Means of Grace, Hope of Glory


Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Five

As leaders you will develop a more empowered community by being clear, in general and in particular situations, about what leadership style you are using.  And, the more you tilt toward the group’s participation the more empowered they are likely to feel.

Leadership Styles

For the past 61 years, leaders in a variety of organizations, have used the work of Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt to guide them in deciding on whether to be more or less democratic in their leadership. The Harvard Business Review printed “How to choose a leadership pattern”  in 1958. It was reprinted as an HBR Classic in 1973 and has been used since then as an effective tool for organizational leadership. They proposed a range of possible behavior from “The manager makes the decision and announces it” to “The manager permits subordinates to function within limits defined by the superior.” On the one end there was more use of authority by the leader and on the other more freedom for the employees of members. Over time the spectrum has been modified by leaders and consultants. Here’s a form I’ve used with parishes and non-profit organizations – a PDF.

That approach used a range of six styles:

Tells … Leader makes decision and announces it.

Sells … Leader has made decision but wants to have others buy it.

Tests … Leader has made tentative decision, wants to test it with others to get response

Consults … Leader wants group ideas. After receiving ideas, leader makes decision.

Enables … Leader enables group to make the decision. This may include the leader setting limits regarding what the group may consider and/or establishing procedures and processes for the group's work.

Joins … Leader acts as participant in the group. Group makes the decision.

Parish rectors are rarely clear about their leadership style. In our time, most think vaguely about how inclusive and democratic they want to be and are. But when introduced to something like the Leadership Style Spectrum they seem less certain; especially when they consider specific situations they have faced. Their lack of theoretical clarity muddies things, for the parish and in their own mind.


A case

 Recently I sat through a meeting of parishioners who had been invited by the rector to meet around a proposal for a change in liturgical patterns. About 40 people were there. That’s pretty good for a parish with an average attendance of around 150. 

The rector began by explaining the process to be used – anyone could pose a question, they would be written on a white board, and she and others would do their best to respond. On the leadership spectrum this was a “Sells” position. The rector and vestry were making their case.  In the HBR article they have a  place on the spectrum, “Managers presents ideas and invites questions.” So, below I call the style “Sells-Q&A”

A number of questions were offered and written on the board. Most were about the logistics of the proposal. One was about how the decline in attendance related to the proposal. The rector did a good job of responding to most questions.

As is common with this style, it didn’t take long before people started making comments and offering their own ideas and concerns in more detail. My experience is that the “Sells-Q&A” style works better in either a very hierarchal organization or in a classroom when the instructor is gathering everyone’s questions up-front so she can see if there are connections among the questions and provide a better response. 

As more and more comments were made voices were raised. There was some push back on the rector from one person when the rector got some facts wrong about how things were in the past. The rector's anxiety showed in not acknowledging the correction.

At first, the rector did well holding her own. The rector asked other staff members to offer responses. My hunch is that the few vestry members in the room got anxious and wanted to support the rector (or maybe what happened was planned in advance, I don’t know). They started to jump in. Each made some part of the case for the proposal and how everyone they had talked with was fine with it. To me in felt defensive. 

People pretty much stayed respectful. The basic questions were answered, and the issue of attendance decline was for the first time placed before the community.

However, everybody walked away without any real idea of what most people thought. The rector and vestry could say we had a productive discussion. Those who were more critical could say there was significant resistance to the idea. But because of the process used we don’t really know what most people in the room thought. Also, the discomfort of many people was obvious. It was more contentious than many expected it to be.


If they wanted more participation and ownership

A big thing

How could the process have been slightly changed in order to get a better read on the group’s views? What’s the one big change that would have helped?

Let’s begin by accepting the use of the Q&A format. It’s true that a different process would have improved things. That coming at this from a "consults" stance might have been a better choice. But even if we disagree with the rector and vestry’s decision to use a “Sells-Q&A style”, let’s accept it as what we were dealing with.

And, let’s assume that the rector or a warden provided a clear, thorough presentation of what was being proposed.

What I would’ve done is use a spectrum at the front end of the meeting, after the proposal had been laid out, and then use exactly the same spectrum at the end of the meeting. That would have given the leadership and the group a sense of where the group was on the issue. It would also tell you whether the “Sells – Q&A” with the group generated comments and moved people in one direction or another. For example:


If I was leading the meeting and saw that response I'd know there was going to be some resistance. And, if I was functioning out of my better self, I could remember that resistance is something to learn from. That proposals get improved when you listen to the resistance. And that people feel respected when we show we are hearing them.


An appropriate closing would be for the rector and/or a warden to offer a paraphrase of what they heard the group saying. "I hear the group saying ...."  And then allow a few minutes for any clarifications from the group.


Small things

They could have jump started the process by having people talk in groups of three for 5 minutes about the questions they had. When that’s done everyone comes up with something. You get more questions and you have also activated people’s thinking so they tend to be more present. 

Using a white board may have limited the number of questions offered. Whether using a white board or newsprint there is a tendency for the group to stop offering questions or ideas as you come close to running out of room. Newsprint pads are usually the better choice. As you come toward the end of a page, tear it off and hang it. Write “page 2” on the next sheet and wait for more questions or ideas.

Accept that there will be some anxiety and that things may get contentious. That's what usually happens when you change anything related to worship.

Manage the flow of questions and comments by having the group in a semi-circle and going around the circle. People could pass if they didn’t have anything. That also helps the energy in the room feel safer and more managed. The more introverted, and those inclined to avoid or accommodate in the face of disagreements, are give more space for their participation.

Provide members of the vestry with ways to engage the concerns of others in a manner that showed they were listening and that validated the person’s feelings and concerns. A bit of role playing prior to the meeting might be useful.



Clarity and good judgment about what leadership style is needed in each situation will build trust between the congregation and the parish leaders.

The willingness to maximize the amount of consult, enables and joins processes will create a more empowered community.




Shaping an empowered parish community: Part One

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Two

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Three

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Four


Shaping an empowering parish community: Part Four

There were two congregations in the parish

At 8:00 the Eucharist was Rite One, people sitting in pews, no physical exchange of the Peace, everyone was retired. It was a said service with no hymns. All fairly traditional.

At 10:00 there was a community that gathered in the round, had a shared sermon, used Rite Two (with slight modifications), was deeply involved in the city’s life, and was given to the spirituality of Julian of Norwich. Rather innovative, maybe a bit quirky, all in all. 

Each had its own life. The 8:00 people had known one another for a long time. They would go for breakfast together after the Eucharist. The 10:00 congregation had sub groups – more liberal and more conservative; some seeking the silence and centeredness, others the passion about the city’s issues; there were the jazz people and the catholic liturgy people.

As they transitioned to this way of being one parish together the two congregations had gone through a process in which the integrity of each was respected and built upon.  When issues were tested, surveys done, and group conversations held – it was mostly done as two congregations. That allowed each to have a good bit of control over their worship and community life.

Occasionally, a person or two, usually from the ten o’clock, would want to bring the two congregations together. Those people had a view that there was one congregation not two. All such attempts were repelled.

That way of being a parish has pretty much been the norm in Episcopal parishes for many years.  An early said Eucharist often Rite One and a later Rite Two with hymns and music. Two different psychological contracts in play. Some may attend the other liturgy on occasion. But it’s rare.

The pressure about “community”

It’s easy for inexperienced parish leaders to get confused about all this. Often there are a few people who want to know everyone. Or they say they do. They’ll pressure leaders to reduce the number of masses. They rarely know everyone in the congregation they attend very well. So, it’s hard to understand what drives them. Maybe it’s that they have become bored with those they worship with week-by-week. Maybe it’s a utopian idea about there being a way for larger groups of people to all know one another well. Maybe it’s a notion of “community” that is grounded in intimacy.

Leaders will also find that many, maybe most, people if asked about getting to know people from the other congregations, will say that’s a grand idea. We are still generally polite about such things. One parish profile included a goal, “To help facilitate a sense of unity and community so that parishioners feel connected to the parish as a whole." However, if the question or goal is made more concrete – how much time to spend together, the impact on your Sunday morning, and so on – usually we find the investment to be rather low.  The goal statement mentioned above is from a parish profile in which there are many more statements highlighted that indicate people felt a strong connection to the parish as a whole. It appears that no one noticed the contradiction or if they did, it was explained away.

There is also at times pressure coming from a rector or warden because their best experiences were in smaller churches. Or they are more skilled at leading smaller parishes with fewer congregations.

When you are dealing just with an 8 am and 10 am there is usually no pressure to collapse the two into one Eucharist. It’s in the somewhat larger parishes where there are three Eucharists each Sunday morning that you’ll see pressure to collapse the second two. That usually goes no place unless the parish begins to decline in average attendance. At times it will be necessary to bring the two congregations together into one. But often the pressure to do that is premature.  

Empowered community

The most effective way to create empowered communities within a parish is to appreciate the uniqueness of each congregation. It’s true both in smaller and larger parishes.

Some parishes head off the pressure to collapse congregations by stating a truth – It may be said this way, “As we have grown, we have had to face the fact that we as individuals can no longer know or recognize everyone in the parish. Occasionally we may have an embarrassing moment if we welcome as newcomers people who have been around for a long time.”

How do you empower each congregation? That’s done by developing strong communities around each Eucharist.  Have a coffee hour after each liturgy that fits that group. So, if the 8:00 congregation is open to staying around for a cup, keep it short, maybe do it in the narthex. The 9:30 congregation may like a rather full event. Adequate time to spend socializing, good snacks. The 11:15 may prefer a shorter coffee hour. In general you'll develop a stronger sense of community if you avoid trying to organize the time in between services. Allow people to spend time with one another. It will be much more empowering than filling the time with programs.A parish in Chicago has a lay member serving as a community developer for each of the larger congregations. That person makes sure coffee hour goes well, arranges times for those who want more contact to gather monthly for a brunch, sets up a book group for those interested.

Some will resist strengthening each congregation and keep up the pressure to merge congregations. They may talk about creating more “energy” by bringing together a larger number of people. Most experienced clergy know that “energy” is a more complex matter. The 8:00 am mass may just have 15 people in a space that at 10:00 will have 75. Yet, the energy at 8:00 is fine. The rhythm and pace, the expectations of how things will feel, all add up to a productive “energy.” Matters of energy, vitality, strength are not just about numbers of people in a space. The expectations people bring along with issues of grace and flow will have an effect. The rhythm between silence, said elements and sung elements will impact “energy.” 

Unafraid to express that identity with grace and confidence in its liturgy

 Finally, in most parishes it is what happens in the liturgy that will be the critical force in the shaping of true community.

Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham in The Hospitality of God wrote this about Saint Paul’s Seattle:

As a visitor to this congregation, it was easy to be swept up to fully participate in the liturgy because it was confident, well done and a genuine expression of the spiritual life of the body. It was simply true. This congregation was reportedly half its current size just five years ago. While offering satisfaction for the postmodern’s yearning for mystery, from the moment one first read the bulletin – which stated ‘if you are unfamiliar with the ritual customs of The Episcopal Church, simply relax with the liturgy and let the rest of the congregation carry you in worship’ – it was obvious that this community had a clear understanding of itself and was unafraid to express that identity with grace and confidence in its liturgy.


Shaping an empowered parish community: Part One

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Two

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Three

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Four

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Five 


Prattle or Practice: Part Two

Are your sermons prattle or practice? Are they about inconsequential drivel or the habits of grace? Habits of moral thought and action. Practices of Christian spirituality.

I just finished reading Grace Will Lead Us Home by Jennifer Berry Hawes. It’s the story of the Emmanuel, AME shooting. A story of gun violence with nine dead, forgiveness of what is unforgivable, a state making a bit of headway in dealing with a legacy of slavery and racism, a church struggling with trauma, and mixed emotions and thoughts about the death penalty for Dylann Roof.

So, what habits and practices might we preach on this Sunday? One spiritual practice that the Emmanuel story press upon us is forgiveness – offering forgiveness and accepting forgiveness.

        If you haven't read Part One - it's here

But God forgives you. And I forgive you.

The Lord’s Prayer is in this Sunday’s gospel reading.

Forgive us our sins
    as we forgive those
        who sin against us.


And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." 


Where might you take that in terms of practice?


I forgive you 

I’d probably begin with the forgiveness stories in the Charlestown shootings.

After Roof was captured there was a hearing before a magistrate regarding bail. Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance who was murdered during the Wednesday evening Bible Study, rose to speak. 

 “And you are whom, ma’am?” the magistrate asked. “Her daughter.” “Her daughter,” Gosnell repeated. “I’m listening. And you can talk to me.” Instead, Nadine looked toward Roof. “I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you! You took something very precious away from me.” Her husky voice cracked with a muffled sob. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you! And have mercy on your soul. You. Hurt. Me! You hurt a lot of people.” Beneath her spiky black hair, long gold earrings swung with each emphatic statement. “But God forgives you. And I forgive you.” (Grace Will Lead Us Home)

Felicia Sanders was one of the three survivors. Her 26-year-old son and her 87-year-old aunt were among those killed. Her son had pleaded with Roof who stood over him, “We mean you no harm.” Felicia’s Bible had been hit by a bullet and soaked in blood. The shooting cleaning crew had decided it wasn’t in shape to be returned and placed it in a biohazard storage to be destroyed. Police Lieutenant Jennie Antonio knew that Felicia wanted her Bible back, tracked it down, sent it to a company that specialized in restoring such items, and in time was able to return the Bible to Felicia.

After Roof had been found guilty and the jury called for the death penalty came a hearing during which the families would be heard, and the judge would pronounce the sentence.

However, Felicia said, today she had brought with her the best defense. Not a gun. Not a knife. Not her fists. Her voice trembled as she continued. “My Bible, abused—abused, torn, shot up. When I look at the Bible, I see blood that Jesus shed for me. And for you, Dylann Roof.” With that, she picked up her Bible, the one rescued from the fellowship hall, and held it in the air like a wand of faith. Then she pointed it at him. With her fingers, she flipped through its wrinkled, tattered, salvaged pages as if to cast the very spirit of God toward the evil man before her. Maybe one day, yet to come, grace would lead him home, as faith had rescued her. “Yes, I forgive you,” she continued. “That was the easiest thing I had to do. But you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. And that’s exactly what you are.” Indeed, he sat there with his same mushroom haircut, still staring straight ahead with that same blank expression he’d worn all through the trial. He wasn’t going to acknowledge her now, just as he’d showed no respect, no caring or humanity at all, to the nine people he killed around her. So, she ended with words similar to those she’d spoken at the bond hearing all those months ago: “May God have mercy on your soul.” (Grace Will Lead Us Home)



Many of the survivors and family of the slain lived in a tradition of forgiveness. It wasn’t an option. The Lord required it. You had to forgive to go to heaven and see your loved ones again. Felicia Sanders thought, “Roof’s destiny was in God’s hands now. Her destiny remained in her own. What if she didn’t forgive this killer? She wouldn’t go to heaven, and that’s where she would find her baby boy.”   That didn’t mean it was easy. Not everyone was able to say the words of forgiveness. But many did. One person thought of it as something I can do today. She didn’t know about tomorrow. 

The reviewer for the New York Times writing a very favorable review about Grace Will Lead Us Home had a difficult time with such forgiveness. He didn’t seem to be able to write of it in the religious terms of the Emmanuel parishioners. He wrote of it as though it was about ego – “it shows I am a better person.” The writer had a perspective that may be that of most people in any congregation, “Why did the survivors and family members who spoke at Roof’s bond hearing forgive him, and did he deserve it?”

Governor Nikki “Haley, herself a Christian, wondered: Could I do that?” You can bet there are people in your congregation that would share that view. You might even have some difficulty with it yourself. I’ve known clergy who saw their forgiveness as something to be offered only after apologies and contrition. The notion that they were to forgive up front, to take a stance of forgiveness that invited the offender into relationship, was beyond their understanding. To what extent is that you?

Jennifer Berry Hawes writes of James Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology, perspective on forgiveness. He described forgiveness in the church as a form of “deep spiritual resistance.” It didn’t only help ensure salvation after earthly lives spent bearing the cruelties of slavery, segregation, and oppression. It also provided power to the powerless. It freed the forgiver from hating the oppressor. It kept hate from corroding the soul. It offered a higher Christian ground.

Being forgiven

At Morning Prayer today, we said Psalm 51. An antiphon was used, “Have courage, your sins are forgiven.”

An interesting connection. That being forgiven might require courage. Look at the psalm and you’ll see why.

The psalmist is struggling to come to terms with his sin – “I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.” There is a need for a troubled spirit, a broken heart. A painful process must be endured – offense blotted out, washing and cleansing, coping with having “my sin is ever before me.”

When faced with the statements of forgiveness Roof would stare straight ahead or down impassively with a blank expression. When the husband of Myra Thompson, one of those murdered, said, “I forgive you. And my family forgives you.” He experienced from Roof a vacant gaze.” Even then, Anthony Thompson had hope, “hope that Roof would repent and be saved." On the many occasions when Roof was asked why he did it, his response was the same, “And I still feel like I had to do it.”


Part One


Prattle or Practice

Are your sermons prattle or practice?

The phase, "prattle or practice," comes from Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day. Danny, a police officer, was assigned to an uncover job in the Boston Police Department of 1918. He was to spy on the men trying to form a union. He was to report on the people involved. His superiors wanted a sense of who the leaders were and who were the weak ones that might be bought or coerced. Danny didn’t like the assignment. He found himself creating categories such as the Talkers (loud men who fought over semantics and minutiae) and the Bolshies (the radicals). “There were also the Emotionals—men like Hannity from the One-One, who had never been able to hold his liquor in the first place and whose eyes welled up too quickly with mention of “fellowship” or “justice.” So, for the most part, what Danny’s old high school English teacher, Father Twohy, used to call men of “prattle, not practice.”

Are your sermons prattle or practice?

Over the years I’ve heard many prattle sermons. Probably even offered a few myself. Sermons that ramble on from one thought to another. Sermons that are filled with drivel about the preachers’ days in seminary. Sermons that are inconsequential or shallow or a sales pitch for parish programs.

At some point I found myself coming at the preaching task in terms of practice. A task related to Christian proficiency. A task about the habits of prayer and ethical and moral living. It’s a wonderful way to avoid prattle.

Though there are still dangers.

I discovered three dangerous side trips. The first was when we focus on the moral and ethical; when we scold and beat the drum; when we manage to cause the congregation either to feel self-satisfied because “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” or defensive because we have suggested they are racist, homophobic, misogynic fools. In this we forget Underhill’s insight that we will get service and action right as we give ourselves to adoration and awe. So, more focus on prayer life and the relationship between that and moral action.

The second, was when instead of helping people think about moral and ethical dynamics and dilemmas, we provide an answer based on our political ideology. It’s easy to spot because in most case the preacher is lazy and uses phrases straight from the talking points of the right or the left.

Third, we keep referring people to our own spiritual practices. We press them toward the practices that align with our comfort and skill instead of helping them consider seeking a fit between their personality and the broad range of practices of the spiritual life. We fail to consider the uniqueness of the person. Often this is due to the narrowness of our knowledge. We need a broader grasp of approaches to spiritual life and types of prayer. We need to do our homework.


More on prattle and practice in the coming days


Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Three

We are in relationship with everyone with whom we share those sacraments

That’s from a sermon by Sister Debra Susannah Mary, CMMR this past Sunday. Debbie made the case that our life in community is grounded in our sharing of the sacraments, especially Baptism and Eucharist. Being in that relationship brings about and sustains our human dignity and equality with one another in the Body of Christ.


She drew on Evelyn Underhill, “God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the present moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament.” Debbie expanded on that lovely reality of the sacrament of the present moment, “When we see the world sacramentally, we see God in every experience and every person; and through them, we allow ourselves to receive God’s grace.” The Samaritan and the man who had fallen into the hands of robbers who left him half dead – that was the formation of a community, a relationship, because of the truth of the sacrament of the present moment.


My mind drifted to the Promise we make in the Order of the Ascension,

To seek the presence of Jesus Christ in the people, things and circumstances of life through stability, obedience and conversion of life.

It’s another way of acknowledging the sacrament of the present moment. Another way of seeing how God knits us to one another in community.

From her sermon,

Whether we like it or not, we are in relationship with everyone with whom we share those sacraments. They do more than that, though. They call us to see the Divine Presence all around us; perhaps chance meetings between people are not accidents, but divinely arranged encounters with the promise of grace. 

An empowered parish community is shaped by the sacramental life we share.


Shaping an empowered parish community: Part One

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Two

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Three 

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Four

Shaping an empowered parish community: Part Five