Members of the Trialogue task forces and steering committee gathered for the first time in person Saturday, January 14, in Stevens Point to hear a presentation on adaptive leadership and change by the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York, followed by a round-table discussion on their respective work so far and the challenges and opportunities ahead. Hosting the gathering was the Beloved Community, the joint Episcopal/Lutheran ministry of Episcopal Church of the Intercession and Redeemer Lutheran Church pastored by the Rev. Jane Johnson.
Bishop Rowe noted that exploring the reunification of three dioceses is a major adaptive challenge, one that requires stakeholders—the people of the dioceses—to identify the nature of the challenge and its solution. Adaptive problems, he said, are distinct from technical problems, which are challenges we understand clearly and know how to solve, even if the solution is complicated. Heart surgery, he said, is a technical problem; although it is complicated, a heart surgeon has the required expertise. But discerning the role of the institutional church in the 21st century is adaptive: no expert has the answer, so we have to figure it out together.
Because an adaptive problem has no known solution, it requires developing a process that helps people manage and distribute loss, he said. "With adaptive change, you are asking people to change values, behaviors, and beliefs," he said, "much of which was hard won," and therefore run the risk of sparking resistance. Only by engaging the stakeholders can the church move forward.
“We’re going to ask you to give something up for a missional wager,” Rowe said, offering a suggestion about how stakeholders might be inspired to embrace change. “The scripture is clear: the elders dream dreams. We want this vision for our children and grandchildren, for future generations. This is bigger than ourselves.”
In envisioning a reunified diocese, Rowe cautioned against confusing technical problems with adaptive challenges. He offered, as cautionary tales, the Episcopal Church’s major church growth and evangelism initiatives such as the Decade of Evangelism program in the 1990s and the 20/20 initiative in the first two decades of the 2000s. “They were taking adaptive problems and throwing technical solutions at it and then doubling down,” he said. Not surprisingly, little came out of either initiative.
“This is critical mission-focused work that you are taking on,” Rowe told the task force members. “That means exercising leadership that challenges but also listens to stakeholders, leadership that can acknowledge and learn from failure. Not everyone will sign on so success may be measured at no more than 90 percent support.
During the round table discussion, Bishop Rowe emphasized the fluid nature of adaptive change. Not every question will have an answer during this exploration. Some matters may require ongoing discernment after the three dioceses commit to reunification, he noted. “The most important step is to continue to clarify the ‘why,’” he said, encouraging the task force members to view their work as an effort to “create a container where mission can flourish.”
Among the suggestions from task force members during the round-table conversation were more regular sharing of information among the task forces and direct communication to church members about the work being done by the task forces.
Several task force members shared their hopes for the Trialogue in interviews during the lunch break. The Rev. Jane Johnson, a member of the Culture and Mission Task Force, said she hoped that members of the three dioceses recognize the need for adaptive change, “instead of just avoiding it or fearing it,” and realize that we are being given the tools to meet adaptive challenge.
The Rev. Chris Corbin, also of the Culture and Mission Task Force, said he hoped for a reunited Wisconsin diocese “that is committed to common mission, committed to resource sharing, and is committed to thinking about how we can actively work for this ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us as Christians.”
Trust was the focus for Sister Barbara Jean Brown of the Prayer and Discernment Task Force. “My hope,” she said “is that we will really come to trust each other, to trust the process and trust where we feel God is leading us, whether that is to be one diocese of Wisconsin or to remain as three separate dioceses. My personal hope is that we join together.”
“My hope is that everyone is heard,” said the Rev. Julie Hendrix of the Parish and Regional Engagement Task Force, and that “the Holy Spirit leads us on the mission that God would have us do.” She said she also hopes that whatever the outcome is with the October vote on reunification “we will realize that we are still on a journey and that the journey doesn’t end in October.”
Reported by David Skidmore, Communications Task Force
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