If passed at Convention in September, the system will look similar to the current network of regions, but with important changes that build on work done in the past few years to strengthen faith communities.
“It’s a way of moving forward with real intentionality,” said the Rev. Canon Tim Hodapp, Missioner for Mission for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. “It might look different, but we will live into it in our wonderful Anglican way.”
From Regions to Mission Areas
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota will remain organized around geographic areas of the state, to be called “Mission Areas” to emphasize a common purpose. The areas have been intentionally re-drawn, especially in the north metro, and faith communities had the final say about which Mission Area they would belong to.
The regional deans and Council representatives will be replaced by four-person teams – made up of two lay people and two clergy. Each team will share responsibilities as liaisons between the Mission Areas and Council, which meets quarterly to oversee program and budgets for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota between Conventions.
Each Mission Area will have four voting members on Council – two lay and two clergy, either deacon or priest.
“We wanted to maintain the historic governance structure for the Episcopal Church, with parity between the clergy and lay,” Hodapp said.
Process Designed to Facilitate Conversation, Flexibility
The Mission Area proposal has been discussed at regional meetings around Minnesota over the past 18 months; and in early June, Council voted to move the proposal onto the Convention floor in September. The resolution was further modified by electronic vote after input from regions in June, Hodapp said.
“To show the ongoing openness of the process, we’re being flexible and living into this,” he said.
Throughout the summer, deans will work with their regions to create a slate of candidates for the Mission Area teams, Hodapp said. If the Mission Area proposal is approved at Convention, the Mission Team members will be elected at Convention.
“Ideally, each Mission Team is comprised of people with their fingers on the pulse of the Mission Area,” Hodapp said. “They know what’s happening among congregations and within congregations. They know what resources are available in that area.
“And they sit on Council, and they participate in what’s happening there,” he continued. “So they’ll know that not only does St. John’s in Linden Hills have a Haiti mission, but so do several others, and they’ll hook them up”
The conversation should flow both ways between the Mission Areas and Council, he added.
“If I’m on that team, I can bring things to Council and talk about what’s happening in my Mission Area,,” he said. “My team can also bring the information back from Council, and say, ‘This is what they’re planning – what do you think about that?’”
Building on a Solid Foundation
This model builds on work begun by the Bishop’s Committee on Mission Strategy, and continued by the Mission Strategy Network in the past decade.
Goals for the Mission Strategy Network included:
- Encouraging spiritual transformation for members and faith communities.
- Considering culture and context of the faith communities.
- Building networks among faith communities in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, as well as across denominations.
- Shedding new light on stewardship, not as “giving X amount to God,” but using resources in the faith communities to support the ministries the faith community is called to, Hodapp said.
“When we do this right, we have raised up leaders in our faith communities who understand mission and are doing it differently,” Hodapp said. “We have rigor in our faith community that enables us to pray, reflect and understand the connection between the unique culture and context of where we live, where our feet are planted. We also understand, better, the neighborhood around us and can imagine how to participate more deeply in God’s work that’s already happening there.
“In regard to networks, we thrive when our faith communities are connected to other faith communities – when we’re engaged and motivated by ideas that stretch us beyond what we’re used to,” he continued. “And we’ll examine our resources with a different lens, more able to reallocate them so we can more deeply engage God’s mission.”
It’s About Engaging God’s Mission
The intentional use of “Mission Areas” can help faith communities focus on a call to mission rather than “default to a regulatory posture that’s top-down and historic for hierarchies like the Episcopal Church,” Hodapp said.
“Instead,” he continued, “Mission Areas reflects the Council’s emphasis on Mission, Ministry and Management, making it far easier to engage in meaningful conversation about ‘how can we help you discover, within your own community, the gifts and grace God has planted here — gifts that enable you to participate in God’s mission.’”
That’s a focus being shared with individual faith communities across the Episcopal Church in Minnesota already, Hodapp said. And with a “Mission Area” approach, the hope is to create a structure where all churches can get what they need to flourish.
Focusing Locally on Mission
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Stillwater has aligned itself around Mission, Ministry and Management in the past two years, since the Rev. Buff Grace joined them from Georgia.
“What that has allowed us to do is always have a voice at the table with leadership for missions,” Grace said. “It’s not just simply a single vestry person in charge of outreach, but three vestry members – at least – who would be charged with creating the mission strategy.”
That intention led to changes in how the church operates, he said. Ascension helped start Our Community Kitchen, a collaboration of community groups, which uses the kitchen there to provide breakfasts, teach cooking and highlight locally grown food. Also, instead of just leasing space to the Head Start Program in Stillwater, they’ve strengthened the relationship between Ascension and the program’s leaders, parents and children. Also, they’ve revived their connections with Episcopal Community Services.
There’s value in working together and collaborating, Grace said, and he’s looking forward to Ascension being part of an East Metro Mission Area.
“What I’m hoping to do is help Ascension realize they are a part of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, which translates into opportunities for them,” he said. “We are a parish of about 200 families, with one priest and one deacon. We can’t provide the breadth of worship experiences that our congregation would like to enjoy. But it would be great if they saw going to St. Matthew’s in St. Paul for a worship experience, or St. John the Evangelist for a music experience, not as going to another church, but having another Episcopal experience that can enrich their faith.”
Ascension can also benefit through a more regional approach to mission, he said, beyond its walls in Washington County.
“There are needs and opportunities in the rest of the East Metro mission areas,” he said. “I think we can be more aware of those and benefit from opportunities to grow spiritually when we see ourselves as part of that larger mission area.”