[Episcopal News Service] Representatives from the Episcopal Dioceses of Quincy and Chicago recently met at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Peoria to “explore the possibility” of reunification of the two dioceses, Provisional Bishop of Quincy John Buchanan said in a press release.
Bishop Jeff Lee of Chicago, who attended Quincy’s special reorganizing synod of April 2009 in a show of support, said “We want to see what God has in mind. We are here with ears wide open.”
Attendees at the Feb. 8 meeting included both bishops, certain diocesan staff members and other lay and clergy leaders.
The discussion between Chicago and Quincy is the result of work over the past year of the Committee on the Future of the Diocese, chaired by the Very Rev. Robert Dedmon, dean of the cathedral, the release said. Dedmon opened the discussion by talking about the process of extensive conversations between committee members and parishioners from each of the nine remaining Episcopal congregations in Quincy.
“The consensus of the majority,” said Dedmon, is that reunification with the Diocese of Chicago is “the most reasonable, faithful course.”
Reunification with Chicago would require the approval of the wider church via the mechanism outlined in Canon 1.10.6 of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons. If the two dioceses and their bishops concur and that action occurs more than three months before the start of a General Convention, the reunification must be agreed to by a majority of the church’s other diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction. If the agreement to reunify occurs with three months of the next meeting of General Convention, then the House of Bishops and Deputies must be asked to approve the plan.
A minority of congregations interviewed by the Committee on the Future indicated a desire to take no course of action, wishing instead to wait for pending litigation to be resolved, said Dedmon.
“Although [property-recovery] litigation is still in process,” said Dedmon, the diocese recognizes that it cannot wait for things to settle “at least in terms of laying plans.”
The majority of parishioners interviewed favor reunification with Chicago, many citing increased opportunity to embrace full participation in the life and direction of the church along with greater financial stability, according to the release. However, there remain grave reservations among both large and small congregations about how a reunification with Chicago would affect life in Quincy, the release said.
In addition to lack of financial resources, not enough clergy and leadership burn-out, concerns included fears of closing small congregations, loss of identity and perceptions that rural and conservative viewpoints would be unrecognized.
“I am very moved by what you have been through, and by what you are doing,” said Lee. “You have been wronged. And I thank you for your resilience.”
Chicago Chancellor Emeritus Richard Hoskins said, “We can only hope that we would respond with that kind of resilience. You have been a ministry to us.”
He also expressed caution that in moving forward with continuing discussions toward reunification that extreme reactions be avoided.
“One, that your identity would be swallowed up,” he said. “We are experienced in making sure that diverse groups are not left out and excluded. But people should also remind themselves that being joined won’t solve all your problems. You will, however, be joining others like you in many ways. We want to hear your testimony, and find ways of making you feel not so alone.
“Instead of being swallowed, you would be part of a group of Christians who want to share in your recovery, help you find opportunities of renewal, who could bring you moral and spiritual support.”
Lee attempted to assured Quincy representatives about their fears and concerns, pointing to his own reluctance to close small congregations in the Diocese of Chicago, according to the release.
“It’s a myth that we are all urban,” said Lee. Chicago has many small rural congregations, he said. Large or small, rural or urban, “it’s all about the mission. How can we best proclaim the mission?”
Professional risk manager Bruce Plummer of Chicago added that the challenges faced in Quincy are, in many ways, a reflection of today’s society about sustainability in the future.
“We can all learn from the past and empathize with one another,” he said. “But the future is optimistic. It will be what we make of it. I can feel your anxiety, and hear your uncertainty. But I am encouraged by your commitment.”
The Rev. Kirsten Orr, dean of the Deanery of Joliet in the Diocese of Chicago said, “I want for you to be free to be in the church and live in God’s grace,” and gave an example of a nearby parish that made a difficult decision that they were unsustainable alone and joined her own parish. “I admire them for making the best decision, a difficult decision. But in the end they gained a parish with a broader demographic, they have been revitalized, and contributed to the common life of all.”
There is a way for Quincy to go forward, said Lee. “I don’t know the shape that will take, but there is a way.”
“Know that we are there, and you are not alone. You will have a new energy, a new clarity.”
Lee said he is open to having Quincy reunite with Chicago. “I feel a duty to that,” he said.
The Chicago diocesan underwent a complete restructuring in November, which Lee said was a response to a need to work more efficiently rather than a downsizing.
“We see the bishop’s office as no longer a command center but a resource hub,” he said. Retired Bishop Christopher Epting of Iowa has also joined the bishop’s staff to assist Lee making visitation to what he describes as “a wildly diverse diocese.”
Consideration of a reunification with Quincy would also help inform the need and role of a second bishop for the Diocese of Chicago, Lee said, and whether that position would be as an assistant or as a suffragan bishop.
The meeting concluded with plans to continue the conversation, with a second meeting to take place, possibly in Chicago.
An all-day strategic planning session for the Quincy diocese, sponsored by CREDO, took place Feb. 11 at the cathedral. Participants were members of the Standing Committee, the Diocesan Council, Trustees of Property and Funds, and senior wardens.
In November 2008, a majority of the Quincy diocesan synod voted to leave the Episcopal Church and to realign with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, forming the Southern Cone Diocese of Quincy. Since that time the diocese is reduced to nine congregations, three of which worship in borrowed space. There are fewer than 1,000 baptized members and the average Sunday attendance diocese-wide is fewer than 375.