The Bishop We Seek
The people of the Diocese of Southwest Florida said it loud and clear: the next bishop should focus on growing more committed congregations and attending to the unique needs and desires of youth and young adults. The bishop should be a compassionate voice for those in difficult circumstances, attend to the needs of priests and deacons, be an inspirational leader and a gifted preacher. Oh, and this person should be gentle, innovative, charismatic, forgiving, warm, friendly and humble.
In short, an ideal soul is the goal, but knowing that no human is perfect, the person who will become the 6th bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida needs simply to be perfect for us.
To gauge the temperature of the people of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, the Bishop Coadjutor Search Committee solicited opinions via an online survey. The response rate was 13.7% with nearly 1,800 completed surveys received. To get an even wider range of opinions, 12 Listening Sessions, nine in person and three via Zoom, were conducted throughout the diocese attracting some 350 participants. What follows is a summary of the opinions, ideas and suggestions expressed with emphasis on the highlights from both the survey and the Listening Sessions.
Opinions expressed in the survey identified qualities the new bishop should possess including the ability to effectively manage resources, be a leader in social justice and peace and expert in communications including social media. The values respondents hope to see expressed from diocesan leadership include parish nurturing, evangelism, spiritual growth and community building.
There was a high level of interest in finding a bishop who can articulate a clear vision for congregational vitality. Those who took part in the listening sessions spent a good deal of time on what congregational vitality means mentioning more people in the pews and fewer groups struggling to be relevant. Responses indicated that congregational vitality will result in parishes changing and adapting programs to result in vital, growing, capable and resilient congregations that are intergenerational and diverse.
Listening Session attendees made the following comments to explain congregational vitality.
“Let us be the destination.”
“See the Holy Spirit working.”
“Lots of formation programs so faith development is ongoing.”
As for what the bishop’s role should be in encouraging this transformation, comments included:
“Cheerleader and encourager of priests and church leadership”
“Bishop needs to have ministry of presence.”
Attracting youth and young adults to a greater role in the life of the church was another priority identified in both the survey and by participants in the listening sessions. At the latter, group discussion focused on expanding the use of the diocesan camp, Dayspring, and having a bishop who prioritizes this ministry. Programs and projects should include fun activities, youth worship services, service projects, mission trips, intergenerational activities and family-focused pastoral care.
Relevant comments included:
“Stress children and youth as being central in our faith communities in every aspect of worship, mission, ministry and representation on vestries and diocesan positions.”
“Find creative ways to support churches that don’t have youth ministry.”
“Creative worship services.”
“Activities via social media.”
Looking to the future, the people of this diocese want to see the Episcopal Church combine Christian values and traditions with new ideas to develop a wide range of ministries to the community. Along these lines ideas ranged from youth and campus ministry, evangelism, social justice actions, clergy care and development, attractive parish and diocesan programs and deanery and ecumenical partnerships. The result will be fully engaged, diverse and intergenerational congregations that have a strong community presence as well as fiscally sound parishes.
This is how participants articulated their aspirations:
“Lives have been changed.”
“A diocesan wide emphasis on evangelism, equipping people to share the good news.”
“Bring people together in peace to deepen their faith.”
“Greatly expanded presence in the Hispanic community.”