Understanding from Within

This section of the website exists in large part to expand upon a recent article by Michelle Heyne and Robert Gallagher in the OD Practitioner-- "Understanding from Within: Working with Religious Systems."


PDF of the article - "Understanding from Within: Working with Religious Systems"


The article was written for members of the OD Network, the largest professional association of organization development practitioners. That's a largely secular audience and the piece is written in a manner that reflects that. The material on this page is provided for those OD Practitioners who want more information on the models mentioned in the article. It's also a resource for parish development practitioners in the church seeking resources.

Those working as parish development practitioners may be parish leaders, external consultants, or members of the bishop's staff. For our work to be effective we need to "understand from within." We mean that in three senses:
1. We are more likely to "understand" and be received if we are proficient Christians grounded in this Anglican way of being a Christian. 
2. Taking an appreciative, curious, open stance toward the parish and the tradition will also help. If we had to chose between a competent secular OD consultant with such appreciation and an Episcopalian taking a dismissive stance toward parishes, with a list of "three things all parishes must do," we'd select the non-religious consultant.
3. Our understand will be richer and deeper if we are familiar with systems oriented pastoral/ascetical theology models of the parish church. Such models are teased out of the actual experience of the parish church in relationship with the church's self understanding of its nature, mission, and inner life.


Here are a few of the models we use in our work.


Renewal-Apostolate Cycle 

The Renewal ‐ Apostolate Cycle is a way of describing a central dynamic of Christian life. The Cycle focuses our attention on the Christian’s movement between being renewed in baptismal identity and purpose and living as instruments of God’s love and grace in daily life--in our families, with friends, in the workplace, and in our civic life. The cycle is between a conscious and intentional attention to God, prayer life, our relationships, Christian formation and a subconscious reliance upon God as members of the Body of Christ, in the workplace, family, friendship, civic life and congregational life. The primary task of the parish church is the glorification of God and the sanctification of the people. It is to provide the climate, prayer life and other resources that renew baptized members in their faith and practice so they may be instruments of the Divine Compassion in daily life.  

        PDF Renewal-Apostolate Cycle     

        Workplace Apostolate 

        Eucharistic Spirituality

        Book: Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church Chapter 1.

Questions for parish leaders -

Does the parish provide adequate support for the renewal of people by:
1) An emphasis on the Eucharist, Daily Office and formation programs?
2) Assisting members in developing, living and adapting their spiritual discipline
3) Providing space and support as people work out ways of relating to the parish community
[Note: The rector has primary responsibility for this. The vestry's role is largely one of expecting the rector to address it.]



In Your Holy Spirit Model

This model has five elements; five spiritual practices. At the base there are two practices—one weekly, one daily. That rhythm is common to many religious and spiritual traditions. These elements have to do with living in the habits and ways that keep us grounded in that tradition. In Anglicanism they take form as the Holy Eucharist (Mass) and the Daily Office (Daily Prayer of the Church).

Above them are two more spiritual practices standing side-by-side—Community and Reflection. We participate in imperfect communities that we allow to nurture and influence us, including a parish church. Reflection includes developing our capacity to be silent and still; to listen to God, one another, the Scriptures and the Tradition; and to learn from our experience.

The final element is Service. Individuals serve in ways that fit their gifts and temperament. The parish develops an expression of common and shared service. The assumption is that such service will be more fruitful and authentic, and less self serving, when it sits upon the base of the other four spiritual practices. 

PDF - In Your Holy Spirit model



Anglican Spiritual Practices Course 

This course is best offered on a schedule that picks up people within 4 months of becoming somewhat regular in attendance.  Here is Michelle Heyne's education design - "Teaching Spiritual Practice: Experiential Approach to Christian Formation and Parish Development."  For use with In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today's Christian Life  This has been used in many parishes during the pre-Advent/Advent period and/or during Lent. It's most effective when offered each year as a way of assisting in the incorporation of newer members. 


Assessing your Spiritual Practices - An assessment form for individuals

Parish Assessment of Spiritual Practices -  An assessment of the parish


Shape of the Parish

This model assumes that people are in many different places in regard to spiritual life--some more disciplined, others more lax; some with an "owned" faith, others more tentative and possibly immature. All are loved by God, all are part of the Body of Christ. People need to be accepted where they are in the spiritual journey. We also assume that a parish is healthier when there is a critical mass of people who are more proficient in the practices of faith.That group grounds the parish in a more mature faith and creates a climate conducive to growth in faith. People need to be invited to grow and move forward in the spiritual life.  A related organizational model is the Critical Mass Model

       PDF Shape of the Parish

       Book: Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church Chapter 4.

Question for parish leaders - Do we have an effective strategy that deepens the parish's spiritual life, while staying open to the various places people are in their faith journey? [Note: The rector has primary responsibility for this. The vestry's role is largely one of expecting the rector to address it.]


The Christian Life Model

This model has at its center three interdependent threads -- Worship, Doctrine, and Action. Each is, for the parish and the individual, a pathway into deeper life in Christ. 

PDF Christian Life Model 

Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church Chapter 2.
Power from on High: A Model for Parish Life and Development - earlier version from 1982

Blog posting - The Christian Life Model -The four most common mistakes


Assessment of Parish Life and Ministry

Christian Life Model exercise

The Benedictine Promise

The Benedictine tradition includes a promise of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. The Promise establishes an orientation toward healthy parish life and development in the Anglican tradition.  These three aspects of spirituality are brought together into one promise and a paradox.  The promise is a way to assess the congregation’s dynamics and structures and for shaping the culture of the congregation. 

PDF Benedictine Promise

Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, Esther de Wall


Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

Henri Nouwen's offers 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 of 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.

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.

Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life