In 2021, as the leaders of the Diocese of Vermont began discerning the future of its ministry and its possibilities for collaboration with other dioceses, Bishop Shannon realized that the diocese needed a statement of its belief, mission, vision and values to guide its work.
“When we discern with other dioceses, we need to enter into that discernment with something to offer,” she said. “The path forward will require creativity and a willingness to let go of sacred cows in exchange for experimentation and hard conversations. To do this work faithfully, we have to be clear on who we are, what we believe, and where God is calling us to be.”
Using notes taken during conversations and reflections at the All on the Same Page Retreat facilitated by Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta in February, Bishop Shannon and her staff produced drafts of the new statements and shared them with diocesan lay and clergy leaders. In late 2021, Diocesan Council reviewed and approved them.
The new mission statement commits the diocese to “take anti-racist actions; work toward environmental sustainability; and develop vital, collaborative, economically sustainable congregations and leaders in our churches and diocesan institutions.”
The vision statement pledges that the diocese will stand with the marginalized, care for God’s creation and strive for economic justice.
Eric Davis, a member of Diocesan Council and an active member of the Green Mountain Online Abbey, enthusiastically supports the new statements. “The whole document serves as a way for the Episcopal Church in Vermont to tell people who might be curious about us what we’re about. It is historically and theologically grounded, without being in your face about it,” he said. “It serves to connect the things that diocesan leadership is concerned with today with what the church has been concerned about for centuries.”
To Wendy Besett, a member of Diocesan Council from St. John the Baptist in Hardwick, the new statements can help Episcopalians explain in accessible language “how we can be a God with arms.
“It’s good to be talking about mission, vision and values to get up to speed with the rest of humanity,” she said. “People are building loving communities outside of the church and don’t understand what the church can do for them. But if the language the church uses is hurtful and damaging to you, it’s not going to sink into you … even if you’re spending your time meditating and reflecting.”
Besett was inspired by Wright, who urged the diocese’s leaders to find what is working in their communities and “see how the church can tag along with that.” She and Davis believe the mission statement provides a blueprint for how to do that.
“This [mission statement] … describes specific things that the church in Vermont can work on in the short-term,” Davis said. “These aren’t things that have been drawn out of thin air. These are things in context.”
While the statements are written in contemporary language and strive to be accessible, they are firmly rooted in scripture, Davis said. The values statement “is in contemporary language, but these points, one can find throughout scripture in the Hebrew Bible–Amos, Micah, and Isaiah—and many passages of Jesus in the Gospels. It connects what we’re about today with concerns that have been there throughout history in the church and before that in the Hebrew Bible.”
Besett shares his hope that the new statements will provide a template for talking with people about how the Episcopal Church might appeal to them.
“The church hasn’t really caught up to the language that they need so that people will see that we’re all doing the same great work,” Besett said. “Let’s do it together!”