Bishop Jennifer is in the Diocese visiting congregations, offering listening sessions and exploring the culture of her new city. Recently, Trinity Director of Communications, Tracey Lemon, spoke with the bishop about her experiences of living here and getting to know the people of the diocese.
Q: Bishop, thank you speaking with me today. I’m hoping we can cover some topics about your experience of the Diocese and what it’s been like since you arrived. To start, what have you discovered about Indianapolis, as someone newly living here?
A: I really love Indianapolis. It’s a good city with just enough of all the things I really want to do. It’s really accessible, not too small or too big. I can truly take advantage of all it has to offer.
I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy some great restaurants and hear live music. I especially love jazz. I love to run, and there are great places to do that. The trail system is fantastic. It makes it so easy to get to different parts of the city. I figure this summer will be a time to get to the museums and other interesting places along my daily path. It’s wonderful to know that I can get to them easily. I just need to make a schedule so I can actually enjoy it!
Also, and more generally, I’ve been reading about the history and context around Unigov and how the city expanded its boundaries over time. I’m learning how this contributed to the city’s diversity; geographically, racially and ethnically. With exploration, this has become all the more evident to me. Learning about this, and seeing it firsthand, has deepened my appreciation for this city.
Q: And you are traveling outside of Indianapolis. How’s that going?
A: That’s going really well. When I used to think about Indiana, I was more aware of the cities that made national news. Now I’m consistently and delightfully surprised while visiting smaller cities. There’s so much going on. Every time I visit a new place, I’m amazed by its vibrancy. Places like Columbus, Bloomington, Terre Haute and so many more places where I want to spend time. Luckily we have churches that will take me to them!
Q: I know that part of your background is in building preservation. How does that perspective inform your experiences of cities and towns in Indiana?
A: One thing I’m struck by is that we are a young diocese in many ways. We have a lot of churches that were planted before and around the turn of the last century, but many others planted 50, 60 years ago. So there’s a lot of new buildings, relatively speaking. It’s fascinating to see how much more of the new there is here.
Q: I know that you’re planning some listening sessions in the Diocese. Would you like to say something about them? What are your hopes for them?
A: People have had much longer to think about what’s next for the diocese than I have. I’m still learning, and trying to catch up. I know there’s a desire for me to announce my vision. But before I can do that, I need to understand the conversations that have taken place, especially at such a transitional time. I have a couple of hunches about where I think we are called to go, but they’re hunches. I need to check them out by listening. I want to hear from folks directly, about what they care about, or feel challenged by.
The sessions are designed so I can hear exactly what people want me to know. The format allows for folks to participate after work and spend time in prayer and conversation. There will be room for attendees to interact with others and think about what we’re called to do, who we are as a diocese and where we’re called to go.
There will be 10 sessions, broken out mostly by region. The sessions began in June and run through the middle of October. Five of them are for lay people organized by region, each quadrant of the diocese plus the city. I think Trinity’s going host one which I’m glad about that.
The other five sessions will be broken out by groups; priests, deacons, bishop staff, youth, and clergy partners and spouses. It will be wonderful to hear from all the perspectives.
All of the data will be collected and organized into a report that will be presented to the diocese at convention. And by that time, I will have a lot more to say about where I think we are called to go. It will be OUR vision because I’ve heard from the folks of the Diocese. I’m looking forward to that.
Q: So speaking of the convention, and this might be a little off topic, but I understand you think dance parties are important.
A: I do! In fact, I’m sure it’s biblical. There’s a lot of dancing in the Bible, if you read carefully. We’re going to have a DJ because there’s a dance floor that comes with the convention site.
And about convention, I’m always hoping for diversity of age when we gather as a diocese. It’s a priority to be able to provide child-care for families, along with formation for children, allowing adults to participate in sessions. Part of the issue is planning dates to make it possible for youth to attend, and not miss two days of school to do so. It’s too late in the process to be as diverse in age as I would like for the upcoming convention in October. Though it is in the works for 2018. The desire is to get as much of the diocese together as possible. Diocesan convention is our big opportunity to do that.
As for dancing, I can tell a story from convention in Chicago. After a full day of work, I would look at the dance floor and there would be four-year-olds rolling around because it’s at the end of a long day. It’s 8 o’clock and they’re just breaking out to music. And then I’d see a 70 year-old lay leader swinging a much younger person around. They just met and know the same dance steps. Really there are all kinds of people and couples on the dance floor. And I would think, here’s the kingdom of God, right here. I would like this diocese to experience something vibrant like that, especially when we gather as one body at convention.
Q: When you think about an overall message you’d like to send to the Diocese, what comes to mind?
A: People will write to me, for instance on Facebook, and say, “How are you doing?” And no matter what kind of day it’s been, I respond, “I just had this (great or hard) day and it feels so right.” That’s the phrase that keeps coming up for me. It feels so right. I’m still learning how to do this work, and, yet, I feel there’s such synergy. The fit is right. I want people to know that that’s how I feel.
As I connect with congregations during visitations, I find people are energized and ready to go. For me, it continues to be a balance to try to move things along, even as we tend to the transition work. I think we’re ready to be unleashed to do some really amazing things in this Diocese. It’s a privilege to walk with people in the process.
Q: I see the excitement coming through in different ways – a big one is seeing you on social media.
A: Well, truthfully, it’s a great diocese, and I just want to show it off to my friends. There’s so much good here. It just blows me away. All the time. People’s energy and their commitment to a particular ministry. For instance, I was at Holy Family Fishers recently and they have a community garden there. A lot of churches have a community garden. What makes this a unique story is that the youth came up with the idea and actually did all of the work. I think It’s wonderful that they listened to the youth and watched them lead. There’s so much that we have to teach each other and learn from each other, how to do different kinds of ministry.
Q: That reminds me of your work around healthy conversations and networking. The issue of how to get people talking to each other, to teach and to learn from one another.
A: It’s so necessary. We’re a small enough diocese numerically, by the number of congregations, that we can actually have profound engagements. Geography can be seen as a barrier, but social media gives us a big bridge. The more we can take advantage of that, the better. Though, I don’t want to be the only networker. The idea is that we’re all networkers, connecting each other, learning from and teaching each other.
Q: Thank you for talking with me today.
A: You’re welcome.