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Widening the Circle: Northern New England Standing Committees Meet

On January 26, the standing committees of the Dioceses of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine met via Zoom to explore opportunities for collaboration and shared ministry.

“We know that whatever we do will take prayer, experimentation, relationship building, creativity,” Bishop Shannon said in welcoming the group. “We don’t know what our formal three-diocese relationship will look like. We are working together to create a thoughtful and faithful process for this journey which continues to unfold. … We will go together and want to widen the circle of people considering how collaboration can enliven our dioceses. Thank you for being here tonight to begin that work.”

During the meeting, participants gathered in small groups to discuss what the dioceses have in common and discussed in plenary session their hopes for collaboration.

The Rev. Teresa Gocha of New Hampshire said that the stories her small group shared “were about being led by the Spirit to be a greater church, united by the Spirit, working toward the same goals…being very much partners.”

“The thread that ran through our stories is that we’re reimagining what church is, and the diocese is supportive,” the Rev. Kerry Mansir of Maine said. “We talked about moving outside of just worrying about bricks and mortar things and budgets, to what our ministry is outside of our walls, and we talked about the creative ways of dealing with deaths in our churches, and what new life can come out of those.”

Asked about what gives her hope about the possibility of collaboration among the dioceses, the Rev. Sara Ginolfi of Vermont mentioned the possibility for shared youth ministry, recalling cross-diocesan events and pilgrimages that were formative in her own teenage years. “We’re not impossibly far from each other–yes, there’s some mountains in between—but even a five-hour drive is not too much for some of these youth who are not going to meet another Episcopalian.”

The Rev. Stan Baker of Vermont noted that the archdeacons of the dioceses already meet together once a month. “I think we use each other for support and mutual inspiration…. I think that there are already wonderful and organic opportunities for connection that will only strengthen the further connection of our churches across northern New England,” he said.

“What I get excited about is learning so much…” the Rev. Rob Stevens of New Hampshire said. “We have so much to learn from each other, and that gives me hope. I think as we think about how we can share…we have a lot, and it’s more in common than it is different, and that feels really fun.”

“We would all agree that collaboration, clergy sharing and regionalization are on the horizon in each of our dioceses,” the Rev. Tim Higgins of Maine observed. “Seeing this happen at the diocesan level, around the three states, sends a huge message to our churches. … We can really be wonderful models for our local churches who are in the need of doing the same thing from town to town.”

Bishop Rob Hirschfeld of New Hampshire asked for questions to help inform future discussions, prompting Tricia Ingalls of Vermont to ask what the process of considering collaboration would look like.

“We won’t have clear-cut answers if we’re actually doing it right,” Bishop Shannon responded. “What we’re doing is adaptive change. Productive disequilibrium is the technical word for it. You have to have some sense of—ooh, wait a minute—if we’re actually going to move and change. … But the way that we’ll do that is always being prayerful.”

Joan Alayne Stevens of New Hampshire asked what is already off the table for the proposed collaboration among the dioceses, prompting Hirschfeld to reply, “The only thing that’s off the table is extinction.”

“This meeting is historic,” he continued. “It has been talked about for at least a couple of generations, and it hasn’t happened. … You’re part of a historic moment. There are a number of things that are starting to happen, and the momentum is building around collaboration.”

“We hope that this will not be the last time that we will be together,” Bishop Thomas Brown of Maine said at the end of the meeting. “Tonight is the beginning of what we hope will be expanding circles of this kind of conversation.”

Brown invited the people of the Dioceses of Vermont and New Hampshire to attend Spring Training, a morning for church leaders scheduled to take place in person and online on May 14 from 9 a.m. to noon. At 11 a.m. on that day, the three bishops will participate in a panel discussion about collaboration among the dioceses. Watch future issues of the Mountain for details on how to register.

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