Deployment Officers from 31 dioceses gathered in Niagara Falls, New York, October 2-5 for their biannual conference. Members say it is the oldest and largest conference of its kind, involving deployment officers from all of Provinces I and II, as well as portions of Provinces III, IV and V. In all. 38 dioceses comprise the group.
Helping congregations come to grips with economic realities, assess who they are who they hope to become, along with and finding clergy for small congregations that lack the resources to call full time clergy are the stuff of deployment work in the Church today.
"I love making connections between clergy and congregations," says the Rev. Nan Peete, of the Diocese of Washington. She adds, "We all care deeply for clergy. We all care deeply for congregations."
A vital portion of each conference is spent sharing information about congregations and clergy.
"People who aren't involved in deployment like to see it like a cookbook. You do this, this and this, and you get what you want," comments the Rev. Sarah Shoftstall, conference convener and deployment officer for Western Massachusetts "The reality is deployment shifts almost daily."
There's always a new twist depending on who's looking and what's open. Four years ago, deployment officers were challenged by a clergy shortage<one priest for every five openings. Now, Shoftstall says, things are about even.. The shift occurred in just six months time.
"Just when you think you've got the system working," she grins, "all the assumptions change."
Because there are few places one can turn to learn about doing deployment, continuing education is also a key element. On Monday, Thad Bennett of Vermont facilitated an exploration of how deployment is being done in our present Church environment. Discussion focused on building bridges and how deployment officers, as a group, can be a positive influence in building the Body of Christ.
A second educational segment, Marketing Tools for Congregations in Search, began with a video produced by a parish in which church members discussed aspects of their congregation's life that foster strong connections to the parish. The video was used to "sell" the parish to prospective clergy.
"I come away from every conference with something new I can share with the congregations and clergy in my diocese," says the Venerable Bruce Gillies, deployment officer for the Diocese of Western New York. "These meetings are the single greatest help to me in my deployment work.
Rick Farrell, assistant deployment officer for Central Pennsylvania, says his greatest joy is the wonderful work his diocese has accomplished by crossing the line. Central PA and its Lutheran Synod counterparts have established ecumenical Fresh Start and Transition Companions programs. Additionally, one Episcopal priest in Central PA serves a Lutheran congregation, and one Lutheran priest provides weekly services for an Episcopal parish.
The bonds of friendship and trust run deep between these colleagues whose work demands a high level of confidentiality. The Rev. Canon John Keydel of Michigan had to miss one meeting and vows he'll never miss another. The Rev.. Canon Linton Studdiford of Maine says collegiality and the renewing of relationships are what keep him coming back.
Ms. Diane Porter of Long Island adds that knowing a deployment officer from another diocese helped facilitate an exchange that has proven helpful for everyone. "It made some of the bureaucracy involved go away," she remarks.
"We can't do our work without each other," agrees Ms. Betsy Fornal, Rhode Island's deployment officer. "It's important to know the person you're talking to on the other end."
The conference will meet again next March at the Duncan Conference Center in Delray Beach, Florida.