What needs to be faced?
That’s a question for every parish—what needs to be faced?
It may be about things that are out of whack. Those are the things that the visitor notices even if the parish has grown accustomed to it. Like the integrated parish where week after week all the African Americans sat on the right side and the whites on the left. Or the priest that had a large glass of water sitting on the altar. Or the parish that had 1000 seats and 20 members scattered among all those seats. Or the parish that gave first time visitors a large basket of gifts. Or the priest that insisted on using his iPad instead of a Prayer Book when presiding at the Eucharist.
There are reasons for the behaviors, those involved can offer a rationalization, but many/most people will find something “off” in the behavior. These are all things that can be addressed especially if people have a sense of lightness and even humor.
While a parish may want to address the out of whack matters over time there are usually more significant matters that need to be faced. Some are obvious to most parish leaders. They are the kind of things that the leaders of most parishes could easily name about their own situation.
There are other significant matters that we only see if we are wearing the correct lens. People trained in fields such as organization development and psychology, ascetical and pastoral theology may see what others miss.[i]
More significant matters
These are parish practices that probably made sense when initiated. They solved some real problem or they allowed the parish to act on an opportunity. But as we look ahead we see the potential for trouble. When these practices were especially related to the departing rector they become the concern of the transition process.
Here are my hunches on three matters that Saint Paul’s will need to face.
Having enough time and energy from the new rector
Melissa Skelton had the vigor and skill to be a very effective rector of the parish while only being part time. It’s not just that she could pull it off—she thrived on it. She was energized by her additional work as a diocesan staff person and a consultant/trainer. The parish faces the reality that few clergy can work that way.
My sense is that the practice developed in part because she loved the mix of work. It was also a way for the parish to make its budget. A friend of mine carried his parish financially for many years. He only began to deal with the issue as retirement came closer and he grew concerned about the impact on his pension and the difficulty the parish would face in getting a new rector.
Saint Paul’s needs enough time and energy from the rector to maintain the life that has emerged and been developed. With an average Sunday attendance pressing toward 300 and a vibrant life as an urban parish the probable need is for a full time rector and additional clergy and lay staffing.
Of course it’s possible that the new rector would come with abundant energy and ability to earn additional income from other sources. But it’s useful to remember that Melissa would not have agreed to first come to Saint Paul’s if the position hadn’t been full time.
The parish may need to deal with the conventional mental models of many clergy who will begin with the assumption that in addition to the need for a full time rector, there’s also a need for a full time office staff plus additional clergy staffing. The second conventional model that may create difficulty is the number of clergy that have bought into a mind-set that assumes a relatively moderate workload. Saint Paul’s will need to take care around this. Some priests will be so excited about the possibility of being the rector at this parish that they will avoid being clear that if selected they have an intention to reduce the number of Sunday liturgies and would rearrange the budget to provide for a full time office staff even at the cost of needed additional ministry staffing.
Living the threefold pattern of prayer
Yesterday I joined small groups of parishioners for Morning Prayer at 7:30 and Evening Prayer at 5:30. For me it’s a grounding of my life in an ancient rhythm and larger communion. It’s also an act of service as the few pray on behalf of the many.
Saint Paul’s has a long-term commitment to the fullness of Prayer Book Spirituality. It’s also been called the Threefold Rule of Prayer—Mass, Daily Office, and personal devotions. The Book of Common Prayer is 80% about the Eucharist and Office. It assumes personal devotions that are grounded in common prayer. There’s a page on the parish web site on the pattern.
The significance of the pattern, and its shaping power in relationship to a parish’s spiritual health, is dependent on an understanding of the less obvious spiritual dynamics of the Episcopal parish church. It takes a bit of systems based pastoral theology to get it. Martin Thornton wrote of the Office as being the “continual beat or pulse” of the Body of Christ.[ii]
A sign of its importance at St. Paul’s is that when Melissa arrived in the parish the pattern was in place. Lay people said a public Office most mornings and evenings. She acted to strengthen the Office by instituting a system of teams that shared responsibility for saying Evening Prayer on a certain day each week. She also regularized the customary and schedule to allow for broader participation by the whole parish.
A systems view of the role of the Office in parish life may be useful.
“The active relationship among Eucharist/Daily Office/Personal Devotions can be seen in how the Office is deepened and enriched by a person’s personal devotions, how all three influence one another, and how the Office and personal devotions are focused and completed in the Eucharist. It's common for parish leaders to think about improving something by focusing on the thing itself. So, if we want to improve the parish's celebration of the Eucharist we might train those assisting at the altar to carry themselves with more grace and dignity, to hold their hands folded in front of the belly, and so on. Also, we might train the congregation for its participation. Both are worth doing and are likely to result in improvement. What we often miss is how dramatically our Eucharistic celebration is improved when a critical mass or even a core of those gathered has said the Office, in some form, that week and engaged in a way of personal devotions that nurtures and possibly stretches them.
What we bring to the Eucharist has a great impact on what happens in the Eucharist. This is a systems view of what takes place in the Eucharist and of the process of liturgical renewal. Thornton notes the same reality, “Eucharist – Office – private prayer forms one whole balanced organic life,” and “private prayer is absolutely dependent on the Office and the Eucharist.”[iii]
There’s been a decline in the number of times the Office is offered, the number of people attending each week, and the size and diversity of the officiant teams. The attendance numbers have gone down while the parish almost tripled in size. However the base is still in place. The parish has maintained the core elements that had stabilized the Office—customary, focus on Evening Prayer, a standard time, and the use of officiant teams.[iv]
Other areas of parish life degraded as attention was given to membership growth, liturgical space renovation, and working out an authentic way to engage the arts and serve the homeless. After the first few years attention shifted to these critical issues and away from developing basic Christian proficiency for participation in Eucharistic worship, living the threefold pattern, and Anglican spirituality. It’s an understandable process. As leaders focus on some things other matters are given less attention. Leaders will need to reengage the neglected areas so the health of the parish is maintained.
Full Integration of the more evangelical and many newer members
I’ve been attending Mass at Saint Paul’s since December. I’ve been attending and serving in other parishes for the past few years. When I’m at the 7:30 Eucharist it’s mostly people I remember from years ago. But when I attend any of the other masses what I notice is that most of those present have come during my time away. It’s wonderfully disturbing. The rhythms of liturgy are as I remember but the people I do them with are mostly unfamiliar to me. Lovely!
Saint Paul’s has attracted a large number of younger members. Many if them come from an evangelical tradition. They bring new energy. It’s an energy filled with sincerity and commitment. In some ways it’s a useful balance to what can come off as a kind of Christian agnosticism among many Episcopalians.
But how fully incorporated are all these new people? Do they “get” the Anglo Catholic thing? Do they appreciate the Anglican ethos? Has the Bishop confirmed them?
Kate Rickard told her story on the parish’s web site.
In her short story I hear a great deal of incorporation. Listen to this --
Since attending St. Paul’s, I’ve encountered a mysterious, loving and incarnate God who is real to me in the faces of my neighbors and the wine and bread of Eucharist. The Anglo-Catholic tradition has opened me to new ways of seeing our world that are “sacramental;” the world is infused with the holy and all life is sacred. I also feel freed up to be in relationship with others in a way that is mutually transformative and honoring to Christ.
That sounds like she “gets it” – right?
A bit further into her story she writes this --
I found that when I let go of worrying about understanding and perfecting my role with all the Anglo-Catholic bows, genuflections, smells and bells, I began to experience the heart of the liturgy. And I started to enjoy myself! I realized that the physical movements of bowing and genuflecting along with chanting and pausing for silence pull my entire being into an experience of God’s presence.
That’s as good an understanding as I’ve ever heard – “I started to enjoy myself!”
There’s a gift that those that have been hesitating about being confirmed could give the new rector – present yourself for confirmation. Inclusion is a two party action. The community needs to welcome and accept the new person; the new person needs to include themselves in the new community.[v]
And here’s what parish leaders can do to be more completely accepting – directly invite those not confirmed to be confirmed. Not insisting. Not pressuring. But going to the person and saying, “It would be a joy if I could present you for confirmation. Will you consider allowing me to do that?”
What are the significant matters in your parish?
What are the significant matters in your parish? Those things that will fall to the new priest because we were legitimately focused on other matters or we don’t see them or we avoided them?
[i] For an overview of these fields of learning go to - http://www.congregationaldevelopment.com/history-of-parish-development
[ii] Thornton had an image for the interdependence of the threefold pattern – The Eucharist as the “living heart of the Body of Christ.” The Office as “Its continual beat or pulse.” Personal devotions as the “circulation of the blood which gives life and strength to its several members.” Many clergy don’t understand the dynamics of the ascetical system. They focus on the Sunday Eucharist while failing to grasp the role the other elements play on parish spirituality.
[iii] Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008, p 56
[iv] For a picture of the arrangement in the first two years see Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, especially pages 176 – 177.
[v] There’s more to it, of course. A competency oriented Foundations Course that was so much a part of Mother Melissa’s first years has been less in use recently. A foundations course is a substantial educational and training program that is repeated over the years and is used to incorporate people into the parish and the spirituality of the Episcopal Church. Also see Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008. Especially pages 87, 183 – 187. PDF on Foundations Course
Worship that swept us off our feet
Worship that swept us off our feet
So what’s transferable?
Small issues with large consequence
Instinctual and intuitive leadership
The role of the bishop and the diocese
Saint Paul’s, Seattle: the search process #1
Saint Paul's Parish Profile - posted in early October 2014