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Loren B. Mead: 1930 - 2018

I've been thinking about Loren all day.

Loren Mead was the primary force behind the creation of congregational development as a field of research and practice in the Episcopal Church and most other American denominations. From 1969 on he was the director of Project Test Pattern (PTP), an Episcopal Church action-research effort to better understand and serve the parish church. At the end of PTP he created Alban Institute which continued PTPs work and expanded it beyond the Episcopal Church. The influence of his work continues in training programs such as the Church Development Institute and the College for Congregational Development, in every diocese that has a staff person and/or a team of consultants with significant training in Organization Development, and in all those parishes that are healthier and more faithful due to his efforts. 


I spent much of the day reading his The Parish is the Issue. And I thought about all the times of connection.


When in therapy Bishop Robert De Witt picked up a way of thinking about relationships that recognized how we see each people through our own lens. He once said to me, "You're my Bob Gallagher." And by that he meant that others had a somewhat different Bob Gallagher.

This is my Loren Mead.

The last time I saw him was at Washington Cathedral. It was during a diocesan convention. I was leading a workshop on "Congregational Development through Spiritual Practices." I'd been doing training and consulting for the diocese for several years at that point. There he was sitting quietly in the rear. I was delighted to see him. And I had a twitch in the back of my head -- "will he approve?" 


I'm using the term "graduation" in its organization development sense. Karl Albrecht says its how an organization identifies and develops its future leaders. It's a key dimension of health. Loren looked for talent to serve the church. And he put those people together with one another. 


At a 1970 meeting in his office he pointed me to Jim Fenhagen. Soon after that I had some time with Jim. Years later Jim and I would work together creating a co-sponsorship arrangement between the Order of the Ascension and General Theological Seminary for the Parish Development Institute (later the Church Development Institute).


Later he put Cal Wick and me together. That lead to several conferences of young clergy and lay leaders exploring the ministry of the laity. The group ended up as an article in "the Episcopalian."

Even then it was rather embarrassing. But it was also challenging, stretching, supportive and great fun.

As he aged he continued to bring people together. There was the Next Hurrah Conference in 1998 at Kanuga where he and Bill Yon brought together lab trainers to create new resources for the church. From that meeting came the use of T-groups in the summer Church Development Institute and Shaping the Parish programs, a restart of Bill Yon's LTI (Leadership Training Institute) that for some years partnered with CDI in conducting training labs, and EQ/HR (The Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills). And less you think it was always work related - when I moved to Seattle he insisted that I get together with Bob Crosby.

One of the readings at Morning Prayer today was from Colossians 1. It reminded me of Loren.

Since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 

In the course of his life he connected and developed thousands of people.

Hope & Death

Loren and I had many differences. Though I can't think of any occasion when we were disagreeable with one another around those differences.  I see him as more Protestant and me as more Catholic; him as more mainstream, me as on the edge. His systems thinking was more sociological, mine more ascetical. 

We seem to see hope and death in much the same way. We never talked about it but I now wonder if that was part of the connection.

In The Parish is the Issue he writes of hearing Jürgen Moltmann and reading The Theology of Hope. And he goes on to share the impact of the murder of Martin Luther King that took place later on the same day.

Ever since that night I have lived with the contradictory realities that flooded over me that night. The powerful truth that God is a god of hope. But also that we live in a world in which hope can seem to die. It is not possible, but both things are true. The impossibility, the rational contradiction, has lived in me every day since that night in April when Ed Moseley and I drove home from Durham to Chapel Hill. In all my life and work since then, I think those two motifs have been present. The reality of hope. The ever-present possibility of death. They are both enormous truths. As a Christian, I know the ultimacy of hope, but also the ever-present reality of death.

 I imagine that Loren has watched Bobby Kennedy's address on that night -- death and hope.

Parish - Congregation

 Loren Mead in The Parish is the Issue, "I am using the word “parish” here, but I also mean “congregation.” Different religious groups like one word or the other, and there are good reasons for that. “Congregation” puts the emphasis on the people who are members or participants in a particular local church. “Parish,” which I am using, comes out of the usage in Europe and my Episcopal background. It refers to geography and to the total population of that geography (including people who may not associate themselves with that church). But really, the parish includes even more than that—the horses and cattle, the dogs and cats, the fields and woods, the schools and businesses—the whole kit and caboodle. Of course I’m talking mostly about the people, but give me a bit of leeway here. It’s sort of biblical, like Jonah talking about Nineveh: “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4: 11). 2. Luke 4: 18–19."

Robert Gallagher, OA in Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, "In this book I’ll frequently use “parish” and “congregation” in an interchangeable manner. This is primarily as an acknowledgment of what has become common usage in parts of the Episcopal Church. “Parish,” though, is the better word. It’s part of our tradition. It also suggests the mix of congregation(s), institutional life, and relationship with a geography or community of interest beyond itself. Most Episcopal parishes have at least two very distinct congregations with different spiritualities; we call them the 8:00 and 10:00 services."

Lightness of spirit  

His occasional frustration with the ways of parishes came with good humor. He developed a list of myths and norms in parish life back in the early 70s, here are a few of them:


People will do what you tell them to
    Exception #1 If they won't, telling them more loudly helps.
    Exception #2 If they still won't, it helps to get real angry with them.
The minister has been trained to run the parish
The vestry can't fire the minister.
The vestry won't fire the minister.
The new minister will ...
    Completion #1 get back all the lost pledges
    Completion #2 bring in all the people who have left
The minister knows how you feel.
The Treasurer knows what the financial situation is.
The Treasure will tell you what the financial situation is.
Power and control are very, very bad.
      Exception #1 It is okay to exert control through round-about, indirect, or manipulative ways.
      Exception #2 It is okay to exert control by withdrawing (money, self, etc) since that makes others feel              guilty and is really much more effective.
      Exception #3 It is okay to exert control if you say it's the Holy Spirit and not you that's doing it.


Always learning

Loren writes of an early shift in his thinking, "...shift my model of what we were up to from the one-on-one therapeutic model to what I came to call the “systems model.” Whereas I had thought of the parish as a therapeutic center helping people sort out their lives, I began to see the parish as a system—an interactive community within the town and county whose job was to be a center of health and forgiveness in the midst of a death-dealing social system. We needed to be a community whose health was contagiously related to the social ills of the outside world, a place where individuals would be surrounded by a community that helped them find and “catch” wholeness, not disease. Bodily and spiritually.  Jesus put it as “abundant life.”

His openness of mind and heart, and his commitment to the action - research process, kept him looking for better ways to improve parish life and ministry. 


Over the years we spend about 15 days together at one conference or another. We exchanged maybe 10 letters mostly on parish development but a few on the work of MAP (Metropolitan Associates of Philadelphia - an industrial mission) in supporting laity in the workplace. He was a great entrepreneur. His letters would often make a pitch for participant by the diocese or a network I was part of.  

Back to the last time I saw Loren. I had that twitch. I hoped he approved. Of course, he didn't say and I didn't ask. After the session we talked a bit as old collogues do. I was 66, Loren 80. I was embarrassed that I had the "approval" twitch. It seemed silly for someone of my age. At least it seemed so to me then. 

As I read his book I came across a reference to a meeting with him in 1970. We talked about parish development work and training in group and organization development available through MATC (Mid-Atlantic Training Committee) --

Two seminary students came to us to inquire about MATC training, but I dissuaded them—assuming they were too young and inexperienced to take on the consultant role. They persisted, I relented, and Bob Gallagher and Alice Mann went on to become stellar consultants.

I'm thankful for Loren's presence in my life and the wisdom he has offered the church.




 Loren died at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 5, 2018. 

His last interview 

A Passion for the Local Church - James C. Fenhagen

Loren's latest book - The Parish is the Issue  (2015)

Loren's other The Parish is the Issue (1971)  Defining the work of Project Test Pattern

Loren Mead as part of the Episcopal Church's efforts for parish development

      Understanding from Within

      History of Parish Development in the Episcopal Church  


The Episcopal Cafe - on Loren Mead

Hartford Institute - on Loren Mead