Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Friday
Oct052018

Not listening: I have the power; get reconciled to it

Rectors make decisions all the time that don’t satisfy everyone.  And healthy priests and healthy parishes don’t spend excessive energy re-visiting those decisions or trying to get consensus. This is one more area where there’s not a simple answer.

One of the most critical insights for people first learning about the Shape of the Parish model is that they need to stop fussing around the outer edges and nurture the inner rings—the Sacramental and especially the Apostolic.  The idea is to ground parish strategy in the center, where those of mature and progressing faith can be fed.  Part of that involves not permitting the immature and the tentative to set the climate. 

This doesn’t mean that it’s OK to demean or systematically disenfranchise the tentative or immature.  Methods of listening must be employed regularly and effectively.  We need parish-wide meetings where members are able to reflect on their common lives using theologically-appropriate models, such as the Benedictine Promise, or the In Your Holy Spirit Model.  If the starting place is how we’re doing with our prayer life, the conversation is quite different than if we start anywhere else. 

We need to gather concerns from the community—what they like, what concerns them, what they hope for (Likes – Concerns - Wishes). And we need to take the critical step of prioritizing those concerns so we learn where the real weight is in the congregation. 

Ineffective (and sometimes intentionally manipulative) listening processes use brainstorming without prioritizing.  That allows any random comment to be used by leaders as indicative of “what we’re hearing.” 

At parish retreats where we use these methods, there are often a number of tense moments as issues of disagreement arise.  The overwhelming response, though, is almost always that it’s a relief to talk about these things together and to understand what matters to people. 

Often we learn that the issues identified through parking lot conversations or other one-on-one communications are not as serious as those hearing about them assumed.  Where there are persistent concerns that affect a few people—particularly related to the rector’s perceived lack of caring, or related to the rector’s lack of skill with change—it’s really important to follow up with those who are hurt or angry and see if the relationship can be healed. 

Note that if a conflict is coming from those at the center (especially the Apostolic core, but also the institutional center – attention is necessary both for those that ground the parish in faithfulness and those who exercise institutional power), the priest needs to pay particular attention to that because the issue is likely to be a serious one. 

To focus for a moment on the Apostolic --  they are more likely to respect the rector’s authority and to avoid behavior that smacks of “troublemaking,” so, if the rector is not herself engaging the norms of the Church, the very maturity displayed by the Apostolic will be targeted for suppression and abuse. 

These conflicts may involve very few people in numbers, but they may also have deep impact on the community.  

Considerations:

1. What are the issues and do they involve matters that affect parish health and practice?  If you’re not listening to matters that are fundamental to parish life, spiritual practice, or Christian community, that’s a problem.

2. Is there a misunderstanding about role?

A common problem is that vestries will come from a false mental model, assuming that they are a board and the rector works for them.  Conflicts can become contentious quickly when there are poorly-defined expectations or unworkable models for role and responsibility. 

Another false mental model is that the vestry and wardens exist to back up the rector, regardless of what the rector is doing. Instead of understanding that they are to bring their own best judgment and Christian conscience to the role, it can be easy to see the job as rubber-stamping.  Wardens will often find themselves saying, “I’m sure he’s well-intentioned. He wouldn’t do anything to harm you.”  Or, “I really can’t talk about confidential matters,” even though the matter is only confidential because the rector doesn’t want it discussed. 

Of course, failure to address roles and expectations early through education, both in an ongoing way and ideally before people get on the vestry, exacerbates the problem.  Parties become more entrenched.  But even if the mental model is wrong, priests need to listen for the underlying concerns. Too often, the priest will correct the misconception, often in a heavy-handed or legalistic way, but not seek more information about what is beneath that.  Is the rector seeking counsel inadequately?  Does the priest not know how to implement change well?  Is the priest over-controlling?  Does he tend to hurt people unnecessarily due to unmanaged personality traits such as introversion leading to a failure to share feelings and thoughts or inquire into those of others?  Or a tendency to focus on impersonal cost-benefit analysis to the exclusion of consideration for how people are affected? Conflict always involve at least two people.  And when the priest is consistently cutting off exploration or ignoring her own contribution, that’s an indication that the priest’s approach may lead to abuse. 

3. If the issues are mostly about the inter-personal relationship, the priest needs to hear those concerns respectfully, directly from those with the concerns.  It can be useful to ask what behavioral change might be helpful from the other person’s perspective. It can also be useful to be curious and humble about what the person experiences in the priest’s behavior that is troubling. Instead of assuming that the person is simply mis-guided, assume you have something to learn.

4. What are you being asked to do?  If the request is about listening to the person’s concerns, if it’s about engaging practices of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, that’s very different than being told you must make a liturgical change or the parishioner will reduce their pledge. Note that the latter requires saying something like, “I’m very sorry you feel that way and I hope that we can talk at some point about why this is so upsetting to you. This must be very serious to you if you feel you need to reduce your pledge, and I understand you need to follow your conscience. If you’d like to get together and talk with me and (some trustworthy person known to both of us), I really want to make that happen.”        

 Michelle Heyne, OA

 

 

Monday
Sep242018

Compassion fatigue

The talk about compassion fatigue has always seemed a bit strange to me.

Take homelessness and “dealing with homelessness”

A few weeks ago a priest friend asked me how I deal with “the homeless.” He was visiting Seattle. We have a lot of homeless people. The priest had a number of them ask him for money. I told him what I did. Also, that I’ve changed what I do several times over the years.

Can’t say that I’ve experienced compassion fatigue. I can say that I have been confused, sad, angry, touched, amused, joyful, afraid, thoughtful, and a dozen other feelings. As friends know, from time to time I proclaim my latest solution. At other times I talk about how it used to be different.

A few days ago, there was an article in the Seattle Times, “San Francisco is cracking down on tent camps. Will Seattle do the same?”

The word “compassion” was used three times in the article. Once followed by “fatigue.”

 

An inner core of silence

I recently heard from a priest I respect. At times he’s struggled with a shoot-from-the hip reactivity. Easily offended. Easily hurt. I know he has striven for more grace in coping with the demands and complexities of life.

In recent years he’s given himself with more intensity to the inner life; especially to daily practices of Office, lectio, and silence. He seems humbler and more accessible as a person. I’ve always seen that capacity in him, but I sense growth.  It has called to mind Ken Leech’s thinking about how authenticity in priesthood is connected with “an inner core of silence.”

How I “deal with homelessness” – Office, spiritual reading, silence, what John Macquarrie called the prayer of responsible thinking, and as best as I can see the way, taking some action that seems responsible. What I’ve noticed is that over the years I’ve changed the action but not the spiritual practices. It’s my way of staying grounded in a God that doesn’t have compassion fatigue.

Of course, God doesn’t have judgment fatigue either.

 

Grace & Judgment 

Responsible action is grace and judgment, acceptance and challenge. Maybe, we need to have both if we are to grow in holiness and wholeness.

The mayor of San Francisco said, “Because someone refuses services doesn’t mean that we leave things the way they are, ….  Yes, we’re going to be compassionate and we’re going to offer support and help. But no, we’re not going to let you erect a tent on the sidewalk and keep it there. We’re going to ask you to take it down and, if you refuse, then we’re going to take it down.”

I find that in my preaching and teaching I want to offer less moral exhortation and more spiritual guidance. Most of the people I work with in the church have a generally decent, if vague, sense of ethical and moral direction. What they seem to long for are ways to better ground their life in the pathways of grace.

rag+


Tuesday
Sep182018

Spiritual Practice Training & Coaching: Four Books and an Educational Design

One of the central needs in shaping a healthy, faithful parish is equipping members of the Body for a competent Christian prayer life.

I want to suggest four books and an educational design for your use in that work. The books are compatible with one another. They come at many of the same concerns and spiritual practices with somewhat different emphases and ways of serving the parish. Yet they will easily harmonize and offer the parish a balanced and rooted set of resources. 

 

In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices for Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, OA 

Web page 

Contents – Our Key Assumptions & How to use this Book * The Weekly Practice: Holy Eucharist * The Daily Practice: Daily Prayers of the Church * Reflection * Participating in Community * Service * The Process of Spiritual Growth

The most common way parishes use this book is by offering a five-session class that is a mix of teaching and experiential learning. Michelle Heyne has provided an educational design for the sessions – “Teaching Spiritual Practice: An Experiential Approach to Christian Formation and Parish Development; Education Designs in the Anglican Tradition.”

The Diocese of Georgia has used the book as its selection for reading in Advent and Lent. Many parishes have copies available for sale to individuals as well as using it in the training classes.

The book along with the educational design offers a parish a way into developing Christian proficiency among a larger number of the baptized. Recently, a young woman reading the book said how much she liked it. “Especially the way Michelle adds in snarky comments.”

Recommendation: For broad use in the parish. Have copies for sale , along with the Prayer Book, on a table where you do coffee hour.

 

Life in Christ: Practicing Christian Spirituality, Julia Gatta

Web page

Contents – Introduction: The Heart’s Longing * Reliving Christ’s Death and Resurrection * Communion with Christ * Sanctifying Time through the Liturgical Round * Prayer in Solitude * Practices for the Journey

Mother Julia has been teaching this for most of her adult life. As parish priest, spiritual director and seminary professor she has served as an instrument of the Divine Compassion as regular parishioners begin to see Christian life in a fuller way.

Even with seminarians preparing for ordination she finds they frequently have had no serious training in the spiritual life. She writes, “Inevitably, within the first few weeks of teaching, a student will ask with some indignation, ‘Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this before?”

Recommendation: For a book reading group in the parish that wants to learn more. Best offered after having completed Michelle Heyne’s five session course.

 

Christian Proficiency, Martin Thornton

Web page

Contents – “Proficiency in Christian Tradition * “Proficiency and Doctrine * The Christian Framework * Spiritual Direction * Rule * Recollection * Mental Prayer * Colloquy * Self-Examination and Confession * Some Aids and Advantages * Some Difficulties and Dangers * Contingency in Modern Life * Christian Maturity in the World * The Progress to Maturity: Conclusion

The book is written for “the faithful laity.” Clergy need to read it so they have something intelligent to say when asked “how should I pray?” This is for those who are not just beginning the journey. For those ready for an adult relationship with God and accepting responsibility for their own spiritual life and responsibilities in daily life.

Thornton’s book is the third reading on Thursday at Evening Prayer in the parish I attend.  His sense of humor occasionally catches the congregation by surprise and laughter erupts.

Recommendation: For a more advanced reading group; after making use of the other books. A resource for those preaching and coaching people in spiritual practices. A possible spiritual life reading at the Daily Office.

 

Practicing Prayer: A Handbook, Lowell Grisham, OA

Web page

Contents - Kinds of Prayer * Personal Use of Corporate Prayer * The Daily Office * Personal Devotions * Preparation for Prayer * Meditating with Scripture  (Lectio Divina, Ignatian Method of Prayer, The Sulpician Method of Prayer *  Other Forms of Kataphatic Prayer (A.C.T.S. Method of Prayer,  Conversational Prayer, Praying with Nature) * Toward Apophatic Prayer (Breath Prayer, Mantra, Centering Prayer) * The Four Rs (Living and Praying in the Present Moment,  Faith Not Works) * Conclusion

Fr. Lowell offers this thought, “Many Christians desire to pray and may have a gift for praying, but need instruction, support, and direction. That is the purpose of this booklet.”

Recommendation: In a class on personal devotions. Make available for sale to anyone in the parish for personal reading.

 

Supporting books – useful for spiritual guidance and training; adding material to the above books.

 Paths in Spirituality, 2nd edition,  John Macquarrie

In Your Holy Spirit, Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practice, Robert Gallagher, OA

 

A few thoughts

If you are a parish priest you may want to engage the question put to Julia Gatta by her students, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this before?” 

Do two things.

 

  1. Interview every parishioner, willing to be interviewed, about their spiritual life. Use an ascetical model such as the Renewal-Apostolate Cycle or the Benedictine Promise to give order to your questions and the conversation. Make it a personal goal that people will know you as a priest that is interested in their life, especially their prayer life. A priest who is open, curious, and non-judgmental about all the sentimental, inadequate stuff of our lives.
  2. Study and inwardly digest these books. Offer training and coaching in the parish for those who would like to be more competent in Christian spiritual practices. Make no judgements about those who are not interested.

 

If you are a lay person – ask your priest to do the above.

Finally, I want to share an idea for those within the monastic tradition.

Ask your sisters and brothers about the times people approach them seeking advice about the spiritual life. It’s natural enough. Many assume that the brothers and sisters who have given themselves to a more contemplative path, will have something to offer.

The brothers and sisters may find others attracted to them. Assuming that by vocation and formation they may have a word that address our own spiritual growth. 

My guess is that many of your companions feel inadequate when this happens. Maybe they share how it’s done in their own life and how their religious order handles such things.

They may need help in approaching the need from the perspective of the person asking the question.  It may be useful to think and understand spiritual practices as lived by a proficient parishioner. One not called to a monastic vocation. 

These four books may be a starting place for them.

rag+

Sunday
Sep162018

Saint Paul’s, Seattle – a future

Over the years “Means of Grace, Hope of Glory” has posted a number of articles about Saint Paul’s (see below this piece).  

Today’s is a thought about the future. Really a slice of the future. We’ve had this notion floating within us for about a year now. It was set off by two needs. First, was the reality that the labyrinth is rarely used as a place of spiritual practice anymore. Second, was hearing a member of a religious community wonder aloud about having a house in Seattle.

The sermon this morning about bearing the cross – “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” – caused us to return to last year’s thinking. The preacher wondered about the reality of the labyrinth, with the syringes and human waste, with those who most frequently sit and sleep there, and the call of the cross. It was just “wondering.”  Maybe dropping a thought that might be picked up and moved someplace.

Here’s our thought.

Take all the property of the parish -- except the liturgical space, parish hall, and garden with its ashes of the departed – take the existing labyrinth, the parking lot and the parish house and build a new complex upon that land.

1.    A floor or two with pod housing for those struggling with homelessness. Maybe a focus on families. Contract with a social service agency to run it.

2.    A floor for an Episcopal religious community. The community would pay rent and care for the space.

3.    A chapel on the ground floor. The current chapel, by the parish office, isn’t accessible for those with mobility problems.

4.    Two or three floors of market rate housing. That would help offset costs.

5.    A garden on the roof for leisure, reflection and growing food.

6.    Parish office, meeting rooms, sacristy.

7.    Underground parking.

 

We don’t really want to sell the idea. Our hope is that others might come up with even better futures for the parish’s land use.

How is your parish using its land? How does it offer awe, adoration and service?

 

Michelle Heyne , OA & Bob Gallagher, OA


 

Friday
Sep072018

The Sunday bulletin

Recently Sister Michelle, OA was asked to offer her thoughts about possible changes to the parish’s Sunday bulletin.

The concept is pretty simple - you print only BCP and Hymnal page numbers, along with the order of service. Specific responses of the people, such as the psalm, are printed. Basically, if you print a bunch of text, people will read it. They won't look to the liturgical action - they will read. It’s just natural.

I personally wouldn’t recommend just changing the bulletin. I think you have a lot going on and, as you’ve mentioned, there may well be some change fatigue. 

There are multiple issues. You want to increase the competence and confidence of the regulars, and you want to provide orientation to newcomers, as well as permission to learn. No one is comfortable with the liturgy when they first show up - getting comfortable requires familiarity and it’s part of the inclusion process.

I suggest you have some signage, along the lines of, “If you are unfamiliar with Episcopal worship please relax with the liturgy and let the rest of the congregation carry you in prayer.”

Then start building greater competence for participation by offering an experiential Eucharistic Practices class several times a year, and avoiding giving instructions yourself during the Liturgy, such as announcing page numbers or telling people when to sit and stand.

Part of the Eucharistic Practices class can be having participants experience the difference between reading and listening - do a mini Gospel procession once with people reading along and once looking at the reader. Have them talk about the differences. Explain the role of readings in liturgy and the important liturgical principle of looking toward the liturgical action. 

Doing that regularly lays the groundwork for then making some changes down the road, depending on readiness of congregation.  You could do some simple testing to get a read on how committed folks are to the fully-printed leaflet.  In some places it could be very easy to change the whole thing; in others, you could maybe stop printing the Gospel since it’s so obviously silly to have this big procession and then have everyone staring at their leaflet - like reading the lines of a play while attending the theatre.

Michelle Heyne, OA