“Father Doug wants you to give him a call.” I was sitting in my office in Colorado Springs when I received this message from Darla Johnson. I had already been called to serve as the new Rector of All Saints but I hadn’t yet made the move to Springfield. I will admit, the request made me a little nervous. I had heard horror stories from other priests about tense relationships with former rectors still active in their parishes. After all, giving up control is hard, and when you have been a senior pastor for as long as Fr. Doug, it can be hard to no longer be in charge, to watch someone do things differently. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was Fr. Doug going to tell me how to do things? Was he going to take issue with something I had said during the interview process? Was he going to warn me that he would always be looking over my shoulder?
Fortunately, my anxiety was unfounded. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about during that phone call, but I do remember thinking it was much more pleasant than I had anticipated. So when Fr. Doug requested another meeting with me shortly after my arrival in Springfield, I went into it with a much more positive attitude. I’ll never forget what he said to me that day. He told me that All Saints is his legacy, and in order for All Saints to be successful I would need to be successful. He then promised me that I would have his full support and assistance. If I did anything he disagreed with he said he would tell me, and only me. He has kept his word.
As we continued to talk we discovered that although we are very different in many ways, we discovered that we both share a love for the Church and Anglican liturgy. As I told him my plans for the upcoming Holy Week services his constant refrain was, “Yes, that is how I would have done it as well.”
When I was first called to All Saints in 2017, our bishop suggested that we consider joining another diocese. Since I was at that time a priest in the Diocese of CANA West, I proposed to the Vestry that we move the parish there. However, after a congregational meeting with Bishop Felix Orji, the Vestry concluded that it was not the right move for us to make at that time. However, we were also clear that the possibility of moving into a new diocese might still be a possibility in the future. Recently we have begun exploring the possibility of joining the Anglican Diocese of the South. But before I say more about that, perhaps some background and history would be helpful.
What is a diocese?
If you are new to Anglicanism, you might be wondering, “What is a diocese?” The simple definition is that a diocese is a geographical region or district of churches under the pastoral care of a bishop. So just as a parish is made up of many individuals under the pastoral care of a priest, a diocese is made up of many parishes under the pastoral care of a bishop.
What are the benefits of a diocese?
The geographical structure of a diocese helps churches to share resources. For example, when I was in the diocese of Colorado, there were many parishes that were simply too small to have a significant youth program. So the diocese would put on these wonderful youth retreats every year where all the teens could come together to have fun and learn about Jesus.
A diocese also provides opportunities for collegiality amongst clergy. Especially in smaller parishes, a priest can easily feel isolated, so getting to know other priests in a diocese often feels like a lifeline to the larger church. It also provides a network of pastoral care for clergy with the bishop serving as their primary pastor.
The diocesan structure gives us a way to experience and learn from the broadness of the Anglican Church. Again, when I was in Colorado we had churches in our diocese that were traditional and others that were more contemporary. We had some churches that were evangelical and others who were more catholic. This diversity helped open my eyes to the beauty and adaptability of Anglicanism and helped to strengthen my understanding of my own ministry.
Finally, a diocese helps to connect us to the wider communion. As Anglicans, we are not simply part of an individual parish or a national denomination. We are members of a worldwide communion of Anglican Christians. It is through our diocese and through our bishop that we remain connected to these other Anglican around the globe. When I meet an Anglican from another country, I may not know him or her personally, but we quickly discover that our bishops know each other, and thus an immediate bond of fellowship is created between us.
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.