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JourneyNote: The 2024 Episcopal Parish Network Conference

Posted March 14, 2024 in Religious Institutions
Director Brad Neary stands in front of all seven Heritage Edition volumes at the 2024 EPN Conference.

When asked to write about my experiences with the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, I am always hopeful that my muses will kick in and offer me a creative theme to use in structuring my thoughts.  Sometimes the inspiration will appear in the form of a catchy title.  Sometimes it lands in the form of an appropriate song, which often becomes a maddening earworm as I craft the narrative! The inspiration for this piece – my reflection on the recent Episcopal Parish Network (EPN) Conference – came to me in musical form: Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 number-one hit single, “Family Affair” (now I can’t stop humming it to myself…and now you’re humming it, too, aren’t you?!).

This year’s Conference – the EPN’s 39th annual gathering – was held March 6-9, 2024,  in Houston, Texas.  It marked the 10th consecutive year The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program has served as one of the event’s major sponsors.  It also marked the seventh year I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving as the Heritage Program’s lead ambassador at the conference.  In March 2018, the Heritage Program team was modestly restructured, and I was assigned the role of working with the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes all of the Episcopal parishes across the United States.  Having been received into the Episcopal Church in Spring 2000, I was both delighted and honored to assume this responsibility.  These people are truly my spiritual siblings. It’s a family affair…

Attendees of the 2024 EPN Conference experience The Saint John's Bible Heritage Edition.
Attendees of the 2024 EPN Conference experience The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition.

This event, led by Executive Director Joe Swimmer and a creative planning team, provides an opportunity for colleagues from around the world to gather for inspiration, learning, and networking at the largest and most anticipated annual gathering in the Episcopal Church. Over 700 clergy, lay leaders, educators, sponsors, and exhibitors join to develop, support, and inspire each other.  Participants learn from the church’s emerging, tenured, and legacy leaders in keynote conversations and workshops designed to equip them for thriving ministries in their communities.

Not only is the Heritage Program a benefactor-level sponsor, we also are one of a large number of exhibitors…and the only one requiring 24 feet of display space.  For the past five conferences, I have shared the full seven-volume Heritage Edition set with attendees. I am also given the opportunity to kick off the Rectors and Deans pre-conference session the day prior to the official start of the event and, even more importantly, host this group’s dinner that evening. It’s always delightful to reconnect with these church leaders over a delicious meal and they clearly seem to appreciate my annual gift of The Saint John’s Bible notecards. This year I considered switching it up and gifting each of them a loaf of our baked-on-campus Johnnie Bread – The Loaf that Became a Legend – but the loaves simply don’t ship all that well.

Currently, we have 18 Anglican and Episcopal “stewards” (who are each providing a permanent home to one of the fine art sets). These institutions range in size and prominence from Washington National Cathedral (Washington, D.C.) and Canterbury Cathedral (Canterbury, UK) to Saint Luke’s Parish (Darien, Connecticut) and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (Colorado Springs, Colorado).  I can easily trace a direct or indirect connection between 12 of these institutions and past EPN Conferences.  As of today, there are nine Anglican and Episcopal “partners,” who are in the midst of offering a “Season” of TheSaint John’s Bible programming. Eight of these relationships were initiated at a past Conference.  It’s a family affair…

As successful as past gatherings have been in generating interest in either acquiring a Heritage Edition or entering into programming with us, this year’s conference set a record for the number and strength of those prospective stewards and partners.  While I would like to take some credit for this success, I must attribute most of it to the impact that having all seven volumes on display has on attendees and to the enthusiasm generated by those parishes who are already in relationship with us.  Over the four-day conference, I literally lost track of the number of times I was told, “Rev. Matt (or Ryan…or Kristina…or Doyt…or Andy…or Rebecca…or Leslie…or John…or Shane…) said I need to talk to you about how The Saint John’s Bible can ignite the spiritual imagination of our parishioners.”  I am deeply grateful to these parish leaders for their partnership, stewardship, passion, and willingness to urge their clergy peers to follow in their footsteps.

The next week will be filled with follow-ups to the Deans, the Rectors, those three dozen parishes who have indicated a desire to discuss a future partnership…and, sadly, to all those attendees who did not win my coveted raffle prize (a collection of the books published on The Saint John’s Bible and a packet of those popular notecards – hearty congratulations to the winner, The Rev. Paul Keene, Assistant Rector at Christ Church in Short Hills, New Jersey!).  Before I know it, it will be time to begin preparing for the 2025 Conference scheduled for February 25-28 in Kansas City, Missouri.  That fine city’s Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral has been a permanent steward to a Heritage Edition for a decade; Dean Andy Keyse has already informed me that their volumes will be used in worship during next year’s gathering.  I look forward to the new relationships I will be establishing over the next 12 months and then to regrouping under the Episcopal Parish Network Conference banner with my friends, colleagues and spiritual sisters & brothers.  It’s a family affair…

It’s God’s family affair.

P.S.  To tie a bow around the “family affair” theme…on the first day of the conference, I met The Very Rev. Michael W. Delashmutt, PhD, who serves as Senior Vice President and Dean of the Chapel of the Good Shepard at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City.  After a short conversation, we discovered we are second cousins!  The Holy Spirit clearly works in mysterious and wonderous ways!

Brad Neary

Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program

Brad Neary headshot
Brad Neary, Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program