When communities are in need, what resources are available within the diocese to assist? Over the past year, that question has gotten a lot easier to answer thanks to the Episcopal Asset Map. The project, which began as a grassroots effort of Episcopal Relief & Development, has succeeded in surveying a growing percentage of Episcopal parishes worldwide to create an online map of each location and the ministries and gifts offered there. The Episcopal Church in Vermont encourages all parishes within the diocese to participate in the Asset Map. To complete the survey, please follow these steps:
Here is a short video explaining how the map works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i0Mck-83g0&feature=youtu.be
In the past five-plus years at Christ Church-Montpelier, discernment has been at the heart of all major decisions, and it’s a discernment process that revolves around what the Rev. Paul Habersang calls Centers for Creativity. He defines Centers of Creativity as a discipline that invites different people from various perspectives to focus on a specific challenge through prayer, conversation and dialog both within the church and the surrounding community. It is through Centers of Creativity that Christ Church has identified and begun work on a powerful local mission, in cooperation with Vermont Interfaith Action and the City of Montpelier, to end homelessness by 2020. (Watch the video: https://vimeo.com/191686636)
According to the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, the Point-In-Time Count on Jaunary 26, 2016, showed an overall decrease in homelessness by 28% compared to the 2015. That’s good news for the state overall, but in downtown Montpelier, an area with a lengthening list of retirees waiting as long as five years for housing to become available, the risk is simply too great to reduce the urgency. That’s why Christ Church has begun discussing a strategy to create 150 new housing units locally.
In a recent interview, Habersang discussed the origins of Centers of Creativity, offered some practical guidance for congregations in discernment, and explained how diocesan funds set aside for local missions can be used to fuel the local discernment process.
He said, “One of the first things that we engaged in as a community, when I first came to Christ Church in 2011, was to develop a discernment team that studied the book Changing the Conversation by Anthony Robinson. It’s an excellent book. Robinson gets the fact that we’re in a post-Christendom era where churches have to change if we’re going to be relevant, thriving and more missional in our communities.”
As the book study group wrestled with Robinson’s theme, it helped them to examine how they were engaging within the church walls as well as the outside world. During the 2011-2012 timeframe, Christ Church was presented with an opportunity to partner with the City of Montpelier and the State of Vermont in Montpelier District Heat, an alternative-fuel heating project designed to reduce petroleum consumption in the local area. The first Center for Creativity—a term coined by a former senior warden—was convened to look at the scope of the project, related costs and potential return on investment. The Center for Creativity process—specifically, the inclusion of community voices in the process—inspired an anonymous donation of $40,000, making the otherwise impossible project possible.
Habersang continued, “As a result of that first Center for Creativity, we’ve opened our doors and welcomed people in. It’s been through that discernment process, through those Centers for Creativity, that new thinking has challenged us in ways that are leading us to a rebirth at Christ Church.”
Part of this rebirth could likely entail creating affordable housing units on Christ Church property, a serious commitment indeed.
“As we move forward with this housing project, there will be a feasibility study that will have to be undertaken that looks both at the environmental impact and the economic implications,” Habersang added.
There is a cost associated with the in-depth feasibility study. Local Mission Approach grant monies, which are available to all congregations in the diocese, will empower Christ Church to engage the architects, engineers and environmental experts necessary to complete the research.
As part of our effort to increase both internal communications and our ministry of evangelism, the Episcopal Church in Vermont has been engaged in a project to redesign the diocesan website. The desktop version of the new site, which features a vibrant color palette and intuitive design, has now gone into beta testing. (Beta is a live trial conducted during the final stages of development to gather feedback on the site’s major components.) Most importantly, the beta site is the location for all videos, downloads and other takeaways from the 2016 Diocesan Convention!
How will the transition work?
During the beta test, which is expected to last two weeks, both the OLD and NEW websites will be online. The old website will remain accessible through its current address, http://diovermont.org.
The new website is accessible through the temporary address: http://diovermont.org/diodev5BTV/
At the completion of the beta test phase, the old site will be taken offline, and the new site, in its completed state, will replace the old site and will assume the http://diovermont.org address.
Can I go directly to the NEW site?
Yes! The new site is directly accessible through the temporary address, http://diovermont.org/diodev5BTV/
Diocesan Convention Highlights can be found here: http://diovermont.org/diodev5BTV/diocesan-convention.php
One final note…
During the beta test, the new site will only be viewable from desktop and laptop computers. Tablet and mobile functionality will be enabled at the completion of the test.
A special thanks to parish communicators, clergy and lay leaders who submitted photos and content for the new site. (As a reminder, your submissions are always welcome.) And special thanks to the diocesan ministry support team for their engagement during the planning and design.
Local Mission Approach has been described as “God’s Process at Work,” “the Jesus Movement in Vermont,” and “a documented process of discernment, planning, acting and reflecting,” but the question for many Vermont congregations seeking to identity and articulate their own Approach is, “What does it look like?” In an effort to provide examples and to highlight the progress being made across the diocese, several parishes participated in a dramatic presentation at Diocesan Convention. (Watch the video: https://vimeo.com/191630576)
The skit, written by the Rev. Susan Taylor and led by the diocese’s Local Mission Approach team, demonstrated how the four theological aspects of Local Mission—seeing, sending, transforming, and returning—have taken different forms in response to each parish’s local context. The Convention participants shared the following testimonials:
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church-White River Junction. Our eyes were opened after the South Carolina church shooting. We saw that it was more than a ‘church’ problem; it impacts the whole community. Our conversations moved to a public library study of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. Our mission was not to provide or solicit answers or prescriptions nor were judgments rendered, but rather each of us was asked to become more deeply aware of personal practices and presuppositions around race. And in this ‘awakening’ to our own racism, community members seemed to draw church members along.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church-Northfield. We saw a letter to the editor that described a need for supplies that were not being met through the resources at the time: food, clothing and even a ‘pet shelf’. We were sent in that the parish committed itself to creating a ‘Living Supply Closet’ for our neighbors in the Dog River Valley. The realization that transforming takes place not just in the distribution of products, but also in building community, led to opening-up a neighborly communal lunch at the time of distribution. The returning is a continuing cycle since 2014 as we see new faces nearly every month. And with the Spirit’s guidance, the cycle goes on.
A Letter on Behalf of Community Priest the Rev. Susan Ohlidal-St. Johnsbury. The townspeople of St. Johnsbury saw the need to improve housing and caring for people without homes. The collar she wears identifies her as a faith leader within the community. A glimpse into her day reveals her joining in the conversation, continuing later in the day at the smoker’s table, and her day closes out after the evening facilitating Pub Theology. It is both seeing and being seen, being available as sentness, gathering and connecting as the Holy Spirit permeates our transforming experience, the returning as the continuing unfolding.
Christ Episcopal Church-Montpelier. We, too, saw the plight of those without housing in our area and joined in the area-wide commitment to end homelessness in central Vermont by 2020.
We were sent to embark on an ambitious program—to develop housing on our property to serve individuals with low incomes. Our transforming journey of faith has impelled collaboration and mutual ministry within our congregation and in returning, a strengthening and expanding of ministry teams focusing on specific areas, issues and concerns.
Church of the Good Shepherd-Barre. We were invited to write on a white board what we saw or felt while doing local mission and to give concrete examples. Here are brushstrokes from one week:
St. John’s Episcopal Church-Randolph. We saw that efforts to meet people’s food needs within our community was ample but that shelter—in varying degrees—is severely needed. Recently, Randolph reached out to address short-term, transitional housing through collaboration with the Haven and Capstone (formerly Community Action). And since 1991, our ecumenical organization Randolph Emergency Committee on Housing (REECH), which represents seven parishes, has worked to bridge the gap for those who may not qualify for assistance, but REECH is relatively unknown. As we’ve heard in other local mission stories, transformative experience is relational, thus our “sent-ness” this year involved collaborating on the first annual Celebrate REECH day. St. John’s also hopes to partner ecumenically and communally to find a way to provide emergency shelter, a resource that currently exists only in our vision.
Cathedral Church of St. Paul-Burlington. There is a lot to see here: an unjust prison system and racism, also a hunger for quiet and beauty. We are sent to work with Vermont Interfaith Action to offer an evening program called “Working for a Second Chance” —bringing together panels of ex-offenders and potential employers to share their personal stories of looking for work and of hiring workers. We partnered with Christ Church Presbyterian with whom we already have relationship in their use of our parish hall for worship on Sunday afternoons—encouraging discussion about our prison system and racism initiated through study of Bryan Stephenson’s book Just Mercy. Working with artists, our Cathedral space is transformed through painting exhibits, colorful vestments and furnishings, and free concert series, in an effort to provide spiritual refuge amid a noisy world. Transformation and returning are a continual cycle of ebbing and flowing.
We have four components that we’ve identified in Local Mission Approach:
God’s Process in Work
In the skit, the Rev. Taylor reminds that there are two powerful methods for identifying Local Mission and propelling it forward. Additional information on both Asset Based Community Development and Appreciative Inquiry can be found on the Local Mission Approach page of the new diocesan website, which can be found at the following link:
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