Means of Grace, Hope of Glory


Worship that swept us off our feet: Instinctual and intuitive leadership

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


Instinctual intuitive leadership

There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect. -Gilbert K. Chesterton 

The congregation gathered in the coffee hour room. It was the new vicar’s first Sunday. This was a parish that had a rich history of city ministry. People in the community loved that its bells rang three times each day for prayer. It had used up its endowment during the depression to buy coal for people in the neighborhood of small row houses. That was still remembered. Over the years the numbers had grown smaller and smaller. The building however remained the same size with increased costs.

The new vicar looked around the room and asked those gathered, “Who’s on the vestry?” John turned to Robert and asked, “Are you on the vestry?” And so it went. They had lost track. Elections hadn’t taken place for several years.  They seemed tired.

The Bishop had no love for the parish. In a meeting in his office he had suggested to the new vicar that the task was how to close the place as soon as possible. Here in the coffee hour room members looked at the new vicar with depressed hopefulness. “Are you the one … or shall we look for another?”

“They don’t know who’s on the vestry!!” That was a new one for the young, unproven vicar. He couldn’t recall hearing about another parish that had lost track of its vestry.

The next step is obvious isn’t it? Parishes are suppose to have a vestry. Set things in motion, fix it—get a vestry in place! Or was there something else to be done?


The leaders we seek

Like everyone else I want my deacons, priests, and bishops to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I want them to have humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance born of love, eagerness to maintain unity in the bond of peace, truthfulness mediated in love, mutual kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness.[i] From them I hope for prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance; I look for a sense of wonder and awe, reverence, knowledge, courage, counsel, understanding and wisdom.[ii] 

Yes, I know all of the baptized are called to that life. I also know that when we experience these things in our deacons, priests and bishops we are better for it.   And when we don’t experience it, something in us is lost and diminished. It has to do with the focusing and iconic nature of Holy Orders in the Body of Christ.

I also want the parish priest to have an ability for adaptive leadership, self differentiated leadership, transformative leadership, and situational leadership. Don’t you?

If I missed one, please add it to the list.

A few years ago I suggested that parish priests needed five areas of competence—leadership ability, emotional maturity, spiritual maturity, competence in many of the skills related to effective priestly ministry, and priestliness.[iii] Maybe you have your own list of five things. A number of bishops seemed to like my list though there were some anxious about “priestliness.”  Their anxiety about this, and in practice their avoidance of it, may help explain a blind spot in our system of educating and training priests.

Having said that let me move to another question—in the life of today’s church what is the primary kind of leadership we need from our parish priests?[iv]


Instinctual intuitive leadership

The instant that a Somali bullet shattered against the door frame, peppering his temple with fragments, Major David Stockwell was guided by his survival instinct. His instinct was not a simple fight-or-flight response. It had been trained through the stressful situations of his Army career starting with Ranger School more than ten years earlier. With bullet fragments in his head and blood flowing from his wounds, he functioned coherently and moved swiftly.[v]

Parish leaders only feel as though someone is shooting at them; and that only occasionally and metaphorically. But the need to behave reasonably and act quickly while under pressure is needed in many places including the parish church. It’s needed both in immediate, here-and-now situations, and as we navigate journeys that require years.

All organizations need leadership that can routinely make wise and timely decisions based on an assessment of the situation with its challenges and opportunities. Parish leaders certainly require it in many here-and-now situations as well as in short and longer term action. 

None of us is able to act in a wise and timely manner if we constantly need to carefully diagnosis and judge each situation in front of us. That kind of behavior means that opportunities pass us by as threats multiple and increase in severity. If we are to be effective leaders a good bit of what we do needs to come to us spontaneously.

Those who are unable to function in an instinctive manner will tend to get paralyzed with excessive analysis—“If only we had more information all would be clear.” Or they decide and then feel conflicted and second-guess the decision. They may then change direction, not based on new information, but on fear.[vi]

I get faint and pass out; I’m disoriented but I manage to call a friend. My friend says, “Do you have a thermometer? Take your temperature.” Her EMT husband says “Call 911.”

The one is well intended but the other is an example of instinctual, intuitive leadership. It is a wise, quick response based on training and experience.

Second story. During the Korean War there is a battle shortly after Chinese troops enter the war. The US Army’s 2nd Division was under attack by overwhelmingly numbers of Chinese troops. To escape they needed to get the Division[vii] down a road from Kunuri to Sunchon through an area surrounded by high hills. There are large numbers of soldiers, vehicles and artillery to be moved. There are Chinese troops shooting from the hills above them. The description of what took place during part of the battle is that the enlisted soldiers, that were still able, were shooting up at the Chinese. They would get out of vehicles and do what they were trained to do—engage the enemy. 

The officers on the other hand were focused on what they were trained to do—accomplish the larger mission; in this case getting as many troops and as much equipment to a safer place. One difference is how the role of the person influences action; another is how training and experience shape what is focused upon and the action taken.

A third story. The bishop made it clear that he expected the priest to conduct a relatively standard stewardship campaign—visits to homes, sermons and addresses on Sunday, and so on. The priest felt stuck. Even though the parish had made significant gains in membership and pledging in the past few years they were still receiving funds from the diocese. He didn’t want the bishop unhappy with him yet he knew that the standard approach wouldn’t work in this parish. When the priest met with his support group of other first-time-in-charge clergy his frustration and grumbling set off their frustration and grumbling. It became a free for all about how the diocese doesn’t support them. No one said ignore the bishop. Several did tell him to just get on with things and do what the bishop wanted.

Later he contacted a priest with considerable experience in parish ministry, a background of diocesan staff work, and training and experience in negotiating work relationships. In 15 minutes the priest had a plan. He called the bishop and asked if he could propose an approach to stewardship that he thought would accomplish the bishop’s objective of significantly increasing the parish’s capacity for financial self-support. The bishop agreed. The priest laid it out. The bishop said, “sounds great. Let me know how it goes.”

The priest didn’t have the experience and training needed to effectively address the situation. His support group only made things worse. They fed his unformed instincts to accommodate or get resistive with the bishop. His openness to some coaching from the right person turned the situation around and became an important part of his own formation. It gave him a mental model and some skills for approaching an authority figure in an interdependent rather than dependent or counter-dependent manner.

In all organizations there are those who because of role or temperament focus on the minutia of the job, disregarding the world around them. Leaders need to help the organization, in this case the parish church, see that “world about them”—take into account the possibilities of tomorrow as well as the realities of today, considering the prospects of a changing neighborhood and world as well as the stability of the parish community’s common life.

Dig up all the information you can, then go with your instincts. We all have a certain intuition, and the older we get, the more we trust it… I use my intellect to inform my instinct. Then I use my instinct to test all this data. Colin Powell in My American Journey.

In all these cases various factors come into play—the objective to be accomplished, understanding the inclinations and capacities of the people involved, the given limitations and possibilities of the situation, and the ability and commitment of leaders.

In parish here-and-now situations, in those places when the leader needs to take an action that moves things forward, the more that leader is in tune with what is going on around her and the more she is cognizant of her own limits and abilities, the more likely a successful outcome. This is much more that simple intelligence. Words like savvy, street-smart, and wisdom come to mind.


Know yourself, know your job, know your people

There are many here-and-now moments when it is time for the leader to propose or order a direction. At other times the need is for the leader to invite people into a focused conversation and to then design and facilitate that conversation toward a decision and action. The 101 of parish dynamics and leadership is that the leader must take the initiative—useful and owned decisions will rarely rise up out of the congregation.

Behind a leader’s leading is a combination of skills, knowledge, stance and character.

What does savvy and wisdom look like? Any of the emotional intelligence lists[viii] can tell us about the mix needed—self-awareness, social awareness involving empathy, self-management, and relationship management.

Leaders seeking to develop a stronger ability for instinctive, intuitive leadership might focus on:

-      Knowing yourself – Self awareness, understanding your strengths and your blind spots

-      Knowing your job – The work of a parish priest includes having mental models rooted in pastoral and ascetical theology for the formation of people and the shaping of the parish; habits allowing for grace during liturgy and leading meetings; and the practice of reflection and learning from experience.

-      Knowing your people – A leader needs to understand the dynamics and culture of the parish, know who are the Apostolic Christians to be nurtured and encouraged, and what are the capacities and limitations of others in the parish.

This instinctual intuitive leadership gets developed in at least three ways. First by repetition in doing it again and again until it seeps into the pathways of brain and muscles.  Second in rising from disciplined reflection on experience. And third through learned mental models that serve to provide perspective and coherence over many situations and years.


Back to Melissa and Saint Paul’s for a bit

Melissa Skelton’s ability to see the matters of large consequence within apparently small issues and her initial ability to know the core building blocks of revitalization are examples of instinctive intuitive leadership. In the “small matters” each situation is the kind of thing many clergy easily give way on, usually while making some rationalization.[ix] The rationalization may appear reasonable but is usually a reaction, rather than a response. The reaction is often rooted in the misuse of a conflict style such as accommodating or avoiding. For Melissa knowing the core building blocks was a result of training with the Church Development Institute and her having seen the effects in other parishes.

Melissa’s approach to those four “small issues”—incense, announcements, nametags, and Daily Office—was a timely, considered response grounded in training and experience. As noted in that earlier posting, “life is sacramental and the small things and habits have connections with deeper things. Too many have a weak grasp of sacramentality or of how human systems actually work. Our ways of doing things are interwoven with values as well as profound and often subconscious assumptions about the nature of God and humanity and the dynamics within and among.”

Melissa came to Saint Paul’s with many educational credentials but for the purposes of leading the parish other things were more important. It was the combination of her manager training at Procter & Gamble, the Church Development Institute, lab training with LTI and NTL, and her liturgical experiences at General Seminary, Trinity Wall Street, and St. Andrews, Trenton that provided the instinctive intuitive capacity for making effective responses at Saint Paul’s.

She came from a family heritage that contributed to how she saw the world.  Her family assumes hard work and service to others. Also a lot of laughter. It was a family that took seriously loyalty to the family and patriotism toward the nation.

Melissa was still in the womb on her mother's birthday, November 30,1950.  Her father was in Korea between Kunuri and Sunchon; what was later called “the Gauntlet.” Larry had participated in the Normandy invasion in 1944 and now in Korea he would win a Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service. Then when Melissa was older she saw her parents in a Southern school auditorium refusing to rise along with all the other parents when Dixie was played.

That’s part of how you learn courage, perseverance and resilience.

All this influenced Melissa's sense of judgment; her instinct—formed by family life in the South of the 50’s and 60’s, quality academic work, and training and coaching in organization development and Anglican pastoral and ascetical theology. Over time it had all been reflected upon and integrated into effective instinctive, intuitive leadership. 

Melissa's an extrovert.  As she has gotten older she’s become more interior.[x] In the past her extroverted spirit needed to be matched by coaching with a more inner driven spirit. That combination allowed for both helping the parish develop a rich, dense culture and also offer that life to others in an appealing way. Over time that became more integrated in her, part of who she is. 

We all need that kind of companionship—a friend, coach, guide that helps us maintain perspective and see more broadly or more deeply, that assists us in seeing the larger picture or the important details.  While successful instinctive intuitive leadership is primarily grounded in the leader having attained enough balance in herself, part of that wisdom is drawing on others in the same field with similar experience and training. 

Without this balance, from within and in partnership with others, the temperament of a priest will cause the parish to gradually drift toward a life that is more and more interior and possibly isolated and purist or a life that is more and more external, program obsessed,  and superficial.

The balance and density of a parish culture depends on activities that equip the instincts of members for participation in liturgy and parish life. Saint Paul’s needs core foundations classes and an attractive compelling web site; a rector that becomes a presence in the community and the Daily Office.

It’s surprisingly easy for a parish that has worship like that described by the two bishops—“a deep spirituality of engagement by the entire congregation…non-verbal participation by the entire congregation … acts of mutual reverence that had the effect of creating a sense of a community engaged in something entirely corporate and significant for them”—to drift into a life where the artifacts remain, the behaviors are still there, but something has become disconnected.  Training programs in Eucharistic Practices are needed from time to time to maintain the instinctual nature of the shared life.


Back to instinctual intuitive leadership

Reading and being able to engage situations and people is at the heart of this ability—picking up on body language, understanding personality types, sensing resistance or receptivity, and seeing and knowing the dynamics of group life, are all needed skills

Such leaders know their own limits and are able to manage their feelings and moods.

While the basic ability has to be in the person none of us will have the ability to behave in this manner in all situations. There will be many that are outside our training and experience. So, we need others we listen to. We don’t really need a support group to cheer us on or enable our oppositional stances. If we are young or inexperienced we need a coach. Someone with wisdom that is grounded in the experience and training we lack.  If we are older, with more experience, we can use need a “balancer.” A person we trust that can help us keep perspective and offer knowledge we lack.

Wisdom in action is what this is about—“be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[xi] And given that the ability to know what is the right decision and be able to provide the needed leadership to face into the situation.

This is something we can learn. The goal is to develop the capacity in relation to the particular vocation, work and situations we have given ourselves to in life. It’s about developing subconscious and automatic responses that are in alignment with that life. It is built up in us as we do similar things again and again, reflect upon the experiences, and generalize and apply it correctly. It’s a trained “gut feeling,” an automatic response available for making difficult decisions in a wise and timely manner.


If you had more experience and less confidence I might be inclined to listen to you 

These were the words of Sister Evangelina, an older Anglican nun and midwife, to Trixie, a  young midwife in PBS’s “Call the Midwife.” 

It’s part of the problem we face. There are too many clergy (and laity) with firm opinions about how to revitalize parish churches without the experience and training to make such opinions wise—lots of confidence with little experience. Which is to say they lack humility.

There’s not a short cut in the elements that allow for wise, timely decision-making and action. If we are to become the leaders the church needs we will submit ourselves in obedience to the processes of:

1)   Repetition—doing things over-and-over until useful patterns of acting seep into the pathways of brain and muscles. A priest learning to preside at the Eucharist gracefully and with calm presence. Lay and clergy leaders able to smoothly facilitate meetings so people are heard, needed information made available, choices explored, and internal commitment reached.

2)   Disciplined reflection on experience—in training exercise, spiritual direction, therapy, and coaching giving ourselves to better understand ourselves, our work, and the people we serve. This is a stance, that once learned that changes our walks, reading, dreams, and conversations.

3)   Learning and using mental models—ways of seeing and perceiving that provide perspective and coherence.

These three things are obviously interdependent. They reinforce one another.

The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.  Warren Bennis

As a system we, the church, give authority and responsibility to people without them having the needed training, coaching, and supervision. It is as though a student would finish medical school and be handed a knife and told to go out and cut. It’s as though the Marine Corps would place untrained officers to lead other men and women to battle.  Our doctors need to go to medical school, Marine Corps platoon leaders need to have been through college and a form of boot camp, and priests need to have gone to seminary. Those things do not provide enough initial training and experience to address the situations faced early on in parish ministry.

Some years ago I had a priest friend tell me about the research he was doing as part of a doctoral program in organization development. He was looking at how the local Episcopal diocese and Lutheran Synod dealt with the placement of new clergy. Dick’s conclusion was that all too frequently the new clergy were set up for a career of difficulty and feelings of inadequacy. They were being placed in situations that went too far beyond their training and experience. They were not provided with adequate coaching or supervision.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.  Vince Lombardi

We can do better.


Or was there something else to be done?

The new vicar would make many mistakes in his seven years at the parish. He hired and fired staff in the clumsiness of ways. With magnificent and sentimental ineptness he over-involved himself in helping a family that appeared at the rectory door one night. He found himself outmaneuvered several times by con artists posing as people in need. On the other hand his instincts were perfect when a man walked into a small parish meeting and drew a revolver, and when a separated angry spouse sat in a pew trying to intimidate his wife then serving at the altar, and when a young man pulled a knife as he was walking though the neighborhood with two parishioners. He knew what the congregation needed at that Easter Vigil minutes after a beloved member fell to the parish hall floor with a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. And he knew how to nudge, coax, and push the parish toward it’s own health and growth.

His instincts were also just right that first Sunday. They needed a vestry but it had to be the right vestry.

The vicar said, “How about we do this? I want to have a meeting every Sunday for the next three months in the hour before the 10:30 Mass. We’ll use those meetings to find a way forward for the parish. Those who are present for every meeting will be the vestry for the coming year. What do you think?” They agreed. There was a unanimous vote to proceed.

They went forward with the meetings. The congregation and its new vicar looked at the demographics, poured over parish statistics, told stories about the parish’s past, and shared hopes for the future. Over the months a direction was created and a vestry emerged.

What were his instincts about in all this? Why not simply get on with things and restore the parish to proper functioning right away?

Maybe the results make the point.

-      Everyone in the congregation had the opportunity to participate in shaping the future and the direction was “owned.”

-      A strong connection developed between the new vicar and the congregation

-      The congregation learned a set of new habits for collaboration and decision making

-      A vestry was in place with the commitment needed for the situation and grounded in a direction broadly owned in the parish

-      The new vicar “proved” himself—to himself as well as allowing the congregation to see that he had something to offer them.

The vicar had considerable experience and training in collaborative decision-making process, group facilitation skills, the issues and dynamics of an urban parish, and staying in role as the positional leader while managing a shared leadership process.  His instincts for this particular situation were well grounded.

He was getting them to the new vestry while also helping that vestry and the congregation set themselves up for success.


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


A List of All Postings

[i] Galatians 5: 22-26 and Ephesians 4: 1 - 3

[ii] The traditional Cardinal Virtues and Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

[iii] Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, Robert A Gallagher,    Ascension Press, 2008, page 86. Also available in more detail as part of a parish based discernment process at “Parish Discernment - Formation Process of Aspirants for Priesthood”

[iv] We also need instinctive intuitive leadership from our bishops but that is a topic all its own.

[v] “No Excuse Leadership” Brace E. Barber, 2004 John Wiley and Sons

[vi] In leadership training programs one of the common frustrations expressed by participants is along these lines: “We need more information to decide that.” And “This is unrealistic, there’s not enough time.” And “The directions weren’t clear.” In fact leaders have to make decisions without knowing all the possible information and there is frequently a need to decide and act in a timely manner. One of the signs we look for in a leader’s development is when the grumbling stops and the person simple gets to work. This is often a sign that the person is now both more reality based and also less concerned about how they will look to others, more willing to risk. They are coming to a place where they accept things as they are—no one gives you “clear directions” to make your decision making easy, no one makes sure you have all the possible information so you can get it right and look good.

[vii] about 12,000 to 15,000 soldiers down a road from Kunuri to Sunchon

[viii] Here are a couple of emotional intelligence models.

Possibly the most useful is Introduction to Type and Emotional Intelligence, Roger R. Pearman, from Consulting Psychologists Press (CPP)  Pearman brings together an generally familiar approach to personality with EI.

[ix] Common rationalizations: “I don’t want to die in that ditch.”  “This isn’t an essential matter.”  “Most people do not really care about this.” Add your own.

[x] As we age its as thought three is an invitation to become more balanced. It’s possible for our attention and energies to go to new places

[xi] Romans 12


Introducing the Daily Office into a parish's DNA

This is an exchange rising out of the postings on "Worship that swept us off our feet."
This is excellent and helpful. I am in a congregation where we are beginning to build and establish some of these assumptions. A Prayer Book spirituality is important to me. If there is not a practice of saying the Daily Office how do you introduce it into the DNA?

Grace and Peace,

Vicar, Christ Church Tulsa

Two responses - introducing the Office is pretty simple: offer some training and resources. Getting it into the DNA is trickier, and much more complex, but I think is a critical part of the strategy for developing a healthy and grounded parish. We need to work in our parishes on both things: immediate training and formation, and long-term development and alignment but I think sometimes we hesitate to take the first steps around building basic knowledge and competence, perhaps because it doesn't seem significant enough.

Teach parishioners about the role of the Office in prayer life and in Anglican Spirituality more generally, and then give them resources. In addition to the Prayer Book and Daily Office Books, there are apps for your phone as well as websites that contain the entire service for Morning and Evening Prayer each day. (I've provided a lot of resources at the end of this.) Show people how to use the Prayer Book, put it in their hands and help them find the information they need. Give them some basic information on how to adapt the Office: the primary elements are an assigned psalm, an assigned reading, and the prayers, especially the Lord's Prayer. Then have
them try it and see how it goes. Help them make adaptations that will allow them to incorporate the Office into their lives. Help them see how saying the Office on their own is still a corporate act, a way of offering our prayers in communion with millions of others, living and dead.

Saying the Office publicly at the parish is also great but is more difficult logistically to get off the ground. That said, it is generally much more possible than clergy sometimes imagine. Recruiting lay people to officiate, using a customary, and then training the officiants, works quite well and helps reinforce the idea that the Office is fundamental to Anglican spiritual life, not some quaint custom reserved for the priest. Offering it daily is also important. To offer daily prayer only on Thursdays, for instance, undercuts the role of the Office and sends a confused message. Helping parishioners say it daily on their own is therefore particularly important when the parish is not in a position to offer daily public services.

In terms of the training itself, it's important to offer choices. Invite everyone to participate, but don't compel anyone to do so (including your vestry). If you find that there aren't many interested, you can just start with those few who are, or you may decide you need to do a bit more priming of the pump and then try again.

I have seen some priests get agitated about the numbers and assume that unless there's a big group, it's not worth doing. The opposite can actually be true. Providing some resources for those few who are moving
toward an a stable Sacramental or Apostolic spirituality focuses energy where it can have the most impact. It's a way of nurturing the climate and tone you hope to have.

In terms of the more general DNA, that's connected to the parish's overall structure and processes, its worship and prayer life, its openness to where God is calling us, and the alignment of the parish's day-to-day life with
the elements of healthy shape: a culture rooted in the Apostolic core, that accepts people where they are and invites them to move deeper, and that sees its primary purpose as nurturing the renewal of baptismal identity in its members.

If it's in the DNA, it's owned by and natural to a critical mass of parishioners, lay leaders, and clergy. No parish will ever get to a point where everyone is there (that would be cult-like), but there needs to be enough weight, enough competence and commitment, to sustain what is important. That takes time, regular and repeated formation offerings, and frequent assessment of whether the parish's structures and processes
support the overall development of that DNA. It requires persistence in the face of (clergy) boredom and excessive concern with numbers and speed.

Clergy need to start with themselves-- are they demonstrating an acceptance and understanding of both Anglican spirituality and Episcopal culture? Do they live out the Church's traditions and practices? Do they
develop their own capacity for prayer life, emotional and social intelligence, and parish leadership?

Offer regular foundations courses in Anglican Spirituality. These should offer both opportunities to learn more about the underlying logic, as well as how to do the things taught. Provide opportunities to further
develop what comes easily as well as to develop capacity for the elements of spiritual life that aren't as attractive, a mixture of nurturing and stretching. Help people understand spiritual life as a system and teach
them to participate in the basic practices. Eucharistic and Office are fundamental.

Improve public worship. What is needed for your worship to be graceful and consistently excellent? Train servers by giving them specific feedback and incorporating practice and walk-throughs. Work on being welcoming while also inviting newcomers to experience Episcopal worship at its best. Identify your gifts as a parish and then come up with three things you can do to develop and strengthen those gifts. Identify a couple of things you're doing that undercut the gifts and try to stop those things or lessen their impact. Develop a discipline around evaluating strengths and weaknesses in light of (1) what you actually are, not what you wish you were in a fantasy life; and (2) with knowledge of and respect for what excellence means within the Episcopal tradition.

A parish's strengths and weaknesses are often connected. For example, a parish has a wonderful choir. The music is a significant draw. Yet over time, the choir has taken on a "performance" aspect, the choir director
"conducts," makes hand gestures at the congregation to tell them when to sing, and important liturgical elements are delayed or rushed to meet the needs of the choir. Many of the hymns are too unfamiliar or too difficult for the average member to sign. These performance aspects are an outgrowth of the centrality of the skilled musicians and are probably based in an inadequate understanding of liturgy and the role of music. The solution is neither to get rid of the choir nor to ignore the growing problems. Rather, the parish needs an ongoing approach that builds a general understanding of the role of liturgy in formation, clarifies that music is
an integrated element of the liturgy, not a separate component, and creates structures for routine feedback and improvement.

Elect future leaders with an eye toward the kind of parish you want to be. Over time, as you build an Apostolic core, it will be easier to find leaders who are also Apostolic. Develop criteria for leaders and work on building those criteria into the parish's consciousness. Focus on developing for the future, rather than trying to force existing leaders to fit the mold.

Work on aligning meetings and community events with processes that support the culture you want. Build in opportunities to both model and develop emotional intelligence competencies. Help parishioners learn to have conversations and practice the skills of listening for understanding. Learn to identify, as a community, ways to gather the data needed for specific decisions, how to evaluate the data in light of the parish's needs and mission, and how to disagree with people we care about.

iPhone apps


Daily Office and Eucharist Lectionary

The Daily Office: The perfect Lenten observance

The Daily Office Book\

Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church

In Constant Prayer
Read an excerpt from In Constant

Many resources on this web page at St. George's, Ardmore

This site offers a detailed tutorial on saying the full Office. It's important though to remember that what's important isn't saying the Office in its "fullness" or perfectly. It is simply saying it in some form. The three
core elements of the Office are: 1) a psalm (as appointed for the day, 2) a reading (as appointed for the day_ and 3) the prayers provided by the church, especially the Lord's Prayer.

Michelle Heyne

Worship that swept us off our feet: small issues with large consequence

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

The small issues with large consequence

Mother Skelton faced a number of these in her first year. I’ll describe four.

First, there was the incense. It was used most Sundays and major feast days but not always. It was one of those compromises not acknowledged and covered over with a liturgical rationale about seasons.

As noted earlier the most important thing that Melissa did was to have kept the integrity of the liturgy alive. She had her own love for it and sensed that in that experience of grace and beauty was a future for Saint Paul’s. So, she enhanced it and built upon it.

But the first thing was to keep it alive against those who thought that it was the problem; that if somehow you watered it down, if somehow you made it less offensive to some visitors who didn't like the incense or the singing or the sense of reverence, that would turn things around. And maybe stop calling ourselves Anglo Catholics!

The people who thought those things were smart and articulate. Some were wealthy and gave generously. They were lively, interesting people but they knew nothing about what it takes to revitalize a parish church.

So she stayed with the thing she loved and she protected it and she enhanced it. Fortunately it was something the majority of the congregation also loved.  

As I remember things she went through a bit of a struggle with all the possibilities and challenges around the incense question. And then she decided to use incense every Sunday and major feast day. And as though they were linked together on a chain, she decided, “this is an Anglo Catholic parish and we will live that well.”

Second, moving the announcements out of the Eucharist and into coffee hour was connected with the priority of the liturgy as offered to the glory of God and as the primary act in the formation of the People of God. This act improved the flow of the Eucharist while making announcements more relaxed and conversational. It was a clear message about keeping the main thing the main thing.

Third, was the nametag matter I wrote about that earlier. Within that issue was another deeper matter—if we are really welcoming and accepting will we do this small thing, even if we’d rather not, to make things slightly easier for visitors and new people?[i]

Forth, the Daily Office[ii] carried within it at least three deeper matters. One had to do with turf, a second with parish authenticity, and the third with being an Episcopal parish with a Prayer Book spirituality. There were faithful members who had maintained the parish’s saying of a public Office over the years. They did this week after week even if they were there just with the “Angles and Archangels and the Whole Company of Heaven.” But if it was to become accessible to more members things had to change. It needed to be from the Prayer Book, at the same time every day, and others needed to be invited into making it happen.

The strengthen of the Daily office was an expression of the parish’s gift for prayer. It was part of who they were, and still are.

The matter of Prayer Book spirituality is interrelated with how unique identities—like Anglo Catholic or Evangelical, Progressive or Emergent—connect with the Episcopal ethos.  Melissa understood that while the Anglo Catholic tradition of having a daily mass was good, that the daily saying of the Office was more essential. She wanted the parish to live the Prayer Book’s spirituality of common prayer; to have the benefits of the Daily Prayers of the Church.[iii] Here’s what Evelyn Underhill wrote,

The peculiarity of the Anglican tradition is the equal emphasis which it gives to the Divine Office and the Eucharist; that is to say, to Biblical and to Sacramental worship. Where this balance is disturbed, its special character is lost. ...It is, I believe, by the balanced and instructed development of these two great instruments of Christian worship—carrying them forward without deflection from their supernatural orientation, yet keeping them flexible to the changing spiritual needs and spiritual insights of the world—that the Anglican Communion will best fulfill its liturgical office within the Body of Christ. Here support and stimulus is given to the Godward life of the individual, while the solemn objectivity of true Catholic worship is preserved.[iv]

Something I’ve noticed during all the church’s recent struggles is that the Anglo Catholic and Evangelical parishes split over whether they lived fully within an Episcopal Ethos and spirituality or lived only some part of it.[v] Those that did are still with us and are making significant contributions to our life.

In all these four things it would have been easy to go along with the voices wanted to drop them or not go there. It’s all “small stuff”—right? But life is sacramental and the small things and habits have connections with deeper things. Too many have a weak grasp of sacramentality or of how human systems actually work. Our ways of doing things are interwoven with values as well as profound and often subconscious assumptions about the nature of God and humanity and the dynamics within and among.

In your parish--What are the small matters that are before you now? What of larger consequence is tied to them? Can you see it? What within you resists offering the leadership needed? What calls you forward?


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


A List of All Postings

[i] In the section Improving the Sunday morning experience in Part One. Also addressed in the posting about coffee hour.

[ii] Discussed in Part Two in the section on “An overall strengthening of prayer life grounded in the Prayer Book’s threefold rule of prayer.” The methods used to accomplish this are presented in Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008. See pages 169 – 177 for a variety of ideas. The specific approach used at St. Paul’s is seen in the section on “Strengthening the Daily Office” and “PR for the Office” pages 171 – 173 and “Saint Paul’s Church, Seattle pages 176 – 177. There’s also a chapter on this in In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, Ascension Press, 2011 and In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practices, Robert A. Gallagher 2011, Ascension Press.

[iii] “Eucharist – Office – private prayer forms one whole balanced organic life” and “private prayer is absolutely dependent on the Office and the Eucharist”  Martin Thornton   “Our worship tradition as Episcopalians is based on a three-part structure. Michael Ramsey, the one-hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to it as the “Benedictine triangle.” Martin Thornton called it the “Catholic Threefold Rule of Prayer.” It is the Prayer Book’s way of prayer. The three elements, Eucharist, Daily Office, and Personal Devotions, comprise the fundamentals of a disciplined Christian spirituality in the Anglican tradition. The use of this pattern can help individuals and parishes move away from the attempt to base our prayer life on a self-made, unintegrated list of "rules" toward an integrated Rule grounded in The Book of Common Prayer. It is as a parish, as a local expression of the Body of Christ, that we may fully participate in and offer this threefold pattern. As individuals we will at times participate in this pattern, carrying others in prayer. At other times we will be carried.” Robert Gallagher in Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church.

The interplay among the three elements is explore in more detail on pages 56 – 57.

[iv] Worship by Evelyn Underhill, 1936, pp.335-336

[v] Also see these pages The Episcopal WaySpiritual Maps, and The Threefold Rule of Prayer


Worship that swept us off our feet: So what's transferable?

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


So what’s transferable?

What are the principles, competencies, and ways of being and doing that undergird the success at St. Paul’s that can be used in other parishes? What’s transferable into most other parishes? 

First what’s not transferable.

For it to be truly transferable it can’t be about the charisma of the priest because many priests will not be especially charismatic.[i] It can’t be about fortunate demographics because most parishes don’t have them and in any case they change. It can’t be about a fantasy that you have to be an emergent church or in this case an Anglo-Catholic parish in order to be healthy, faithful and growing because that’s not going to happen on a large scale and in any case for the most part emergent churches connected to the Episcopal Church aren’t all that large or self sufficient.[ii]

Is it really about Melissa?  That's the temptation in this case. Melissa is an extraordinarily interesting, intelligent, hard-working priest.

She and I talked about this recently. I said that if I were in her shoes I think the parish also would have grown but would have plateaued at 150 (probably at 120 but I was being kind to myself in the conversation). I know I could not have done what she has accomplished in this situation even though she was using all the basic approaches and principles that I would use myself. In fact as she acknowledged again and again in the meetings, she had learned the basics from me.

However, she is the person that led this wonderful process of revitalization. Her personality has played a significant role in the parish’s growth and in establishing a healthy climate. Temperament does matter. All things being equal a more extraverted priest will probably be better suited at building relationships with a large number of people and in marketing the parish to the community. Melissa could help this largely introverted parish express itself to people hungry for what it offered. And more than temperament she has the emotional intelligence to not allow her extraversion to undercut the necessary balance and rhythm in which there is a harmony of outward expression and inner life.[iii] 

These things are always sacramental. The actual person matters.


What then is transferable?

1. Building the competency of the congregation
This was central to what happened at St. Paul’s. There were sessions after mass on “Eucharistic Practices.”[iv]  Visitors, new comers and long-termers would gather and move through a series of experiential exercises. They would dip their hand in the baptismal waters and make the sign of the cross, they would reverence one another, they would learn how to listen and engage the readings and sermon in a new way. And along the way they would reflect upon what they were doing.  This liturgical competence was supported by written materials[v] and information on the web site.

There was an Adult Foundations program offered three times a year. Early modules included Anglican spirituality, developing a rule of life, and the Anglo-Catholic tradition. It always included strong experiential and participatory elements and was directed at assisting members to develop a competence, and therefore comfort, with spiritual practice. Over time the parishes has continued the Foundations program while adding other offerings.

As such offerings helped ground the parish in spiritual practices congruent with the identity of that community there developed an organic process in which people would pick up practices from one another. 

In The Hospitality of God[vi] the bishops wrote, “As a visitor to St. Paul’s, it was easy to be swept up to fully participate in the liturgy because it was confidant, well done and a genuine expression of the spiritual life of the body. It was simply true.”

What they experienced didn’t just magically happen. It was and continues to require attention, training and coaching of the congregation and the work noted in the second item.


2. Improving the Sunday morning experience

Intentional work was done to improve the overall quality of the Sunday morning experience. What happens on Sunday is both the primary instrument of formation and serves as the entry point for most new members.

They increased the self-assurance of the altar party by training and coaching with feedback. Practices that may have come across as artificial and pretentious were eliminated. This included practices that some servers and clergy had used for many years. The objective was relaxed dignity; unhurried gracefulness.   

The coffee hour was improved and made more reliable.[vii] Announcements were moved out of the Eucharist and into coffee hour which improved the flow of the Eucharist while making announcements more relaxed and conversational.

Processes for welcoming visitors and new people were established. As the rector greeted people and invite them to coffee hour and when they were receptive, members standing nearby would escort them to coffee.  Members were asked to help make it easier on visitors by wearing nametags—“If you don’t want to that’s fine but if you would it helps.”[viii] Printed in the Sunday bulletin at Saint Paul’s is this, “If the ritual customs of the Episcopal Church are unfamiliar to you, relax, and let the community carry you.” Visitors get to experience the grace, flow and beauty of liturgy without a string of instructions and announcements or power point slides on walls. People quickly pick up the rhythm.

3. An overall strengthening of prayer life grounded in the Prayer Book’s threefold rule of prayer

The threefold rule of prayer is also called the Benedictine Triangle. Strengthen the parish’s common prayer of Eucharist and the Daily Office along with providing support for people in their personal devotions became one of the most significant interventions. A PDF of the elements.

Three initiatives took place early on. There was the effort at improving the competence of the congregation and the altar party for joining in the Eucharist. There was also some training and guidance offered for how people might make use of personal devotions suited to their personality.

Probably the most important step was to “strengthen the parish’s practice of the Daily Office as a way to support the prayerfulness of Sunday morning and the parish as a whole.”[ix]  The understanding expressed here is about the spiritual dynamics of a parish, indeed of the Body of Christ. It’s common in our culture to think that the way you can most effectively and efficiently “improve” the Eucharist is by paying more attention to what happens up front and in the efforts of parish musicians. All of that is of course important. I want to suggest that it is through the relationship among the elements of the threefold rule of prayer that the Eucharist is most successfully and economically strengthened. The Eucharist is empowered when there is a core of people in the parish saying the Office, either on their own or as a public act of worship, and through processes of reflection and devotion the daily lives of people are laid upon at the altar and poured into the cup.


4. The rector needs to find something about the parish to love

Melissa Skelton did this when attending a mass during Advent in 2004 when she was being considered for the position. I remember standing there next to her. About fifteen minutes into the liturgy we looked at each other. We both had tears in our eyes.

Of course we had been to other parishes where the worship made us want to cry. But here at Saint Paul’s they weren’t tears of frustration and disappointment but of joy and pleasure.

This love must be authentic and real. When you’re new to a parish community it’s not true to say that you love the people. You may come to love them and they you. But that takes time and experience and openness to loving.

So clergy need to seek something to love. And if they can’t find it they need to explore whether it might be developed. For example in the exchanges of the search process a priest might look for two things: 1) Do I experience an openness here, a humility and willingness to both be led and be in collaboration?  Does this seem like a parish of healthy adults? Maybe they don’t know how to revitalize the parish but they are open?And 2) How they respond to who you are and what you have to offer?  If you have a sense that this is a parish that is static or in decline, do they acknowledge that or do they seem lethargic and defensive or apathetic?If you say to them what you'll want to offer are things such as those mentioned above, do they respond with "we've tried all that" or "whatever you want?" Or do they show curiosity, ask questions, and seem truely open?


Drilling down

Melissa talks about “drilling down.”  That has to do with taking a parish to its own depth, its own best place. It is nurturing its culture, its way of being and doing, by increasing competence in the habits of spiritually, being clear again and again about the values that are expressed in those practices, and seeking to understand the deeper assumptions about humanity and God that are the ground for the practices and the values.

Something of the richness and complexity of St. Paul’s spirituality is expressed in sections on their web site, here are a few of them:

Here an example from another parish -  The Episcopal Way  Episcopal Ethos  Spiritual Practice   

Parishes fail at this task of developing a rich and complex culture when they are not persistent or when they disconnect the elements from their natural interdependence.

I do have a final comment about the importance of "drilling down" in regard to our Episcopal/Anglican ethos. A parish can form people to be Christians as lived in that tradition. We can form people with spiritual practices, values, and underlying assumptions that have to do with comprehensivenes, personal holiness, and worldly holiness. My experience is that Episcopalians value our way of being and doing and think the world might be a better place if there were a few more of us. In The Hospitality of God the authors write, "Somehow we have allowed ourselves to lose confidence.." Maybe the way into confidence is by "drilling down."

In your parish--What can be done to build the competency necessary for a strong life of prayer, for a Sunday liturgy that "sweeps people of their feet," and helping members in being salt, light and love in their families, with friends, at work and in civic life? What can be done to "drill down" so the parish's living of the Episcopal ethos and Anglican spirituality shows in its common life and in the lives of members? How to increase Christian proficiency? 


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

[i] And if Friedman is correct to base renewal on a leaders charisma is unhealthy at its root.

[ii] It’s also true that: 1) It’s all to the good when priests are attractive human beings with a disciplined spiritual life and the ability to be aware of and mange their emotions. 2) It’s smart to establish new parishes in favorable locations. 3) That we have much to learn and that some of that needs to come from the emergent and Anglo Catholic churches.

[iii] Please don’t hear this as saying that us more introverted priests can’t successfully lead revitalization efforts. Of course we can. But generally we are more likely to plateau earlier in the process. We help ourselves by developing a stronger capacity for staying engaged with people with solid relational skills and by attending to all the structures and processes that present the parish to a broader community.On the other hand, we might be better at "drilling down" assuming that we already know and live the spiritual practives of the Episcopal ethos.

[iv] There’s a description on pages 35 - 36  In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practices, Robert A. Gallagher 2011, Ascension Press.

[v] See this booklet from the web site of Saint John’s in the Village in NYC. There are several booklets available from along the same line.

[vi] The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves and The Rt. Rev. Michael Perham, The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church

[vii] See “Coffee hour: to the glory of God and the sanctification of the parish community”

[viii] The trick with effectively using name tags is to invite, don’t pressure. But keep inviting. Use paper nametags that need to be created each week. It reinforces the voluntary nature of wearing the nametag and it avoids the sense of exclusion generated by all the plastic tags for members sitting on a table or attached to a board gathering dust and showing the visitor how many people are missing.

[ix] From a presentation by Mother Melissa Skelton to the 2010 Clergy Conference of the Diocese of Oregon. The methods used to accomplish this are presented in Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008. See pages 169 – 177 for a variety of ideas. The specific approach used at St. Paul’s is seen in the section on “Strengthening the Daily Office” and “PR for the Office” pages 171 – 173 and “Saint Paul’s Church, Seattle pages 176 – 177. There’s also a chapter on this in In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, Ascension Press, 2011 and In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practices, Robert A. Gallagher 2011, Ascension Press. Also see Michelle's posting on Introducing the Daily Office into a parish's DNA.


Worship that swept us off our feet: Saint Paul's Seattle

Worship that swept us off our feet: Saint Paul's Seattle
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

Worship that swept us off our feet: Saint Paul's Seattle

There are two starting places: one is a series of recent conversations, the other is a book. The two are entwined.  

I've been meeting with Mother Melissa Skelton[i] on a regular basis over the last few months. We have a long, rich and complex history together. The conversations have been fun, energized, and full of God’s good grace.

One part of the conversation has been about the remarkable events that have occurred at St. Paul's Parish, Seattle, where Melissa is the Rector, during the past eight years.


There has been a movement:

  • From fear to hope
  • From a loss of confidence to faith
  • From the existence of an apostolic core to a growing apostolic core and a set of spiritual competencies, values and habits that creates a healthy, faithful, and growing parish culture
  • From an average Sunday attendance of 89 to 253[ii]
  • From a usually amazing liturgy to a consistently amazing liturgy
  • From two to four Eucharists on Sunday (Melissa is at all of them)
  • From doubts about identity and purpose to clarity and ownership
  • From a strong life of common prayer to a stronger and more shared life
  • From a “talking heads” approach to adult formation programs to a strongly experiential and participatory approach
  • From an uncertain approach regarding a common service ministry to one that is stable and consistent with the parish spirituality
  • From property in poor shape with a liturgical space that was somehow out of whack to a significant renovation to the property including a liturgical space that is graceful and beautiful[iii]
  • From lack of attention to visitors to an effective and gracious approach to welcoming and incorporation
  • From corporate behavior patterns that were a mix of healthy stability and less than healthy stagnation to a Benedictine pattern of stability, conversation of life and obedience.

There’s more, much more. Parishes are systems, they are microcosms of the Body of Christ and as such, change in one part will generate change in other parts.  And, yes, I know, as much as we all want to think we don’t care about numbers, the change in average Sunday attendance is a grabber. They are apparently on their way to 300.


How can most of our parishes become healthy, faithful, growing communities?

Our talks weren’t really about “look what we’ve done at St. Paul’s” but what can most parishes do to revitalize their life? We were seeking to name the attitudes, knowledge and skills that others could make use of in efforts of parish development. We were using what has happened at St. Paul’s as a way of grounding the discussion. We were naming the habits of renewal.

What I'm sharing now is a glimpse, a few thoughts based on those conversations and my own experience. This is not a systematic attempt to present how we might go about revitalizing most of our congregations; it’s more of a foretaste. Maybe in the coming years Melissa or I or Michelle Heyne or maybe you, will write that book and design that training program.


Worship that swept us off our feet and modeled what we might hope for in many more churches across the Communion.

The phrase is from Bishops Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham as they share their learnings from a “pilgrimage of grace” based on visiting fourteen Anglican emergent churches in the US and Britain.[iv]

As I read their book I found myself responding along two lines. One was that they have done the church a service by noting ways in which we might learn from the emergent churches. The second was that what really excited them and gave them hope were two communities in Seattle—Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral and the primary Sunday Mass at St. Paul’s.

Compline at St. Mark’s has drawn the attention of the wider church for many years. Hundreds of young people attending a traditional Episcopal act of worship is surprising and disorienting for many in the church. We like it. But then we may feel uncertain.

My read is that the uncertainty has to do with not seeing a way to learn from it. And that’s with good reason. The young people drawn to Compline on Sunday evenings do so largely as observers of a performance and few make a transition from Compline to life in a congregation.

Here’s what I learn from it—there are a percentage of young people attracted to and fed by what Robert Webber called ancient-future forms of worship and that the Episcopal Church knows these forms well. It’s part of what lies within Brian McLaren’s “Episcopal Moment.”

However it is Saint Paul’s Church that brought on the response, “Worship that swept us off our feet and modeled what we might hope for in many more churches across the Communion.” They were attending on the Second Sunday of Lent in 2010. The priest presiding and preaching wasn’t the rector, Mother Skelton. There were around 150 in the congregation “with a wide age range, including a large proportion of young adults.” Later in the book they say, “But it was at St. Paul’s Seattle that we experienced most fully the power of shared gesture for building up a sense of the body of Christ and of a community intent on God.” They then described the liturgy and then asked themselves a question, “What was special about this worship?”

They noted that it was fundamentally “familiar” and “conventional” and went on to share three elements that “contributed to its being a stunning and moving experience.” First, “a deep spirituality of engagement by the entire congregation.” Second, it was carefully choreographed and rehearsed, yet it did not feel precious or stilted; the whole liturgy was a beautiful dance.” Third, “the non-verbal participation by the entire congregation” referring to acts of mutual reverence that had the effect of “creating a sense of a community engaged in something entirely corporate and significant for them.”[v]

For the two bishops it was the Saint Paul’s experience that offered something that was transferable across the Communion. I’d agree with that assessment.



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

A List of All Postings

[i] Also known as Mother Melissa, Melissa, and my dear friend and someone I once shared a marriage with.

[ii] Average Sunday Attendance

























[iii] “Building was ‘run down at the heels’ and worship space had powerful bones but had an odd and incongruent aesthetic”… moved to make it “more accessible and hospitable; strengthen parish identity via an emphasis on Baptism and Eucharist (font and altar) and to integrate the aesthetic and connect it to our Northwest location.” -Mother Skelton

[iv]  Written up in The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church, Mary Gray-Reeves & Michael Perham, Seabury Books, 2011. Page 79.

[v] The Hospitality of God pages 100 - 101