congregations. Our diocese is not the only one with “Episcopal density” challenges. We long to be better connected to one another and to understand the strength of our collective presence across the state.

At my first meeting with our Executive Council, the governance body tasked with missional, programmatic and financial oversight, I was told that our deanery system was no longer working. Indeed, several deaneries lacked a dean to convene them and had not met in some time. In my naivete, I suggested replacing the deaneries with a system that worked better.

Proving that systems can be entangled even without collaboration, however, we soon learned that undoing the deanery structure had implications for nearly every other diocesan level of ministry. Executive Council also understood that when deaneries didn’t function well, other parts of our diocesan life didn’t function optimally either. That first meeting in the spring of 2017 launched a change process that continues to this day.

Change process brings new priorities and initiatives

The primary work of this change process has involved embracing new mission priorities for our diocese. Over the course of a year-and-a-half, we have worked to solidify these priorities, using them as the foundation for evaluating, and in many cases, changing aspects of our common life, including governance, programming and budget.

Our mission now is articulated this way:
Grounded in God’s love in Christ, the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis and its people:
Serve as beacons of Christ in central and southern Indiana and beyond
Offer a generous invitation and welcome
Stand with the vulnerable and marginalized and transform systems of injustice
Connect with other Episcopalians, ecumenical and interfaith partners and advocacy groups
Develop clergy and laity to lead the church of today and tomorrow.

To support our congregations in engaging our diocesan mission, we have recommitted to and launched a number of major strategic initiatives. They include Pathways to Vitality, a program linking congregational vitality and clergy financial wellness; Evangelism with Integrity, which locates evangelism as a spiritual practice within our values as Episcopalians; Faithful Innovation Learning Communities; and the College for Congregational Development. In the belief that every faith community of any size in any place can be developed into a more healthy, faithful and vital congregation, we have reshaped our approach to diocesan cash aid support by redirecting resources through some of the aforementioned programs, making that support available to all congregations and their leaders.

We didn’t have a road map for the change work before us, but we are committed to being a community of practice that is always learning as we go. Two things that continue to bear fruit as we move forward have been the listening sessions held in 2017 and the coaching my senior staff and I experienced over the past year.

Key elements in the change process

In my first three months as bishop, I held ten different listening sessions around the diocese. While three were for priests and deacons and for youth, the other seven gave me the opportunity to listen to the laity, to hear their hopes, dreams and fears about our future as a diocese. At our diocesan convention in 2017, the data from those listening sessions was provided for the delegates’ discussion and reflection. By the time we adjourned, our Executive Council had a rich collection of data, draft language for our diocesan mission priorities and a direction for leading the change work ahead. As bishop, I also gained helpful input as we began the process of restructuring diocesan staff to support the emerging mission priorities.

In a stroke of what I deemed the Holy Spirit’s perfect timing, the Episcopal Church Foundation launched a Diocesan Leadership Initiative in 2018. Our diocese was one of eleven dioceses in the first cohort. We began the program with a newly assembled executive team that included me as bishop, the canon to the ordinary for administration and evangelism, the brand new canon to the ordinary for congregational development and leadership and the also new diocesan treasurer. The experience of stepping away for a few days at Kanuga to be guided and inspired in our work by other diocesan teams and the presenters gathered by ECF was incredibly helpful. The best part of the program, however, was the year-long engagement (entanglement?) with a coach to assist us in keeping the work moving forward.

Meeting by video conference every month for nearly a year, our team quickly discovered the benefit of having an accountability partner with a perspective from outside our system. Our coach helped us understand the importance of over-communicating the new mission priorities driving the changes to our governance, program and budget. Among other things, this led to simplifying the language of our mission, so it fit on the banners sent to each of our worshipping communities.

Healthy entanglements and vital ministry

Over the past year we have redrawn our regional boundaries into “neighborhoods” inviting broad participation in diocesan leadership. These neighborhood meetings take place in locations that require no more than a one-hour drive for any congregation. This means that some occur in community spaces, like park recreation lodges. Instead of clergy deans, we now have lay and ordained neighborhood conveners, in addition to leaders elected from each neighborhood to sit on Executive Council. When we gathered for our 2019 diocesan convention, photographs throughout the hall showed how our people are living into our mission, providing a visual storyboard and testimony to the healthy entanglements and vital ministry underway in every corner of the diocese.

These are exciting days in the Diocese of Indianapolis. Change work is not easy, but we are getting to know one another in new ways and are energized for our ministry as beacons of Christ for the world. We are a diocese entangled with one another, a diocese that is both changing and changed. We are learning that while we may not know what the future will hold, all will be well if we are connected to one another in Christ and engaging our neighbors for the good of the world.

The Right Reverend Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, a native of New York City, holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture with a minor in urban studies from Smith College, an M.A. in historic preservation planning from Cornell University and an M.Div. degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP). Before being elected bishop in 2016, she served in the Dioceses of Newark, Central New York and Chicago. She is the first black woman to be elected a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Jennifer’s expertise includes historic preservation of religious buildings, stewardship and development, race and class reconciliation and spiritual direction. She is an accomplished distance runner and triathlete and a passionate chef and baker. She and her husband, Harrison Burrows, are parents to Timothy.


This article is part of the November 2019 Vestry Papers issue on Embracing Change