All is interconnected

Conference addresses stewardship, evangelism and growth
April 30, 2004

MORE THAN 400 Episcopalians from throughout New England recently gathered in Westborough, Mass., to enrich their understanding and experience of stewardship, evangelism and parish development.

“I feel very hopeful about our future as the Episcopal Church after seeing so many others preparing for our work as stewards of God,” said Amy Doyle Welin of the Diocese of Connecticut.

It was one of many similar responses from participants at “Sowing and Growing Seeds of Change,” a Province 1 conference that over the past five years has become the largest of its kind.

From the opening plenary by Archbishop Michael Peers, retired primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, to the sermon by Georgia lawyer Angela Emerson, now a seminarian in Austin, Texas, the March 26-28 conference spoke to one theme: All we have and are is a gift from God; all we give back is what we have been given.

“The conference is a wonderful spiritual time to reflect on the blessings God has given me, and on how to share these gifts and joys,” said Nancy Brown of the Diocese of Rhode Island.

Participants attended sessions on stewardship, evangelism, congregational development and planned giving. These four seminars, as well as the target groups for small, medium and large parish churches, provided practical ideas for mission.

“I’ve seen this conference transform lives and mission,” said the Rev. Susan J. Latimer of the Diocese of Maine. “As a result of last year’s conference, we began a new ministry to economically stressed families in our community.”

One small congregation, Trinity Episcopal Church in Ware, Mass., described a desire to build a spiritual ministry to the local neighborhood. One hundred hands were raised in answer to the question, “Who will commit to pray for this new mission?”

Describing evangelism as “the stewardship of God’s word,” Terry Parsons, missioner for stewardship at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, said that evangelism is not inviting people to church, but “inviting people to spend eternity with us and with our God.”

Evangelism and stewardship are not separate ventures, she said. “If you’re not talking about Jesus, you’re not talking about stewardship.”

The plenary speaker, Suffragan Bishop Roy F. Cederholm Jr. of the Diocese of Massachusetts, described stewardship as a celebration of faith and as thanksgiving, in a theology of abundance.

The Rev. Ben Helmer, national missioner for small and rural congregations, spoke to the vitality that can be regained in parishes as Episcopalians search their communities for opportunities for mission.

Each day, the conference began with centering prayer and ended with Compline, with music by Mark Engelhardt, organist and music director of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston. Individuals prayed together for healing, guidance and renewal.

“The Holy Spirit moves powerfully in this place,” said Boris von York of the Diocese of Vermont. “I have attended four out of the last five years. This conference has broadened our understanding, of whom we are, so that we might move to who God wants us to become.”