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Order of the Ascension: The development of parish churches

The Order of the Ascension has recently revised its formation process. Some of you may find it of use in your own thinking about the formation of parish priests and those in other roles that support the work of parish revitalization. A few may be called to enter the discernment process for membership.

I asked three members of the Order of the Ascension to write a few paragraphs about the impact that being a member had on their lives—and one was a priest, and one was a bishop, and one was a financial compliance officer/consultant. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Susan Latimer, OA: feeds my soul—feeds my mind

I made my profession to the Order of the Ascension in May of 2011, but my journey to the Order began about ten years ago when I began CDI (Church Development Institute ) training.  The congregational development training that I received through CDI, and the associated lab training through LTI has continued to inspire my life and ministry.  With this background, I am able to use tools from organization development and psychology that are geared towards our Anglican polity and spirituality.  

Joining the Order of the Ascension became a logical and organic extension of my development as a parish priest and a congregational development practitioner.  Being a member of this dispersed order, wherein each member practices their ministry separately but remains connected to the whole, grounds me in Anglican spiritual practices that enhance the health of individuals and parishes.  The Order feeds my soul with our annual retreats, mutual spiritual direction, and prayer and care for one another.  The Order feeds my mind with ongoing continuing education as a part of our common life:  from reading a book together (The Nearness of God, Mother Julia Gatta ),  to utilizing tools such as Myers-Briggs and FIRO-B to learn more about my personal leadership style and the way I function in groups, as well as to analyze how our members work together as a group.  The Order feeds my heart with a vision for ministry that I embrace and hope to embody.

Susan is the rector of St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, Temple Terrace Florida

Scott Benhase, OA: They have loved me and stayed connected to me 

The Order of the Ascension has shaped my priesthood for the 25 years I have been a member. Since becoming a bishop of the Church nearly four years ago, I continue to benefit from both the community and the disciplines by which we live. The Order has helped me develop greater capacity and competency as I participate in community, to understand myself better in my role in a particular group, and to appreciate the multi-layered (and often quite complex) dynamics in play whenever any group is formed and sets out to accomplish its tasks. The Order has helped me be proactive rather than reactive around my leadership in the mission of the Church.

This capacity and competency has come through the training I’ve received with the Order as part of our shared values and our expectations of one another. There have been countless times over the years when I have walked into a hostile vestry meeting or a tense meeting with a group of clergy that I have realized the benefits of my being part of the Order. While on those occasions I have been disappointed, sometimes even disgusted, with what some people see as acceptable behavior in the Church, I have rarely felt ill-equipped to deal with the situation or at a loss for understanding why certain dynamics played out the way they did.

Most of all, the Order has grounded me in the catholic faith through Benedictine practice. I’ve experienced God’s grace embodied in my sisters and brothers in the Order. They have loved me and stayed connected to me often in spite of myself and far beyond what I have deserved. We all need regular reminders that God’s one-way love is real in this world. Those reminders occasionally show up in the books we read, or in the movies we see, or in a particular experience we have had, but those reminders have always showed up for me in my sisters and brothers in the Order. 

Scott is the Bishop, of the Diocese of Georgia

Michelle Heyne, OA: renewal and maturation in my own baptismal identity and vocation 

My introduction to the Order of the Ascension came early in my CDI training.  I had found CDI extremely powerful and was attracted to the idea of continuing to have connection with people who would share that perspective on parish development.  One of the consequences of getting intensive training was figuring out that many people have strong opinions about parish health but those opinions don’t necessarily stem from actual knowledge of either organizational dynamics or sound pastoral and ascetical theology.  I thought it might be cool to hang out with Episcopalians who knew about both.

As a lay person whose apostolate is clearly church-focused I also experienced some stalls and bumps and I worked through how to be an effective voice in my own parish in spite of what I saw as some institutional and personal barriers to participation for non-clergy.  It would have been easy for me to shift into snarky distance or unhelpful agitation, but OA grounded me in the disciplines of the Church, and also provided structured opportunities to consider my life with committed brothers and sisters able to offer both challenge and support.  The result for me has been a greater willingness to be more measured, more persistent, more thoughtful, and I hope more effective.

Working as a consultant can be a lonely business and takes a lot out of me personally, both when consultations seem unproductive or difficult and when they seem quite fruitful.  I have to find ways to shore up my own sources of resilience and to be intentional about methods of getting better without lapsing too much into paralyzing perfectionism.  The renewal I experience with OA is critical to that process.  It helps me reconnect to the rhythms of daily prayer in community, of learning quite literally how to bring my own voice into harmony with the voices around me. 

It also helps me consider the issues in front of me—those in my parish, those in the wider church, those in my work, and those in my personal life—through the lens of the Benedictine Promise.  OA’s shared commitment to Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life, and the Order’s shared understandings about the value and health of the parish church, are for me invaluable frameworks for an ongoing renewal and maturation in my own baptismal identity and vocation.

Michelle is a principle and managing director of Precedent Consulting


My comment -

I see a thread in all three pieces. Each mentions how the Order has shaped their spiritual life and has helped increase their competence for the ministry of parish development.  

That’s why the Order of the Ascension exists. It is our way of serving Christ and his church.

For more on the formation process:

The Promise and Our Charism

Becoming a Member 





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