The same day the Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church (TREC) issued its Letter to the Church, the Diocese of Virginia issued A Letter from the Bishop: Important Updates on Annual Council.
The letter is below for your reflection. What changes has your diocese made to its annual convention? Were the innovations successful?
I have added the bold emphases.
Dear Diocesan Family,
As our congregations launch another program year, I want to share with you my sense of renewal and excitement about what lies ahead for our Diocese. We are heading into a time when we will be inspired and transformed by mission and ministry opportunities, while being challenged by financial constraints and demographic trends.
Periodically I will share with you my thoughts on our journey together. Today I’d like to focus on our upcoming Annual Council – how it can build our sense of diocesan community and how we can effectively respond to those who are understandably concerned that it costs too much.
Though several hundred members of the Diocese will attend the 220th Annual Council at the Downtown Marriott in Richmond in January, that’s still only a small minority of our over 80,000 communicants. But the ripples from what happens at Council can affect all of us.
We’re planning to build on the creative programming from the last Council that garnered such a positive response. Indeed, we’d like to find ways to “share Council” with those back home in the pews – from stories and videos on our website to spin-off programming that we can take to the Regions later in the year.
Never been to a Council? Not sure what happens there? We’re hoping to attract many of you who are not delegates but who would like to be part of this annual gathering. You’ll be hearing about a special “day visitor rate” that I hope will make it possible for many to join us.
As we all know, affordability continues to be a key issue these days, and I’m delighted to report that we will respond in several ways to those who have expressed concerns about the cost of attending Council.
First, I’m announcing today a reduction in the registration fee for Council. The early bird rate will be adjusted from $235 to $215 (a decrease of 8.5 percent), and the standard registration rate from $285 to $265 (a decrease of 7 percent). Through careful planning and efficient execution, we believe we can pay for the cost of Council with this lower rate, even with the higher costs we will be facing in Reston in 2016 and 2017. The cumulative “bottom line” for Council over the past few years shows a deficit: Registration and exhibition fees have not paid all the bills. But as we go forward, we are determined to offer creative but lean programming that will keep us on budget, while relieving some of the financial burden on those attending from the parishes.
Second, though we are under contract for 2016 and 2017 at the Hyatt in Reston, with little “wiggle room” on overall room-total minimums, we have succeeded in reducing the room-total requirements by a bit. This will allow us to shape the program so that those who can stay in the hotel only one night, rather than two, will not miss the core of the event.
Third, I will consult with the Executive Board about creating a task force for the exploration of new ideas for Council in the years after 2017, when we are not under contract. This task force will deal with such questions as: Should we continue to meet in hotels? What time of year would work best? Should the program be shortened?
There are many challenges ahead, but I know that together we can transform them into opportunities for living into our ministries. My blessings to all of you as we work together and reach beyond.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston