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Listening Phase

From March 16 to March 31, 2021, the faithful of the Diocese had the opportunity to complete a survey to help understand the characteristics they felt were most important in a new Bishop of Springfield.  Information gleaned from the survey will help tell the story of the Diocese of Springfield to potential nominees and the Delegates to the nominating and election Synods through our Diocesan Profile.  The survey was developed in conjunction with the Survey Research Office at the University of Illinois – Springfield (UIS).  There were seven hundred seventy-seven (777) total respondents which is a 58% response rate based on the 2019 Average Sunday Attendance (ASA).  This was a much higher than anticipated return rate.

Next, the people of the Diocese had the opportunity from April 1 to April 15 to offer any anonymous comments they wanted.  Just over 100 people shared their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the future of the Diocese.

Finally, from May 1 to May 16, 2021, nine Listening Sessions were held.  These were a combination of Zoom and in-person gatherings.  There were seven sessions for the Laity (four in-person and three Zoom) and two Zoom Listening Sessions for the Priests and Deacons.  A total of ninety-four (94) people took part.

We thank all who took part in the Listening Phase.  A great deal of valuable data and information was gathered that is included in the Profile.

 

Survey 

The Standing Committee and the Listening subgroup of the Bishop Election committee contracted with the Institute for Legal, Legislative, and Policy Studies at the University of Illinois, Springfield, to survey the diocese as part of our election process.  The Survey was conducted the second half of March and resulted in a 58% response rate based on Average Sunday Attendance.  This was an extremely high response rate, indicating that a majority of our laity and clergy are very interested in having a voice in this process.  Eight percent of the responses came from clergy.

The survey revealed that the most important personality traits for the 12th Bishop of Springfield are honesty, open-mindedness, and caring.  Regarding professional experiences/qualifications, we are seeking an effective communicator with an inclusive leadership style who can help foster a sense of community.  The most important attributes are to clearly communicate a Christ-centered theology; we want our Bishop to be a person whose life is deeply formed by faith in Jesus Christ, and someone who will confront social sins such as marginalization, oppression, poverty, and racism.  Finally, the top three priorities include building a strong sense of community across the Diocese, implementing a clear vision for the Diocese, and promoting Christian formation and educational opportunities.

When clergy responses are considered separately, their top personality traits are “collaborative” and “empowering,” with a desire for the next bishop to focus on developing clergy and lay leadership.  Additionally, the clergy surveyed placed more emphasis on “will uphold traditional teaching on sexuality and marriage” than did the laity.

Both clergy and laity agree on the importance of building a strong sense of community across the Diocese, implementing a clear vision, promoting Christian formation and education, and promoting membership growth as top tasks for our next Bishop.

The survey indicates that communication is a concern of the Diocese of Springfield.  We are looking for an effective communicator who also clearly communicates a Christ-centered theology.  Important attributes include having an inclusive leadership style and fostering a sense of community.

Another strong theme is diversity and inclusion.  We want a person who is open-minded and honest.  An inclusive leadership style also ranked highly as a desirable attribute.  We acknowledge the importance of having a bishop who will confront social sins such as marginalization, oppression, poverty, and racism.  There is a strong desire for the next Bishop to ordain both men and women to the diaconate and priesthood.

There was little interest expressed regarding national or global connections, across both the laity and clergy subgroups.

We strongly encourage all nominees, as well as our clergy and delegates to, again, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the survey material in discerning who might best be called to the office of the 12th Bishop of Springfield.

The Survey in its entirety may be viewed here

 

Anonymous Comments

The Listening and Profile subgroups of the Election Committee followed the survey with an opportunity to make anonymous comments on a page set up on our website.  This was an effort to get additional information that was not included in the survey, and would not be covered in the listening sessions, and to inform us as we prepare our profile.  The comment box was open from April 1 through 15.  We received just over 100 comments.  Those who commented (anonymously) were advised that their comments might appear in the Profile.

Many commenters voiced a desire for a “hands on” or “heart in” bishop:

  • A hands-on bishop is what’s needed.  Someone with a vision, who can bring the people together as one church.
  • The next bishop of Springfield needs to have their “heart” in Springfield. . . (and) engage in their ministry in a way that being the Bishop of Springfield is the most important work in their lives.  We need a bishop who truly sees Springfield as a fruitful field of ministry and mission.
  • I’m interested in a Bishop who will be a servant leader, one who will visit church ministries and pitch in while there.
  • I would like to see a candidate who has seen and knows the landscape of our diocese well, and who represents the overall character of our diocese well, rather than calling someone from beyond the diocese to come and have to learn and acclimate to us.  I believe an internal candidate open to external advice, will understand the needs and hopes of this diocese better and have the best interests of this diocese at heart.
  • . . .(W)e desperately need someone who will be a good pastor to the clergy, and who will actually talk to people at coffee hour.  Maybe even spend a weekend in a parish, to get to know people and places better.

We want a bishop who will unite us:

  • The greatest need of the Diocese of Springfield, as we consider and choose a new bishop, is a vision of Diocesan life – both pastorally and evangelistically – that recognizes the privilege of and the responsibility for all who so desire and choose to participate in the discerning, planning, and enaction of the life and witness of the Diocese. . .  Simply put, the greatest need for the Diocese of Springfield is a collaborative sharing of ministry that cares for all people and allows us to move forward in mission.
  • I would love to see a new Bishop that is a people person and a true leader.  Our diocese needs a collaborative relationship with the Bishop that is selected.
  • I would like to see the diocese return to the time when we knew each other.  Maybe I’m too old, but I remember a time when the diocese felt like a large family and we had plenty of children.

We want someone with vision and inspiration:

  • Leadership is needed to help build consensus around a unified vision of what it means to be the Body of Christ today and how the diocese’s current gifts and resources can be put to use toward realizing that vision.  Consensus can’t be built from a top-down mentality of salesmanship.  What is God calling us to do?  How can we do it within a fellowship of love, listening, and support?
  • . . . (W)e need to throw open the doors, emerge into the sunshine of God’s beautiful world and declare boldly that we welcome all and desire deeply to be made new.  Can we embrace a new vision?  Can we rededicate ourselves to Christ, to serving the kingdom, to sharing God’s love at every turn?  Can we turn to our neighbor, whoever that might be, and say, “Peace”?  . . . Let us seek a bishop who can help us dream God’s beautiful dream for the Diocese of Springfield and make it real.
  • The Diocese of Springfield is in the most urgent need of a bishop who will work to create a spirit of inclusion, of inquiry, and of generosity. . ..  God’s love is wide.  We need a bishop who will help us make ours wide also.
  • I don’t want a leader who is focused on fixing church decline, but a leader who is contagiously excited about who God is and what God can do.
  • It’s time that when people in our cities think of Episcopalians, they know we make knowing Jesus our priority, the Bible our guide, and the love we have for one another and give Glory to God.

Submissions to the comment box suggest a diversity of opinion among members of the Diocese when it comes to world view, social issues, and theology.  The diversity is expressed in these representative samples:

  • We want our new bishop to uphold the historic Christian teachings of marriage, sexuality, and gender.  Even when the national church fails to do so.
  • I love the Episcopal Church as did my family going back generations.  We live in southern Illinois and cannot get out of this conservative thought and deed action without a change at the top.  Please find a bishop that will go along with the national church and cherish newcomers and their families.  Please open weddings to gay couples and celebrate their loves and love.  Then you will see these churches grow: Find a lifelong Episcopalian who believes: Love one another as thyself.
  • Keeping up with the Episcopal Church’s doctrinal and liturgical innovations is NOT a priority for Springfield.  A bishop’s first duties are to Christ, the Church Universal, and the Holy Scripture, not to keep up with the apostate spirit of the age.
  • I would love for the diocese to take a more progressive approach of radical inclusion.  I believe it is not only what would be right for our diocese but also necessary for the future survival of the church.  I am not a cradle Episcopalian; I am quite new to the church.  It wasn’t the Springfield Diocese that drew me in but rather the national church’s stance on things that mattered to me; even though the Springfield Diocese did not to participate in some of the progressive polices (marriage of LGBTQIA* persons, ordination of women, etc.).  I think the only way to proceed is to install a bishop that emulates this progressiveness and radical inclusion.
  • We need a Catholic bishop who will continue in the tradition of Bishops Chambers, Hillestad, Beckwith, and Martins.  This bishop should stand firm and oppose communion without baptism and same-sex marriage.  It would be a betrayal of all these bishops and this diocese stood for if we did not pick a bishop in this vein.
  • I would like to see someone selected who respects the needs and rights of LGBTQ but provides a more balanced approach respecting the rights of all Episcopalians.
  • I’d be very disturbed if a person is elected who is prepared to accept same sex marriage and other features of the so-called “woke” culture.
  • I’d like to see a concerted movement more to the left (or at least the center) with our Diocese.  We’ve been belaboring with an oppressive sense of conservatism for too long now.  One of the issues on which change is warranted is LGBT issues.  It’s time for our Diocese to come out of the Dark Ages and embrace all people instead of either condemning them or trying to change them.  That includes same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT priests.
  • I think the Diocese of Springfield is worth saving but I do know its ties with the Episcopal Church will make this effort more, not less, difficult.  As they move further from the apostolic faith with each successive General Convention, I fail to see where we fit in the scheme of things.
  • I dream of a diocese that is more inclusive—actively more inclusive—of people from various walks of life.  The Gospel is for everyone.  Jesus lives to forgive us of our sins and bring healing to us regardless of our race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, economic status, background, etc.  All sorts of people in Central and Southern Illinois need to know that Jesus loves them.

Finally, we want a bishop who is compassionate and healing:

  • We need a bishop who will gather us up into her arms despite the color or condition of our feathers.
  • That person should be aware of (not necessarily understand) the human spirit in all its complexities.
  • Embrace the past and present of the diocese with all its faults and hurts.  Help us to grow together.
  • What we need is someone who knows us.  We need a bishop who . . . understands our struggles.  We need a simple priest from our own ranks who has the desire to welcome and form Christians from all of God’s children.  We need a bishop who understands that people have suffered from divorce, unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, sexual persecution, illness, and general rejection and isolation from society.  We need a shepherd who will welcome all of us, recognize our individuality and our uniqueness in the universe, and who will teach us God’s love by loving and accepting us.  We need a comforter, not an enforcer.

 

Listening Sessions

The Profile sub-Committee of the Election Committee offered the faithful of the Diocese of Springfield multiple ways to offer insights, ideas, and opinions into the development of the story of the Diocese of Springfield and the Profile for the election of the Bishop.  In addition to the survey and gathering comments online, Listening Sessions were held.

During the first two weeks of May, nine Listening Sessions took place in-person and virtually (Zoom) in the Diocese.  There were seven Laypersons Sessions (four in-person and three Zoom) Priests and deacons had two separate sessions via Zoom.  The format of the layperson and Priests and Deacons sessions was the same.

We are grateful for the wide range of diverse opinions among our laity, priests, and deacons.  The information gathered helped frame the Profile to tell our diocese’s story to potential Nominees and Synod Delegates.

Prior to each listening session, participants were asked to take time to reflect upon and consider the following two questions as preparation for their listening sessions.

In the past five years, what do you believe has been the best thing about the Episcopal Church in Springfield? An event, occurrence, program, movement, etc.

 

  • Laypersons expressed great appreciation for the presence of retired clergy willing to serve in the Diocese; priests and deacons expressed great appreciation for the mature Christians that make such service easy.
  • Several participants were able to cite specific financial contributions the Diocese made to help their churches.
  • Many cited Diocesan-wide activities such as Cursillo, summer camp, Episcopal Church Women retreats, and Synod.
  • Communications from the Diocese have improved with many specifically expressing appreciation for the Communications Coordinator.

In the past five years, what personal event in your life in the Church have you found valuable/uplifting/encouraging/hopeful/a blessing, etc.?

 

  • Adult Christian education opportunities were cited by many, including Zoom Bible Studies and Discussion Groups during the pandemic.
  • Ministry within our churches to members and family who are sick, bereaved, or otherwise undergoing hardship was cited as a blessing repeatedly.
  • Some cited their own ordination to the diaconate or priesthood. Some cited helping postulants with discernment.  And others cited the ordination of women in our Diocese or the ordination of the first Black female bishop in the Episcopal Church.
  • Many cited ministry opportunities such as serving as a lector, Cursillo weekend rector, and offering/receiving help from one another including prayers, food, or transportation in times of sickness or surgery.

 

The following three questions were used with the Layperson and Priests and Deacons during the breakout groups during their listening sessions.

 

          What opportunities and challenges face our diocese and bishop in the next five years?

 

  • Church growth was the most common topic, with specific needs described as attracting families with children, reaching and retaining youth and young adults, and coping with decreasing populations in some areas, as well as aging congregations and the financial ramifications of declining attendance. Many expressed opportunities for how the Diocese could help which included creating a central repository for materials on church growth, stewardship, and Sunday School programs, Diocesan training on such topics, focus groups or teams, and utilizing social media.
  • Many expressed concerns about their ability to bring members back to regular church attendance after the pandemic, while simultaneously citing the blessing of online services and study sessions as great opportunities for growth which should continue to be utilized.
  • Topics such as social justice, racism, inclusion, gender equality, and sexuality were cited as areas in which our Diocese and previous bishops have been at odds with the national church; whether that was an opportunity or challenge depended in large part on the stance of the speaker. A few on each side emphasized the need to avoid persecuting any one church or clergy-member.

 

            Moving ahead 10 years, what would you like to see accomplished?

 

  • Many sessions included voices describing a desire for a greater awareness of the Episcopal Church both as a denomination and as an obvious supporter of and contributor to local ministries. Some suggested that the Diocese develop an outreach project that would have a significant impact in Illinois.
  • A desire was commonly communicated that in ten years we would have figured out how to be welcoming to all, attracting more racial/ethnic diversity, being inclusive to those from a variety of backgrounds, recruiting more youth and young adults, some of whom go on to the diaconate or priesthood, and experiencing real church growth (both numerically and spiritually) as a result.
  • Many expressed a concern with Diocesan and church finances and had specific ideas for what we need to do to strengthen our situation.
  • Many were hopeful that there would be more opportunities for Diocesan and deanery-wide interactions through gatherings and ministry opportunities. Some suggested utilizing technology to bridge geographic distances.  Others hoped for more involvement with Diocesan committees and more than one session observed that maintenance advice/expertise sharing would be imperative to avoiding further church building/infrastructure deterioration.
  • Many participants cited a desire for those within our diocese to be empowered to administer the sacraments in step with the national church, including many who specifically mentioned same-sex marriage and ordination of those who are LGBTQ, and some who hope their churches will not require Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight in the future.

 

            In what ways has the diocese been a blessing to you or your church?

 

  • Many cited Diocesan staff as helpful and knowledgeable, including the Diocesan Administrator, and appreciate Diocese security & safety training, prior educational, spiritual, and relational departments, and ongoing Diocesan opportunities such as ECW, Cursillo, Church Camp, clergy retreats, etc.
  • Many described ways in which the Diocese contributed important finances to their churches such as helping with a church mortgage, opening a food pantry, helping rebuild (and continue worshipping) after a fire, and replacing a roof.
  • Many have experienced valuable help and guidance from the diocese during clergy transitions, including mediating conflicts, helping find interims, and helping broaden searches.

 

The sessions also revealed what seemed to be a unanimous priority for the next Bishop of Springfield – the desire to have a Bishop who lives in the Diocese, prioritizes the Diocese, and spends time within the Diocese, investing and serving in the churches and ministries of the Diocese.  The hope is for a Bishop who lives among us and not above us.

 

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