When Bishop Sean Rowe asked Dean Tony Pompa and the Rev. Charles Cesaretti to lead the diocese on a pilgrimage into its future, none of them knew how the diocese would respond. The answer, as it turned out, was: well.
Almost 170 people representing 46 of the diocese’s 59 congregations attended one of four regional meetings held around the diocese between April 24 and May 7. The meetings, designed by Pompa, Cesaretti and a group of volunteer leaders, were aimed at helping to shape a set of common values.
“I am surprised at the number who really participated, especially here in the northern part of the diocese,” said Cesaretti, who lives in New Milford. “I think that was an amazing evening when all of a sudden almost 40 people showed up at St. Peter’s in Tunkhannock from the widespread areas of the north here. The other surprise is the lay leadership. The lay voices have been well heard here, very much so.”
The conversations at each meeting were shaped by three questions: What do our congregations value about their life together in Christ? What do our congregations do in Christ’s name that their neighborhood or communities and our diocese could not live without? And what one hope or aspiration do our congregations have for their congregation and our diocese?
For the first part of the meeting, participants conversed with members of their own parishes. Later, they sat with members of other parishes.
“Most everybody who came really was into it,” Rowe said. “I saw very little disengagement. People never ran out of things to talk about. We were always having to stop conversation to keep the meeting on schedule. And then people almost always lingered afterwards.”
While Cesaretti and Pompa are still analyzing the notes taken at the meeting, certain themes began to emerge.
“Connectedness, community and Christ-centeredness, were recurrent themes,” said the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, priest-in-charge at St. Luke’s, Scranton.
Terry Rowles, senior warden at Christ Church, Reading, was also picked up on the theme of diocesan unity. “Somebody brought up the need for more unity in the diocese, which I felt was a really good point,” she said. “A lot of times we are all in our own little parishes and we don’t know what is going on other places.”
“The thing I am really pleased about is that people are not fixing on institutional things,” Cesaretti said. “We’ve moved on from thinking that we are going to solve our problems by dividing the diocese into regions or setting up a committee, or creating a staff position.
Rather than focusing on governance and diocesan structures, the conversations focused on practices, Pompa said. “The need for communication and collaboration—that was resounding everywhere,” he said. “It seemed like it was obvious to everybody, but the whole point is that until we say it to each other it’s not obvious. So, now that we are sharing our values with each other, the question is: What does that means for us in terms of best practices we can immediately put in place to help us live out our values?”
Between now and diocesan convention in October, Pompa, Cesaretti and others will work with Rowe, the group that planned the regional gatherings, the team planning the convention and others to set down in writing the values that arose most frequently in the regional gatherings.
“We hope to build upon the articulation of our common hopes and common values so that we can begin to ask the next question, which is: Where are we headed together?” Pompa said.
Rowe agrees. “The idea is to surface the values, and then, using those values, develop a mission strategy or a strategic plan, to create a plan for the future.”
Barnes has hopes for what that future will hold. “I would like to see us become more united and whole as a diocese, have a greater sense of God’s call both within our individual parishes and as a diocese, and be inspired to work creatively together to meet the challenges ahead so that we can live into our mission to live out the gospel,” she said.
The process remains open ended, Cesaretti and Pompa stressed, and without a preordained destination. Yet even before its conclusion, the pilgrimage is having some beneficial effects.
“One of the things I feel really good about is that I see folks out there feeling a little empowered again,” Pompa said. “That is a spirit we want to claim at convention.”