As many of you have heard, in November, our Bishop, Rob O’Neill, announced his plans to retire in 2018. In his announcement he called for the election of a new Bishop for the Diocese of Colorado at the annual Diocesan Convention in late October. The election of a new Bishop is always an important time in the life of an Episcopal Diocese since the Bishop sets the tone and the direction for the mission of the Diocese for at least the next decade. (See the article in this issue inviting parishioners to a special meeting to provide in-put for the Bishop search process.)
What I have most appreciated about Bishop Rob’s ministry over the past twelve years that I have been at Good Shepherd has been his spiritual leadership. Rob is a man of deep prayer who has made spiritual formation the focus of much of his work. I was privileged to be asked to serve on a Faith Formation Task Force chaired by the Bishop in 2016 so I had a good opportunity to experience his commitment to shape a vision of spiritual growth and faith formation for Episcopalians in Colorado.
Rob has also devoted much of his time and effort to the challenge of creating a quality Camp and Conference Center at Cathedral Ridge near Woodland Park. Many Good Shepherd parishioners – adults, youth and children alike – have witnessed the beauty of Cathedral Ridge. Our Vestry has met there several times for our annual planning retreats, and our youth and children have gathered there regularly for youth conferences and summer camp programs. Although, the work of fundraising and developing Cathedral Ridge is still in its early stages, Rob has articulated a wonderful vision for this facility, not only as an excellent location for adult conferences and summer camps for children, but also as a training ground for young leaders in the church, and I hope his successor will be able to bring this vision to completion in the coming years.
The challenge for the new bishop and for the Diocese in the coming years will be raising the kind of money it takes to both develop and sustain a new diocesan camp and conference center in a time when, increasingly, families are looking elsewhere, other than the Church, for quality camp experiences. Around the Episcopal Church, most successful camp and conference centers have survived and thrived, not only because, over the years, they have built up substantial endowments, but because they have figured out how to operate as year-round conference facilities for a wide variety of non-church related groups. Two notable examples of this model are the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina and Camp Allen in the Diocese of Texas.
On a related topic, as your Vestry looks to the New Year, we are wondering how mid-size parishes like Good Shepherd can sustain themselves in light of the fact that annual Sunday worship attendance continues to decline, and with this drop in attendance comes a decline in the number of pledging units that support our annual budget. As you know from reading summary reports of our 2018 Stewardship Campaign, in 2017 some 25 families or individuals either moved out of town or out of state, leaving us with a huge financial gap that will probably not be filled by the 20 or so new pledges that we will receive by mid-January. In the recent past we have experienced this kind of gap, but never one as large as the one we are experiencing this year.
These developments are going to challenge the Vestry when it meets for its planning retreat in February to begin to start thinking about how Good Shepherd can adapt to what I call “the new reality.” The new reality is the fact that churches like ours will, for the foreseeable future, need to figure out how to live with fewer financial resources and how to adjust our vision of ministry to reflect the fact that we may have fewer paid staff members and fewer resources to support church programs. I believe that this is an issue that will no longer be able to be resolved by short-term efforts such as supplementary pledge campaigns or fundraising projects.
Some have titled this period in church history as a “500-year rummage sale,” when, just as occurred in the early 16th century and the mid-11th century, many time-tested and valued practices in the church are being abandoned or exchanged for new models of how to be “church.”
If you care about the future of churches like Good Shepherd, this is a good time to step up and participate when the church gathers to discuss the future, such as at our Annual Parish Meeting on January 28, or the Regional meeting on January 13 when parishioners are invited to provide input about the upcoming Bishop search process. At Good Shepherd, we have a great 40-year heritage and some wonderful ministries going on – ministries that engage and serve the world outside our doors. So take some time in the New Year to reflect on how you can contribute to continue to make the church a vital and vibrant place to do God’s work.
Yours in Christ,