Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Wednesday
Jan302019

Annual Meetings and Reports

 

Tis the season!

So, a few random thoughts on annual meetings and reports.

 

 

Reports 

What’s the tone of the report?

A PR piece for the rector and vestry? Shows honesty and humility?

Or like this – bleak, grim, disappointed, fearful, agitated, concerned, angry, frustrated, alive, content, pleased, warm, etc.

 

Does it provide valid and useful information?

Provides the basics – Average attendance, pledging, financials, participation in adult formation offerings.  It’s essential that the information be offered based on the past 5 years and then back 5 and 10 years. That helps understand trends and to avoid the understandable impulse to hide uncomfortable facts.

See the PDF “Intervention Theory.”  The model places the need for valid and useful information in relationship to gaining increased internal commitment.

Does it feel honest and open or like you’re being sold something?

 

What does it say this parish is about?

There are three tasks of the parish church:

 

  1. The worship of God
  2. The formation of the People of God, and
  3. Nurturing a sanctifying relationship with the external “publics” the parish is most connected with (usually the neighborhood around the parish, sometimes an entire town or city, other times a particular community, e.g., the performing arts.

 

Does the report highlight expressions of those tasks? Does it help us understand and be reflective on the core of our life or does it draw us off into information included to satisfy some individuals or is it filled with trivia?

 

Meetings

Useful participation

Was the meeting designed in a way that generated participation? For example, instead of opening the floor to questions (tilting things toward the more assertive people) have two or three short periods in which people talked in small groups and then comments or questions were invited. 

Or, was there a more involved conversation about either all of parish life and ministry (“How are we doing”) or around a particular program, issue, or proposal? The session needs to be carefully structured and facilitated so people feel safe to contribute.

For example, if you decided to look at an issue such as the decline in average attendance.  How might you structure the process?

1. Present the data, e.g.

2005 – 90

2010 – 200

2012 – 250

2015 – 200

2016 – 190

2017 – 185

2018 - 180

2. For 10 – 15 minutes the Rector and other leaders share their understanding of why there’s been a decline and how they will respond (what strategy they will engage – organic evangelization, “right size” stance, lots of programs for targeted groups, etc.)

3. Small groups use the Likes-Concerns-Wishes Process. Newsprint pads are used. Items are prioritized.

4. The prioritized items are reported back to the whole group

5. The rector and wardens respond with – “What we hear the community saying is …”

 

What evaluation/feedback system are you using?

I know, the question will throw many of you off. Who ever thought about asking people to assess the meeting? Yet, as with other aspects of parish life, if you don’t reflect upon it and see what can be learned, you’re likely to repeat mistakes and/or be inclined to make changes based on too little information.

You want something short? Maybe three questions.

1. Satisfaction Level

Very Dissatisfied    1   2   3   4   5   6     Very Satisfied

2. What was the most positive thing about the meeting, for you?

3. What was the most troublesome part of the meeting, for you?

 

Or you might ask questions along these lines: Was the purpose of the meeting clear? Did you feel listened to and heard? Was the meeting well designed?

Here are two worksheets that offer areas that you might assess and reflect upon. Be sure to ask yourself whether the items on the assessment will be understood by most members. If not, is there some training to be doen on the next few years before attempting to change the meeting? 

            Assessment 1    Assessment 2

Or you might use the Likes-Concerns-Wishes format. That might be especially appropriate if you are trying to get that format used in other parish settings. Having a familiar format can help build trust and a sense of communal competence.

         A web page on the process        A PDF worksheet

 

Learning from experience 

Have a working group reflect on the meeting and the report. It can help for the members to complete the same assessment used at the end of the meeting and then look at the results from those present at the meeting. That can assist you in seeing your own bias.

Identify learnings – what can we do to improve the report and meeting? What do we want to maintain next year? What might we do differently next year?

If you decide to change your approach -- take care. Think through the issues related to the process of change.

 

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Saturday
Jan262019

The arc lamp hung in the place where the crucifix used to be

The electric lamp hung in the place where the crucifix used to be. It was in an alcove of the library. The rest of the room, in fact the rest of the monastery, was served by candlelight.

It was 3174. The Order of St. Leibowitz had established and maintained the library in the years following the nuclear war – the Flame Deluge. During the Simplification the scientists had been killed and their knowledge suppressed. The monks however had in their procession the writings of Leibowitz and others. Writings they didn’t understand but had carefully copied and persevered through the centuries.

Now was an age of Renaissance and Thon Taddeo, a secular scientist, had come to the monastery to see the Order’s collection of Memorabilia. He had been sent, along with a few military officers, by Hannegan, a ruler. A ruler with ambitions.

The scientist didn’t approve of Hannegan’s political objectives. The monastery would make a fine fort (as the monks had to resort to arms over the years to defend themselves) but that was not Thon Taddeo’s interest. He wasn’t responsible for what his prince was up to. The image of those not responsible washing their hands appears in the story. 

The abbot becomes aware of the work of the officers, “Why, are they making detailed drawings of our fortifications?”

There’s a brief war. A papal representative is brutally tortured and murdered. The church is placed under the control of the government. Hannagan’s territories grow. The thon explains himself to the abbot, “Father, I can’t fight my prince who makes my work possible–no matter what I think of his policies or his politics.” The two argue over the role of science and the responsibility of the scientist.

Thon - “If you try to save wisdom until the world is wise, father, the world will never have it.

Abbot – “I can see the misunderstanding is basic! To serve God first or to serve Hannegan first – that’s your choice.”

Thon – “I have little choice, then. Would you have me work for the Church?”

 

The arc lamp

There is in the story a sub plot. The story of the arc lamp. It illuminates the matter.

Brother Kornhoer, is an engineer. He has developed a "generator of electrical essences" which serves the arc lamb. It’s powered by a treadmill, which is powered by novices.

The electric lamp hung in the place where the crucifix used to be. It was in an alcove of the library. The rest of the room, in fact the rest of the monastery, was served by candlelight.

The struggle between Thon and Abbot continues, in the library along these lines.

Thon – “You would have us hampered by blind adherence, unreasoned dogma, then you would prefer –”

Abbot – “God commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shall eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shall –"

As they go on the light goes out. The novices have stopped their efforts. 

The abbot calls out, “Bring candles.”

He orders the arc lamb removed.

“Brother Kornhoer slipped into the room again. He was carrying the heavy crucifix…” It is returned to its place.

Abbot – “Who reads in this alcove henceforth, let him read ad Lumina Christi!”

  

Covington Catholic

Millions spent time this past week trying to discern the expression on the face of a high school student. Was it a smirk or uncertainty? Or was it both? Was it aggression or courage? Or both?

The vantagepoint had shifted. If you saw a longer video it seemed different. If you saw the Black Hebrew Israelites earlier, or Mr. Phillip’s as he moved toward the boy – it seemed more complex. Not to everyone, of course.  Some became more certain as others became more receptive to other possibilities.

“With everything from Twitter followers to television bookings, we’re rewarded for fierce conviction, for utter certainty, for emphatically taking sides and staying unconditionally faithful to what we’ve pushed for and against in the past. We each have our brand, and the narrower and more unyielding it is, the more currency it has and the more loyal our consumers. Instead of bucking the political tribalism in America, we ride it.” Frank Bruni, New York Times

Whatever will we do if we can’t get this right? If we can’t determine who is naughty and who is nice?

Sometimes the answer is to remove the arc lamp and restore the crucifix.

Much of the misdirection of this past week, and these last few years, has been our obsession. The Facebook and Twitter obsession.


A Holy Lent

What if this Lent we gave up Facebook and Twitter? What if we fasted from trying to keep up and have more friends among people we hardly know? What if we gave ourselves to a Prayer Book Lent? What if we gave our attention to the basics -- Sunday Eucharist, Daily Office, fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, special observance on other days of Lent.

 

The monastery eventually returns to the use of electric light. The Abbot’s removing of the arc lamp was, of course, not meant to be for all times. It was both about that moment and what is eternal.

  

Fait Lux       ad Lumina Christi!”

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Friday
Jan252019

A Prayer Book Lent

Let’s try something new this Lent. Something most of our parishioners have never experienced. Let’s invite them into a Prayer Book Lent

What would that look like?

1. Participation in the Holy Eucharist each Sunday.

To include observing Sunday as the feast day that it is. None of the puritanical nonsense of maintaining our special observance or fasting behavior on Sunday. Instead a celebration of the resurrection. This must include the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25). One might make a case for Saint Joseph on March 19 and even, stretching a bit, St. Patrick on the 17th.

2. Participation in the daily office most days of the week

In the parish’s public office (yes, at least do it through Lent!) if possible and on your own, if circumstances require that.

3. Observing Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as fast days.

4. Observing all the days of Lent (other than Sundays and the Annunciation) as days of special devotion

 Observe by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the Lord's crucifixion

5. Participation in the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

 

We would be offering the balanced spiritual diet of our tradition.

 

On the parish’s part it would require:

Having a public daily office. One that is really the Office as intended not the office as an occasional service.

Using the Prayer Book liturgies for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Maybe letting go of the 1970s legalistic approach of having only one liturgy each of those days. Do the Daily Office each day of Holy Week. Consider offering an early morning Eucharist on Maundy Thursday as well as a fuller liturgy in the early evening. On Good Friday consider having Stations at noon and the Liturgy for Good Friday that evening.

Having a Eucharist on the Feast of the Annunciation

 

The parish might also choose to offer:

A two-session offering in late Epiphany or early Lent on saying the Office on your own. Each about 40 minutes. The first session exploring ways of saying the office with a range from doing the full BCP Office to some short form. From using the BCP to doing it on-line. The second session a week later being an opportunity to reflect on how using it that week worked out and looking at ways of revising that to better fit personalities and circumstances. Consider offering the workshop twice.

A one session workshop of two hours on helping individuals create a Rule for Lent. Based on the above but tailored to the person’s spiritual need, circumstances, and temperament. Have them write out their current spiritual practice and make note of issues of circumstances and temperament that impact it. Then have them consider the Prayer Book Lent and write out what they will commit themselves to do.

A careful weaving of a few minutes of ascetical teaching into the preaching of last Epiphany and Lent. For example –

“be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory” -- Might serve to engage how we rely on Grace and also need to make use of practices that set us in the pathways of grace (Rule, Eucharist, office, etc.)

“was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days” – Explore the relationship between “special acts of discipline and self denial” and coping with temptation.

You might reflect upon the relationship between a practice such as the Daily Office and “the day of trouble.”

5 One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; * that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;

6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord * and to seek him in his temple.

7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.

 

One other small idea. Consider abstaining from Facebook and Twitter during Lent. Turn off the parish accounts. Caution – suggesting this to people only makes sense if we are also offering “a Prayer Book Lent.”

 

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Saturday
Jan122019

An inner core of silence

We just finished conducting the Silence & Action workshop of the Pathways of Grace series. It was a wonderful morning.

An inner core of silence

Kenneth Leech was the conductor for the Order of the Ascension’s retreat in 1988. We gathered for five days. In one of Fr. Leech’s addresses he said this --

Any authentic priesthood must derive from an inner core of silence, a life hid with Christ in God ...Only those who are at home with silence and darkness will be able to survive in, and minister to, the perplexity and confusion of the modern world. Let us seek that dark silence out of which an authentic ministry and a renewed theology can grow and flourish.

In those days all the Professed Members were priests. Obviously, his wisdom applies to all the baptized. To live as we are called to live, to share in the Divine Life, we need an inner silence.

That silence is certainly related to popular ideas about being centered, grounded, and having a capacity for mindfulness. But it’s more. It has a content not just a process. It is informed silence. Silence and stillness rooted in our life hid with Christ.

Daily Office & Spiritual Reading

In the workshop we explored the resources of our tradition, the spiritual practices, that we may engage to place ourselves in the pathways of grace.  Our review of a number of Anglican guides for the spiritual life drew us to focus on two practices – the Daily office and spiritual reading. Both disciplines that would have us grow in our adoration and wonder by attending to the Word. We did Morning Prayer and a spiritual reading from Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship. With each we offered a bit of coaching centered on the practice’s usefulness in developing “an inner core of silence” and after doing the Office and the reading we reflected on their impact upon us.

Parish development

If you seek to deepen the spiritual life of the parish, and to develop a healthy parish culture, one starting place might be to offer short workshops training and coaching members in these two practices. To be effective the workshops need to be repeated every year. In a large parish they might be done twice each year. They are done if 15 people sign up or 2 people sign up. The goal is that after 8 years you may have 20% of the congregation engaging these practices and in so doing, not only enriching their own spiritual life, but shaping the parish in pathways of grace.

 

Michelle Heyne, OA & Robert Gallagher, OA

The Feast of Aelred of Rievaulx, 2019

Friday
Dec282018

The darkness did not overcome it

A conversation after Morning Prayer caused me to recalled how during this season I'd often read the Prologue chapter of William Temple's "Readings in St. John's Gospel." So, I read it again.

It was published in two parts in 1938 and 1939. Temple was writing it during the rise of fascism in Europe. Hitler has already taking segments of some countries, Franco has won in Spain, and the Saint Louis, with its Jewish refugees, was turned away from American ports. The war began on Sept 1 with the invasion of Poland. He writes it in a rather dark time. But there was also, Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, Lou Gehrig's "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" farewell speech, and the Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

 

Temple translates verses 4 and4 this way, "What came to be was Life, and the Life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness did not absorb it." Temple understands John to be saying, "The darkness in no sense at all received the light; yet the light shone still undimmed." The darkness isn't somehow made brighter by the presence of the light. "The divine light shines through the darkness of the world, cleaving it, but neither dispelling it nor quenched by it."

 

He sees it as a universal principle, always so. "Take any moment of history and you find light piercing unilluminated darkness...The company of those who stand in the beam of the light by which the path of true progress for that time is discerned is always small. Remember Wilberforce and the early Abolitionists; remember the twelve Apostles and the company gathered around them."

 

Temple hears this in it all, "And the one great question for everyone is whether he will 'walk in darkness' or 'walk in light' " (1John 1:7, 2: 10-11)

 

In 1963 the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, sent out a Christmas card created by Allan Crite.  It had been another year with a lot of darkness. George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama, Medgar Evers is murdered, four little girls are killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, John Kennedy is assassinated, and my drill instructor tells the platoon that we're going to Vietnam (most of us couldn't find it on a map).  There was also the March of Washington, success in the Birmingham struggle, Bobby Dylan and the Beatles, and JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner."

It was at the Advocate that I first lived the Prayer Book Pattern. That straightforward, balanced, rich ascetical discipline became my attempt to "stand in the beam of the light." That helped me, and many others, not get caught up in the progressive illusion that our generation was going to abolish evil and destroy the darkness. It also soaked us in the call to sacrifice for truth and justice.

William Temple said, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” 

The parish development quest is one of shaping churches that offer an environment of holiness. A culture in which we learn to recognize and walk in the beam of the light through spiritual discipline and moral formation.

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