Diocesan Convention: Retooling Our Assumptions About Church

The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis 2018 Diocesan Convention, held in Indianapolis, Ind., wraps up its annual convention on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Photo by Lucas Carter/

Things are happening in the Diocese of Indianapolis, and in her address to the diocesan convention on November 17 in Bloomington, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows had her list at the ready.

Evangelism with Integrity workshops field-tested at St. Francis in the Fields, Zionsville.

Billboards in Brownsburg.

Twenty-four-hour prayer spaces at Nativity, Indianapolis, St. Peter’s, Lebanon, and St. Stephen’s, New Harmony.

The Compassion, Peace and Reconciliation team at Trinity, Bloomington.

The diocese, she told an audience of more than 275 people at Monroe Convention Center, is “retooling our assumptions about church and taking on new, innovative practices so that we can see what God is up to already in our neighborhoods.” The future, she said, “looks like the College for Congregational Development and Pathways to Vitality, and Fierce Conversations and more. These various programs are not about ‘flavor of the month programming’ but about building a rich and varied toolbox for lay and clergy leaders.”

The bishop’s address and a presentation by the Rev. Dr. Dwight J. Zscheile, professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, were among the high points of a convention in which clergy and lay leaders also had brief structured conversations with one another about ways in which they had attempted to live out the diocese mission priorities; head “ministry minute” presentations on important initiatives; and took to the streets of Bloomington in twos to practice “following Jesus lightly into the neighborhood.”

The walk through central Bloomington was part of Zscheile’s presentation, and emphasized church members learning to practice a ministry of vulnerable presence rather than focusing on charity or advocacy work.

“In the churches, we all want to fix what is wrong; to get people to affiliate,” Zscheile said. “But are we forming people in faith? We need to go deeper.

“If we are just another social and cultural organization, it is going to be hard for us to connect with people’s everyday longings and losses,” he said.

Churches are at risk of doing too much, Zscheile told the convention. In examining its ministries, a church should ask “is this connecting us more deeply to God, each other and our neighbors?

“If not,” he said, “maybe you don’t need to do it.”

Zscheile emphasized the importance of church members listening to scripture, to each other and to their neighbors. He also urged those at convention to be willing to be “hosted,” to go vulnerably into other’s settings, and experience what it is like not to operate always on one’s home turf.

In the midst of convention, the diocese received word that the Lilly Endowment had approved its application for a grant to continue the Pathways to Vitality initiative for another three years. The program is designed for clergy and lay leaders to facilitate well-informed and honest conversations about money. (Read a story on the first three years of the Pathways program.)

The convention passed two resolutions that will make innovative work possible in the diocese. One would temporarily permit Executive Council to change the composition of the deaneries “in order to allow experimentation with developing regional structures to advance God’s call for this diocese.”

Executive Council has considered but not yet decided on what a new map of what the bishop and other leaders are calling diocesan “neighborhoods” might look like.

The resolution also encourages Executive Council to create whatever “permanent or temporary bodies,” subject to the council’s authority, that it deems necessary to “further the work of the diocese.”

The other resolution, which was greeted with particular enthusiasm, designated Trinity Haven, a ministry of Trinity Church, Indianapolis, as a “cooperating ministry” of the diocese. When it opens its doors in the summer of 2019, Trinity Haven will provide what it describes as “a safe, welcoming, and family-like environment for LGBTQ youth who do not have homes of their own.”

Trinity Haven will provide long term shelter for a vulnerable population, the Rev. Julia Whitworth, rector of Trinity, Indianapolis told the convention, and its status as a cooperating ministry means future employees will have access to group medical insurance plans through the diocese.

Two other resolutions, both passed without discussion, begin the process of  bringing diocesan practices and canons into compliance with resolutions passed in July at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.   (Read all four resolutions.)

Convention passed a $3.9 million budget that keeps the parish apportionment at 14 percent.

“Budget follows mission,” the Rev. C. Davies Reed, chair of the Budget Formation Task Force, told the convention. Reed had previously written to the diocese explaining the proposed budget.

The five areas in which the diocese spends the most money are salaries and benefits for the bishop’s staff (21.9 percent), medical benefits (19.5 percent), direct aid to parishes (11 percent), contributions to the budget of the wider church (11.1 percent) and campus ministry (10.9 percent).

The budget keeps the draw on the diocesan endowment at 5.25 percent. Reed said the task force hopes to lower that figure to a sustainable 5 percent in the future.

Two longtime diocesan stalwarts—Tom Wood, treasurer and Catherine Bridge, assistant chancellor—were honored for their service, and Rhoda Keough of St. Philip’s, Indianapolis was honored by Episcopal Women’s Ministries.

“At our last diocesan convention, I invited you to dream dreams worthy of the reign of God,” Baskerville-Burrows said in her address. “To try new things, risk failing, and get up and try again.  That invitation still stands. … As long as we are in a world that seeks to diminish and even demonize those we would call neighbor; as long as we are in a time when hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise; as long as we live among those who seek to devalue and denigrate people of color, those who are transgender, survivors of sexual abuse, those are undocumented, and other vulnerable populations, we will be about the business of serving and transforming the world to the end that all would know that they are loved and capable of loving.

We will not retreat in fear. Instead, we will move forward with a bold witness and a radical welcome to share the loving, liberating, and life-giving ways of Jesus.”


Standing Committee: The Rev. Hilary Cooke, St. John’s, Lafayette and Phil Wills, Grace, Muncie

Commission on Ministry: The Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, St. John’s, Speedway and Sally Cassidy, Good Samaritan

Waycross Board: Rose Lane, All Saints, Indianapolis and the Rev. Bradley Pace, St. John’s, Lafayette


Executive Council: Southeast Deanery, lay—Susan Steigerwald, Trinity, Lawrenceburg; Northwest Deanery, clergy—Janet Oller, St. John’s Crawfordsville;  North Central Deanery, clergy: Christopher Beasley, St. Peter’s Lebanon; North Central Deanery, lay: Michael McGraw, St. Francis in-the-Fields, Zionsville;  Northeast Deanery, clergy: no candidate; South Central Deanery, lay: Rose Anne Grasty, St. Timothy’s, Indianapolis;  South Central Deanery, clergy: Rebecca Nickel, St. Timothy’s Indianapolis;  Southwest Deanery, clergy: Holly Rankin Zaher, St. Paul’s, Evansville.

Other appointments: Sean Sullivan, convention secretary;  Laurel Cornell, treasurer (upon the January 1 retirement of Tom Wood); Lee Little, historiographer; and Todd Relue and Susan Rempert, assistant chancellors.

© 2021 Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis