April 11, 2015 / 2014 / February / A Response to TREC: Networks

A Response to TREC: Networks

submitted February 20, 2014 by Matthew Ellis   |   comments

Click here for a printable version of this document.

As with any type of categorization, no matter how cleanly defined, membership is messy and groups (in this case, networks) share space simultaneously in multiple groups at once. So it is with Episcopal Health Ministries (EHM), using the groups indicated in the TREC Study Paper on Episcopal Networks.

About Episcopal Health Ministries

Our vision
...that every Episcopal congregation becomes a vibrant, caring place of health and wholeness.

Our mission
...to promote health ministry in Episcopal congregations, assisting them to reclaim the Gospel imperative of health and wholeness.

  • EHM is a nonprofit organization devoted to serving The Episcopal Church (TEC) through the development of health ministry programs.

  • Health ministry as a concept is an intentional ministry focused on both healing and health, addressing mental, physical and spiritual needs.

  • In 2009, The Episcopal Church adopted Resolution A077 urging the congregations of The Episcopal Church to explore and implement health ministry as a vital component of outreach and pastoral care of the congregations by 2012.

  • EHM’s database of over 2000 active faith community nurses/health ministers and others interested in health ministry points to strong interest in these ministries for TEC. EHM is a primary support system for practitioners that function in the local environment, where they can affect significant change over time.

  • EHM’s grassroots network is a valuable communications vehicle, working directly with those who have the ability to support clergy health in the parish setting.

How does Episcopal Health Ministries operate?

  • 1.5 FTE staff located in Indianapolis, Indiana.

  • EHM has a heavy reliance on technology. We utilize simple but effective tools for distributing information and interacting with the Church. 

  • A vibrant website and social media presence allows us to use minimal resources to communicate with a large number of people. In addition, it allows us to reach other networks through the use of hashtagging and other tools.

  • EHM offers a wealth of vetted resources, program models, events, and information that dramatically shortens the amount of work for parish ministries and increases their chances of success.

  • A key factor in our success in growing local ministries is our ability to provide encouragement without requiring oversight of their process.

  • We operate our network on 2 levels: National and Local (utilizing a system of volunteer Diocesan Liaisons). These reinforce each other, with the national network maintaining and building the local diocesan network.

  • EHM’s blog provides the opportunity to provide context, solicit guest voices, and provide additional publicity for new resources and events.

  • EHM’s resources are clearly organized and searchable by multiple categories. We do not try to provide every result found by a Google search. Instead, we are a curator of resources, choosing from the best available and highlighting them for others.

  • EHM also hosts an annual conference, now in its seventh year, that shares best practices, innovative ministries, and opportunities for continuing mentorship and support.


  • Funding: As with many groups in the church, funding is an issue for our organization. EHM has not received funding from General Convention since 2009 and has lost and replaced primary funding sources twice since then.

  • Visibility: While we have an extensive network of both laypeople and clergy, it is still frustrating to learn of potential partners or individuals who are unaware of our existence.

  • Support from 815: Funding is only one way in which we the staff at The Episcopal Church Center could be helpful. We often find them too overburdened to help us connect with others or to share our message (or give us a message to share).

  • Relationships with other networks: They are poorly funded and understaffed, significantly decreasing their value as a partner and their impact on the church. Many also seem to have a lack of understanding about social media, further inhibiting their ability to be a good partner.

Suggestions for TREC

As CEO of Episcopal Health Ministries, there are several ways that I would like to see TEC support networks in the church.

  1. Funding: Support centralized resources, best practices and advocacy, but empower local ministries to develop their own programming.

  2. Networking: TEC can and should play a critical role in supporting and connecting networks.

  3. Visibility and Publicity: TEC should play a greater role in promoting the work and resources of various ministries connected to the church. For instance, there is currently no apparent way to submit resources or suggestions for the online library at www.episcopalchurch.org. One of the most popular topics listed is health care, yet there are no instructions for how we might include our resources and writing on the Affordable Care Act, some of which were co-authored with the Episcopal Public Policy Network.

  4. Simplified Communication and Website: I am loathe to suggest yet another website revision for TEC, but surely something can be done to point to organizations such as EHM? We often hear that we are not listed on the TEC site. We are, but we are buried in a place that does not seem logical to our members.

  5. Connect Episcopal Youth or other groups to manage social media campaigns, redesign websites for parishes and ministries, and offer ideas for new communication paradigms.

  6. Highlight ministries and provide context for how programming relates to TEC agenda (such as ACA): Why does this matter to us as Episcopalians? We do this often as EHM but the additional input and endorsement from TEC staff would be helpful. 

From Jim Naughton, Episcopal Cafe:

…[I] suggest that there is a kind of network that TREC paper misses and that the church could use more of: a network with a specific, recurring work product [emphasis mine].

I see the work of EHM as being exactly the kind of network referred to by this comment: that of a robust, active network with a specific, recurring product. We concur that this is a model for the church that should be supported and expanded.

Continuing with Jim Naughton, Episcopal Cafe:

One of the great challenges TREC faces lies in articulating a structure in which networks (and I'd say church-wide boards) can flourish without interference and intimidation from the senior staff, while making clear the sorts of work that are best done, or can only be done, on a church-wide basis. The promotion of networks, if successful, will sharpen the question of where authority resides in the Episcopal system.

We echo this sentiment and offer that one challenge we have in the nature of our organization is not having central control or authority over local ministries - not that we desire it. Our objective is to provide resources, ideas, best practices, and social support to those interested in developing a health ministry. We encourage a process in which each local community designs their program based on their own resources and needs.

However, this also means that because of our available staff resources, we choose to have very little control over any individual program or ministry (not that we have a claim to authority there anyway). Instead, the parish or diocese is responsible for oversight and any accountability. These programs are funded locally, not through EHM, and so it is appropriate that the accountability resides there as well. EHM is a resource, but not the director of these programs.

We see this as a tremendous strength, allowing us to develop and explore new resources, highlight them, place them in a spiritual context and then continue with additional ideas and programs. We harness the wisdom of our network when a need is expressed that we are not currently able to address. We believe this is a good model, while recognizing that this lack of authority and responsibility to our central office can be an obstacle and uncomfortable for those accustomed to seeing a tangible product for each dollar spent.

Indeed, one of our challenges arises from the fact that local ministries doing direct service have a greater claim to immediate funding sources. However, we feel it is imperative not to abandon local ministries, leaving each of them to reinvent the wheel individually. The investment in a central network need not be great, yet it can pay tremendous dividends.

From the comments of the Episcopal Cafe article:

What comes to mind when thinking about 2.0 networks are Episcopal organizations and agencies, such as the Episcopal Church Foundation, TENS, Episcopal Communicators, Forma… There are others. Most, maybe all, of these exist next to and independent of DFMS, working in partnership with and across all levels of our church: parish, diocesan, agency and organization, denominational.

Each has areas of expertise – which are valued by the faith communities they serve. In my experience, these groups informally cooperate and collaborate – often making referrals to each other. The challenge, as I see it, is that often the services these organizations and agencies offer aren’t widely known across the church. I applaud TREC for working towards a better understanding of existing networks and the opportunities they represent for the future of our church.
Posted by Nancy Davidge  | February 6, 2014 7:49 PM

Again, I think Nancy’s comment here is very relevant to our experience. We take great pride in partnering in exactly the way Nancy describes: informally (and formally) cooperating, collaborating, and referring. As mentioned previously, visibility in the church is certainly an issue for us. This, despite serving on many TEC committees, being active at General Convention, and representing The Episcopal Church on several interfaith efforts.

A Formal Recommendation for Reorganizing Church Networks

Basic Structure:

  1. Using the Five Marks of Mission as an organizing structure, let’s place each ministry (hereafter network) in one of the Five Marks. Certainly, some networks might have some crossover, but let’s choose only one for administrative purposes.

  2. I have no idea what the appropriate staffing requirements are, but assign an appropriate number of staff (including administrative support) to each Mark of Mission.

  3. Responsibilities of staff would primarily be to develop and support these networks at all stages of development and resource them accordingly.

Suggestions for Episcopal Church Staff

  1. Establish tiers of support based on network status. For instance:

  1. Tier 1: Early formation of network; guided by network development, visioning, and plans for capacity building, if appropriate. Connect with an existing network instead, if appropriate.

  2. Tier 2: Implement capacity building processes, communication strategies, and network recruitment.

  3. Tier 3: Program implementation, partnership opportunities, establish visibility at a higher level, intensify network recruitment and resources.

  4. Tier 4: Focus on increasing network effectiveness, partnerships with others, and leveraging the value of a larger network for significant projects.

  1. Assist networks with highlighting best practices, innovative programs, and visionary leadership/contributions at all levels; implement educational sessions via webinar, recorded and made available.

  2. Provide theological support for involvement.

  3. TEC network websites should be directly accessible by TEC staff and updated regularly.

  4. Limit direct oversight of program development except as an advocate or resource; direct all local funding/oversight to parishes and dioceses.

  5. These networks would also provide the basis for short-term task groups or special interests that could work in parallel with the larger networks. It would be fairly easy to even promote these across the Five Marks of Mission groups and be sure ideas are shared across networks, aided by TEC staff.


This document is one vision among many attempting to reimagine the inner workings of The Episcopal Church and its ministries. There are surely institutional and practical obstacles to implementing wholly any vision. However, we believe the principles and rationale outlined here provide a sincere attempt to highlight the needs of a network like Episcopal Health Ministries and how we believe The Episcopal Church could be more supportive of our ministry.

We look forward to continued discussion in the church at large and the recommendation of TREC in particular. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute.