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Regathering, Adapting, and Experimenting are Themes of 116th Annual Council

Regathering, Adapting, and Experimenting are Themes of 116th Annual Council

After two years of pandemic-induced online sessions, Episcopalians from throughout Middle and North Georgia gathered in person on November 11 and 12 for the 116th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta.

Bishop Rob Wright, who resumed his practice of individually greeting attendees as they arrived, said online gatherings accomplished the official work of Council but lacked the personal interactions that are a vital part of the largest annual gatherings of the diocese.

“It is so good to see you all, and not in those little boxes,” Wright told the more than 450 delegates, visitors, vendors, and guests who filled the main gymnasium of the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta.

Listen to Bishop Wright’s Sermon

Wright said supporting the work of regathering in parishes is a diocesan priority.

Missioner for Congregational Vitality Sally Ulrey said a review of 2021 parish parochial reports and a diocesan-wide survey has focused the effort. Identified priorities included equipping leaders to be evangelists and disciple-makers and discerning next steps for parishes to more effectively engage with their neighbors, Ulrey said.

In response, three new programs were created in 2022.

Formation for All the Baptized is a discernment and formation school for licensed lay ministers who will serve as lay preachers, catechists, pastoral caregivers, pastoral leaders, and worship leaders.

Genesis II: Revision and Renew, a collaboration with the Presiding Bishop’s Office to work with small congregations in the Diocese of Atlanta to reflect on their identity, God’s call, and how to “be” church in new ways.

LeadersCare. In partnership with The Society for the Increase in Ministry, the diocese secured a grant from Trinity Wall Street to train parish leaders in spiritual practices, grounded in prayer and formation, to help them discern and embrace God’s future for their churches.

Ulrey also laid out in detail other results of the 2021 report from the diocese’s 116 worshiping communities.

On average, giving was down 16 percent, and in-person worship attendance was about half of that in years prior to the COVID pandemic.

Characteristics of parishes that outperformed the average included: experimenting with alternative ways of gathering; listening deeply to members to understand their needs; creating “relational fabric” such as small groups that took responsibility for group member’s well-being; having an outward focus attuned to the needs of their neighbors, and using a team approach to ministry.

Diocesan responses to the challenges of COVID-19 have also included running experiments.

One successful innovation began in August 2020 as Imagine Church. It features online worship, combining musical traditions, visual art, and spoken word. The format was used for Eucharist at Council with The Reverend Brandon Maxwell leading the choir of singers from Park Avenue Baptist Church and parishes of the diocese.

Now called Imagine Worship, the experiment has become an ongoing ministry of the diocese, in partnership with the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing. It has been emulated by other dioceses. In October, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry joined a session of Imagine Worship broadcast from St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City with a mass choir under the direction of acclaimed gospel artist Jason McGee.

Bishop Wright continued the theme of experimentation and adaptation in his Council sermon.

Wright said the diocese and its leaders must be “attuned to the moment.”

“Life is made of 1,440 minutes a day, which is 525,600 for the year. Multiply that number times the average length of life and you realize, give or take a bit, life is made of 40,050,720 minutes!

He said followers of Jesus have made progress “by doing something unusual with our allotted minutes. We make our way with God by remembering forward and hoping backward.”

Wright, who marked his first decade as bishop in October, said one of the best parts of his job has been hearing the stories of parishes and ministries.

“Those times when your community was at a threshold moment and you believed God and stepped out on faith and joined God in starting a ministry, a church, a pre-school, or a school.

“Or, added space to serve neighbors and welcome people home to the Episcopal Church. How you weren’t exactly sure what the future held but had faith enough in your community to join God despite the uncertainty.”

Wright acknowledged the malaise caused by the pandemic but said God won’t settle for complacency.

“So, God says, I know how to infuse my people with energy, I will re-invite them to join me in the only enterprise that is truly life-giving, faithful living. Zora Neal Hurston puts it this way, ‘love makes the soul crawl out from its hiding place.’

“That is how God helps us find new energy and break free of the numbness of modern life that is the new threat to freedom.”

During Saturday morning’s youth worship the sermon by Evie Hague, a high school senior attending St. James’ in Marietta, was about responding to God’s call.

Hague, who plans on becoming a firefighter and will serve as rector of the upcoming Episcopal Youth Community’s Happening 77 at Camp Mikell, focused on this year’s EYC theme, Kingdom Come.

“It is all about how we as Christians spread God’s love to others and how we are living in God’s Kingdom, it’s not something that is so far from our reach,” Hague said. Using Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, she said “the kingdom of God started very small, but when people started to take care of His kingdom and shared God’s love, His kingdom began to flourish and spread across the world.

“We are living in God’s kingdom no matter where we are or who we are. You could be living through your best or worst day, but you are still present in God’s kingdom, the world He created is the Kingdom.

Hague said her faith was nourished by her Happening weekend.

“It is a spiritual weekend for high schoolers led by fellow high schoolers. The focus of the weekend is spreading God’s love and drawing the circle wider to those who may not have felt welcome as who they truly are. It is a weekend where many people can feel the seed God planted in them. Happening watered the seed I had neglected for so long. I finally let it bloom and grow into something I want to share with the world.”

Hague was one of 53 youths attending Council who put their faith into action by packaging 10,000 meals for distribution by Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief agency.

During the Council’s business session, deputies for General Convention were elected along with members of the Diocesan Standing Committee and Board of Governors for Camp Mickell.

Resolutions passed included providing benefits for permanent deacons, continued support of same-sex  marriage, encouraging the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia, and environmental stewardship. Council also amended the diocesan constitution to provide for online meetings and ratified the decisions taken by Council during online meetings in 2020 and 2021.

Special guest Bishop Diana Akiyama of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon met with women delegates and clergy to discuss the experiences and challenges encountered by female clergy and church leaders.

Bishop Akiyama, the first Japanese American woman ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church in 1989, also gave her impressions from the two-day event during her address at the end of Council.

“There are two themes that I’ve observed being with you yesterday and today. They are elasticity and curiosity.

“Elasticity referring to how you engage fellowship, how you engage relationship, the way in which you currently are leaning into being the body of Christ with and for each other and for your neighborhoods, your communities, and the world.

“Elasticity. Which is another way of saying deep listening, respect, prayer, common prayer, scripture study, and vibrant ministries.

“Your vibrant ministries are clearly forms of ministry that have come out of noticing what’s happening in your neighborhoods and communities, feeling a tug on your heart and your soul and wanting to respond, wanting to help, wanting to heal, wanting to help become part of making the body of Christ whole.

“Curiosity. I see you leaning forward. And I see and hear what’s on your hearts. And I see you cautious in your curiosity. I see you yearning for a deeper sense of the new thing, that the church is becoming, the new thing that God is calling you into. Curiosity always has a little bit of caution attached to it. It also has a little bit of courage attached to it. So, curiosity is a good thing. And it’s really gratifying to see you leaning into it.

“I love, in particular, the focus on youth. This has been a long complaint of mine for the entirety of my priesthood – the way in which the Episcopal Church writ large talks about youth, funds them, doesn’t fund them, campus ministry yes, campus ministry no. It’s sort of like discretionary. And we are way past the point of talking about youth ministry, youth choir, youth leadership as discretionary. They are the future. And we are finally getting on that train in some dioceses, and you should be proud that that’s happening in the Diocese of Atlanta. You should be very proud.”

For People Podcast Special Release: A New Thing

For People Podcast Special Release: A New Thing

God is doing a new thing! This year’s theme for the Diocese of Atlanta’s Annual Council is “I’m about to do a new thing”. In Isaiah, he writes about God,

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

The “I” refers to God because God is always doing new things. In this instance, not us, but God.

In this episode, Bishop Wright and Melissa have a conversation about the new thing God is doing now with the church and in the lives of her people. It comes as The Diocese of Atlanta gets ready to gather 500 of her people.


Listen Here

Diocese Exhibits Big Welcome at Pride 2022

Diocese Exhibits Big Welcome at Pride 2022

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta seized the opportunity offered by this year’s resumption of in-person Pride Week to increase its longstanding support with new print ads, videos, and banners.

For decades, the Diocese has been a welcoming community to LGBTQ+ folks regardless of race, age, gender, gender identity/expression, marital status, economic status, or any other factor.

Photo Credit: Erica Aitken Photography (www.myatlantaphotographer.com)

The LGBTQ+ community in Atlanta observes Pride activities each October. Why not June? Because high temperatures range from 85 to 93 during June.

After being canceled for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s October 6-9, 52nd Atlanta Pride Celebration regained its place as the largest gathering of LGBTQ+ people and allies in the Southeast. Atlanta Pride included a two-day festival with music, merchandise, art, and food, along with a parade and a week’s worth of educational and social events.

Episcopalians from throughout the Diocese kicked off Pride 2022 on October 6 at All Saints’ Episcopal. The parish, located adjacent to the world-famous Varsity Drive-In and Restaurant, hosted Integrity Atlanta’s 33rd Annual Pride Eucharist.

Diocesan LGBTQ+ Commission member Jacob Clifton Albritton said the service is, “a representation of what church should be, where people are allowed to worship and be authentically in that type of space.”

“I think that’s always a moving experience for folks in particular, queer people who don’t find a place for themselves at church. Because this is a service for them and led by fellow queer folks,” Albritton said. “And so, I really love the diversity of the people. There were younger folks, there were older folks, a wide variety of ethnicities, as well as people with multiple different identities along the LGBTQ+ spectrum.”

Episcopalians also welcomed Pride goers at the Diocese of Atlanta information booth at the Pride Festival in Piedmont Park on October 8 and 9. This year, an Episcopal Youth Community (EYC) group from Episcopal Church of the Epiphany joined adult parishioners in welcoming Pride participants.

Albritton, who uses they/them pronouns, said he was encouraged by hearing the comments of many people who stopped by the booth.

“I heard there was a flurry of activity, a lot of curiosity, a lot of people saying, ‘Oh my. My grandmother was an Episcopalian!’ That was exciting,” they said. “And I think it was just there to be a presence for people who had questions about, you know, about faith and the Diocese of Atlanta as a sponsor pride every year. And so, you know, our name is in multiple places. I think that people were curious about why it was and our commitment to the LGBTQ+ community.”

Albritton said the LGBTQ+ Commission will be expanding over the next year to include members from all 10 Diocesan Convocations. “We will be taking responsibility for the Diocese’s activities during Pride Week and year-round,” they said. Current members are Meghan Birdseye – Chair, St. Bede’s; Steve Wright – St Margaret’s; Alyssa Sali – St Bede’s; Mother Mimi Guerra – Christ Church Norcross; and Jacob Clifton Albritton and Bruce Gardner – All Saints.

The Diocese amplified its love for and affirmation of LGTBQ+ persons this year with advertisements in the Pride Week edition of The Georgia Voice and in Destination Gay Atlanta, an annual publication distributed by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Diocese attracted news coverage with a Gay Pride version of our Diocesan Seal and included LGTBQ+ persons in For People with Bishop Rob Wright and in our Beloved video series.

Plans for 2023 Pride include continuing advertising and public relations efforts as well as year-round social media messages, according to Easton Davis, Diocesan Canon for Communications and Digital Evangelism.

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta Pride parade contingent is one of the most popular in the Pride parade. Participants handed out beads and other souvenirs and carried signs with inspiring slogans and the names of welcoming and affirming parishes in the diocese.

Diocesan Youth Missioner Holle Tubbs said she was struck by the reaction to the Episcopal Diocese parade contingent.

“For me, the biggest takeaway from Atlanta Pride was people’s reactions to seeing the Church represented in the parade. I saw everything from shock and excitement to a kind of fatigued gratitude.

“So many of our queer siblings equate the Church with the protestors who spent the parade screaming from the other side of a police barrier, so the simple act of us showing up in solidarity — of letting the gospel of God’s love drown out shouts of fear and judgment — was powerful,” Stubbs said.

St. Luke’s Episcopal, located on the parade route, resumed its longstanding streetside welcome station in front of the church.

St. Luke’s Associate Rector Horace Griffin said the parade gave people of faith a chance to witness to the need for God’s love of all people.

“With the resurgence of homophobia and attempts by politicians, including our Governor Brian Kemp, to reinstate the anti-gay marriage laws, Sunday’s Pride parade and march was a glorious demonstration that we will not accept injustice from the same people who often tout “freedom.”

Griffin said he enjoyed making a personal statement by wearing a t-shirt given to him by his teenage godson and goddaughter.

“The t-shirt that I wore with the words, this is a Gay that the Lord has made is a nice reminder that we all are wonderfully made by God, a beautiful rainbow of LGBTQ+ and heterosexual people, and that when we accept all people, we honor God’s gift of the human creation.”

In addition to joining the parade All Saints’ Episcopal hosted a Pop-Up Love Shop before the Pride parade where parishioners handed out symbols of love made by parish children.


View More Photos from Pride 2022

Bishop Appoints Director for Diaconal Formation

As Director for Decaonal Formation, Deacon John Ray, will model this ministry in service to the Bishop, the Diocese, and the Community of Deacons. He will work closely with the Archdeacons in the formation of new deacons for the Diocese of Atlanta.

John will maintain and update the curriculum for diaconal formation by preparing an annual budget for the formation process, providing course instruction when necessary, serving as a liaison for course instructors by coordinating all logistics, and making necessary arrangements for the classes to be taught.

John will also coordinate formation functions and activities with seminaries and other dioceses, when appropriate.

Holy Family Celebrates Inaugural Serve Pickens Volunteer Event

Holy Family Celebrates Inaugural Serve Pickens Volunteer Event

Holy Family celebrated the first ever community-wide volunteer event in Pickens County on October 22, 2022.

More than 240 volunteers from 10 churches, civic groups, veterans groups, and other adults and youth who wanted to have a fun day serving their community volunteered at 18 of the Pickens County non-profits.

Holy Family’s Outreach Ministry developed the idea for this new event during the Covid pause when it could not have its usual Outreach events. It wanted to bring together diverse members of the community to work together for a common goal of making the community even better through volunteerism. The day was truly one of “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”.