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Six Months of Shared Ministry in Panama City

It has been six months that since arriving in Panama City Beach and it has been wonderful getting to know the parish communities of Grace and St. Thomas. After taking some time getting to know the parishes, St. Thomas and Grace vestries and Shared Ministry Team had a retreat at the end of April. This retreat helped build relationships, and offer direction in what our next steps are in shared ministry. The shared ministry between Grace and St. Thomas is an effort to discern and explore the most vital and viable Episcopal presence in the Panama City Beach area. In the changing culture of our time, we have an opportunity to be creative with how we share the good news of Jesus, and how we do that with our own unique Episcopal flavor, in support of one another. The period of discernment is three years, and while the first six months has given time for me to get to know the parishes, our next steps require us to be intentional in how we move forward in discernment and exploration.

First and foremost, in various conversations this past month, it came to my attention that we needed to work to improve our communication between our vestries, Shared Ministry Team, and most importantly our parishioners. It is important that in our time of discernment and exploration there is transparency in the work we do, so that parishioners are able to express concerns, frustrations, and joys with our church leadership (vestries, Shared Ministry Team, and clergy). Every month in our newsletters I will offer updates on the Shared Ministry Team's work and progress, and will also offer updates on Sundays during announcements. Along the way I am sure you will hear from Shared Ministry Team members and vestry members as well.


Shared Ministry Team members:

  • St. Thomas--Labron Chance, Marna Zok, Nancy Johnson, Valerie Lynch-Beaudin,

  • Grace--Basma Swearingen, Fred Pope, Sam Richardson, Carl Walters, Clergy--The Rev. Mary Alice Mathison, The Rev. Deacon Ed Richards, The Rev. Kammy Young (Canon Missioner for Development from our diocese, Kammy is serving in a consultant role to help coach clergy and lay leadership in our discernment. She is a supporter and guide to help us explore the various methods that best serve us in our discernment of shared ministry).

We have finalized teams to explore and discern three options for our parishes:

  1. A team to examine the data to remain separate parishes (Ed, Basma, Bonnie Hale, Ann Lahan) Mission: To explore and discern the options of remaining separate parishes without any shared leadership, resources, or overlap. How do the parishes prepare for sustainability and vitality for the future?

  2. A team to examine data for a shared ministry/east and west campus (Sam, Marna, Nancy, Yvonne Petrasovits) Mission: To explore and discern the options of doing shared ministry in its fullest capacity. What events do the churches share, how is leadership organized, how are resources shared or not shared, is it more like an East and West campus or more shared by virtue of clergy leadership, etc?

  3. A team to examine at the data for merging the churches (Carl, Labron, Valerie, Daphne Dove Pierce) Mission: To explore and discern the options of merging the two churches of Grace and St. Thomas. What would be the best location, what are our resources, what process do we take towards achieving this?

The purpose of these teams is to explore the facts of what the data reveals about how each option would look on paper. In exploring these various options we are hoping we gain insights on the direction we need to take in our shared ministry. We are giving ourselves six months to study this data. That is not to say that in January we will have a specific recommendation at the time, but we will have further foundation. After numerous conversations, this is where the most energy seems to be, and a great jumping off point.

In allocating six months to explore these options, our first check-in will be at our July meeting, and a goal to complete this work by December (We will still be doing Shared Ministry Team work after that, but this is our short range goal). Teams will decide on roles and what questions and concerns they need to research, and will update the Shared Ministry Team at our meetings (and schedule individual meeting times for their specific teams). The teams are headed by Shared Ministry Team members, but also have other lay leaders participating as well.

*Fred Pope is going to head up a Facilities Commission, and help provide needed info on maintenance/grounds/other facilities to the teams so that folks are not having to double up on work.

We are finalizing shared commissions that involve Digital Communications, Worship, Christian Formation, and Mission & Outreach. The purpose of these groups is to explore/develop/cultivate shared opportunities for Grace and St. Thomas, that regardless of our long range outcome we have deepened our communal ties with one another and the broader PCB area:

  • Digital Ministry and Communications Team

  • Mission: To explore the best forms of communications for shared ministry, through use of email, social media, websites, online presence, bulletins, and newsletters.

  • Worship Commission

  • Mission: In aide to the priest-in-charge, to help develop and cultivate shared worship experiences for Grace and St. Thomas, and to explore worship opportunities outside the traditional Sunday and Wednesday opportunities that might invite people from outside our parish communities to participate.

  • Christian Formation Commission

  • Mission: In aide to the priest-in-charge, to help develop and cultivate Christian Formation opportunities for both parishes and the larger community in which to be involved. This includes Bible studies, lectures, inquirers classes, retreats, educational forums, etc.

  • Mission and Outreach Commission

  • Mission: To continue to support the Supper at Grace ministry and other ministries as needed, AND to also explore/develop/cultivate new opportunities for missional projects and assistance. This includes new comers, home bound/pastoral care, or other outreach beyond our community as well.


Fall 2018--We will evaluate the status of our Shared Ministry Team research, and begin to explore next steps and projects for when the research is complete. January of 2019--The Shared Ministry Team members will be submit the research to the vestries, and we will continue to explore other shared projects together. June of 2019--We expect to have a calendar that offers guideposts and next steps up through June of 2020. June 2020--Our expectation and hope is that at this time our Shared Ministry Team will be able to offer a recommendation to vestries of Grace and St. Thomas on the next steps to take beginning in January of 2021. FINAL THOUGHTS

A concern that is been expressed by several people at both parishes, as well, is what do we do in the meantime, what do we do while in limbo of discernment and exploration, how does that affect our decisions as vestries, especially for ideas and opportunities that seek to enhance our individual spaces or mission? This is something for us in our vestries to discuss and think about, and insights from the wider parish are always welcomed. These are tough questions, but I am grateful we are asking them because it means that we are energized to do good work in the now, not some far off time in the future. One of the greatest challenges of our shared ministry together, is there is no one perfect blueprint for how to do this, no one perfect outcome or goal at this time. Discernment and exploration often come with uncertainty of being able to name what comes in the long run. The best analogy I can offer is that of the discernment to become a priest.

In the beginning of discernment I did not know what lay ahead, I only knew that God was calling me to something more, a deeper exploration of who I was and how I was to serve in God's ministry. There was a process of meeting with different groups, meeting with priests, meeting with the bishop, meeting with the Commission on Ministry, and then going through seminary with more check lists and to-dos, and prayer. In that process I learned that it was ok to not have all the answers at the beginning, had I all the answers, I would have missed out on some beautiful surprises, I would have missed out on God's remarkable creativity. All that to say, it is okay if we do not have all the answers of what shared ministry will look like two and a half years from now, but we are doing good work to find out what it could be, we are leaving ourselves open to God working through us in some remarkable ways. I have great faith that in our discernment and exploration we will find God working in new ways in our individual lives, our communal lives, and in the life of Panama City Beach.

God's Peace and Love,

Mary Alice



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