Thirteen people from the Diocese of Southern Ohio traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan for two days of learning and forming relationships with participants from other Province V dioceses (fourteen dioceses in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri). Workshops at the first Big Provincial Gathering covered everything from church management to Beloved Community to the newest Christian formation programs.

The keynote speaker for the event was the Rev. Lorenzo Librija, director of TryTank.org, a partnership to support church growth and innovation. His message – (summarized here by the Rev. Jason Fout, Bexley-Seabury Seminary) “helping us to think more creatively and expansively about the challenges that lie before us, and lowering the stakes on when something doesn’t work….He helped us to approach our challenges more wisely. Instead of out of anxiety or ignorance, by attending to the data that we could discover, instead of simply throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks. Both of these, the freedom to try something and the tools to try something intelligently, are great blessing for the church today.”

Miriam McKenney, Development Director for Forward Movement and a member of Calvary, Clifton, echoed Fout’s enthusiasm, saying, “[Librija’s] clear, practical approach can be applied to any new endeavor, and can be used to refresh longstanding programs.” To see examples of projects in which Librija has been involved, go to https://www.trytank.org.

Becoming Beloved Community was another central theme of the conference. Cherie Bridges Patrick and Mary Beth Ingram from St. Matthew’s, Westerville, Amy Howton, our diocesan Becoming Beloved Community coordinator, Larry James of St. Barnabas Montgomery, and Debbie Stokes of St. Philip’s, Columbus, met others walking the journey and, as a result, have created a Google Group with other dioceses to share stories, ask questions and seek support. Stokes participated in two anti-racism workshops. One focused on Native American experiences of racism, a topic she hopes to explore in our diocese.

Jake Cunliff of Trinity, Columbus, Michelle Dayton of St. James, Zanesville, and Catherine Duffy of All Saints, New Albany, found workshops on pressing social issues particularly helpful. Cunliff learned about St. Margaret’s House in South Bend, IN, a day center for women enhancing their lives and the lives of their families. He also attended a vigil led by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship at the Sojourner Truth memorial in Battle Creek. Dayton attended “Faith Based Response to the Opioid Crisis” and commented, “It was clear that the church has some room to grow in terms of not shaming those who are experiencing addiction.”

Duffy is engaged in Creation Care ministries and learned what people in other dioceses are doing. She hopes to begin meeting with members of churches in the Columbus area to explore actions we might take together.

Spencer Pugh of St. Anne’s, West Chester, is taking insights he gained from a workshop with the Seminary of the Southwest’s John Lewis back to the Commission on Ministry about new ways of thinking about vocation and calling. Spencer also led a workshop on Lay Discernment.

Three diocesan staff members also attended the Big Provincial Gathering. The Rev. Canon Lynn Carter-Edmands serves as our diocesan representative to the Province V Board, and the Rev. Canon Lee Anne Reat loaded up on information about the newest Christian Formation programs and resources for congregations. David Robinson, CFO of the diocese, shared his take-aways from a session on church planting:

  • With respect to new starts, stay as nimble as you can; reject as long as you can the urge to buy or build a permanent building.
  • There are opportunities for restarts, even in our existing church buildings. This may require new people at alternative service times from the existing congregation.

He concluded, “Simply said, resist institutions, resist buildings. This coming from the guy whose job it is to maintain buildings and affirm financially the institution!”

All of the participants in the Big Provincial Gathering want to share what they learned with anyone in the diocese who is interested in learning more. Contact Canon Reat for more information.

The Rev. Canon Lee Anne Reat serves as the Canon for Formation and Social Justice Ministries for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with her at lareat@diosohio.org