A Word from our Congregations

Introduction

As we look ahead to the next period in the Convocation, we anticipate continued growth in all of the above and in new ways as we move further into the 21st century.


In preparing this Profile, the Bishop Search and Nomination Committee felt that it would be beneficial to hear directly from the parishioners and congregations about their views of the Convocation and what they would like to see in the future. To that end, two individual surveys were designed, one for congregants and one for clergy; and a set of questions written to stimulate congregational discussion. The responses were illuminating and helpful.

Summary of discussions and surveys

Congregational discussions


Given the short time frame, not all parishes and missions were able to engage in a discussion with their members, but those which did gave very good feedback. The exercise also aided in sensitizing the congregations to the bishop search process and its relevance to them.


1.     In what ways has your congregation benefitted from the Convocation?


All congregations mentioned the main activities designed for parishioners: spirituality retreats, discernment retreats, Academy for Parish Leadership, and youth events, with youth events rating the highest. Parishioners are appreciative of the growth, sharing and networking, and a sense of being part of something greater than just their congregation. The discernment retreats and guidelines for vocational discernment (“Called to Ministry”) were also mentioned. Improved communications through the website and newsletter are also important. Mention was also made of the pilgrimage of the Canterbury Cross in 1997 which was instrumental in beginning to bring us together.


Most mentioned the importance of visitations by the Bishop, and those benefitting were grateful for help in getting financial support.

 

2.  Which have been the most valuable?


“The most valuable part of being part of the Convocation is that we do not feel that we are alone.” Our congregations are scattered and can sometimes feel isolated. Parishioners are grateful for the opportunities to participate in activities they could not do on their own. Confirmations, Youth Across Europe and Juniors Across Europe were particularly mentioned. 


3. How can the Convocation most contribute to developing the mission and ministry of your congregation in the years ahead?


The Convocation should do more to support congregations in long-range planning and growth – developing their mission and ministry into the future and beyond their own parishioners; developing more ecumenical and interfaith work; and providing a framework to support and honor parishioners in the interface of their work and faith, finding that necessary balance between church as a place of rest and of rejuvenation. 


The Convocation is a major source of resources, communication, connectedness and guidance. The Convocation and Bishop should also lead in theological education and engaging the issues around us. Communications is key.


Some congregations mentioned specific problems where they look to the Convocation for support, guidance and assistance, e.g. financial, status, seeking a new rector.

Youth Across Europe, Audience with the Pope,  The Vatican, 2016

  4. Where would you most benefit from the Bishop’s leadership?


Congregants appreciate the fact that the current Bishop knows many by name and has developed personal relationships across the Convocation. They would like the Bishop’s visitations to be often and long enough to engage in sharing through teaching, retreats and other activities – beyond the worship service and confirmation and perhaps a brief meeting with the vestry.


The Bishop is a key person in developing closer working relationships with churches in communion, ecumenical partners and interfaith relations, and should share more on a local level the work being done on a broader level. 


The Bishop should be a theological leader and teacher; a visionary actively supporting the developing mission of congregations; inspiring fellowship and close relationships across the Convocation and beyond.


Above all, the Bishop sets the tone through how he/she lives out and expresses his/her faith, preaches and teaches, leadership style, vision and where importance is placed. 


5.  What qualities and skills would you like to see in our next bishop?


The qualities listed were many. Key among them were:

  • Ÿa strong leader who leads with humility and authority, imposing but approachable, calm under stress
  • compassionate, a listener, good people skills and able to relate to the myriad of peoples across the Convocation and beyond
  • brings people together and empowers them
  • walks the faith, and is able to articulate and teach the faith
  • aware that Europe is in a very different place from the U.S., often requiring a different approach
  • visionary and passionate enough to inspire and lead
  • good language skills, with preferably at least one language beyond English
  • keen to further the development of ecumenical and interfaith relations
  • sense of humor
  • someone unexpected.

Individual surveys


Two months prior to the publication of this profile, the Search and Nomination Committee issued two individual surveys: one for the laity and one for the clergy of the Convocation. Our intention was to get an impression of what the people of the Convocation are looking for in their new bishop, taking into account that laity and clergy might have differing opinions on where the chief pastor of the Convocation should lead us and what she or he should bring to the table.

Parishioner survey 

The parishioner survey yielded 197 respondents, of which 165 were complete responses. 

54% of the respondents have been parishioners in their respective parishes or missions for 10-30+ years. 


62% of the respondents are 46–70 years of age; another 17% are older than 70.

Over 57% come from countries of origin other than the U.S.; 84% are either not U.S. citizens or hold at least one additional citizenship.


Some 27% come from an Episcopal Church background, another 27% come from the Church of England, 20% from various other Protestant denominations, and 18% have joined the Convocation from the Roman Catholic Church. Those with Lutheran and Presbyterian backgrounds (each at about 30%) form the largest groups from other Protestant denominations.


The respondents saw inspiring music, sense of community and diversity as the top three strengths of their parish, while a lack of funds, the size of the congregation and a high turnover were named as the top three challenges. For our parishioners the parishes/missions of the Convocation have provided spiritual homes, have helped in connecting to a community and have been places for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. 


Furthermore, most of our respondents have participated in one or more Convocation-level activities. The Convocation has enriched the life of our parishioners by giving them the opportunity to connect with fellow Episcopalians in Europe, stretching their faith, knowledge and commitment, and deepened their understanding of faith.

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With respect to what the Convocation could look like in ten years, the respondents imagined deepened connections between our various churches and missions, a more prominent role in solving social issues (for example refugees) as well as the Convocation serving as a catalyst for interfaith dialogue in Europe.


The role of the Bishop in Charge of the Convocation should be (ranked): 

  • Ÿto be a mentor/pastor to the clergy
  • to help clergy and vestries in dealing with crises
  • to make visitations to our parishes/missions
  • to discern a shared vision for all churches in the Convocation
  • to represent The Episcopal Church in ecumenical gatherings.

The most important characteristics of the next Bishop are (ranked):

  • embodies the love of Jesus Christ in words and deeds
  • has good management skills
  • provides good coaching and support for clergy and their families.

Clergy survey

This particular survey revealed that almost 67% of our clergy have been serving three to ten years in their respective parishes; 53% of the respondents identified as female. 67% claim the U.S. as their country of origin, followed by Germany, the UK and Canada.


Unlike the parishioners, the clergy identified a lack of commitment as one of the major challenges they encounter although commitment was also identified as one of the top three strengths of their parishes as well as the diversity of the parishioners and a sense of community.


Over 54% described their relationship with the Convocation as healthy, 38% as essential, 23% as strained (multiple answers were possible).


The clergy would like to see the Convocation develop in the next 10–15 years in the following ways (ranked):

  • educate the wider Episcopal church about our situation in Europe
  • deepen the connections between the various churches and missions
  • encourage more connections to local context including more use of languages other than English.

With regard to the expectations for the new Bishop the results of the two surveys were similar:


The role of the Bishop of the Convocation should be (ranked):

  • Ÿto be a mentor/pastor to the clergy
  • to discern a shared vision for all churches in the Convocation
  • to make visitations of our parishes/missions
  • to teach the faith through preaching and writing
  • to help clergy and vestries in dealing with crises.

The most important characteristics of the next Bishop are (ranked):

  • Ÿembodies the love of Jesus Christ in words and deeds
  • provides good coaching and support for clergy and their families
  • is fluent in at least one of the main languages of the Convocation (French, German, Italian).

Conclusion:


The surveys reveal a great consistency in the expectations, wishes and hopes of both clergy and laity within the Convocation. Given the following Strategic Plan, it is encouraging that clergy and laity have similar views. Candidates for Bishop in Charge may have access to both surveys for the details, should they so wish. 

                                                            Church of the Ascension, Munich