Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Two weeks ago, the diocese issued the report of an independent consultant who had conducted a “listening process” that the Standing Commission had initiated as the 17-year episcopacy of Bishop Paul Marshall came to an end. The report you read is the report that the Standing Committee and I received. We did not edit it, nor did we compose a cover letter because we did not want to influence how the report was received. We did not outline the ways in which the diocese would respond to the report, believing that would be premature.
Now that people across the diocese have had an opportunity to reflect on the report and form their own opinions, I want to assure you that while the listening process is over, the listening has just begun.
The diocese needs to begin conversations toward a strategic plan and a mission strategy. You made this clear to me when you called me to be your bishop. These conversations were not possible in any real or transparent way before we received the listening report. But now, I believe that we can move ahead with a planning process that is informed by the information and insights that clergy and lay people shared with our consultant, the Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Johnson, and with each other, during the listening process. In particular, I want to assure you that we will conduct and report on these conversations in a way that honors the desire for broad consultation, accountability and transparency that so many of you spoke about during the listening process.
The Diocesan Council and I are canonically responsible for the direction of strategic planning and mission strategy conversations. Last night, at our regularly scheduled meeting, we began work on a process that invites participation from the entire diocese. Though the development of this process is in its nascent stages, be assured that, like the listening process, the voices of those who wish to participate will be invited to the table.
This planning process requires a willingness to allow the governance structures of the diocese to function according to their mandates. It will take some time to prepare them to do so. Bodies like the council have not participated in strategic planning in the recent past, and we are in the process of reorientation and forming the leadership to function in a different way.
We are beginning this work at the same time that I am restructuring and right-sizing the diocesan staff and facing some significant operational challenges including the completion of past audits. I am working to put together an excellent diocesan team to serve you that fully accounts for our current financial situation.
Brothers and sisters, this is a tall order. But I am confident that we will continue to build on the strengths of our diocese and create a mission strategy that is informed and inspired both by the Gospel and the needs of our communities. Count on hearing from me soon as we determine the ways in which we will plan together for the future of the church in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The Rev. Sean Rowe