October 11, 2021
After much prayerful consideration and several months of discussion, the Standing Committees of the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania have voted to extend by two years the timeline for evaluating the historic partnership our dioceses initiated at our joint convention in October 2018. These votes were finalized on October 7.
We will make a presentation to the diocesan convention about this decision when we meet via Zoom this Thursday, but we are writing today to share with you in advance our reasons for initiating the extension of the partnership.
As you may recall, the dioceses originally agreed to evaluate the partnership after three years and vote on whether to continue it after five years, meaning the initial evaluation would have taken place at our joint convention later this week. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has rendered this timeline impractical, and the Standing Committees agreed to postpone the evaluation until 2023, and the vote on whether to continue the partnership to 2026.
The past 18 months have brought changes and challenges that none of us could have imagined when our dioceses agreed to share a bishop, the Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe, and a staff for five years. Our original plan called for our two dioceses to spend three years working together to deepen relationships and develop shared mission priorities culminating in the creation of a common mission strategy. It was an audacious undertaking to embrace new ways of working on behalf of the Gospel in our region, and the original timeline may have been somewhat overly ambitious. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, it became simply unworkable.
Our bishop, diocesan staff, clergy and congregational leaders have risen to the challenge of continuing to be the church when everything about doing church has had to change. As we learned the nuances of online worship services and formation programs, maintained pastoral relationships while physically distanced and navigated how to begin regathering in person safely and well, we have shown the resilience for which our region is known. It is clear, however, that managing the Covid-19 crisis has come at the cost of strategic planning and movement at the personal, congregational, diocesan and partnership levels.
We will continue moving forward with our joint ministries and re-engage our strategic mission work with the intent of having a proposed covenant agreement for the partnership prepared for evaluation at our joint convention in October 2023. Each diocesan convention would then have the opportunity to amend or approve such a proposed covenant before voting whether or not to ratify it and continue the partnership at our joint convention in 2026.
We believe that this is the best way forward for us at this time as we continue to seek to collaborate to transform our congregations and communities through the power of Jesus Christ. We welcome your questions, comments and feedback and covet your prayers.
Mr. James Isaac, President, Diocese of Western New York Standing Committee
The Rev. Stacey Fussell, President, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania Standing Committee