Means of Grace, Hope of Glory


The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore the map of spiritual life that Henri Nouwen offers in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.  Along with the Benedictine Promise his three movements of the spiritual life is one of the most useful resources for understanding and assessing the spiritual dynamics of a parish church as well as in the life of individual baptized person.


Nouwen sees our spiritual life as involving three movements:

From loneliness to solitude

To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.

From hostility to hospitality

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.

Receptivity without confrontation leads to a bland neutrality that serves nobody. Confrontation without receptivity leads to an oppressive aggression which hurts everybody.

From illusion to prayer

Solitude and hospitality can only bear lasting fruits when they are embedded in a broader, deeper and higher reality from which they receive their vitality. …The movement from illusion to prayer undergirds and makes possible the movements from loneliness to solitude and from hostility to hospitality and leads us to the core of the spiritual life.


Confession and seeing

The spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer. The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostility and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality and prayer as part of the vision of our life.



Part One: From Loneliness to Solitude

Part Two: From Hostility to Hospitality 

Part Three: From Illusion to Prayer


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Not a nice man but a kind man

Yesterday Michelle Heyne and I went to see Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Afterward she was so touched by the movie that her first thought was to return to see it again with Sean, her husband.

We went across the street to Murphy’s for a bit of reflection. Michelle mentioned how the movie portrays Lincoln as a kind man. I never quite thought about that before but agreed that was what was in the film.

Later I heard about the vote in England on women bishops. That’s when it occurred to me that Lincoln was a kind man but he was not a nice man.

The movie portrays him as pushing so hard to get the 13th amendment passed that he allows the war to go on for several more months at the cost of many thousands of lives. It shows him trading political jobs for the votes to get the measure passed. It shows him strong-arming opponents.

Not a nice man but a kind man.

In one of the Guardian's opinions about the vote on women bishops it suggested that one of the reasons it failed was that some people were trying to be nice.

The word on the street is that most of the house of laity who voted against didn't object to female bishops anyway, but were just trying to be nice. Niceness is the death of true religion and virtue.

Niceness, being nice, is seen by many as a kind of virtue; maybe as a kind of spiritual gift and practice.  There are two errors here.

Being nice isn’t the same thing as being kind. Being pleasing and agreeable is not the same thing as being generous and compassionate. I do understand the desire to be in a parish that is pleasing and agreeable. But it is a treacherous harmony.

The other mistake we make is when we focus on one virtue and fail to keep in mind the relationship of that virtue or gift with all the other virtues. Lincoln’s kindness was certainly there, but so was his justice and his courage.

When we separate out one of the virtues and hold it above or apart from the others, we do terrible damage to the spiritual life of the Body.
In Ephesians and Galatians Paul writes of the graces and practices necessary for our real life --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 and love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The one balances and informs the other.[i]

Our parishes stink of niceness. We are often lost in niceness. It’s suicidal. It’s connected with the extreme number of parish closings and maybe to our decline in numbers and courage.

Niceness is rooted in fear.

In many of our parishes we fear having the conversations we need to have.[ii] We fear challenging and really accepting each other. We fear being open with one another. Of course there are exceptions and in all parishes there are moments of grace. And because of that, because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church—there’s something to hope in and possibilities to pursue.

In many dioceses the response to these fearful parishes is to give up on them; to speak of closing them. We write them off. And in our doing that there’s another example of being nice. We try to be nice to leaders who resist learning new ways. We start out by giving up on them.

There’s a difference between being nice and being kind.


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[i] Also see -- Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, See comments on the gifts of the spirit and the four cardinal virtues, pp 162-163

[ii] See Things that go bump in the night


How does commitment really work? Part One: The Content

How does it work? How do we get the commitment we need from people to accomplish what we need to do in the parish? Even more importantly, how do we build commitment for the inner life, for spiritual practice, for compassion and justice?

This will be a two part posting.  The first is about the content of our commitment. The second will be concerned with the process of our commitment.

Understanding the content of our commitment is helped by: differentiating between two things, understanding the interplay of the two things, and seeing what is out of whack.


Differentiate between two things

In the parish’s life the content of our commitment takes two forms.

  • Commitment related to the primary task of the parish

These are commitments around the Sunday Eucharist, finding a way to engage in the Daily Prayers of the Church, developing the habits of reflection and participation in community, and equipping the baptized for service in their families, with friends, in the workplace, and in civic life. This kind of commitment is about members accepting responsibility for their spiritual life—for getting and staying grounded in their identity and purpose as baptized members of the Body of Christ and for establishing was of integrating that into their daily life. It is about the parish, as an institution, as well as, as the Body, ordering its life in a way that facilitates these things.

  • Commitment to assist in making parish life work

These are commitments around parish leadership, maintaining the property, providing the support system for liturgy, education and training, and so on. It’s the meetings of the vestry and all the working groups. Our commitment to these things provides the base needed for the first level of commitments.

A parish needs both these things—commitment related to the primary task of the parish and commitment to assist in making parish life work. We also need to understand that they are not the same thing and that the reason we exist has to do mostly with the first.


The interplay of two things

While the distinction between the parish’s task of forming people in Christ and making-the-parish-work is important it’s also more complex in practice. How we live and work together can either be “a school of love” or simply a matter of efficiency and effectiveness.  There’s nothing wrong with a parish being efficient and effective. Unless it is not at the same time a “school of love.”

Our call is to do both. How we deal with the task at hand as well as how we deal with one another are important for the well being of the parish as an institution and the formation of the People of God.

And how we approach the routine business of parish life can be a sacramental expression of the spiritual life or just more busy work.

The issues and dynamics seen in Benedictine spirituality can serve as a pathway to better understand the interplay of the two elements—“”men and women need freedom and yet they must accept authority,” …”doing ordinary things quietly and perfectly for the glory of God,” … “They involve us in - the need not to run away, the need to be open to change, the need to listen,” …”Balance, proportion, harmony are so central” … “create the favorable environment in which the balanced life may flourish,” … “nothing is to be put before the opus Dei,” … “When the signal is given for the liturgy other work must be abandoned.” … “We are stewards and not slaves, what we have and what we do belong to the life on loan from God, and it is through that life in its entirety, with all its unspectacular demands, that we shall make our way to him.” … “he looks for consideration of one another, and above all he places love before zeal.” … “Yet the community is not to be run by majority votes. … there’s also is a definite tyranny that the weak and unhappy can bring to bear in any community.” … ”unless I am silent I shall not hear God.”[i]


We fail to see what’s amiss

As we all know, it’s easy enough for a church to drift into a situation where the energy is around a shadow of these two things. We naturally deal with the Sunday morning experience. That’s something directly related to the parish’s reason for being. It’s important and urgent.[ii] We also attend to the basics of making parish life work. Also, important and urgent. Nothing wrong with either. 

Our problem is in our lack of fullness and depth; a lacking that seems so normal we fail to see what’s amiss.

And what is it that’s out of whack? Two things:

First, the primary ministry of baptism is pushed to the side in parish life. We, the Body of Christ, the instruments of Christ’s love in the daily life of the world, become instead “parish workers.” The glory of being fully alive—in our families, with friends, at work, and in our civic life—gets overshadowed by the routines of parish life. 

Our participation in “the new life of grace” gets reduced to the upkeep of the institution.  

The work of the Spirit happens even if the parish doesn’t explicitly acknowledge or only supports it haphazardly and partially. In the most oblivious of parishes some will grow in the life—“an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” And in an aware and alive parish more people will experience such growth. 

Do a bit of assessment on your parish.

  • In looking at the parish website when “ministries” are noted do we begin with the daily life of parishioners—work, family, friends, civic life? Is there an acknowledgement of the apostolate of baptism? Are there any stories that illustrate it? Or, in what we communicate do we suggest that the important “ministries” are what people do in, for or through the parish?
  • Stay with the website. What’s the overall impression communicated by the images and text? Is it of a parish life that shows curiosity and comprehensiveness along with rootedness in faith (vs. smug certainty or shallowness); a capacity to listen and maintain a sense of proportion and sound judgment (vs. anxious, reactive decision making); a community that can face into difficult situations and painful times (vs. avoid and flee); a longing for the inner life and the ways of holiness (vs.  a fear of depth or an exaggerated religiosity); and a delight in, a sense of awe of, and responsibility for,  the creation. (vs. a spirit of control or heedlessness).
  • Is the system of expectations tilted to satisfy those called to a ministry of making-the-parish-work or to those focused on their daily life? Has the parish explored ways to reduce the time asked of people for vestry and committee meetings? Do we present “stewardship” as being about our responsibilities in all of life or is it really seen as a code for giving money to the church? Is stewardship offered as a kind of biblical literalism or is there an acknowledgement of how our taxes and contribution to other causes are part of a modern understanding of stewardship?

The second thing often out of whack is that our efforts at formation are minimal. We allow it all to hang on Sunday morning and maybe a mid-week Eucharist. Maybe there’s a Lenten program. Isn’t this what most parishes do? Therefore, isn’t that enough?

More broadly, we fail to adequately attend to those things that are developmental, things that are important but not urgent. If the clarity of commitment is to occur it will usually be up to the priest-in-charge to make it happen. Clergy that sit around waiting for a spontaneous demand from the bulk of the congregation for spiritual guidance, a Daily Office in the church, and training in spiritual practice—well ... they will get to have a nice long rest. It may be an indicator that the priest doesn’t understand the task of shaping the parish as a core aspect of the presiding role in the Eucharistic community. It may also suggest that the priest doesn’t have an adequate grasp of the parish as a system, and therefore a workable strategy for pastoral oversight.

Do a second bit of assessment on your parish.[iii]

  • In the Sunday Eucharist - A critical mass of people “flow” with it. Mostly don’t need a Prayer Book or leaflet. Or most are frequently confused and uncertain about how to participate. 
  • The parish equips and supports parishioners in saying the Daily Prayer of the Church on their own by offering training and guidance. 
  • For a parish with a full time priest - the Daily Office is said in the church most days
  • There is an adult foundations course offered regularly and frequently in the parish. 
  • The parish has a climate and an approach to the spiritual life that encourages experimentation and the engagement of the tradition. 


Commitment related to the primary task of the parish and commitment to assist in making parish life work -- a parish needs to do both these things. We need to have commitment to the activities that have to do with our reason for being and we need to attend to the nuts and bolts of parish life. And we need to see the interplay between these things. Wise leadership will attend to the issues of focus and proportion. The responsibility falls on all parish leaders and most especially the priest. The priest must not accept the false separation of “spiritual” and temporal.” She is responsible to focus both and to help others see the interplay.




How does commitment really work?  Part Two: The Process

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Background resources

 In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practices, Robert A. Gallagher 2011, Ascension Press.

In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, Ascension Press, 2011

Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal, The Liturgical Press, 1984, 2001


[i] In Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal, The Liturgical Press, 1984, 2001. Quotes from pages 29, 30, 55, 85, 86, 93, 110, 111, 117, 138, 146.

[ii] Urgent in the sense that week after week it presses upon us requiring a sermon, a bulletin, candles and linen, coffee. It’s on the schedule and expected by people.

[iii] See – “The Barriers” and “Changing Our Way of Thinking” pp 10-11, “Assessing the Parish’s Spiritual Practices” p. 155 in In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practices, Robert A. Gallagher 2011, Ascension Press.


Passion and Articulation

My friend Amanda’s father is bed-ridden in the wake of some stroke-like episodes. Steve remains cheerful, engaged, and keenly interested in what’s going on around him.  Yet basic questions and responses stump him.  He knows that he has a response—sometimes a powerful one—but the translation from his internal perception and the related feelings into words doesn’t happen easily.  I asked him about a picture sitting on the table and he broke into a truly joyous smile.  He was able to tell me a few facts.  He told me that the man on the left was his father pretty easily, but as he tried to get beyond that, to identify the relationships and how the picture captured something critical about his family, he appeared to literally choke on the words.  His lips were pursed, the muscles of his throat tensed, his eyes got round, but no words came out.  It was both painful and moving to watch him simultaneously care so much about these connections, yet not be able to effectively communicate the scope of his experiences.

I was reminded of Steve during the Bishop’s visit to my parish church last week.  We were talking about the future of the parish and specifically thoughts about what it means to be an Episcopalian and how we share that with others.  What struck me most was the obvious passion and commitment present in a broad swath of the community.  But I was also struck by the difficulty in articulating why we’re there, who we are, and why anyone else should join us. 

I’ve seen this over and over with parishes I’ve worked with and with parishes I’ve been part of. For many lay people, we understand that something powerful keeps bringing us back to the Eucharist, but we don’t have a common language to describe what that is or to confirm our underlying assumption that the power exists broadly and can be made available to others who might “come and see.”  This has to impede our individual ability to progress our spiritual lives, as well as our ability to identify and deepen our expressions of faith in daily life—the myriad ways in which we live into our baptisms. 

At the same time, I’ve noticed that many clergy hesitate to provide explicit direction and coaching about how to understand and participate in the church’s spiritual practices, and many hesitate to provide a vision of the parish church as specifically in the business of forming Christians.   My sense is that the hesitation mostly stems from fear of imposing a bunch of “shoulds” or otherwise coming across as too pushy, self-righteous, or rigid.  Excellent things to avoid!  I also think Episcopal clergy as a group genuinely value the idea of self-management and the wide dispersal of leadership responsibilities.  It seems natural to assume that lay exploration of spiritual life rightly comes from within each parishioner, rather than being imposed by the clergy.

How do we choose when we don’t know what we don’t know?

The problem is that no one can really make a mature and informed decision about how they will structure their spiritual life if they haven’t learned about the options that are out there.  They can’t make mature and informed decisions if they haven’t received some assistance in how to do the things Anglican Christians do.  We are an incarnational people and our practices matter.  Why do we come to the Eucharist each week, even when we don’t feel like it?  How do we get perspective on our lives and faith?  How does each one of us “serve Christ in all persons”?  Even more specifically, why do some people dip their hand in the font and cross themselves when entering the church?   Why do we genuflect when we get in and out of our pews and how is it actually done?  Is it possible to get something from Biblical texts that mystify, anger, or bore us?    

To my mind, one of the great gifts of the Episcopal Church is the widespread willingness to encourage folks to follow their own spiritual path (a respect for each individual’s conscience, belief, and inclination) while also offering opportunities to participate in the liturgy (a respect for the tradition and wisdom of the Church as the Body of Christ and therefore much bigger than any one of us).  Yet membership in the Body of Christ is no longer a given.  It is no longer the very backdrop of everything else we’re doing with our friends and families, at work, and in the society at large.  When God gives us the gift of someone at the door or in the pew, we need to respond to the spiritual need that represents by addressing it practically—they’ve come because they need something beyond themselves.  And increasingly, they don’t have the language or understanding or experience to access what the Church offers.  That doesn’t mean we get rid of the liturgy or dumb it down.  What that means is the formation pathway liturgy itself provides is critical but it is often not enough on its own. 

Spiritual Formation at the Center of Parish Life

I long to see us welcome newcomers and offer resources to existing members by teaching about the Christian life in concrete and practical ways—about our actual practices rather than what we might do if we were different.   When I walk into a church, I look for evidence that they provide regular opportunities for parishioners—both new and longer-term—to reflect on their spiritual lives, deepen their spiritual practice, and generally build competence in the spiritual life.  That doesn’t require a bunch of money.  It does require commitment, thoughtfulness, and structuring such things into the parish’s schedule.  It is also requires re-thinking the standard forms of Christian education and working to make them less didactic and more experiential, less abstract and more reflective.

If our purpose as a parish church is to renew our members in baptismal identity, our overarching strategy and our use of resources needs to reflect that.  What does such a thing look like?  I’d like to offer two examples and contrast what I think is less helpful with what I see as more helpful. 

To that end, let’s do:

  • Less or none of this: A Newcomers Class that provides a history of the Episcopal Church, some vaguely defensive remarks about Henry VIII, our kooky terminology, and some commentary on Scripture, Reason, and Tradition.
  • Much more of this:  Regularly offer and invite people to a several-session course in Anglican Spiritual Practice.  Teach them about the Eucharist, the Office, Reflection, participation in Community, and Service in daily life using experiential and participatory methods with limited lecturing.  Coach them in how to participate in the Eucharist, how to say the Office, how to have conversations as a parish that are grounded in Benedictine listening.  


  • Less or none of this: Broad exhortations (in sermons, newsletters, meetings) to engage in service and mission accompanied by criticism of those who see church as “in here instead of out there.”  
  • Much more of this: Teach parishioners about the cycle between Renewal in worship, Christian education, and community life, and their Apostolate with family and friends, in the workplace, and in civic and charitable work.  Help people connect that power they experience in the Eucharist with their service in daily life and help them to develop ways of deepening and enriching that cycle. 

It is, of course, important to allow parishioners an opportunity to ask their questions—they may actually want to know about the split with Rome, or what a narthex is.  There is also value in figuring out ways to orient people about the parish’s culture and ways of being.  Nonetheless, the focus of formation efforts should be around spiritual life.

It’s most fruitful to teach first about Episcopal spirituality. That’s who we are and what we know.  It is our gift and I believe the world needs it.  To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with other faiths, teaching people about Buddhist meditation, offering workshops on interfaith dialogue, Sunday forums about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or study groups on books by non-denominational evangelicals.  There is something wrong, though, when that’s all or most of what we’re doing.  Again, it’s about emphasis and where we choose to put our time and energy in light of scarce resources.

In our parish meeting with the Bishop, there was no lack of love for the Episcopal Church or for our parish.  There was obvious commitment and energy about this particular way of being a Christian.  But there was little common language, and little common understanding of how we might share it with others.  That common language and understanding will not spring forth spontaneously.  It requires careful strategy and specific action by parish leaders. 

I am convinced the place to begin is with overhauling our approach to formation and continually noticing if our actual behavior is aligned with our primary task.   Are we doing the right things to form Christians in the Episcopal tradition and to foster a healthy cycle between Renewal and Apostolate?  It’s not hard to do, but it is complex.  It’s not expensive, but it carries the cost of giving up what’s familiar.  It requires asking the right questions and then consciously developing our own competence as leaders to respond appropriately to those questions.  Mostly, it requires harnessing and shaping the passion already present and then equipping the faithful to articulate that passion in both word and practice.

Michelle Heyne

Michelle is the author of In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life, Ascension Press, 2011. 

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Things that go bump in the night

From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us

The bishop visited Sunday, and the Wednesday just before, there was Berna Lewis’s burial mass. Berna was 95 and had been an Episcopalian for only a few years. She joined St. Clement's after moving to Seattle. I have found myself wondering about how her death and her life in the parish influenced the conversation with Bishop Rickel.  How much is death on our mind, or maybe just below the surface?

I think there’s a lot of anxiety and fear in the whole church right now. It’s also with us at St. Clement’s.

Not so much about dying. Many of us know something about that. Maybe it’s about whether new life is possible. I loved one of the questions put to the Bishop. It was something like, “What does ‘the new’ look like?”

Yes, the old is dying. We get that. But “what does ‘the new’ look like?” And if that’s what it looks like “do we want to live there?” And even if we might be willing to live there, “How do we get from here to there?”

things that go bump in the night

We know the scriptures. We really do. After being at Mass hundreds of times over the years we know about the New Jerusalem, we know about new birth and new life, we know that God makes all things new, that there’s to be a new heaven and new earth, that God gives a new heart and a new spirit, that we need to put new wine in new wineskins, that there’s a new commandment, and that we are to clothe ourselves with a new self.  How many times have we sung, “Finish then, Thy new creation …  Changed from glory into glory … lost in wonder, love and praise” 

We know about God’s overall movement toward “the new.” But here and now at St. Clement’s, “What does ‘the new’ look like?”

The Bishop did what can be done in such a setting. He told us it requires change, that he couldn’t tell us the specifics of the change needed in this parish community, and he told a few great stories of what it looked like in other places.

He seemed to be saying that many parishes were not going to make the needed changes and would continue sliding toward death. He didn’t say that was true about the Parish of St. Clement of Rome but he also didn’t say it wasn’t. One of his gifts is being encouraging and appreciative.

This bishop, in the diocese, has offered a focus on congregational development. He was trained in congregational development in the Church Development Institute. One of his trainers was Father Dennis Campbell, who’s now rector of St. Clement’s. The diocese has a solid training program for parish leaders through the College for Congregational Development (a CDI like program). 

The questions for the Bishop were about the death of the parish. It’s not something that's going to happen this year or probably even in the next 10 or 15 years. But this is a pretty smart group. We can count. And counting brings feelings. 

things that go bump in the night

Of course the bishop could not tell us what would turn things around. He's not with this congregation frequently enough to know even the strategy he might pursue himself if he were the rector.

Father Dennis, the rector of the parish, knows a great deal about congregational development. He was the bishop’s person in Arkansas. He led the CDI at Sewanee for many years. I’ll bet Dennis has his list of Ten Actions to turn things around.[i]

I guess most people would look at the parish with such a rector, and with Michelle Heyne and me in the congregation, and think that with all the background, education and experience present in that place, they’ll figure it out.  Yep, I have my list of Ten Actions.[ii] If Dennis wants to see my list I’ll share it. Actually it’s twelve things but he can stop reading at ten if he wants.

I don’t guess that my Ten Actions, or Fr. Dennis’s Ten Actions, are the answer to what “the new” looks like. In fact I’ll bet the last couple of rectors had their list. See how that worked out!

things that go bump in the night

I’m more certain about the process. There’s a need for informed conversation, some of which would be difficult. Such conversation needs to rise out of careful and honest reflection, be grounded in the common prayer of Mass and Office, and include the willingness to humbly and courageously listen to one another.

As the Bishop talked with the congregation I sat there thinking that not so many days before I had said to our rector. “I don’t think the parish has within itself the capacity to make the changes needed to turn things around.” I love the parish. I’m becoming fond of many members. In time I’ll come to love many of them. I like the music and preaching. I don’t like that I thought that or that I said that. But I fear it may be true, not just for St. Clement’s but for many parishes.

Could the parish turn around? Of course it could. It has wonderful gifts. There’s a lot to build upon. There are strengths to acknowledge and expand. We are located in an area that is a good fit for an Episcopal parish church. But it’s complex and difficult. It requires skills and knowledge most leaders don’t have. It calls for hard conversations that we all shy away from.

I gather that many people in the congregation had a bad experience with recent rectors (before Fr. Dennis). If I understand the story, many felt that the clergy were pushing changes that in themselves, and in the way they were being pursued, were simply too much.    

It’s a bit like being haunted.

things that go bump in the night

Haunted in the sense that even though this is a new rector the events and feelings of the past linger among us. It may seem like the parish has a gift in having three of the church’s “experts” in congregational development as part of the congregation. After having worked with hundred’s of parishes we can see things more easily and quickly than others.  Our perceptions rise out of years of specialized training and experience. In the abstract our Ten Actions lists are likely to be pretty much on target. I know mine is!  Oh my! –gift or curse?

But no one lives “in the abstract.” We all live with ghosts and demons. Satan’s spells and wiles, false words of heresy, knowledge that defiles, the heart’s idolatry—aren’t just of Patrick’s hymn.

How can this parish draw on Father Dennis’s considerable experience and training in a manner that doesn’t set loose the evil spirits? How can any parish do that?[iii]

How can we have a holy conversation about “the new?” How can we arrive at a common list of Ten Actions that represents the knowledge of “the experts” and the wisdom of the congregation? How can we do that in a manner that doesn’t make “the experts” arrogant and overbearing and the congregation defensive and wary?

Good Lord, deliver us!

Many houses in my neighborhood have very elaborate Halloween decorations up. I'm sure that's true in much of the country. It may not be at a conscious level for most people but the fact is we still put on festivity in the face of evil and death. One way humans cope with the things that haunt us is by prayer and happiness. We make light of the things that scare us. We tell jokes and laugh, we put on costumes and prance.

In many parishes the need is to stop using appreciative processes to avoid our fears. It may be time to find a way into a holy conversation in which by naming our weaknesses and blindsides, along with our gifts and strengths, we finally come to a light place, a place of gratitude and humor, of pleasure and understanding.

I wonder if our difficulty is that there is a kind of safety in the way things are now.  There is a certain peace and joy in it. There is most certainly love in it. If we have the conversations and do the work to find what “the new” looks like, we may find we don’t want to live there. In any case there is risk in trying to get from here to there?

The problems most parishes face in this journey may not be made of malice and pride as much as of inability, lethargy and apathy. Or maybe in some cases it’s not those things but a wise decision to remain in the place of stability. Either way, as the Bishop suggested, this is very hard work.[iv]

For my part, I find no fault in deciding to remain in the love, joy and peace we know. Yes, there is more. But there is always “more.” We go from “glory into glory.”  Our choices are made in the space between knowing that God is here in this place with these people now and that God is in the new place as well. There is a kind of integrity and holiness in either choice.

What is never a decision, in that way, is whether the People of God will have the conversation. Such listening is our obedience. 

In All Hallows Eve, Charles Williams offers a theological undergirding for the work, “The past may be recalled and redeemed in the present, but the present cannot be forsaken for the past.”

And later he offers this hope, “The vigil of the saints was innumerably active in the City.”[v]


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Background resources that may help a parish trying to have needed conversations

In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, Ascension Press, 2011. In the chapter on Community: defining the community we seek, the dynamics of human gathering, communication skills, being the community we seek, and practicing community in daily life.

In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practices, Robert A. Gallagher 2011, Ascension Press. In the chapter on Community: the parish as community, images of health, theory and methods.

Welcome to Anglican Spiritual Traditions, Vicki Black, Morehouse, 2010. Section on Seeking Christ in Community: the practice of hospitality, the practice of stability, monastic communities, the practice of reconciliation, Anglican voice son community.

The Nearness of God: Parish Ministry as Spiritual Practice, Julia Gatta, Morehouse, 2010. Chapter One: Called Together-Vocation in Community.

Seeking God:The Way of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal, the Liturgical Press, 1984, 2001. Especially the chapters on Listening, Stability Change and People.

Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, Robert A Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008. On community especially these sections: “Balance, Unity, Participatory, and Community” p 65 – 66, “Community” p. 83 - 84, Chapter three “The Benedictine Promise” (with sections on stability, conversion of life and obedience; also may methods for community conversation). p. 99 – 101,




[i] I don’t mean that literally. I have no idea if Fr. Campbell has such a list. I know he could make one up and that it would be a good one. 

[ii] Yea, I do mean that literally. In writing this I decided to see if I really did have such a list. So, I wrote things down.

[iii] Worse yet, what does a parish do if the clergy don’t have adequate training in congregational development – a mix of pastoral & ascetical theology and organization development?

[iv] In writing this I found myself drawn to a passage in All Hallows Eve, “Only the City lay silently around her; only the river flowed below, and the stars flickered above, and in the houses lights shone. It occurred to her presently to wonder vaguely—as in hopeless affliction men do wonder—why the lights were shinning. If the City were as empty as it seemed, if there were no companion anywhere, why the lights? She gazed at them, and the wonder flickered and went away, and after awhile returned and presently went away again, and so on for a long time. She remained standing there, for though she had been a reasonably intelligent and forceful creature, she had never in fact had to display any initiative—much less such initiative as was needed here.” Charles Williams, All Hallows Eve, 1948. The Noonday Press a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Page 8.

[v] All Hallows Eve. The quotes are on pages 241, 247