Episcopal Parish Network’s Year End Message

Dear Episcopal Parish Network:

I find myself once again deeply appreciating the hopeful expectation present at Advent. I pray that you, too, are finding time during this busy season to embrace the promise of hope, joy, and new life that will come to us again in the coming week when we celebrate our Savior’s birth in Bethlehem.

This is my last email of the year and I’d like to take a moment to look back at what we’ve accomplished together in 2022 and to share a bit about what we anticipate 2023 will bring for the Episcopal Parish Network.

It’s hard to believe now, but at this time last year, I was convinced we were heading back to a virtual conference and worried Omicron was certain to squelch our plans for regathering in-person.

Nevertheless, our worst-case scenarios didn’t materialize, and we gathered in-person for the first time since 2020.

  • We safely gathered over 600 network members and friends in Atlanta for an incredible conference.
  • Attendees reveled in being together againin-person with so many handshakes and hugs!
  • Lay and clergy leaders learned from our insightful keynote conversations, pre-conferences, and workshops — we even had our largest rector and dean gathering in our history.
  • Folks left our unique worship service at All Saints’ Atlanta filled with hope and excited about the future of the Church — indeed, Rev. Warnock brought the fire!

When we wrapped up the Atlanta conference, our amazing Planning Committee got right to work imagining and programming our 2023 annual conference, “Serve & Lead: Empowering Local Ministries.”  After months of thoughtful work, I can honestly say that they have truly outdone themselves.

Our Jacksonville conference is shaping up to be among our best. I hope you will join me in looking forward to all this and more:

  • Blue-flame thinkers in keynote conversations,
  • Reimagined role-based pre-conferences,
  • Imaginative education tracks on topics critical to strengthening local ministries,
  • A unique worship service planned at St. John’s Cathedral, and
  • Over 60 vendors and partners sharing tools and processes to make your local ministries stronger.

I can’t wait to see many of you in Jacksonville for another dose of hope — and a hug, a hearty handshake, or an elbow bump. I am confident that you will leave Jacksonville excited about the future of our Church, encouraged that our witness is not diminished, and strengthened for the journey ahead.

In addition to working on our annual conference, we continue our online educational programs with a new website where you can find lots of information about our activities.  While the digital workshops are finished for the year, we already are planning gatherings for early-January. Our friends from Bank of America will lead our first session. 

We will continue bringing thought leaders and world-class partners to your screen throughout 2023 and our newly redesigned website will host our library of 140-plus digital workshops. To date, over 40,000 attendees have been part of one of our workshops!

Looking ahead, we will continue our support for peer-to-peer learning and local ministries.

  • Our parish administrators meet monthly, our stewardship leaders meet quarterly, and we hope to expand our cohort offeringsto other groups within our parishes, including vestries and wardens as well as associate clergy.
  • We also are developing new lay leadership offerings for 2023.
  • We’ve begun programming our next Beyond the Pledge and Plate gathering for parishes and cathedrals interested in reimagining the use of property and buildings.

I am confident the use of our resources — people, buildings, land, and money — to support our ongoing witness is the critical conversation for Episcopalians over the next few years.  EPN’s role in this work is to facilitate part of this conversation by gathering leading individuals and institutions to share their wisdom. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Trinity Church Wall Street Mission Real Estate, Partners for Sacred Places, Episcopal Church Building Fund, and many others.

Despite an uncertain and challenging start, 2022 has seen us accomplish a great deal together as the Episcopal Parish Network.

I am deeply grateful to so many people who have made our work possible in 2022.

  • EPN’s amazing Board of Directors who have guided our work.
  • The creative and dedicated Planning Committee who developed what will be an incredible learning and networking experience in Jacksonville.
  • The marketing, social media, and administrative support who help us tell our stories and to stay connected.
  • Partners and friends who join us for digital workshops and ensure we are constantly working to strengthen local ministries across the Church.

Most important, I am deeply grateful for the many ways all our members make our work possible. Together, our conversations are expanding and deepening. Our network is growing. And we are reimagining and renewing our local ministries for a strong church in the years to come.

In keeping with the hopeful expectation and joy with which I started this letter, I’d like to end with a story about my recent visit to South Africa. What began as a long-delayed vacation with dear friends was transformed by an overwhelming sense of walking in the shadows of giants. Visiting the Apartheid Museum, the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was held, and the cathedral from which Archbishop Desmond Tutu issued his clarion call to justice are experiences that will live with me forever.

It was in the midst of these powerful experiences that I was reminded of how the Spirit just shows up, sometimes when you least expect it. While visiting with the Tutu Foundation, I ran into Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and was struck by his enthusiasm for being with us in Jacksonville.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day, I attended Evensong at St. George’s Cathedral, which honored Archbishop Tutu and celebrated the work of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and was led by Archbishop Thabo and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The joy was palpable and heartening. Being present in that holy space and celebration, I was reminded that God is at work in our Church and in our world. Hope is very much alive!

I wish you and yours a blessed Christmastide and happy New Year. I look forward to seeing you in Jacksonville. Until then, please take good care.

Joe Swimmer
Executive Director