In order to provide candidates insights and information about the Diocese, an anonymous survey of all clergy and lay leaders (including a separate survey for young adult leaders) was conducted. Seventy-four clergy, 85 lay leaders, and 5 young adult leaders responded, sharing their opinion on a range of issues.
Clergy and lay leaders in the Gulf Atlantic Diocese are especially proud of our commitment to orthodoxy and orthopraxy, our strong and innovative clergy, and a deanery structure that facilitates connection to each other. Our diocese is financially stable and strives to engage, educate, and equip with an emphasis on mission. Additionally, clergy report that two main strengths in our diocese are that clergy have been led by an available, pastoral bishop who communicates and supports them, as well as by capable and passionate Canons who help prioritize raising up leaders from the next generation and beyond, growing healthy churches, and planting new congregations.
What We Hope Doesn’t Change
The Gulf Atlantic Diocese has been blessed with incredible pastoral care from our bishop. We are looking forward to that individual, intentional pastoral care continuing for our ordained men and women. We have been a diocese that seeks to remain biblical in the face of cultural adversity and we look forward to leadership continuing to help guide us as we do so.
The greatest opportunity the Gulf Atlantic Diocese welcomes is planting more churches. We are spread across four states and there are large sections of those states that do not currently have Anglican churches in them. This diocese believes in church planting and raising up diverse leaders for an authentic Gospel witness. We are striving to build leadership pipelines that reflect our growth and commitment to mission and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, clergy and lay leadership perceived a challenge of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese is our geographic distance. Clergy report feeling the diocese is large enough and stable enough to either hire more staff or to plant another diocese to support churches more effectively. There is a parallel desire to plant more churches, specifically in the Orlando/Tampa area and south Florida, as well as a desire to diversify our leadership throughout the diocese.
More About Us
Each of the groups surveyed were asked to describe their position, their relationship to their parish, their personal spiritual health, and that of their parish.
Clergy vary in the amount of time they have been serving, with an even distribution of new and well-experienced clergy. Almost half of clergy who responded to the survey serve as rector, with the remainder serving as assistant/associate rector or deacon. Their overall health is good with 60% feeling encouraged or energized despite the troubles of the past year and only 1% reporting burnout. Many clergy report finding refreshment through healthy outlets like daily devotional time, sabbath days, vacations, and professional ministry development. The majority also have healthy supportive relationships, relying almost equally on family, friends, intercessors, and accountability groups. All clergy reported healthy relationships with their parish, and the vast majority also state they are optimistic or have “much hope” about the future of their parish. When asked specifically about their current roles, clergy were generally happy. Only 16% reported a need for a change in the next 3 years, and 14% were hoping for retirement in the next 3 years.
Lay leaders in the diocese responded similarly. They characterize their relationships with clergy as healthy, as well as the relationship between clergy and their home parish. Lay leaders were also very optimistic about the future and noted growth in their parishes prior to the pandemic. Clergy agreed but noted a more recent plateau in church attendance in line with what most churches are currently experiencing in North America.
Worship styles vary within the diocese. Forty-three percent of our churches classify their worship as three-stream worship, focusing on the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the Spirit. Almost 30% self-identify their worship style as Evangelical, whereas 24% of our congregations worship in a more traditional, Anglo-Catholic style.
Support for missions is strong throughout the diocese. The majority of parishes are engaged in prayer and financial support of local and foreign missions. Almost half of all parishes report partnering with an overseas parish or diocese. In addition, more than half are partnered with local agencies and participate in hands-on initiatives.
How We Feel About Issues in the Church and Society Today
Clergy and lay leaders were asked about sensitive topics in society that they address or would like to see addressed in the church.
In addition to the sensitive topics listed above, clergy felt the following topics might also be helpful to address:
- ministry to the elderly
- sexual abuse and human trafficking
- bi-vocational ministry
- planting multiethnic churches
- stewardship of creation
- sensitivity to the Spirit
Although there was significant overlap among survey responses from clergy, lay leaders, and young adults, a few areas of special focus were noted by our young adult responders.
Issues of social pressures and sexual identity were particularly important to young adults. In addition, youth and especially college ministries were identified as opportunities for improvement in our diocese. Similarly, a continued focus on inclusivity of all ages and encouragement and strengthening of youth ministries were both important qualities of a bishop for this group.
Ordination of Women
Since our founding, the Gulf Atlantic Diocese has welcomed women as priests and deacons and placed women as rectors over congregations. The majority of clergy and lay leaders surveyed were in support of women’s ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. Though this can be a divisive issue, our diocese has successfully navigated this tension and will continue to do so. Our current bishop’s position on this issue is:
“Women are welcome to seek ordination to the Diaconate and the Priesthood in the Gulf Atlantic Diocese. Ordained women serve in many, various capacities around the diocese, including on the Ordination Preparation Team, as well as in various diocesan leadership roles. We are grateful for their ministries, their partnership in the gospel mission, and their leadership. However, you do not need to agree with the ordination of women to be a candidate for ordination in this diocese. The ACNA has allowed for various views of this issue.”
Qualities of a Bishop
Overall, clergy and lay leaders hope the next bishop offers three things: guidance, support, and connection. Guidance comes from a bishop who is steeped in Scripture, sensitive to the Spirit, collaborative but decisive, and possessing a clear vision with a strategy to achieve it. We hope for a bishop who will listen to our specific contextual issues and help us navigate what we are facing. Support indicates a personal connection to the clergy and congregations of this diocese, a man who cares deeply about us, who promotes a diverse leadership pipeline, who prioritizes the next generation, and who models what he hopes to instill in all of us. Finally, we hope for a bishop who continues to intentionally connect the clergy and congregations of this diocese to each other and to the greater Anglican communion with the sole purpose of sharing an authentic witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Eternal God, shepherd and guide, in your mercy give your Church in this diocese a shepherd after your own heart who will walk in your ways and with loving care watch over your people. Give us a leader of vision and a teacher of your truth. So may your Church be built up and your name gloried; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —A Prayer Book for Australia