On November 17 and 18, the diocese’s Executive Council and Bishop Jennifer met in retreat at the Waycross Camp and Conference Center. The retreat was facilitated by Mieke Vandersall and Emily Scott of the Vandersall Collective, a firm hired by the diocese to lead a strategic planning process and create a new website.
The retreat began with Executive Council reviewing input from ten “listening sessions” that Bishop Jennifer held across the diocese last summer and fall. The vision for the diocese that emerged from those meetings, she said, is grounded in two practices: “radical welcome” and “bold witness.”
“In order for us to put those things into practice, Bishop Jennifer would like to restructure both how staff is set up to serve congregations and the diocesan budget,” said the Rev. Jenny Hulen, a new Executive Council member who serves as associate rector at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Carmel. “How can our resources and our mission meet up so we are in a transformational space, so we can act on that vision to have radical welcome and powerful witness?”
During the retreat, Executive Council formed two working groups. One is considering the structure of the diocesan staff, and the other is developing a new process for drafting the diocesan budget. The two groups will report on their work and plan their next steps, including ways to seek input from members of the diocese, at the Executive Council meeting on January 20.
“Process is one of the key ideas,” says the Rev. C. Davies Reed, who served on Executive Council from 2008-2014 and was reelected to another three-year term in October. During the intervening three years, he chaired the diocesan budget committee. “I believe Bishop Jennifer’s habit is to leverage collaboration. Collaboration can be a very powerful tool. We’re going to work together, and it’s going to evolve. We’re going to start to make changes this year, but things will continue to evolve.”
Hulen says that the two working groups are in regular conversation with each other since the organization of the diocesan staff and the diocese’s budget must be closely aligned.
“When we look at the structure of the diocese, we’re looking at the baseline of what absolutely has to be present because of the canons,” she says. “We have to have a bishop, we have to pay our fair share to the wider Episcopal Church, we have to have a standing committee—those sorts of things. Everything else is just how we do it in Indianapolis.”
The working group is now surveying several other dioceses of similar size to learn more about other structural models. “We’re asking how they do it,” she says. “Do they have deaneries? Do they have a central office with canons, or are staff spread out through the diocese?”
“We have a real directive from our bishop to think creatively and openly about how to be most effective with people’s gifts and talents and our resources,” she says.
The budget working group, says Reed, has met once since the retreat to discuss what kind of budget process would make sense “to let the mission drive the money.”
“What kind of budget makes sense given the new reality we’re trying to live into?” he says. “We’ve done things the same way for a number of years, but now new leadership invites a new, fresh approach. It takes a little while to get people into a mode of imagining and doing creative thinking outside the box. We’re starting to do that, and it’s starting to bear fruit.”
The Executive Council’s discussions about staff and budget structure are in the early stages, say Hulen and Reed, and members of the diocese need to know that the process will take time. They expect to issue a preliminary report in the late spring and provide more concrete proposals in the fall.
“It’s a process steeped in prayer and in listening both to voices from the diocese and to our experience of God speaking,” says Hulen. “It is a very collaborative process, and it’s going to take time. But while we are working, anyone on Executive Council will be happy to talk about our process and answer questions or hear concerns,” she says.
Although the process is different from anything Executive Council has taken on in recent years, Reed says it is well worth the investment of time and energy.
“What it makes possible is possibilities,” says Reed. “It opens avenues and doors by which the people of the church can direct how we all do ministry together. When ministry is being done at the local level, that’s when it’s most effective. When parishes are more closely connected to other parishes, real relationships can form.
“If we’re any good at this,” he says, “it will never be the end of the change.”