The pace of news may have slowed since May 7, when the standing committees of the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania voted to support a proposal that calls for them to share a bishop and staff for five years. But according to Canon Vanessa Butler in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Rev. Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims in the Diocese of Western New York, the pace of work has been anything but slow.
“Since the standing committee vote, we’ve been working together to plan the joint convention, compile financial analyses, and create budget models that will provide a roadmap for the proposed partnership,” Butler said.
At the convention, which will take place October 26-27 in Niagara Falls, delegates from Western New York will vote on whether to elect Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania as bishop provisional of Western New York for five years. During that time, the dioceses will explore possibilities for a long-term partnership. The election will take place in a session that begins at 1 pm on Friday, October 26, and visitors are welcome. In the same session, delegates from Northwestern Pennsylvania will also vote to approve the partnership plan. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, will be the chaplain to the election.
Due to canonical requirements, the dioceses will approve separate 2019 budgets at the convention even if the partnership is approved. A gradual transition, Rowe said, will mean that final 2019 expenses will likely be similar to 2018.
Expenses in the first quarter of the year, before Bishop William Franklin of Western New York retires in April 2019, will be unchanged. “During the remainder of 2019, we would phase in efficiencies and collaborative administrative gradually. Beginning in 2020, our budget model suggests that we can free up more money for mission in both dioceses by streamlining and sharing costs,” Rowe said.
Although the partnership, if approved, will not become official until Franklin retires, a pilot collaboration that will last a few months is already underway.
The Rev. Martha Ishman, canon for mission development and transition in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, joined Dempesy-Sims in handling Western New York’s transition ministry on an interim basis on June 30, when the Rev. Vicki Zust’s service in that role concluded. Ishman has also begun serving as the intake officer for disciplinary matters, a non-stipendiary position, in the Diocese of Western New York.
“Whether or not the partnership is approved at convention, our diocese is in transition, and that can make it hard to fill staff positions,” said Dempesy-Sims. “And yet, we’ve had more than 20 parishes searching for a priest in the last 18 months. Having Martha join us on an interim basis is a terrific solution to our urgent needs, and if the partnership is approved, we’ll have a head start on collaboration.”
“Sharing transition ministry builds on our three-year Joint Board of Examining Chaplain partnership and gives us the opportunity to work with congregations in new ways to recruit, deploy, and support clergy called to ministry in our context,” Rowe said. “I think this short-term partnership will suggest new ways to work together if the partnership is approved.”