Diocese of Fond du Lac in "terminal" condition, bishop warns

 

Diocese of Fond du Lac in "terminal" condition, bishop warns

Author: 

George Conger

The Diocese of Fond du Lac has entered a “terminal” phase, Bishop Russell Jacobus warned the diocese’s 138th annual convention meeting in Manitowoc on 19 Oct 2012.  However, there was still time to halt the decline of the Episcopal Church in Northeastern Wisconsin if it changed its culture, becoming a welcoming and Christ-centered institution.
The bishop also announced that effective 31 Oct 2013 he will step down from office. A call had been issued to begin the process of choosing a successor and an election has been tentatively set for October 2013 annual convention at St Paul’s Cathedral in Fond du Lac. 
Elected bishop in 1994, Bishop Jacobus said he looked back with pleasure upon his service as bishop. “As I tell many people, this is a wonderful Diocese."
The “day I was consecrated I have said that as long as I feel God is calling me to serve and as long as I feel that God is giving me the gifts and the strength to serve,” Bishop Jacobus said.
He added, however, that “over the past year, I have come to the conclusion that the Diocese may need a new vision and voice coming from the Episcopal throne.”
In his pastoral address, Bishop Jacobus said the situation for the diocese was grim.  The national Episcopal Church was moving towards the adoption of gay marriage, while parish statistics showed a sharp decline in church attendance.
The bishop said he had “serious reservations” about the wisdom and theological integrity of the General Convention’s push for gay marriage, and would not authorize trial rites for their use in the diocese.  He welcomed conversation and study on the issue, but said the innovation would test the unity of the church and distract from its mission to witness to the world.
The situation in Fond du Lac was not good, he observed. “Between 2007 and the end of 2010 the Baptized membership in the diocese has gone from over 6,600 to just over 5,800 – a loss of about 800 members in this four years. If we continue to lose 200 members each year, the diocese isn’t just fragile, it’s becoming terminal.”
The implications of losing 200 members per year were clear.  “Is this going to become urgent when your congregation decides you can no longer afford a full-time priest – or when you can no longer afford a part-time priest and need to have just Sunday Supply – or when you can only afford Sunday Supply once a month – or maybe when you can’t afford to have any clergy celebrate the Eucharist, and can’t afford to pay the heating bills, and you need to close the doors? Does it have to get to that point for it to be an urgent situation?”
The solution to the problem of declining congregations was “congregational hospitality” and evangelistic fervor, the bishop said.  “Hospitality in congregations that are growing is more than just about being nice to people on Sunday morning, although that is essential. Hospitality is about having an attitude of generosity which permeates all of their corporate life. It’s about having a sense of curiosity about the world, and wanting to engage that world around them in the name of Jesus in a constructive way.”
Coupled with this welcome, is a determination to “develop followers of Jesus,” the bishop said.
“If we are to make this world the creation God intended we have an urgent wake up call – now! We need to get out of the maintenance mode and find where God is doing God’s mission, and get involved in it.”