Meeting in Bloomington on November 16-17, diocesan convention will consider a resolution that 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.”
Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows said the resolution is informed by sentiments she heard expressed frequently during the listening sessions she conducted throughout the diocese during her first year as bishop.
“We have a desire for closer connection with one another, and an understanding that our current structures aren’t serving us very well in that regard,” she said. “Yet we realize that we need time to experiment with new ways of organizing ourselves, before we commit to a permanent structure. This is a public declaration that we intend to experiment.”
Executive Council approved the resolution unanimously last weekend and has considered but not yet decided on what a new map of what some leaders are calling diocesan “neighborhoods” might look like.
“I cannot speak for every congregation and region of the diocese, but we have some silo parishes,” says the Rev. Allen D. Rutherford, a member of Executive Council who is rector of St. John’s in Mount Vernon. “Those parishes for one reason or another are isolated from the ministry of the diocese as a whole. When we break out of our silo mentality, we might learn best practices of ministry from our neighbors, and from other regions or ‘neighborhoods’ within the diocese.
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.”
In order to attract people whose interest in serving in diocesan leadership might be heightened by the new proposal, the deadline for nominations has been extended until November 8.
“We need people from a great diversity of backgrounds and skills to begin the work we have set forth for ourselves as a diocese, and so we need structures that make room for new people,” Baskerville-Burrows said. “If people are willing to join in the work of being beacons of Christ in central and southern Indiana, we need them—there is plenty of work to do.”
Under the resolution, Executive Council’s authority to reorder the deaneries would lapse at the 2020 convention at which time the resolution directs council to present whatever canonical changes are necessary “to adapt the governance of the Diocese of Indianapolis to the needs of the church in our own day.”
Deaneries have already elected representatives to Executive Council for the upcoming term based on the diocese’s current structure, but in 2019 representatives may be elected on a new structure if one is in place, said Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, canon to the ordinary for administration and evangelism.
O’Sullivan-Hale said one goal of a possible reorganization is to develop a set of regions that make more geographic sense than the current deaneries. In one plan under consideration, he said, every church in a region would be no more than one hour’s drive from a central meeting point in the region.
“The other thing I hope does change is that we come to understand that while the regions are for governance, these are also the vehicle for doing the work we feel God is calling us to do,” he said.
Council member Lara Dreyer, a member of Good Samaritan in Brownsburg, said the desire for deeper connection among the people of the diocese is a theme that has recurred throughout the 13 years she has been involved in the diocese.
“Each time we gathered input from around the diocese, we heard people say they feel isolated, spread out and disconnected,” said Dreyer who served on both the Diocesan Reimagining Task Force and the search committee that nominated Baskerville-Burrows. “There has been a yearning for greater connection and greater collaboration. People want to be more informed. They want to participate more. They want their ministries and communities to be seen. That’s especially true for people in parts of the diocese outside the Indianapolis metro area.
“We are trying to respond to the gap between the structures we’ve inherited from the past and what we need for mission, community, and transformation—now and in the future.”
Rutherford says he has heard both skepticism and “cautious optimism” about the restructuring process. “One constant refrain that Bishop Jennifer has been stating since becoming our bishop is the reality that the church in ten years will not look like the church of today, or the church of the past,” he said. “The church, and our diocese in particular, must adapt to meet the changes that are already happening and those that are still to come.
“Rather than react to the changes, we are called to be agents of change. The church is called to have an impact on society, not the other way around. This is Jesus’ directive to his church.”