Together Shaping the Future: a report on the NECA board retreat in May 2014 by The Rev. William Lawbaugh

By Will Lawbaugh, Editor

Outgoing President Amy Welin (CT) called an urgent NECA Board meeting for late May at the Episcopal Girls Friendly Society lodge in Cape May, NJ. At the free-ranging opening meeting to discuss NECA’s purpose, identity and direction, board members unanimously recognized the need for such an umbrella organization, rejected any notion of folding NECA, but saw the need to reinvent the venerable network for Episcopal Clergy.

Incoming President Jeff Ross (DE) made it clear that the NECA Board is to be a working group and invited anyone not willing to work to step aside for new board members to lift the sagging organization.

The NECA re-visioning effort in Cape May was in lieu of a regular triennial convention (plagued in the past by low attendance) although election of new board members will take place later this summer, once a slate of nominees can be assembled.

Specifically, the current board is searching for someone or two who can handle social media and technology to replace the newly ordained webmaster who left his post at 815 in order to take a military chaplaincy.

The NECA reinventing meetings were structured by the Rev. Peter Stimpson of nearby Princeton. This business and organization consultant applauded the stated purposes of NECA (see below) and NECA’s identity statement as posted on our website, FASST, acronym for Fellowship, Advocacy, Support, Spirituality and Technology.

However, Peter Stimpson warned that purpose and vision statements, as well as identity markers, are useless unless they are lived out or communicated through specific actions.

To that end, discussion turned swiftly to current issues of concern, four of them, specifically: 1) debt from seminary, 2) clergy in difficult calls, 3) retired clergy neglect and abuse, and 4) Title IV revision. It was decided that the current board does not have the expertise to recommend changes to Title IV, but to follow the pro-clergy efforts of dioceses such as Newark on this issue. Seminary debt is a huge problem for younger clergy, but our Board liaison on this issue has had to suspend his lobbying efforts. Retired clergy are too often not invited to participate in diocesan affairs, and deployment officers are getting retired clergy to staff problem parishes with subminimum pay. Also, at meetings in New York in January, the NECA Board discovered less pay and fewer benefits across the board for fulltime and part time clergy over the past decade, ostensibly because of economic pressures and not keeping up with inflation.

So, that leaves “clergy in difficult calls.” Read Scott Petersen’s article following this summary. That is not to say that NECA is a one issue organization because all board members have taken on multiple tasks. President Jeff Ross, for example, is contacting all present, past and prospective Clergy Associations to determine their issues and concerns and informing them of NECA’s new efforts and initiatives on behalf of all clergy. He is also working with the Webmasters for the Consortium of Endowed Parishes to enhance the capabilities of NECA’s website and seeking to launch a series of discussion Threads on our Facebook Page. Past President Amy Welin is contacting deployment officers to see how they deal with clergy in difficult calls. She is also contacting dioceses in Indiana and all of Province I that have no Clergy Associations. Vice President Scott Petersen has already invited a number of clergy in difficult calls to write about their experiences and place those stories on the website and add to the ones on our Facebook Page. Another board member has agreed to help with those interviews and will temporarily oversee the website as curator. Yet another board member has agreed to help research the history of NNECA/NECA and produce a Top Ten Best Practices for a clergyperson in conflict with or summoned to the bishop’s office. (Always take someone with you.) An ex officio member offered to write a complementary article: What is the experience of being an advocate? And that person expressed a willingness to work with alcoholic clergy, especially those in difficult calls. Another board member volunteers to work on the interview questions (already hammered out in a June 19 conference call) and organize a possible follow-up conference on Best Practices.

Finally, the editor of this newsletter also volunteers to write the history of NNECA/NECA because it is difficult to know where you are going unless you know where you have been. And those who forget the past are condemned to re-live it all over again. Efforts to relieve the editor of Facebook responsibilities have failed, so we will be looking for someone to take over that task so the editor can handle ongoing communications, including Leaven FASST bulletins on an as-needed basis.

Consultant Peter Stimpson wrapped up the Re-visioning effort Thursday morning by asking each board member about their connections to other organizations and 14 other Episcopal groups “because we have already achieved some trust.” –Will Lawbaugh (CPA), Editor

A letter from the President: The Rev. Jeffrey Ross

Dear friends,

As the incoming President of NECA, I wanted to share an update on the status of our organization. As you may know, over the last year the board has been exploring the future of NECA. We are conscious of the great achievements of our organization in the past and have been seeking ways to stay relevant in the future. We acknowledge that the 21st Century holds both new opportunities and challenges for ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. Specifically, we have noted a significant rise in new possibilities of resources online as well as the financial challenges that confront many of our congregations.

In light of the realities of this contemporary context, in the last year we took the following steps:

1) Updated our website-establishing a new portal for resources to clergy which we will be expanding in 2014.

2) Improving communications: migrating away for using US Mail and increased utilization of electronic communications, (i.e. establishing a presence on Facebook)

3) Changed our name from NNECA (National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations) to NECA (Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations) in recognition that some clergy serve in dioceses without active associations while they are still interested in connecting with others.

4) Lowered our annual dues from $50 to $20 a year in recognition that more of our resources will be available online and decrease national conferences.

5) Continued our annual consultation with Church Pension Fund.

In May of 2014, we gathered as a board in Cape May, New Jersey to assess our progress and plan for phase 2. I am excited to share with you the following:

1) Expansion of the website to provide supportive conversations for clergy-our first topic thread will be for clergy serving in challenging cures. We hope to launch content beginning in September, 2014. In addition, our website will begin to provide a modicum of identity protection, insuring that only clergy can access and participate in “threaded” conversations and webinars. Website will change its name to

2) Recruiting new members to the board with relevant expertise to build and expand our future.

3) Convening a consultation between the officers of NECA and the diocesan clergy association Presidents on what we have done and pondering of next steps. (I look forward to contacting you soon!)

4) Developing a plan for expanding awareness and membership, utilizing upcoming events such as General Convention.

5) Exploration of new partnerships with other organizations such as the Episcopal Women’s Caucus.

I hope you are as excited about these plans as I am! Please know that I am available to speak with you anytime if you have additional ideas, would like to discuss this strategic plan or if you have any further questions. Please do keep us in your prayers as we continue to serve you.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Reverend Jeffrey Austin Ross
NECA President, 2014-2015