Conversion of Life in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana

By Marie Gambetta

Interview with Jan Merkt, Senior Trainer

Jan Merkt, a senior dCDI trainer and a member of St. Matthews, Kenosha in the Diocese of Milwaukee came on board 5 years ago to help launch Northern Indiana’s CDI program.  Now that the program is considered “launched,” Jan will no longer be training with Northern Indiana and will focus primarily on dCDI in her own diocese.  As a bittersweet “exit interview” I had the privilege of talking with Jan to find out how she perceives EDNIN has changed over the past five years.


Much has changed in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana since the beginning of her tenure here, Jan contends.  In the beginning we were a group of people coming together to begin a new program (CDI) to build healthy congregations that Bishop Little and Canon Silla were excited about.  As each cadre of participants made its way through the program, it became so much more than that.  It became a conversion of life of individuals and parishes.  As groups took ownership of the program and their part in it, they transformed the program and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, it transformed them and their congregations.


Jan commented that she was thrilled by the changes that were taking hold in congregations in our diocese.  As each cadre went through the program, she began to witness a common culture that was emerging in parishes and, collectively, as a diocese.  She heard examples of CDI tools and techniques being used by vestries, in stewardship campaigns, by newcomers and old timers alike who were embracing the culture and communicating in a common language.  Something very fundamental was shifting in the diocese.


This was confirmed by the number of CDI graduates who returned to go through the program again, this time joined by more colleagues from their parish.  She has seen CDI attendance grow to its current all-time high census.  In fact, she reminded me, this year’s group has participants who belong to neighboring dioceses.  Something is happening here, she insists.


One of the biggest conversions of life Jan has witnessed within Northern Indiana is a result of the Faith Sharing element of dCDI weekends.  This is the brainchild of Bishop Little who believes that we as Christians should be ready, willing, and able to share with anyone who asks why we believe that Jesus is Lord.  This began two years ago at a dCDI weekend when two participants were asked to share their faith story with one another while the rest of the group “eavesdropped.”  After sharing their stories, which were deeply moving, participants paired with one another and shared their own faith stories. 


Jan is adamant that the power of Faith Sharing is at the heart of the conversion of life that she has witnessed in Northern Indiana and that she has experienced in her own life.  As a cradle Episcopalian, Jan is well aware that talking about our faith doesn’t necessarily come easily at first.  It can take us out of our comfort zone.  Seeing people take that risk demonstrates the love and trust that they have for one another.  In fact, by sharing their faith with one another, it increases that love and trust.  She testifies that it is not only powerful to hear, but powerful to participate in.  In fact, she mentioned to me that Faith Sharing is something that is now being incorporated into the dCDI weekends in the Diocese of Milwaukee.


Jan pointed out that another area in which she has observed conversion of life in the Diocese of Northern Indiana is the number of participants who have begun the discernment process to be raised up into ministry.  She said that in her experience, the number of people entering discernment after participating in CDI is extraordinarily high.


Although so many transformations have occurred during her tenure at EDNIN, the one thing that has not changed is the commitment to the program by Bishop Little and Canon Silla.  She said that in creating change and in changing culture, leaders are the primary shapers of that change.  She credits Bishop Little and Canon Silla for never deviating from their message.  They never waivered, she maintains, from the Core Values and the Acts for Congregational Transformation which are at the heart of dCDI.  She said that this was evident in the congregations who came through the program.


Jan insists that the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana is special.  Its culture is unique and the Holy Spirit is definitely alive and working here through dCDI.  She claims she came here to teach and she left with quite an education.

Conversion at St. John the Evangelist, Elkhart

By Linda Buskirk


St. John the Evangelist is a voice calling out, and the people of Elkhart are hearing it.  The Episcopal community of St. John has a rich history, dating back to 1873.  In more recent times, when other historic Elkhart churches headed out to the suburbs, St. John’s stayed downtown. 

That was a very deliberate decision, made by the people of the parish after obedient listening to each other and to the community beyond.


The decision to stay, made in 2012, was courageous because it meant reinvesting significant dollars in a leaking roof and repairing the damage it caused.  A capital campaign in Elkhart County, which led the state in unemployment after the 2008 economic downturn, might seem impossible to outsiders.  But the people of St. John journeyed on, unified in their belief that the parish is called to do ministry in the downtown location. 


This consensus grew from a parish wide listening project that continued beyond the decision to stay.  Leadership wanted input and ideas about what needed to be done, besides replace the roof, to keep parish ministries strong and relevant to those they served. 


The Vestry conducted a parish-wide survey that resulted in a list of projects that went beyond repair to make the church structure more welcoming and accessible yet secure.  Upgrading the kitchen to commercial grade and expanding space for the food pantry were deemed essential in order to grow St. John’s feeding ministry to its financially struggling neighbors. 


A task force of parishioners stepped forward to coordinate a capital campaign fundraising effort.  Transparent communication and a pay-as-we-go construction policy assured parishioners that they knew what was happening and that debt would be avoided. 


The campaign kicked off in May of 2012 with a target of raising $350,000 in pledges to be paid over three to five years.  By the end of the summer, $412,000 in gifts and pledges were secured!   Work soon began on the roof, followed by electrical and other system upgrades.  Soon this year, renovations to the kitchen will begin. 


Father Dan Repp, Rector of St. John’s, explains that in Benedictine fashion, being faithful to the stability of location and conducting obedient listening have allowed a conversion of life experience for the parish.  Here are some examples:


Parishioners have come together with their own elbow grease to paint rooms, rip up smelly carpet and refurnish space that had been rendered unusable due to water damage. 


More parishioners are volunteering for the food pantry.  They are finding new ways to reach outward into the community with ice cream socials and cookouts for the neighborhood.   Meanwhile, more recipients of these ministries are now attending services – one large family recently joined the church as members. 


New events and worship experiences are occurring – including a service featuring blue grass music.


A “Vision Ministry” was started during the listening process and continues today to help articulate the ways St. John’s ministry strengths, resources and location could impact lives in the name of Christ in the future.


In our Diocesan Congregational Development Institute, we learn that the Benedictine “Conversion of Life” concept is evidenced in a congregation when its members find God on their journey together to new places and when they are open to transformation.   The people of St. John the Evangelist Elkhart have found God on their journey in the same place they’ve always been!  They became open to transformation after they listened to God’s call and found ways to capitalize on their strengths, reinvigorate their ministries and transform lives. 


If you’d like to learn more about their journey, please give Father Dan Repp a call (574-295-1725).