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North Dakota bishop downsized: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 21, 2011 p 8. January 23, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, North Dakota.

he Rt. Rev. Michael Smith of North Dakota

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Financial pressures have prompted the Bishop of North Dakota to ask his diocesan council for permission to down grade his post to a part-time position.

On Jan 17, the Rt. Rev. Michael Smith requested permission to combine the post of bishop with that of Dean of Gethsemane Cathedral in Fargo—giving one third of his time to the diocese and two thirds to the cathedral congregation.

The Bishop/Dean position was an example of the “Fresh Expressions” movement within the church, Bishop Smith said.  “It is a movement that seeks to meet the increasing secularism in our culture and institutional decline in the mainline denominations with new and creative ways of engaging in the ancient ministry of the Church.”

“Almost all agree that the old ways of doing things are not working anymore,” Bishop Smith said, and “a renewed manner of functioning and organizing for mission is necessary if our expression of Christianity is to live much beyond the next generation.”

One of the smallest dioceses of the Episcopal Church, North Dakota’s 22 congregations saw an average Sunday attendance of 790 in 2009.  The total membership of the diocese fell by 16 per cent over the past ten years, from 3091 members in 1999 to 2596 members in 2009.  However, the average number of people in the pews fell by only 50 people over the past ten years.

A bishop possessing a pastoral cure was a common practice in the Episcopal Church up to the end of the Nineteenth century.  The practice died out by the beginning of the Twentieth century, but was revived last year.  In August, the rector of Christ Church in Hutchison, Kansas was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas—average Sunday attendance of 751.  The new bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Milliken, moved the diocesan offices to his parish and has divided his time, and costs, between the two.

The shared ministry model has “been given the blessing” of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Smith noted, adding “such a move would actually be a return to the original practice of The Episcopal Church where all bishops served as rectors of congregations.”

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