[Episcopal Diocese of Virginia] Members of the Diocese of Virginia Annual Council stepped out of their comfort zones at their Jan. 23-25 meeting in Richmond, where they gathered under the theme “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve.”
In his opening remarks, Bishop Shannon S. Johnston explained that the 2014 council would focus – with a decidedly optimistic tone – on sources of energy and inspiration. “Our theme speaks both to what is clearly now going on in our diocese, and to our continuing aspirations – what we are being called to be like in the months and years to come,” said Johnston.
Both the format and content of the meeting spoke to that commitment to stretching and newness. In the new “State of the Diocese” presentation, the bishops joined in a moderated, conversational question-and-answer session, in which they discussed everything from the mix of faith and “politics” to their favorite bands and “weirdest” hobbies.
Groups from across the diocese then offered fast-paced, media-driven mini-presentations on a series of out-of-the-box ministry ideas:
- Members and leaders of Grace on the Hill, Virginia’s Episcopal Service Corps intentional community program, reflected on their experiences.
- Virginia’s first downtown missioner told stories of her work engaging community at an urban parish.
- The Girls in Real Life (GIRLs) group of St. George’s, Fredericksburg, presented a live “radio show” on issues relating to the intersection of females and faith – with a surprise video call-in from the presiding bishop.
For the first time, council members participated in a real-time electronic survey, in which participants texted their responses to a series of questions and were able to view the responses as they were submitted live, via large screens on the council floor. (Learn more.) The results provided some glimpses into church life that will inform the work and vision of the Diocese of Virginia in the future, including:
- For 32 percent of respondents, their greatest challenge as a congregation is the changing status of church in society.
- 85 percent of respondents are optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the future of their congregations.
- Over 50 percent of respondents use social media for ministry either daily or a couple times each week – while about 15 percent never use social media.
Feedback from this new format was overwhelmingly positive. The format “promoted an intimacy and connection between the parishes,” said one participant in a post-council survey, and “gave us a sense of vitality, optimism and commitment to mission.” Another council member said, “I’ve never exited a church meeting so excited about the possibilities before us,” while another added, “After this experience, I now feel better connected to the diocese.”
Both the interactive info-gathering session and the State of the Diocese presentations were marked by a sense of energy. “These examples of ministry from across our diocese are offered to you for your edification, your inspiration and learning, toward the awakening of your souls, and for strengthening your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” said Johnston. “So now, let the stretching begin!”
— Emily Cherry is the communications director for the Diocese of Virginia.