To answer the questions of “Where are we going?” and “Who can help us get there?” the search committee reached out to the diocese to ask these questions, as well as where we think we are right now. To do that, it conducted three in person focus groups, one each in the south, central and northern parts of the diocese. We also sent out an online survey via email to all parish clergy and parish administrators to distribute to their congregations, and also published links to the survey in the diocesan newsletter. The following information is our summary and analysis of the information we received.
Hopes and Dreams
The Diocese of Oregon is very diverse geographically, politically, economically, and in worship style, but all are in agreement that our mission is to Love God and Love our Neighbors. In the survey, we describe our diocese as diverse (31 responses), liberal or progressive (19 responses), and inclusive (15 responses). We describe our state as overwhelmingly beautiful (49 responses), diverse (41 responses), home (34 responses), green (32 responses), and independent (22 responses). At the parish level the word descriptors are mostly positive: welcoming (45 responses), family (17 responses), inclusive (16 responses), progressive (13 responses), and vibrant (12 responses).
The word “diverse” is one that came up frequently but, as is the trend nationwide in the Episcopal Church, we are mostly white, older people. We strive to welcome all people, and the numbers of Latino congregations, families with children, and people describing themselves as members of the LGBTQ community are significant, but we can’t say they are growing at the same rate as the rest of the population of Oregon.
With Jesus Christ as our foundation, our hopes and dreams for the diocese are:
- To unite around our common mission
- To be relevant to the people of the diocese and to bring the Love of Christ to all people
- To be more inclusive of all the congregations from the north to the south, from the east to the west
- To increase our outreach ministries to people in need
- To nurture small and struggling congregations, enabling them to grow and thrive
- To increase commitment to social justice issues
- To increase evangelism and outreach: more families, more young people, more children and youth programs, more support for the elderly
- To encourage and support younger clergy to lead, and make space for them to lead
- To support growth that is sustainable and accept that this may be different throughout our diocese
Some aspirational descriptions we identified: vital, energized, active, leaner and stronger, dynamic, diverse, collaborative, flexible, trusting, loving, cooperating, growing, influential.
Opportunities for Growth
We identified the following four areas where we want to grow as a diocese:
Lack of Cohesion/Desire for Unity
We tend to express our sense of division using three classic Oregonian dichotomies: urban vs. rural, large vs. small, resourced vs. struggling. Our listening sessions and survey responses indicated that these three dichotomies continue to play a role in the lived experiences of Episcopalians in Oregon. Those in smaller, rural and less-resourced congregations sometimes feel like larger and wealthier congregations get most of the bishop’s time and attention. Those in larger, urban and wealthier congregations often feel punished for their vitality and held in contempt and suspicion. For example, moving the bishop’s office to a new location in Oregon emerged as a statement about the bishop being be the Bishop of Oregon vs. the Bishop of Portland. These tensions will need to be creatively addressed by our next bishop, as we are a diocese that longs for a greater sense of cohesion and unity despite our differences.
Lack of Resources/Desire for Creativity
We often feel constrained and trapped by a lack of resources in a culture where apathy towards organized religion is widespread. We also have a perception that large parishes are thriving while smaller parishes lack both spiritual and financial support necessary to grow and sustain a congregation. We don’t always have the ability to think creatively about responding to these challenges as we deal with aging congregations and anxious systems. Our next bishop will need to help us identify new resources and be present as we seek to do church differently than we have in the past.
Lack of Authority/Desire for Leadership
Our independent spirit often gets in the way of collaboration, and nowhere is this more evident than at a diocesan level, where decisions made by seemingly “anonymous” diocesan bodies can be greeted with benign neglect or outright hostility at a congregational level. In surveys and listening sessions, the diocese was perceived as disorganized, disconnected, brittle, and anxious. Simultaneously, it was perceived as loving, caring, kind, and diverse. This is a tension at the heart of our understanding of leadership that our next bishop will need to help us address.
Lack of Growth/Desire for Action
A number of challenges hit chords of strong, difficult, underlying perceptions. Words like stuck, self-satisfied, troubled, confused, unsupportive, timid, and resistant were used. These created a sense of feeling genuinely adrift. Additional words like placating, conflicted, non-innovative, and uninteresting seemed to indicate a sense of flatness. This feeling supports the lack of substantial growth of our membership that reflects the demographics of our neighborhoods Our next bishop will need to be a person who can help churches identify ways to attract the people of their neighborhoods in ways we have not yet considered.
About 70 people attended the focus group meetings, and 505 people responded to the survey. Half of the surveys completed came from the Portland Metro area and the other half from the rest of the diocese combined. Disaggregated data as well as the survey questions can be found using the following links. This data represents the personal thoughts and opinions of the people who were able and chose to respond to the survey, and has not been verified or edited for accuracy.