Canon to the Ordinary’s 2022 Report
The Rev. Canon Debra Low-Skinner
173rd Diocesan Convention, 29 October 2022
As head of the Congregational Ministries Working Group (WG), I support the operations and missional activities of all our 74 congregations (i.e., parishes, missions, and ethnic worshipping communities) with especial oversight of our missions (of which there are currently 24). My WG team and I together provide:
- Church growth consulting
- Assessment of church health, sustainability, and best use of assets, both for particular congregations and for the overall Diocese
- Assistance and advice for the Assessment Appeals Committee
- Parish administration advice and troubleshooting, which can involve matters such as employment/labor issues, facilities use & tenant issues, and other business acumen concerns
- Mission subsidies to help pay for vicar salaries and for special continuing education and consulting work
- Clergy/lay leadership pastoral care and support
- Transition ministry support, under the guidance of Transitions Officer, Canon Denise Obando
- Ordination process assistance/advice, under the guidance of Vocations Officer, Dr. Travis Stevens
- Program management of the Vital + Thriving Initiative for congregations
- Up-to-date COVID protocol guidance
In addition, over the past year, I have visited forty churches to worship, supply, lead a Vestry Retreat, and/or assist at celebrations of new ministry. Most visits were photographed and written up for our DioCal News & Events e-newsletter and also for the DioCal Episcopalians Facebook page. While I have received many compliments for these posts, what I hope is that people will gain a true sense of the rich diversity of settings, architectures, church sizes, ethnicities, and outreach activities that are evident across our Diocese.
In general, I have seen that our congregations have not recovered in either membership or income (e.g., pledge or facilities rentals) to the levels that existed pre-pandemic. Even with the development and availability of bi-variant COVID vaccines and the relaxation of some COVID restrictions, some parishioners have chosen to never return to either in-person or on-line worship. For instance, one church has not held worship services since March 2020, because their elderly members continue to be afraid of catching COVID. While another church has found that all their members really enjoy doing only Zoom worship, with the variety of preachers this virtual method allows. For a handful of churches, their situations have become more fragile, as attendance and giving have significantly dropped and financial reserves are nearly tapped out.
Even so, most of our congregations are doing OK and have adapted (and adopted as the new-normal) doing hybrid worship services and holding Zoom Vestry meetings and Zoom Bible studies. Pairs of churches, such as Holy Family-Half Moon Bay + Good Shepherd-Belmont and True Sunshine-San Francisco + Our Saviour-Oakland have found they have share a priest and hold simultaneous hybrid Holy Eucharist services. In this case, on a Sunday, one church has in-person worship with the priest while the other church gathers in-person to watch the service via Zoom; the following Sunday, the priest and the Zoom’d service switch churches. Many congregations have made it easier for people to donate by various electronic or on-line means, such as using QR codes or Venmo or e.givesmart.com. From all the foregoing, we can say that most congregations and clergy have become more comfortable in doing things in new and innovative ways in order to survive and thrive in the 2020s. And, thankfully, rentals of church facilities by various community groups, schools, and food pantries are returning.
Both in 2020 and 2021, congregations were greatly helped by a combination of assessment relief, the Federal government’s Payroll Protection Program, and/or the Church Pension Fund’s assessment relief to certain mission churches. Thanks to the generosity of donors to the two-year Resurrection Fund, a total of 22 churches received $720.5K in assessment relief. This year, only two churches applied for assessment relief—but only $50K are available in this year’s Diocesan budget.
A bright spot promising hopeful outcomes for our congregations is the Vital & Thriving (V+T) Program. Funded by the Expanding Horizons Fund, this collaborative effort of the Diocese and the Center for Church Innovations (CCI, formerly the Newbigin House of Studies, part of the Graduate Theological Union) began in earnest in December 2021 with an initial cohort of 13 congregations. This work is grounded in the spiritual practice of Bible study called Dwelling in the Word, which uses Luke 10:1-12 (The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few). The goal of V+T is to help congregations with one-on-one clergy consultations, training/raising up lay leaders, performing self-assessments and community interviews, providing opportunities for partnering among two or more congregations, and discerning possibilities in mission and ministry.
So far, in May 2022 and October 2022, two clergy retreats + lay leader training sessions have been conducted by CCI Executive Director The Rev. Dr. Scot Sherman, CCI consultants, and DioCal’s Canon Amy Cook. These sessions have really been transformative in promoting lay leader engagement and excitement. Also, more inter-church conversations have led participants to see that their congregational situations are more alike than different and that they need not be in competition with one another.
The fruit of the congregation’s V+T discernment process is to formulate an experiment that will engage in one or more of the Building the Beloved Community Practices of Invitation, Collaboration, Embeddedness, Diversity, and Environmental Sustainability. Experiments will be funded by grants from the Expanding Horizons Fund. Already, 22 congregations have indicated that they want to participate in the next cohort, whose work will begin in late January 2023. With Expanding Horizon and other funding resources, it is hoped that a total of 5 cohorts (i.e., all DioCal congregations) will be able to take advantage of V+T.
As the our new logo proclaims, we are
And we proudly are the Episcopal Church in the Bay Area. A unique place which is rich in diversity, culture & the arts, educational and medical institutions, technological know-how, and progressive acceptance and advocacy of civil rights for all persons of diverse races, ethnicities, faiths/beliefs, genders, and gender-orientation. Along those lines, part of my work as Canon to the Ordinary is to assist our diocesan efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion; to address racial, social and environmental justice issues; to address essential housing needs; and to support our ethnic worshipping communities and help raise up more clergy and lay leaders within those communities.
I recommend, if you have not already done so,
- Participate in any of our churches’ Sacred Ground study groups. Many of these were held during the pandemic and some new groups may be forming.
- Start watching the monthly Sacred Earth podcasts. The first one took place on October 13th with our Convention speaker The Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll, Sr. The next podcast will be on November 10th at 7pm and will feature Bishop Marc and Dr. Paloma Pavel, who will speak with various attendees from the global community at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) that will be held in Egypt. These speakers will share their passion for environmental justice, racial justice, and the Spirit moving through all the earth.
- Read from the 80th General Convention, the “Report of Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Racial Truth-Telling, Reckoning, and Healing” at https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/31499
- If you are a clergy or lay leader, take the Building the Beloved Community six-part, anti-racism self-study course. I found it to be a well worthwhile look at US history and Episcopal Church history and how they cooperated to establish and expand institutional racism against Blacks, Asians, Latine, and Indigenous people. The course explores how we can be aware of and act on ways to promote racial justice and reconciliation.
- Stand up against anti-Asian hate or any acts or discrimination, bullying, hate, or micro-aggression.
- Encourage your congregation to be more welcoming and inclusive of members and visitors of diverse backgrounds and be more open to hiring persons of diverse backgrounds.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude for the exceptional gifts and skills and great work ethic of my awesome WG team members of The Rev. Gary England, Canon Denise Obando, and Dr. Travis Stevens. Though we are few in number, we can accomplish a lot because we work so well together. Furthermore, this is true for our entire Diocesan Staff. We are all supportive of one another and feel that being of service to the people and congregations of our Diocese is our calling and our goal.