Means of Grace, Hope of Glory


Fake Listening

Parish leaders have at times been known to engage in fake listening.

Most have learned that they are supposed to listen to the thoughts and feelings of parishioners. Many try to do that with integrity. Some work at learning to do it with competence.

It helps to recognize when fake listening is taking place.

A couple of examples –

A Rector

The rector wants to make a change or create a new program. He wants to change the times of the Sunday services. Now there are two celebrations of the Eucharist – 8:00 and 10 am. He has decided that there need to be three – 7:30, 9:00, and 11:00.

He’s called a meeting after the 10:00 am liturgy to discuss – How will we make the needed adjustments in order for the new schedule to work?

There are several “truths” here. It is the rector’s “right” to decide. It may be true, in the sense of a right assessment, that this will increase Sunday attendance. And it’s likely to be true that there will be a fight, resentment, and anger.

If the rector is really going to listen he needs to back up a bit and open up conversations around what he is hoping to accomplish, what are alternative ways of accomplishing that, and what the impact would be on parishioner family life and Sunday routines.

He needs to pay attention to Chris Argyris’ Intervention Theory. He needs to do the listening in a way that allows people to develop a degree of internal commitment to whatever path is taken. Just asking people to offer ideas on how to do what the rector wants is manipulation, not listening.

 A Warden

When wardens are annoyed with the rector, or under pressure from others in the parish, they have been known to conduct an informal survey. Calls are made to all vestry members, or a number of influential parishioners. The rector isn’t told this will be happening and has no opportunity to help shape the process. This is a sham activity. There’s an agenda being pursued. It’s not about listening with an open heart and mind. It’s about proving a point.

You may be able to see the bogus nature of the process if you use the Relationship Cycle in Parishes to assess the action. Real listening processes are about creating a conversation that allows the parties to mutually address “rubs” in the relationship. This kind of fake listening process is either an act of incompetence or maliciousness that is likely to enflame the situation. In the model, instead of moving along the green line it moves along a red line that increases the level of the conflict.


There are many ways to avoid listening. For more see – Ways of avoiding "taking counsel"



Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again

Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again   Evelyn Underhill


There is a wonderful efficiency in the Christian way of forgiveness and reconciliation. The scriptures want us to get on with things.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew 18:15)

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

In Benedict's Rule the Divine Office is arranged so that the community twice a day is invited to forgive - "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." 

Last August, Michelle Heyne, OA and I spent a good bit of time attending the Eucharist and saying the Office at All Saints Margaret Street. There can't be too many parishes in the Anglican Communion in which there are three masses most days along with Morning and Evening Prayer. The other practice Monday through Saturday is that for a half hour each day there is a priest available to hear confessions. Not only does the parish outdo Benedict by saying the Lord's Prayer five times/day but it offers God's healing, mercy and grace in sacramental efficiency. 

Hear Martin Thornton on that:

Perhaps the best of all reasons in favour of sacramental Confession is simply "why not?" Is it not just a little silly, and flagrantly inefficient, to cut the lawn with nail scissors when God has take the trouble to supply a very workmanlike power mower?

My own inclination when serving as a parish priest was to offer the rite during Advent and Lent. People could also make appointments at other times (though of course they tended not to do that.) I find myself thinking that a better approach would be to offer it at least once a month. Enough to keep the opportunity in the minds of the congregation.

Underhill wrote:

Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your own misdeeds

She wasn't suggesting avoidance or denial. She wanted us to get on with things. 

Parishes are too often weighed down by a litany of old grudges and resentment. Our disobedience to the church's norms and the Gospel's call create a cancer within the Eucharistic community. Sometimes obvious but more commonly hidden deep within, unacknowledged but slowly eating away.

In my experience the chronic grumbling that feeds the spirit of grievance and animus will continue on until someone names the demon and offers the alternative of Christian practice.

Every minute you are thinking of evil, you might have been thinking of good instead. Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your own misdeeds. Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again.    Evelyn Underhill


On the Feast of Blessed Evelyn Underhill, 2018 

The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel - Stop Grumbling - a spiritual life resource for individuals and parishes 

About the icon: It's part of my icon series "The Anglo Catholics." The writer was Mary Ellen Watson


We stand on the shoulders of others #2

You stand out in the crowd only because you have these many, many carrying you on their shoulders. Desmond Tutu

My first full time parish position was as vicar of Saint Elisabeth’s. I wanted to be part of the inner-city church movement of those days. I had read Paul Moore and Kilmer Myers. I had worked at the Advocate where Paul Washington was the rector.

I think it took about 18 months before I began to see. It was 18 months of hard work, developing friendships, learning the neighborhood, and praying the Office in the chapel.

I began to see the shoulders I was standing on.

In 1888 Henry P. Percival was the rector of the Church of the Evangelist in South Philadelphia. He raised the funds and provided the energy for a new parish. It was to be a place of holiness and beauty.




William Walter Webb was Percival’s assistant. Fr. Webb became the first rector of Saint Elisabeth’s. He grounded the parish in the Anglo Catholic tradition. Later he became Professor of Dogmatic Theology of Nashotah House in 1892; and then Bishop of Milwaukee. One review of his life said, “He was a man of marked administrative abilities, and was also a strong and eloquent preacher. His own life was of deepest spiritual tone.”  That tone marked the parish.


William McGarvey was rector in the later part of one century and the beginning of the next. The rectory was laid out in monastic fashion with cells for the community of priests living there – the Companions of the Holy Saviour (CSSS). He and most of the parish clergy left for Rome in 1908. I struggled with my feelings about what they had done. And I also knew the depth of spirituality and sacrifice that marked the parish because they had been there. 


Tomaso Edmondo of Cioppa (Rev. T. E. Della Cioppa) was rector of the Church of L’Emmanuello, an Italian Mission. That congregation was at St. Elisabeth’s from 1929 – 1940. It served the Italian community with social services, music, and social societies. I was thrilled to find a stash of 1928 Prayer Books in Italian. And found myself deeply grateful for the wise presence of Rose when I arrived, “It’s okay Father, we’ll get to know you.”

Father Edward McCoy was the rector during the 50’s and 60’s. He established a relationship with naval personal and a ministry at the Naval Hospital. It was McCoy they told stories about when I arrived. About dedication and persistence. Funny stories about his ways. And especially the story of how he integrated the parish. Margie and her son Robert were the first black parishioners. They were there when I arrived – faithful, quiet people with a sense of humor.

During my first years in the parish Father Harris, CSSS, celebrated the Wednesday mass. He was long retired from serving as rector of an African American parish. He was totally reliable. I would have been happy for him to be with us forever. But when he realized I was going to allow women priests to celebrate at the altar – that was too much. With no fuss and a much graciousness, he decided to leave us.

I came to see that I rested upon all their shoulders.

It’s one of the wrongs of parish histories that these stories get so focused on the clergy. Members didn’t tell stories from decades earlier about the laity whose shoulders we also rested upon. Or at least I failed to ask.

I did come to know the stories of the people I relied on during those seven years. Don, Robert, Mary, Wilma, Ed, Rose, John and Bess, Rachele and Frank, Kay and Joan. It was their prayers, friendships, and work that shaped a wonderful and holy Eucharistic community.

You can understand a lot about a rector’s humility and courage by seeing how they relate to other clergy in the parish. There is something more solid and mature when they are generous and thankful for the presence of other priests in the parish; especially priests they don’t pay and supervise – the retired and unpaid associates. It’s also there in whether they easily tell stories of earlier parish priests in sermons and social gatherings. You can see it immediately in places where the Rector is comfortable with the previous rector attending worship and functioning in the parish. 

I heard one priest say that the priest associates in the parish needed it to be harmless. It was a sad, fearful statement. The freeing and graceful spirit of the Gospel is seen in parishes that know how to make good use of the retired and adjunct clergy among them, how to acknowledge and respect the clergy that came before them -- you either give thanks for them or you will resent and try to contain them.


In another city parish, years later, the vestry and I had invited a consultant to guide us through a learning process. She had us create a history line that told the story of the parish’s faith and prayer, service and fellowship. When she asked about a period 30 years earlier the room feel silent. The older members were clearly distressed and unsettled. They told their story of how they felt they had mistreated the rector as his son was dying of cancer. They were contrite and embarrassed. In the telling of the story that day they recovered something of themselves. They reclaimed that priest and his son. A weight upon their shoulders had changed from pain to freedom. There was in the room a sense of redemption. A redeeming not only of the “now” but of the past.


Whose shoulders are you standing upon?  Do you acknowledge it or hide it?




We stand on the shoulders of others

You stand out in the crowd only because you have these many, many carrying you on their shoulders. Desmond Tutu 


I met Bishop Tutu once. I was asked to drive him from General Seminary to our diocesan convention in Connecticut. He had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. In interviews he spoke about standing on the shoulders of others. Two things took place on that drive that had never happened to me before. The bishop said Evening Prayer in the back seat as I drove and Linda navigated; then he slept on my grandmother's quilted pillow. And when we arrived at the hotel the police looked under my car for bombs. Standing on the shoulders of others might best be done with humility and prayer. And it can come with some risk.


Michelle Heyne, OA, and I had a rich, fascinating time on Monday working with a team from the Diocese of New Jersey. The diocese sent the congregational development staff person, parish rectors and a couple of standing committee members. Truth be told, we were a bit intimidated. What did they think we could offer that made a trip to Seattle worth such an investment?


It was a wonderful day. 


In the course of the work Michelle and I drew upon the wisdom of Martin Thornton (ascetical theology and practice), Edgar Schein (organizational culture and process consultation), Chris Argyris (intervention theory), and Loren Mead (parish development). We even called upon Pope Francis.


We spoke of the history of organization development and how the early adapters were the military, teacher unions, Esso, and the Episcopal Church. We related Argyris' work on successful interventions (internal commitment grounded in valid and useful information and free choice) to Bob Gallagher's "Congregational Options" model. We explored the relationship between commitment and competence. On and on.


After the team headed home I found myself reflecting on all the ways in which my life and work have rested on the life and work of others. How I have stood upon the shoulders of others. It's true for all of us. Accepting it is directly related to our spiritual health -- to our gratitude and humility, to our dreams and longings, to our capacity for persistence and courage.


I thought about programs such as the Church Development Institute, the College for Congregational Development and Shaping the Parish. Whose shoulders do they rest upon? I can personally trace it back as far as the 1970's work of Loren Mead and Project Test Pattern and the Organization Development training program of MATC. And of course, Loren Mead and MATC rested upon the shoulders of others.


I will take some time in the coming weeks to meditate further on all that. Maybe write something.


Whose shoulders are you standing upon?  Do you acknowledge it or hide it?


Whose shoulders does your parish rest upon? Do you acknowledge it or hide it?





Q & A: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling

Q – What can I do with myself? At times I feel as though I’m choking on old resentments. Things that happened years ago and I’m still dwelling in them. It’s like living in a house that filled up with old newspapers and has cobwebs and spiders in all the corners.

Fifteen years ago, George was parish treasurer. He stole some money from the offering and was caught. The parish didn’t press criminal charges and George apologized and fessed up to having done it before. He repaid the money he had taken. George was allowed to stay in the parish. I’ve never been okay with that. But now he’s been elected to the vestry. There’s a group of us that have been talking about this at coffee hour. I’m having a resentment flare-up.

A – First you might notice how split you are within yourself. You’re disturbed by the resentment you’re carrying and at the same time nurturing that resentment with the old story. Second, you’re grumbling – in your heart and at coffee hour.

Let me focus on your soul. My opinion of George staying in the parish and now getting elected to the vestry has no value.

Four actions you might consider:

Spend some time reflecting on the wisdom of Holy Scripture

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5: 23 -24)

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Get out your Prayer Book and turn to page 447. You need to make your confession. Just remember that you are confessing your sin not George’s.

Stop participating in the grumbling corner at coffee hour. You are feeding the worst part of yourself. You are also helping to create a parish climate of resentment, holding grudges, and self-righteousness.

Make use of “The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling.” Consider reading a section each day. Allow yourself to be healed. You might begin with “Everyone has a need to be forgiven.”   

There’s much more of course but those four acts might be a good beginning.


Q – Parish life seems rushed and busy. Even Sunday morning is crowded with activities. The Eucharist has to be done in no more than one hour. People have little chance to catch up with one another because there’s an adult forum in place of the coffee hour. Frequently there are committee meetings after that. What can I do?

A – Saint Benedict begins his Rule for living in community with “Listen carefully …with the ear of your heart.” Our ability to be obedient to God and live in mutual obedience in community is directly related to our willingness to listen and competence in listening.

It sounds as though your parish has shaped its life in a way that makes listening difficult even if you are willing and able to listen.

Let’s focus on your soul.

Things you might consider doing:

Speak with the rector about what you are experiencing. Don’t be argumentative. Just share the effect it’s having on you. That’s being a responsible participant in the Body of Christ. Once you’ve done that – let it go.

Reflect on Bishop Scott Benhase’s comments on “Holy Obedience.” 

The threefold process of holy obedience – is listening to God in the Scriptures, and the prayers of the church, and in the voices of those around us.


You may not be able to slow down the pace of Sunday morning but you can slow down your pace and take time to listen in those three ways.

Do you know how to use the Lectio Divina method of praying the scriptures? Try to learn it and then arrive a few minutes early on Sunday and look at the readings for that day. Here’s the lectionary.

You can expand your listening to God in the prayers of the church by saying the Daily office each day. Some on-line ways of saying it

Mission Saint Clare   

There's a Virtual Morning Prayer in the Diocese of Georgia. Mondays through Fridays, 9 am Georgia time,  you can turn on your computer or smart phone, log onto Facebook and join a live Morning Prayer service. It's easy to join the group, just click on this link Morning Prayer in GA and ask to join. 

From the Gregorians   


Take someone to breakfast or lunch on Sunday before or after the Eucharist. Talk, listen.


 You may want to participate in The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling.

If you’re one of the baptized seeking to deepen your spiritual life – use the web page for your reflections for a month.  If you’re a priest or lay leader – you may find help on the web page to improve the climate of the parish.



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