Domestic Missionary Partnership meeting seeks to 'think outside the box'

February 27, 2002

Participants got an idea that they would be attending an unusual church meeting when the annual gathering of the Domestic Missionary Partnership (DMP) got underway February 7 with the executive board members dressed in costumes from “Star Trek.”

They set the stage for the theme of the meeting, which was “to think ‘outside the box,’” explained the Rev. Robert Nelson of Nevada, secretary of the DMP. “We hope to stimulate thinking outside the norms,” he added.

Workshops, speakers and even a tour of San Francisco Aquarium were held to reinforce the theme.

A light bulb, used in a workshop as one of the items to spur discussion “needs to be connected” to work, observed Bishop William Gregg of Eastern Oregon. “Disconnectedness is not helpful to the mission of the church,” he said. “Connectedness and relationship are essential.”

“When you think about being in a box, creation is a box,” said Bishop Andrew Fairfield of North Dakota. “When we’re baptized, we are born into both the creation that God is good, and into the box too. Our destiny is not in the box,” he added.

The Rev. John Robertson, national church staff officer for Native American ministry, noted that it is possible for people to work their way out of one box, only to create another one.

Seeking solutions

A session led by the Rev. Scott Hayashi of Portola Valley, California, examined factors that hinder change within the church, including situational and organizational factors. Participants were urged to come up with small, concrete plans within their dioceses “that can affect change now.” He noted that “today’s problems are the results of last year’s solutions. And tomorrow’s problems will be the result of today’s solutions.”

Ensuing discussion led Fairfield to observe that “what appears to be a small change to some people may appear major to others.” Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada noted that “buy-in is essential. If (the change) comes top-down, it fails. Buy-in is critical.”

The trip to the aquarium was designed to get delegates to “visit creatures that live in a box,” explained executive board member Mary Parsons of Alaska. Marianne Ell of North Dakota said she enjoyed getting away from the Mercy Center, site for the meeting, for the aquarium tour, “to the real world.” She added that she enjoyed listening to other dioceses sharing mission experiences.

In those presentations, Schori said that in her first message as diocesan bishop she “challenged the Diocese of Nevada to mission.” She noted that there is a new congregation at Bullhead City, in Arizona close to the border with Nevada, and another being planned in Wendover, on the Nevada-Utah state line. All those dioceses are cooperating with the new churches.

Mission ventures

Eastern Oregon is working with the call program at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in review of the formation process and for on-line education opportunities, said Gregg.

Navajoland is working to develop a “hogan seminary” to provide training which blends Christian faith with Navajo traditions, said Bishop Steven Plummer of Navajoland.

North Dakota has also tried several mission ventures, including working with companion dioceses in other parts of the world. “This was to give us experience in mission, and it was a wonderful experience, to reach out beyond North Dakota borders,” said Fairfield. He said he also enjoyed being able to talk about concerns common to small dioceses.

Bishop Keith Whitmore of Eau Claire agreed. One of his concerns is that “all seminaries train people as though they will be in a big church, and the national church is saying the same thing. We have to say something to the Episcopal Church because (preparing clergy to serve in a church of 250 members) is a deadly model.” He said that small dioceses, and small churches-—which abound in DMP dioceses-—are sometimes made to feel “second class. There is no money for rural anything-—renewal or growth, ” he explained.

Members agreed to seek new diocesan members of DMP and, in the words of North Dakota’s Ell: “There is a lot of energy here. We need the larger church to know that the rural church is alive and well.”

In order to stimulate “out of the box thinking,” each diocese was awarded $2,002 to fund what Nelson called “an innovative diocesan project-—something fun, something really ‘out there.’” Suggested ideas for the money included purchase of drums for all congregations for use in liturgy (Alaska); following up on a diocesan radio advertising campaign (Spokane); creating “fun new liturgies” to share with congregations at the diocesan convention (Nevada); and bringing people from around the reservation for a pilgrimage to the four sacred mountains (Navajoland).

In other business, delegates elected Mary O’Farrell of Western Kansas to replace Chris Telfer of Eastern Oregon as comptroller. Telfer, who had served as president and comptroller of the organization for 20 years, announced that she was retiring from DMP in order to devote time to other ministries within the Episcopal Church. She was honored for her service to DMP.

Building bridges

DMP is the successor organization to Coalition 14, a group of generally small dioceses which banded together to divide financial allocations from the national church and to formulate a vision of mission and ministry strategy. Diocesan members of DMP are Alaska, Eastern Oregon, Eau Claire, El Camino Real, Idaho, Navajoland, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah and Western Kansas. The Diocese of Spokane joined DMP and sent members to this year’s meeting.

Delegates approved grants from national church funds of $103,000 to Eastern Oregon, $55,000 to Western Kansas and $45,000 to Eau Claire. Another $33,00 was allocated for meetings and $18,018 for the “out of the box” grants to each diocese.

DMP is “getting more bang for the buck than most organizations in the Church,” said Whitmore. He explained that the grants should not be considered as “welfare” by the church, but as helping to provide a “bridge between where we are and where we are going.”

Also approved were grants funded by the Diocese of Utah and administered by DMP. Those grants were to provide racism training in Alaska for $8,000; aid for 40 of the “Lost Boys” of the Sudan now in North Dakota for $2,500; musical instruments for students in Nevada for $5,000; a spiritual development workshop in Western Kansas for $3,500; and $1,000 to help run the retreat center in the Diocese of Idaho.

The meeting was dedicated to the memory of Deacon Margaret Hardy of Navajoland, who was killed recently in an automobile accident. She had served on the DMP’s executive committee.

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