Question: Who’s in charge? How do we make our decisions? How do we share responsibility for our life, worship and mission?
The following are the responses to this question by Maine Episcopalians – real people – in the fall of 2010.
Our mission statement was written by people just like you and me. We have a democracy in our individual churches. All of us get to make decisions in our life we share with God. The Diocese of Maine is doing God’s work everyday and involving people like you and me on a grass roots level.
I love that all voices are heard in our church. Although, we don’t all agree on everything, there is a structure in place to make sure that everyone has a voice. Whenever important choices need to be made, an attempt is made to find consensus within the church.
The local church is part of the diocese which is part of The Episcopal Church. Each “level” makes decisions about its life together in its community with the Rector, Wardens and Vestry handling the business affairs of the local church. At the diocesan level, representatives from each congregation make decisions that affect us all. The national church meets in General Convention every three years to deal with issues in our country and in the greater worldwide church. The body of Christ is alive and well in the Diocese of Maine in its local congregations, which carry out the work of the diocese, as voted and approvied by delegates from each parish, and overseen by the Bishop. The intent is to be collegial in all matters excepting the doctrine of the church.
No large group of people ever comes to consensus on anything! But in the Episcopal Diocese, we make our decisions after careful conversations occur; everyone has an opportunity to contribute; and while the final decision may not be completely perfect for every member, we choose the fairest solutions to issues that we can come to, making sure that we are informed by kindness, love, and the example set by Jesus Christ.
One of the great qualities about the Episcopal Church is that leadership and decision making is shared between the clergy and lay members of the church. Our process for discerning ways of being Christian community can look chaotic and messy. It is out of our dialogue and debate that we discern the direction that God calls us. That means we are always open to the new way that God may be leading us even as we preserve our traditions and practices. Currently we are looking at new ways to engage in mission in a collaborative way that strengthens communities and congregations. It will take a while for the shape of that new mission to emerge and Episcopalians in Maine are invested in working it out even as we wait for that new shape to appear.
We don’t expect the priest to take care of everything. Those who attend church step up to the plate and donate their time to activities such as visitations, Sunday School, and other activities. The priest guides the people toward an end point, but the people help decide which path to take depending on the needs of the church.
We are 65 congregations in Maine, each with its own governng body, the vestry. The Diocese of Maine is composed of these 65 congregations that are led by Bishop Stephen Lane, who was elected by the congregations and clergy. We meet in convention each year to vote on decisions and on the direction of our shared life together.
We are formed on Democratic principles so we make most of our decisions together. Each congregation has elected lay leadership that shares authority and decision-making with a priest. All our congregations in Maine come together once a year at a Convention to make decisions that affect us as a whole.