The Bishop We Seek
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Surveying the Diocese
Moderated listening sessions, as well as an online questionnaire, were utilized to survey the people of the Diocese of Louisiana. Unfortunately, the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida shifted the attention of clergy and laity from looking forward to the future of our Diocese to immediate crisis rebuilding. Because of this, two in-person listening sessions were attended by 25 laity and 65 persons attended Zoom conference sessions.
Thirty-seven clergy participated in an exclusive session in mid-August. We also had individual Zoom sessions with each of the six persons on the Diocesan staff. We engaged Holy Cow! Consulting to conduct an online questionnaire of the Diocese. It helped determine where we are now, where we hope to go, and aspirations for the next bishop. The questionnaire was available from August 15 – September 19. Of the three hundred sixty persons who participated, there were 41 active and 22 retired priests. Only 12% of the respondents were less than 35 years old, 92% were White and 76% have been in their congregation for at least six years. A full summary of the questionnaire is available to qualified candidates upon request.
The clergy and laity listening sessions responded to the same questions:
- What is the single most important thing that being an Episcopalian has contributed to your life?
- What experiences over the last 5-10 years in the diocese have had the most impact on you or your parish?
- What do you think are the core values of our diocese; what do you think they should be?
- What three attributes would you like to see in our next bishop?
- What do you imagine we, as a diocese, are doing well five years from now?
The Importance of Being an Episcopalian
As people speak of their faith, an appreciation of community and inclusivity is frequently heard. That sense of community is reinforced by the uniformity of the liturgy. Although there is variation in practice, there is a church-wide identity and an appreciation for the role that the Book of Common Prayer plays in our worship.
We value the freedom found in the Episcopal Church; it is a place to ask questions important to your faith. Nothing is dictated to you; there is an open-minded approach to faith.
Many describe themselves as multi-generational Episcopalians; also many who joined our tradition after leaving the Roman Catholic Church appreciate the ability to be more fully engaged in the life of our church.
Our Core Values
Our participants expressed similar thoughts when responding to this question.
- Inclusivity and diversity ranked very high. “All are welcome.” We are spreading the faith in a loving and inclusive way.
- Community was also seen as a core value, with a desire to strengthen a sense of belonging and direct it toward outreach.
- The word love appears more often than any other attribute. In spreading the love of God and living the way of love, we love our neighbors as ourselves.
- We value civil discourse; we may disagree without being disagreeable. A healthy amount of discomfort is good for the Church. The Church should be a place for learning and growing.
Where We Are Now
The questionnaire measured levels of satisfaction and energy within the Diocese. While the largest number of respondents, 49% was on the fence when asked their degrees of satisfaction with the state of the Diocese, 37% were satisfied and only 14% were clearly dissatisfied.
The responses about our Diocese supporting the highest levels of satisfaction included:
- Leadership has done a good job of developing a shared vision that unites us.
- Our spirit makes people want to get as involved as possible.
- Does a good job helping each member understand that he or she has an important role to play.
- Does a good job supporting persons who are serving in various Diocesan ministries.
- Provides adequate opportunities for members to engage in work that is meaningful.
Consistent with what we heard during the listening sessions, there is a high degree of collegiality and absence of a sense of conflict and/or division. We ranked between the 80th and 94th percentiles for collegiality, the perception that a positive spirit exists between the leaders of congregations and the leaders of the Diocese, satisfaction with Diocesan support and this statement “Because of my involvement in our Diocese I feel clearer about God’s purpose for my life than I did three years ago.” In financial support from the Diocese to the parishes, the ranking was in the 95th percentile. Less than 10% felt a disturbing amount of conflict within the Diocese and the ranking for both morale and conflict resolution were near the 70th percentile for morale.
Where We Hope Our Diocese Will Go
When asked for their aspirations for our church in the next five years, the vision which emerged most clearly from the listening sessions was for our Diocese to be a leader in the community and to be known for its stand on issues of social justice. Not surprisingly, given the impact that climate change is having on our state, many want our Church to be a voice for the environment, for us to be not only better stewards of our planet but to be an advocate for it.
As much as we have looked inward, we have a strong desire to look outward, beyond simply growing our congregations. We want to be a visible Church in the community on today’s issues, particularly creation care. Our visibility is part of evangelism, especially among the unchurched. We want our next bishop to lead us in this way. There is a hope for a shepherd who will guide us into an uncertain future where we bring God’s light into the world. Louisianians have proven themselves to be resilient people who are giving and loving.
It goes without saying that Louisiana is a unique place, with a culture unlike any other place. We hope to further increase, embrace and celebrate our diversity. Our next bishop will receive us, for all our quirks and enjoy life in our corner of the world.
Finally, there is an intense desire to listen to our youth, create more programs for them, expand our outreach and to find new ways to engage them more fully in the Church. Youth are not only our future, but are important members of our church today. Children, teens, and young adults are vital to the lives of our churches. Our prayer is for a bishop who desires a relationship with young people and who will seek to engage them in a life of faith and in the life of the church. We seek a bishop who will support, encourage, and facilitate new ways of serving and evangelizing to all of God’s children, especially younger generations.
The top three priorities expressed for the Diocese are to:
- Equip congregations to be more effective in addressing problems affecting their surrounding communities.
- Equip rectors and other leaders in congregations with strategies that enable them to reach new members.
- Develop a discernment process to rethink how to be vital Episcopal churches in our specific region.
Aspirations for Our Next Bishop
Through the questionnaire, participants ranked personal qualities and abilities they seek in a new bishop. The top qualities are to have sound judgment, wisdom, personal integrity, to be deeply spiritual and prayerful, to be able to articulate a clear vision for the future, to be pastoral, approachable and to create purpose among diverse groups.
The listening sessions and questionnaire made it clear that we desire our next Bishop to be a Godly, prayerful and visionary leader who can motivate and lead people. We want a shepherd who will be a pastor to his or her entire flock, not only the clergy, but also the laity. We crave greater access to our bishop, beyond the annual parish visitation, for someone who is both accessible and approachable. We want more diocesan-wide events bringing us together with our bishop. We need a bishop to be with us, listening to our perspectives and able to understand them. Perhaps inspired by our Presiding Bishop’s example, it has been suggested that our next bishop be comfortable using social media as a platform to create a sense of connection and as a tool for evangelism.
Our next bishop should be open to all people, to be the unifying path in a divided world. One who can recognize and heal divides by bridging the gaps. Someone who appreciates our diversity and will nurture that diversity with a sense of hospitality.
Finally we, of course, hope for someone with humility, integrity, and a good sense of humor who will be our leader as a servant of God.
1623 Seventh Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Phone: (504) 895-6634
Fax: (504) 208-3511
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