Sunday, September 2, 2012

From Koinonia: Choose Me!

“HERE AM I, CHOOSE ME! CHOOSE ME!” AN APPENDIX TO “A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 141: REDISCOVERING THE SACRAMENT OF UNCTION Hard as it is to get anyone to agree to undertake any form of ministry in the church, I am about to lay upon you an additional impediment. Never ask for, or accept, volunteers. At least, not quickly, spontaneously, or without the same vetting and discernment process that is in place for others being considered. Oh, there is not such a process in place? Then make one. This is important. Here’s why. All ministry roles require contact with other human beings. Such ministers, lay or ordained, staff members or volunteers, represent the church. It is imperative that they do so with charity, hospitality, humility, good humor, graciousness, and generosity of spirit. They require the trust and respect of the congregation. Perhaps most of all, they need an attitude of selflessness. They need the capacity to remove themselves from the picture and focus on God and the person needing the ministry. Would that all those attributes applied to everyone in our congregations, but alas, that is not always the case. These ministries are too important just to assign to the first person who says, “I’d like to do that.” When was the last time the easy way turned out to be the best way? There is no ministry role in the church that just anyone is equipped to do effectively. Sadly, very often the ones who want the role are the least capable of it, or at least the ones most likely to make it all about themselves. Whether the congregation needs a lector, a chalicist, a lay Eucharistic visitor, a catechist, a pastoral visitor, a volunteer receptionist—or a new Rector-- the fact is that it would be better to leave that ministry undone for a while than to put in place someone not suited for the role. Suppose you want to institute a healing prayer ministry that includes both lay and ordained healing ministers. The priest member of the team is to offer the sacrament of unction, the anointing with oil. The lay member(s) of the team will join with the priest in the laying on of hands, with prayer silent or spoken. Imagine the consequences to the ministry, and to the sick person, if the one laying on hands is a gossip, a busy-body, or a bottomless pit of personal, emotional neediness, intent (consciously or unconsciously) on siphoning off as much as possible of the spiritual power present for their own aggrandizement! Ouch! That sounds harsh! I do not charge all volunteers with such ulterior motives. In such a scenario, you might well receive a volunteer who would make an outstanding, superlative healing minister for the congregation. The problem is, you would get one or more of those others, as well. The purpose of discernment is valuable for both, to fathom which is which. If the process is disappointing to the one not discerned to have the charism for a particular ministry, it is in equal measure encouraging and empowering to the one affirmed in that role. I am not saying that the ordained are exempt from any such hazards, for they are not. However, the clergy have experienced an extensive examination requiring the approval of a number of persons at many levels prior to their ordination or call as rector/priest-in-charge. The lay ones need to undergo a similarly careful consideration. The dangers are that grave. The bottom line is to remember that you are not soliciting persons to come forward to take on a particular ministry role in the congregation. You are seeking recommendations of persons to enter the process of discernment possibly leading to selection and preparation for such a role. What a huge and important distinction that nuance makes!

A Volley from the Canon, Number 141--Seventh Sacrament

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 141 THE SEVENTH SACRAMENT Just a few decades ago, what we call the sacrament of Unction, the practice of healing by prayer, with anointing and/or manual touch, was the stuff of tent revivals and Saturday afternoon television programming. We certainly wouldn’t see the act in church, in any of the mainline denominations, including ours. Today, Episcopal clergy, with the active participation of some laity, regularly offer the sacrament to those in need of healing. People are routinely anointed, and receive the laying on of hands, with prayer for healing, in hospitals, nursing homes, and private residences. Many congregations—though not by any means all-- also offer unction at special healing services on a weekday, usually accompanied by the Eucharist. So unction has come out of the shadows. And yet—it is the sacrament that remains isolated, still very much the step-child of sacramental acts. Where we don’t see it enough is in the context of a regular Eucharist, attended by the well and able as well as the sick and impaired. Should not every Eucharist of the Lord’s Day be an occasion for spiritual healing as well as for spiritual feeding? A few years ago, we also did not offer Eucharist every Sunday. We feared, and many warned, that we would get bored with it, that it would “take too long,” or that it would “offend” somehow. That has not been our experience. Now, we might offer the same concerns about making unction available at a regular Sunday Eucharist. Yet I, and many, could name multiple examples where the sacrament has been widely received with welcome and appreciation. It isn’t necessarily easy to work in the additional act, but it is worth the attention and effort. It is being done, creatively, in several different ways, in various places. With regular Sunday Eucharist, we have become a Christian body that emphasizes Christ’s feeding of his people with himself, with his own body and blood. With regular Sunday unction offered as well, we can be the church that emphasizes also God’s desire and willingness to heal, and the continuing, life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit. Couldn’t that be a good thing? 1S

A Volley from the Canon, Number 140, Healing Gardens

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 140 HEALING GARDENS (with thanks to the Rev. John Rice in Encountering God’s Handiwork for ConneXions) Does your congregation have a “Healing Garden?” Perhaps it could, with very little adaptation from your existing, beautiful and well-maintained landscape design. If your property is visible to passers-by, accessible outside of worship times, and visited or transited by both members and the public, perhaps it ought to. What better way to emphasize the great concentration on healing practiced by Jesus himself in his earthly ministry, and the attention the church has historically given to healing of body, mind, and spirit? What would make the garden a healing garden? Maybe, to start with, just an attractive sign proclaiming the space as such. However, there should be other features, too, to make it inviting, restful, and inspiring to visit. Here are some suggestions to incorporate: 1. A water feature adds coolness, peaceful sound effect, a sense of motion, and a drinking source for birds, even if it is a small one. 2. A bench or a few chairs for sitting and meditating. 3. Some shade, as a refuge from summer sun. 4. Smooth, level pathways for safe, unobstructed access. 5. Plantings chosen for color, mature size, texture, and blooming time for variety, interest, and continuing beauty. 6. An eye to the level of maintenance needed. 7. Design around some kind of statuary, or a focal point. 8. Consider fragrance as well as visual effect. 9. For the blind, add tactile elements. 10. Don’t forget plants that attract birds and butterflies. 11. Raised beds offer access to the handicapped, plus additional seating, quicker weeding, and access for hands-on experience. 12. A good mulch helps conserve water, reduce weeding, and give a consistency to plantings. Additionally, To plant a garden including plants, flowers, and herbs that traditionally have healing properties, check out the lists contained here: The coming fall could be an ideal time to plan, dig, and lay out a garden. Have fun dreaming, but remember—don’t plant more than you and your friends can weed! You’ll want to spend some time just sitting in the shade, hearing, smelling, and seeing the results of the handiwork you and God have produced in partnership. A garden, open and welcoming to the public, is a sign of Christian hospitality, inviting friend and stranger alike to enter and to linger. A healing garden is a sign of the life-giving ministry of Jesus, who heals and makes whole, and of the Holy Spirit, who continues to work miracles of healing in the present day.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 139, Reading Camp

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 139 START YOUR OWN LOCAL READING CAMP! In our Diocese, we’ve now run two successful, introductory Reading Camps, one at St. Luke’s-on-the-Island, Wheeling, and one at Premier Park/Welch for the Highland Educational Project (St. Luke’s, Welch). Both were fun, productive, inspiring, and encouraging. The campers themselves had a great time! Now is the time, believe it or not, to begin planning for Reading Camps, 2013. We hope and plan to continue on the Island and in McDowell County. What I’d like to see is half a dozen more one-week camps for local children run out of congregations across our diocese. Toward that end, I am inviting interested persons to attend Reading Camp Training, coming up in October this year. It is very important that at least two persons representing each Reading Camp location attend this training! (We are Network members.) Fall 2012 RC Network Training and Retreat October 18-20, 2012 4:00pm Thursday - 4:00pm Saturday Cathedral Domain Conference Center 800 Highway 1746 Irvine, KY 40336 Fees: $100 per person, Network Members $125 per person, non-members *$30 single-room supplemental fee* A small number of scholarships will be available. (Some additional funding from the Diocese of WV) Any and all are welcome to attend - Reading Camp volunteers, friends, Network members and those who are interested in learning about and starting their own Reading Camp program. The training provides leadership training for young adults and other volunteers. Please make your plans now to attend. Recruit your co-leaders. Sponsoring clergy are recommended to attend as well. Let’s take the onus of low literacy off out state and our diocese—and have a great time doing it! Our children deserve no less.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 138, POP

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 138 The Prayers of the People We Anglicans are a people of prayer—“common” prayer—and that is a good thing. More than any of the Protestants, we pray publicly for each other, by name. We even have a segment of our liturgy designated for that purpose, the Prayers of the People. How, then, does a good thing become a distracting one, damaging the flow of the Sunday liturgy? When it becomes a seemingly endless recitation, poorly or hastily read, featuring intercessions that are not, in the main, the concerns of all the people, but the interests of a few individuals, who might not even be present. The petitions can then become more about the inclusion of various members than about the needs of those prayed for. To be specific, I’ve seen elderly individuals’ names reside in the Prayers of the People longer than the tenure of the average rector, and these are people who are known to only one in the congregation, the relative who put their name on the list in the first place, and who attends only sporadically. But just try to remove that name, and you have a major controversy. Now you’ve declared that you are callously unconcerned, not just about poor Aunt Agnes in Clearwater, but about the nephew or niece who wants her prayed for. Please note, I am not saying that somebody’s Aunt Agnes, whom I do not know, does not warrant my prayers. I am suggesting, though, that a) elderliness is not of itself an illness, and it seems overkill to me to have people languish on the prayer list for many years, and b) I’m not convinced the Sunday Eucharist is the proper place to let that happen. The question is, how can we satisfy the needs for inclusion and intercession on behalf of those “in any kind of need or trouble,” without putting the whole congregation into that condition? At this point, I concede that the whole question is moot for very small congregations. They can pray through their whole prayer list, including all the Aunt Agneses, and still get home before Tuesday, maybe even before the Sunday pot roast burns. They may not know Agnes, but they do know her nephew Henry, and to pray for her is to pray for him. That is a positive value, and those congregations may not need to put curbs on their intercessions in any way. However, the larger congregations have a different reality. Some form of discipline seems called for. A key issue is IMMEDIACY. When one asks for a friend or relative to be included in the prayers of the people, one really ought to be one of those people, i. e. in attendance at the Eucharist most of the time. It doesn’t seem fair to leave the congregation set on “auto-pray” indefinitely. A secondary concern is URGENCY. People can be in chronic need of prayer (aren’t we all?) for years, but in urgent need only for a few weeks or months. There are ways to keep the Prayers of the People more immediate, and more urgent. The most effective of these is to cease list-keeping altogether, and rely on participants in worship to provide their own intercessions. This was apparently the intent of the framers of BCP 1979, and many congregations could still be taught to do this comfortably. What we have found is that in a great many congregations, people are far too bashful to sing out the names of those they are praying for, even softly. They want someone else to do it. In an ancient stone church in Wales, I saw a large, wooden cross in the Narthex, with little clips on it, and a basket of paper slips and pencils nearby. Upon entering the church, worshipers were invited to write out their intercessory concerns and clip them onto the cross. The intercessor picked those up and, at the appropriate time, used them to offer the prayers of the people gathered that day. I’ve seen that done with just a small basket, too. A one-sheet list form would serve as well, and there could be many creative variations. That answers the “immediacy” question, and there is nothing to stop Henry from including Aunt Agnes anytime he is present and desires to do so. A second practice, equally important, is to request that the congregation participate in intercessory prayer outside of Eucharist as well, daily, and to provide the names of those for whom prayers are requested. That list could include not only the urgent needs, noted in the Prayers of the People, but also the more chronic ones as well. More importantly, the discipline of “praying without ceasing” greatly multiplies the prayers of the congregation, taking them beyond the Sunday celebration and into everyday life. A third point is worth raising: teach the intercessors how to offer lists of names reverently, respectfully, and—prayerfully—so that the experience is worth kneeling through for the congregation. And while you’re on your knees, thank God that you have a church congregation that considers common intercessory prayer important enough to do it, and do it well. That is a big part of what we gather as a church to do.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 137--To-Do List

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 137 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Small Congregations Plead For Their Lives Part V: “More for the To-do List” With the spiritual life of the congregation at the forefront, and the ministry team growing in concept and in practice, only now is the time right for more development to occur, including more active evangelism. Yes, Episcopalians do and must practice evangelism. We can no longer rely, as we did for generations, on our own natural growth, plus the people who have fallen through the cracks of other communions. We have a gospel message to offer, and we must share it. Toward that end, every small congregation ought to do these things, and do them intentionally and well: 1. Plan and expect to grow! Pray for your church. Have an active, creative welcoming ministry that involves the whole congregation. Hospitably receive and incorporate new members. Remember-- Everyone in the congregation is a minister. We all have needs, but none of us is a mere consumer. We all can greet people, introduce ourselves and others, help visitors find a comfortable place, all without overwhelming them • Make, distribute, and wear name tags while at church. Often, that helps more than just the visitors! • Invite people to attend special services, events, and projects. Everyone loves to know they are wanted. 2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep the snail-mail going to those who need it, but use all the modern and growing electronic means as well. Use Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, and e-lists to keep folks apprised of church interests and activities, including intercessory prayer needs. Never leave anyone out of the loop! • Create and maintain an informative web-site. Don’t rely on a volunteer. This has to be done well, and it is a constant duty, not a spare-time thing, to keep up to date. • Use every means at your disposal to advertise to the community at large. But don’t waste money on out-of-date, expensive venues. Yellow Pages are passé, suddenly. Newspaper ads are headed in that direction. Billboards, well-placed and designed, can get good notice. Yard signs, promotional banners and balloons, flyers well-distributed, posters and notes on public bulletin boards, crawlers on the local cable—all these can be effective. Don’t forget word of mouth, the cheapest and most productive advertising of all! • Place attractive, welcoming signs so that people can find driveway entrances, parking, and locations in the church, including how to get into the building. • Look at your parking area. Is it well-lighted, well-laid-out, well-maintained? Do you have designated spaces for newcomers? Do members greet unfamiliar faces even out in the parking lot, to welcome them and help guide them to nursery or church door? 3. Focus on your mission. Every congregation should have an important, worthwhile ministry for which it is known in the community. Use that, not only to meet the needs of the people, but also to build relationships among members, and to attract new ones interested in that ministry. 4. Engage in cooperative ministries, when practical, with other Episcopal congregations and with other compatible ecumenical ones as well. 5. Avoid internal conflicts and infighting like the Devil. Guess who sponsors and encourages that sort of thing, anyway! One internal brouhaha can undo all the hard work of years of evangelism and congregational development. 6. Enjoy, celebrate, and love the life of your church, as an indispensible part of your own spiritual life. Never let it become a chore or a burden. In the midst of it all, keep an eye on your own well-being, relationship with God and neighbors, and peace of mind.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 136, Job Number One

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 136 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Small Congregations Plead For Their Lives Part V: “JOB NUMBER ONE” The Church is not a social club. It is the Body of Jesus Christ, a radical, subversive organization bent on changing the world, not by the application of worldly power (as some Christians mistakenly attempt), but through modeling ourselves after the teaching and example of Jesus, and by inviting others to do so as well. The best description of our modus operandi is found in our Baptismal Covenant, one of the great contributions of the present Book of Common Prayer. Looking for a good text for a teaching series? There you have it. As a Ministry Team is forming and preparing itself for leadership and ministry in the congregation, that process itself goes very far toward deepening and enriching the spiritual life of those people, and of the congregation at large. Following up on that, there is more to be done to keep the focus on God. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some points to consider. 1. What happens on Sunday morning, at the worship liturgies of the congregation, is of paramount importance. Every celebration, whether Morning Prayer or Eucharist, must be carefully planned, prepared in detail, and deliberately focused on the prayer life of the people. 2. Episcopal worship is not about the relationship of the people with one another. It is about their relationship with God. It is vertical, not horizontal. We relate to one another before and after worship, not during, except cooperatively. 3. That doesn’t mean that there is any excuse for poorly delivered, inaudible, reading, or rambling, inarticulate, or pointless sermons. We offer to God our very best in quality and effort. Preachers, if your sermon consists of re-telling what one of the scripture lessons already say, go back and work on it some more. 4. EVERYONE is a “performer” of worship. There are no spectators! The audience to worship is God and the angels, not the people in the pews. That is why the prayer book was placed into our hands in the first place, so that we could all be full participants in worship. 5. Any way in which we act like an audience is counterproductive to liturgical worship. That means NO APPLAUSE! By all means, we should tell musicians, lectors, preachers, and acolytes how much we appreciate their offerings in worship. No one ever tires of hearing they are doing a great job. But let them offer their gifts freely and generously, without reducing them to the role of entertainers. What a great teaching opportunity this is for children! 6. The Prayer Book is our friend, not our enemy. Use it, in accordance with the rubrics. It is fine the way it is, and does not require the amendments of any of us clergy. 7. Music selection is extremely important to worship. Don’t try to use every hymn in Hymns 1982. It is meant to be an anthology, widely inclusive; not every selection is appropriate for every congregation (some, questionably appropriate for any!) Use other resources, too. What the congregation is invited to sing MUST be singable by the congregation, and each must contribute to the atmosphere of reverence and worship. Yet reverence does not mean moroseness! Lively worship is reverent, too. 8. A small congregation should not try to imitate the music of a large one. Use hymns particularly easy for non-musicians to sing, since everyone needs to participate without inhibition. Use soloists or small groups for special music. Keep it prayerful, not performance. 9. Provide for opportunities for private prayer. A votive stand, a holy water font, an intercessory prayer station, an icon or other focal point for prayer, brief moments of silence in the liturgy—all these and more can be very conducive to spiritual expression. 10. Do something to make the Prayers of the People truly that, and not a laundry list, dreadfully read. Here, be creative, within the framework offered by the BCP. (This may call for a volley of its own.) 11. The worship space is made holy by the prayers of generations offered there. Make it express that reality in immaculate, non-cluttered, spiritually-focused appearance. Take a hard look. Are those banners, made by children in 1967, really needed now? The Church is not a refrigerator door. By all means, find ways to include the efforts and contributions of all members—but not necessarily as permanent fixtures building up over the decades in the worship space. (There are other locations where that kind of historical collection can be maintained.) Father Fabulous placed that tacky sign there in 1972, and we love Father Fabulous, at least those living who remember him. But the sign must go! 12. Teach. Teach. Teach. 13. Have teaching missions and preaching missions for occasional, focused growth. VBS, or its equivalent through the year, is not just for children! 14. Regularly, at least twice per year, offer orientation to the Episcopal Church to anyone who might be interested (and cultivate that interest among newer participants.) Our communion does fill a unique niche of Christian practice, and it needs to be shared and understood. 15. Be visible in the community as a worshiping body. Observe the holy days of observation, and publicize them. Many non-Episcopalians would like to observe Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, All Saints Day, and other observances. Ring that church bell! Even a handful of worshipers can experience God’s presence. 16. Remember, it is not about ME. Preaching is not about the preacher. Celebrating Eucharist is not about the celebrant. Singing is not about the singer, nor is playing the organ (or whatever) about the organist. Distributing the Eucharist is not about the patenist, or the chalicist. People do not come to church to gaze into OUR loving eyes: they come to meet Jesus. 17. Plan every gathering of God’s people for worship to be a meaningful, enriching, not-to-be-missed occasion. Step back and get out of God’s way.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 135--Action Plan 1

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 135 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Small Congregations Plead For Their Lives Part III: “Action Plan, Step One” You’ve had a good, cleansing heart-to-heart discussion as a group, and you’ve decided to move forward and try to re-start your congregation, to get on a firm footing, and to have a chance for continuing life as an Episcopal presence in your community. You know the odds are against you. But you’ve assessed your situation, and you are confident that you have all of the following resources to support your efforts: • The key leadership, elected representatives or not, are thoroughly invested in this decision. • You have a core group of committed lay ministers to carry it through for several years. • You have or can get the financial means to hold on for at least three years, even without any windfall or new member contributions. • You have enlisted the aid of outside resources, especially your bishop and canon, for support. • You have clergy available at least on most Sundays and major holy days, and trained lay worship leaders for the rest. Now, what do you do first? The difficulty is that everything cries out to be done first, and to a degree, a lot can be accomplished by dividing and conquering, among the available ministers. Don’t rush into it!--not until the foundations are being laid in the two vital areas of spiritual renewal and ministry team development. That is because you won’t get far without strong roots in these two basics. Beginning to grow those roots is likely to take the better part of a year (or more.) So let’s get crackin’! MINISTRY TEAM DEVELOPMENT In consultation with your canon (Canon Faith Perrizo for the North, and Canon Donald Vinson for the South), begin to form a ministry team. You will focus on discernment first, because you need to draw on the guidance of the Holy Spirit for a number of decisions. What is the mission of the congregation, as it is and as it could be, now and into the future? What ministries will be required? Who in the congregation might be best suited for each of these ministries (that answer may be plural!). Keep in mind two very important provisos: the best people might not be the ones who have been doing these things all along! In fact, this is a good time to build in some term limits, so that a natural rotation can occur, and no one need get burned out in a particular ministry area for too long. Secondly, the right person may not be the one who “feels called” to a particular ministry or project. It is the calling of the community to the work that matters, not just the interior musings of the individual. (Many people feel called to ministries to which they are patently unsuited.) At the same time, the discernment of the group must be tested and borne out in the individual as well. This is a complicated dance, and it takes time to implement. As the ministry team begins to take shape, it is time to begin training the team for mutual ministry. In several places, we have used a curriculum called “Life Cycles” with benefit to the congregation and participants. It has the advantages of being affordable, readily available, and group-led. It truly models the Team Ministry concept, and the content serves as sound preparation for lay ministry in a community. At this point, someone is bound to say, “I don’t have time to take on another meeting now! I could take charge of the ushers (or something), but I can’t come to a class every week.” That throws us right back to the first two segments of this series. Are we willing to make some significant changes in the way we do things? Do we have the commitment to follow through? Yes, we feel pulled in a number of different directions. Yet people in other church communions manage to attend worship, Bible study, and other church activities, and they have busy lives, too. It’s all in where we place our priorities. Too many of our congregations have gone virtually without adult formation activities for far too long. In part, this is because we have suffered from the delusion that only clergy can teach adults about the faith, and clergy attention has been stretched thin, or not consistently available in many places. We must cultivate and prepare more lay teachers. I’ve heard clergy retort, “You can offer all you want, but it still takes people showing up to make adult formation work.” And that is true. We must focus on making quality, life-affecting formation experiences available, and developing the commitment to take part in them, at the same time. What we must NOT do is continue to invite people to ministries for which they are not equipped and not prepared, as if there were no spiritual or theological basis for them—and as if they aren’t really important enough to require some preparation and reflection. We are not talking about just ticking tasks off a check-list here, but about creating a true team for ministry. While the Ministry Team is a-borning, the first thing it needs to take a good hard look at is the spiritual life and health of the congregation. Some will say, “We just need to build up the congregation, by inviting people to come to worship with us.” That time will come soon. But there is work to be done first. Suppose we invite friends to attend our church: to what would we be inviting them? Would it be spiritually uplifting, prayerful, inspiring, informative, and truly hospitable? If it is not presently attracting (and keeping) committed members, then perhaps that answer is not as clearly affirmative as we would like for it to be. At any rate, it is time for a spiritual check-up, and maybe a bit of palliative or preventive medicine. Looking to the spiritual life of the congregation, especially in what happens on Sunday morning, is Job Number One for rebuilding a faltering congregation. That will be our focus for next week.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 134, Why Is It Easier?

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 134 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Small Congregations Plead For Their Lives PART THREE: AN ASIDE WHY IS IT EASIER TO PLANT A NEW CHURCH WHERE NONE HAS BEEN BEFORE THAN IT IS TO RE-START AN EXISTING CONGREGATION? It may seem counter-intuitive, but a brand-new congregation has a leg up on any situation where the congregation has gone into decline, for whatever reason, and now wants to make a concerted effort to re-invent itself and live anew. The “assets” of the continuing congregation turn out to be liabilities. Even with deep commitment on the part of the re-start, few of such attempts last more than three years before lapsing back into the old patterns of their past. Both situations share the obstacles of cultural and community problems, but in a nutshell, it all comes down to BAGGAGE: the new plant doesn’t have any, while the existing congregation has plenty. 1) Old habits die hard. If everyone is “new,” and there is no established way of doing things, then the group is free to discover its own way. But if some are long-time members, they will attempt to teach any newcomers the “right” way to do it, which happens to coincide with the way the congregation formerly did it. 2) Reputation. The continuing entity is known, for good or ill, in the community. A rebranding takes a long time and much effort. 3) Dysfunction. If there were people in the congregation whose behavior and state of emotional unhealth ran members off before, they will continue to do the same, if they are still around. They themselves are famously hard to run off. 4) Family Systems phenomena. A “system” seeks equilibrium and will do everything it can to restore it. Some individuals will play the role of saboteur, seeking to derail efforts to produce positive change. You can count on it. 5) Church life-cycle. The upward climb from birth is a hard slog, but it is exciting and energizing, because it is HOPEFUL. Swinging around from the downward death spiral toward a new birth is not only a hard slog, but there is the added burden of guilt and sadness over the death of what was. Hope is harder to maintain. 6) History. If there are memorials, designated funds, or bequests, those may be so restricted as to be worse than useless to the congregation 7) The Edifice Complex. We’ve seen McDonald’s and Bob Evans tear down perfectly serviceable structures to erect a new one fitting their current image. The church is stuck with buildings until the crack of Doom. If the thing burns down (“Act of God”), we’ll build another one just like it on the footprint! A congregation is much better off without a building than to be saddled with one that is no longer functional, or too expensive to maintain. An important principle for liturgy and church life: The Building Always Wins. Not only can an out-of-date building suck up all the funding and energy from a struggling congregation, it also determines what is possible to do, programmatically and liturgically. Having things like Queen Ann silver and Tiffany stained glass windows is a burden and liability, not an asset: you can’t sell them; they do not attract members; yet, you have to become, in effect, a museum, insuring and caring for them. That diverts the focus of the congregation from its true mission, often supplanting it with the false one of operating an historic shrine. This is what we’re up against when we try to re-start a congregation. It is difficult! Even so, it CAN be done, and the above circumstances are obstacles to overcome, not reasons not to try. We’re doing God’s work! We “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” us. Next week: Part IV: “OK, We’re In—Now What?”

A Volley from the Canon, Number 133--Questions

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 133 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Small Congregations Plead For Their Lives Part II: ASK THE TOUGH, HONEST QUESTIONS This is a conversation for the whole congregation (we’re talking small numbers here) to have together, facilitated by a friend from outside the congregation, trained in group leadership. True, in our tradition, vestries handle the day-to-day decision-making for the congregation. We are not a Congregationalist church. However, there is no point in a vestry doing this hard work only to have it undone by the real powers of the congregation. A serious turn-about requires near-unanimous, informed assent and cooperation. Some of these questions are tough, and the opinions expressed will be honest and not always easy to hear. My preference would be that the conversation be held in a “Circle of Trust” environment, which must be set up carefully in advance, and which would have several provisos for participants. The main one worth mentioning here is: the process is not about assigning blame. It is about sharing, with deliberation and care, the heart-felt observations and convictions of the group. At the same time, honesty requires acknowledging that something is amiss, and that must be recognized in order for it to be amended. THE QUESTIONS 1. Have we waited too late? I said the questions would be tough. Sadly, many small congregations have already missed their launch windows toward new life, barring the miraculous. A congregation in which the youth group is in their seventies is not likely to attract new members in their twenties. If they are few in number, drained of resources, exhausted from trying to hold the roof and furnace together, and plain burned out, the likelihood diminishes commensurately. However, note “likely” and “miraculous” above: unless the handwriting is clearly scratched onto the paint-needy walls, let us reserve judgment on this primary question until others have been considered. They’re just as hard, and relevant to this one. 2. Do we have what it takes to start over? That means energy and inner resourcefulness, primarily, attributes which some septuagenarians DO possess. Financial resources count also, though ability to raise money is almost as good as actual possession of money. It’s much, much better to have a handful of members who tithe, or who are working toward the tithe in a committed way, than ten times as many who toss a tener into the plate when they attend. Why? Because the tithers are faithful in other ways as well, including attendance. Any congregation that wants to survive had better end the taboo on talking about stewardship, and start to teach and encourage generosity and thanksgiving, fostering discipleship rather than membership, and encouraging growth toward the tithe. Push the delete button all you want to: this fact will not go away. More is needed, though, to restart a declining congregation. Innovative, energetic, cooperative leadership matters enormously. Didn’t Jesus say something about sizing up a task before rushing headlong into it? 3. What is our motivation, honestly? Do we really WANT the congregation to survive? It’s time for some soul-searching. O. K., I was baptized and married in this building. So what? That isn’t a reason for it to remain open. (The church is NOT a building!) • We do not need members so that we can have more money. New members are unlikely to give much initially, anyway, and if they are being recruited with that motivation, there won’t be many of them. • We do not need members to take some of the work burden off of us. Success is particularly improbable if we are standing there telling them how to do it. It takes time for a newcomer even to learn that there is much work to be done, much less to discover any joy in offering to share in it. Brace yourself: new people have new ideas. We can’t welcome one without the other. • We do not need to maintain the congregation because it is the “best club in town.” Conversely, that is a good reason for God to kill it. This is why the oft-heard praise “we love each other” is not attractive to potential new members. Love those who are NOT members of the congregation, and then we have something going! Oddly, some of the congregations most in danger have members who get along really well with one another—because they have already run off anyone who would threaten the control of the dominant leadership in any way. These congregations don’t really want new members. They only want their money and compliant work. • We do not need to maintain the church at least until after “my” funeral (whoever “my” is). If it hasn’t found a greater mission than that, it isn’t much of a church, anyway. • Sincerity about these things is imperative. We won’t fool anyone by dissembling. Of course, our motivations will never be pure or devoid of self-interest. Nevertheless, we need to work on them, and encourage each other to do so. The church exists to lean forward into the Kingdom of Heaven as described by Jesus, the Son of God: to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of salvation, to help reconcile people with God and one another, to work for justice and mercy, to worship God. When we focus on these things, we have something worthwhile to offer to others, and God might have a reason to send us some others. 4. Does the congregation regularly experience JOY in being together and in worshiping and serving God? If not, address that situation first. 5. Is someone or something running potential new members off? Stop it! I don’t think I’m allowed by social convention to put that in writing, or to say it out loud. We all know that it happens, though. First, let me reiterate my earlier comment about not using this exercise to settle blame. That is a tempting pastime, but it must be avoided. I’m not suggesting any kind of scape-goating, and the reasons for the decline in church participation are complex and societal. We live in a culture, though, in which it is often more important to be “nice” than it is to be truthful. (Oddly, that rule doesn’t seem to apply to the rude people, only to anyone who might call them on it.) Jesus did not set us an example of silently putting up with just any kind of destructive behavior. Rude behavior must be lovingly but firmly confronted and not tolerated, but dealt with discretely and appropriately (i.e., not in front of the whole congregation!) We’ve seen more than one congregation go under, in the end, in large measure because of the abrasive behavior of one or more of its final members. Why would we give them that kind of power over something we profess to love? 6. A cluster of related questions: Are we willing to change? Change how? -- Are we willing to refrain from sabotaging behaviors? Are we willing to undertake the role of minister in our congregation? Are we willing to be renewed in our spiritual commitment to follow Jesus? Trying new things can be scary, or exciting. It’s all in what we make of them. It is hard work, though, either way. The honest answer to this question determines the result of all the others above. If we are willing to change, sometimes just to get out of the way and let others manage change, then there is likely to be hope for our congregation yet. If we will not accept change, then the answer to question number one has been determined. One more bit of bad news in Part III, and then we move on to the fun stuff!

A Volley from the Canon, Number 132--Small Congregations Plead for Their Lives

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 132 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Part I: Small Congregations Plead For Their Lives Clergy and lay leaders come to the bishop, or to the Diocesan Council, or to one of us canons, asking for help with “congregational development.” Of course, what they want is not congregational development. That is like asking for an investment strategy when you are broke: you have to have a viable congregation first, before you can develop it. When folks ask for a reduction of their diocesan apportionment, or for diocesan-subsidized clergy, or permission to sell off a piece of property to pay their bills, they are saying, “We’re dying here! We can’t make it anymore!” They don’t want to develop the congregation they have, they want a new one. What people mean is, “How can we grow?” or even “How can we survive?” Church growth is different from congregational development, and our congregations, small to middling size, do certainly need it. We are not alone in our standing as “The Amazing Disappearing Church,” if that brings any comfort. Active church members or clergy of various denominations ask me about the present state of the Episcopal Church. I respond honestly, describing both positive and negative observations. I used to be a bit hesitant, expecting some derogatory, judgmental comment, as these are people who would not be described as friends of TEC. That never happens, though. The response I get is a sad, “We have the same situation in our church. Maybe worse.” Yet we are more vulnerable than some, because we lack the membership “fat” of many communions, to feed off of during today’s leaner times. A 10% loss to a larger congregation is disconcerting: to most of ours, it is catastrophic. The reality is that the care and nurture of the small congregation is absolute life-and-death for us, especially in West Virginia, because that is who we are. When I make presentations about the behavior of congregations according to church size, I don’t bother with the two largest sizes—we don’t have any of those. All of our congregations are in the two smallest categories, and most are in the smallest. We have struggled, over the years, trying to make the Episcopal Church available as an option to the Christians in all of our West Virginia counties, with congregations located in as many of our market towns as possible. Every time we lose one of those congregations to attrition, we force tens or dozens of people to make a different choice, and that whole population loses the option of worshiping God in the Episcopal tradition. That is a serious and sad situation. I have some good news. Our church is growing in some places, and it remains strong and vibrant in others. To get to the good news, however, in all honesty, we have to dig through some bad news, and some very bad news, by way of several tough, challenging questions. The time for sugar-coating, if ever there was one, is long gone. If we want our small congregations to make it through the coming decade, as many of them as can, we have to face up to those questions, and answer them honestly. Over the next several weeks, I plan to explore them and offer some concrete suggestions for church growth, leading to congregational development for those brave, energetic, and motivated enough to use them. For this week, I offer one major suggestion that is prerequisite to all the others: DON’T FALL FOR MISTAKE NUMBER ONE: TO KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’VE ALWAYS DONE, HOPING FOR A BETTER RESULT. Salvation requires change. Yes, always.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 131--The Single Best Thing

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON NUMBER 131: “THE SINGLE BEST THING” If you could do just one easy thing for half an hour every day, that would promise enormous, across-the-board health benefits, and leave the other 23 ½ hours free for anything you want to do, would you do it? Of course you would. Take the first part of one of those half-hours just to sit and watch this nine-minute presentation from You Tube. This message is so clear, so well-presented, and so important to our life today, that I’m suggesting that all of us listen, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it as Holy Writ. Yes, show it in church. Spread the link all around town. And follow up with supportive activities. We offer Parish dinners and reading groups—why not parish health breaks? Parish walking clubs? • Organize one or more Church walking groups. • Encourage a set time for A Covenant of Walking. • Ask your church members to make a Walking Pledge. • Give every church member a dog. OK, I’m only partly serious about the dog. The rest is Gospel serious. We all have to die. We don’t all have to die sick, or soon. If healing is the church’s business (and it is), then staying healthier, longer, is, too.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 130--Endow Your Pledge

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON NUMBER 130: “ENDOW YOUR PLEDGE” The Book of Common Prayer exhorts our clergy to remind their flock, regularly, to remember the Church in their wills. Most, it is hoped, do so in various ways. Here’s a way of reminding, that is easy to remember and rather compelling (via Donald Romanik of Episcopal Church Foundation): Endow your pledge. It’s easy, and it’s attractive. None of us wants to see the church suffer sudden and catastrophic loss upon our demise. We want our legacy of faithfulness and support for the work of our church to continue and grow. Adding more pledges through membership growth is great, especially if it expands the ability of the church to minister, not merely keeping up with losses through deaths and transfers. Therefore, if we leave to the church, through a specific bequest, twenty times the amount of our annual pledge or gift, we extend that pledge or gift in perpetuity. Don’t tie the hands of future vestries with ministry-hobbling restrictions, for we don’t know what challenges and opportunities the future will bring with it: just make the pledge, forever. Both in heaven and on earth, “joining our voices with angels and archangels” in continuing hymns of thanksgiving and praise will be all the easier for it.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 129--Lead from "Why"

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 129 “LEAD FROM ‘WHY’” When you get a chance, view this short You Tube presentation by Simon Sinek. Sinek has something important to say about how the Church’s traditional way of leading works (though he doesn’t mention that context). He calls his image the “Golden Circle;” three concentric circles, with the outer circle labeled “What,” the center circle labeled “How,” and the inner circle labled “Why.” Sinek says that most people begin by describing “What:” the product, the activity, the end result. Then, they move to “How:” the process by which they arrive at the goal. But what really matters in decision-making, Simon maintains, is “Why:” the purpose of the whole enterprise. People are motivated by purpose, not by product or by process. (He ties “Why” to the reptilian, primitive brain. “What” is of the neo-cortex, the most verbal and intellectual part of the brain.) We do well to remember to begin with “Why.” Motivation is key to the Christian endeavor. My thanks to Allison Duvall, Executive Director of Reading Camps, for this helpful link.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 128--For a Leadeer

I came across this “charge” or pre-blessing piece at Reading Camp training, and I thought many of you might find a use for it. If so, please be sure to credit the source. I wish this blessing for all of us! Donald For a leader By John O’Donohue From To Bless the Space Between Us May you have the grace and wisdom To act kindly, learning To distinguish between what is Personal and what is not. May you be hospitable to criticism. May you never put yourself at the center of things. May you act not from arrogance but out of service. May you work on yourself, Building up and refining the ways of your mind. May those who work for you know You see and respect them. May you learn to cultivate the art of presence In order to engage with those who meet you. When someone fails or disappoints you, May the graciousness with which you engage Be their stairway to renewal and refinement. May you treasure the gifts of the mind Through reading and creative thinking So that you continue as a servant of the frontier Where the new will draw its enrichment from the old, And you never become a functionary. May you know the wisdom of deep learning, The healing of wholesome words, The encouragement of the appreciative gaze, The decorum of held dignity, The springtime edge of the bleak question. May you have a mind that loves frontiers So that you can evoke the bright fields That lie beyond the view of the regular eye. May you have good friends To mirror your blind spots. May leadership be for you A true adventure of growth. Donald K. Vinson (The Rev. Canon) Canon for Mission and Transition Diocese of West Virginia P. O. Box 5400 Charleston, WV 25361 304 541-9963

A Volley from the Canon, Number 127--A Eucharistic-Centered Community

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 127 A EUCHARIST-CENTERED COMMUNITY We’ve called ourselves a Eucharist-centered community in the Episcopal church for over 40 years now. Such a thing as a “Morning Prayer parish” hardly exists any more It’s a complete triumph for liturgical renewal. Or at least it has been. Now, forty years in, we’re beginning to face some tough choices that are causing us to reflect on just what it means to be Eucharist-centered. Many of our congregations can no longer have a priest of their own, every Sunday. Substitutes and part-timers are rare and in great demand. Now, we begin to ask ourselves—just what does it mean to be a Eucharistic community? Does it mean that all liturgies must culminate in the distribution of bread and wine? Is our worship unfulfilled and unfulfilling if we don’t receive the “chip and a sip” at the end? Or is there more to transcendent worship than even that? When we offer Morning Prayer together (remember, that form of worship we used to love so much, which most congregations hardly know how to do anymore?) are we NOT Eucharist-centered? How many celebrations does it take to tip the balance?—weekly? Biweekly? Monthly? Were our grandparents and our historic congregations non-Eucharist-centered in the past? Eucharist is more than mere consumption. In the amazing transformation of communicants into disciples, Jesus continues to perform miracles of sacramental blessing. We may just discover that we do not come to worship on a weekly basis just to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We gather to BECOME the Body and Blood of Christ. In making Eucharist of us, he also makes us truly community.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 125--The Silver Bullet

THE SILVER BULLET “What I’d like to know,” said the Senior Warden, “is ‘What is the silver bullet, if you will, the best plan for growing the church nowadays?’” This is not the first time of asking, by various people around the diocese. It seems this is what pretty much everyone wants to know. I wish it were that easy. The answer is, there is no silver bullet for growing a church congregation. What works well one place, one time, might not another place, another time. Frankly, I think a lot of things can be helpful, and several things together, programmatically speaking, are probably the best hope—and there are no guarantees for success at growth! Ironically, however, I can offer a silver-bullet, guaranteed method for destroying a church congregation—for church shrinkage and loss of members! (How sad that the negative is so much easier to accomplish than the positive!) The key to church LOSS is negativism. Tip the balance to the negative in your congregation, and you WILL kill it. I guarantee. Find fault with everything and everyone. Undermine all projects with carping and nay-saying. Go to events, if it suits you, but complain about how they were done, especially behind the scenes. Have nothing good to say about your congregational leadership, and stymie them at every turn. Launch a campaign to overthrow your rector or priest-in-charge. Show your anger. Make unpleasant scenes, especially around any newcomers. Be sarcastic, bitter, and rude. Coordinate your attacks with others. You’ll see the results in no time. Then, you get to complain about the membership and financial losses, as if you had nothing to do with them, thus accelerating the decline. If this is the negative silver bullet, I wonder if the flip-side of it might be a positive one, albeit more difficult to achieve. Go positive! Cultivate hopefulness and positive expectations. Practice listening compassionately to others’ hurt, while avoiding getting sucked into their sphere of negativity (which is a form of emotional indigestion, not to be shared). Get immersed in ministry rather than power struggles. Resolve to live joyfully, faithful to the conviction that God is, after all, in charge, so you don’t need to be. Speak your convictions appropriately, but support the congregational leadership without trying to control the direction of it—the congregation cannot succeed unless the rector or priest-in-charge succeeds! Advocate for success, live in expectation of good things, and accentuate the positive. I truly believe that, if the scale of energy in a congregation is tipped toward the positive—hopefulness, celebration, encouragement, compassion, joy—that church will grow. And even if it did not, it would be a much, much nicer place to hang out, praise God, and do God’s work!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Volley from the Canon, Number 124: Not the Building

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 124 NOT THE BUILDING By now, we all have colorful, up-to-date parish or mission websites, chock-full of helpful information about our activities and ministries, enlivened by attractive photos of our church family happily and productively involved. Now, open the web-page and check it out. If the most prominent photo on the opening page, or any page, is the church building, get it changed. Sure, it’s a beautiful building. Certainly, you are all proud of it. But it isn’t the church, it’s merely the structure where the church presently meets for worship. It isn’t YOU! No one interested in a church wants to be a member of a building, even more so of a building maintenance society. People who want a church want an active, happy, energetic, involved, open-hearted, generous, mission-minded community. Show that on your web-site. There’s room for a small photograph of the church’s meeting place on an inner page, so that people can recognize it when they arrive. Preferably, show the door people actually enter through, too, not just the one for brides.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 123: Faith Sharing

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 123 FAITH-SHARING—IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH? (GASP) The liturgical tradition is the greatest—for worship. For hospitality, for building community, for deepening relationships in the congregation, not so much. Some of the Protestant traditions do some of their folksier, relational work during worship itself (to the detriment of worship, actually). We don’t have time and opportunity to do that, unless we create them. Another important activity that is not built into our liturgy is the opportunity for faith-sharing within the congregation. We need it. We particularly need to hear from our peers in the congregation about their experiences with stewardship in their own lives—their challenges, their struggles, their growth and their depth. A good stewardship program in a congregation will have these opportunities built in, and not just during the fall pledging season. An occasional five-minute time of sharing is well worth a shortened sermon several times during the year. There can be other gathering opportunities when faith sharing can be included, too, outside of worship. Written accounts or even “interviews” for the parish or mission newsletter can be effective. Most of us now have parish websites: these can be wonderful vehicles for members to share the stories of their own faith journeys. In many of our congregations, we don’t really know one another. Rather, we know one another socially, but not with much depth. We don’t know what really excites one another, what our hopes, fears, joys, and challenges are. If we are to be truly the family of God, we need to work at that. In the end, no one can inspire and challenge us quite as well as our own.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 122: The Fallacy of Peterkin Music

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 122 THE FALLACY OF “PETERKIN MUSIC” Campers at Peterkin tend to love worship in Strider Chapel. I’ve even seen evaluations from kids stating that daily Eucharist was the camper’s number one favorite camp activity! That is remarkable, and it certainly needs to have some attention paid to it. The campers particularly love to sing in the chapel, and they do so loudly and with energetic hand and body movements. It is participatory worship in the Anglican tradition, squared. Lives are changed at Peterkin, and there is no doubt that Strider Chapel is a key element of that reality. Ergo—this just makes sense, right?—if we can just transfer Peterkin music back to our home congregations, the local youth and young adults will return in droves, bringing their friends. The worship of the whole congregation will be enlivened, and the Holy Spirit will descend like a very happy dove upon all present. Not. There are factors involved other than song selection and instruments used. Put a bunch of old people (God bless us!) into the mix, even with the words to the songs clearly projected on a screen (even if it were visible from all parts of the room, which it never is, and even if we could read it, which we never can), and even so, you still get “dud” worship. The magic is gone. At Peterkin, the young campers make up the majority present. Even at Family Camp, Young- Campers-With-Many-Years’-Experience still make up the majority. Most of them not only know the songs, but they form a chorus to help carry the others who don’t know the songs yet, and it is easy enough to add a new tune to the mix occasionally. Of even greater importance, music at Peterkin camps is peer-led, or close to it. The counselor staff are college students, quite responsible adults, but still, just a few years older than our older campers. They are downright glamorous. They are much-admired and respected “older siblings” to the campers. Someone said last summer, “Those counselors are ‘rock stars’ to these kids.” O. K., imagine your favorite rock stars knowing your name and paying attention to you, as a kid! If it is true that music is crucial to the worship at Peterkin, it is also true that it matters greatly who leads that music, and who comprises the bulk of the congregation, youth and wanna-be youth. Our kids are very open-hearted, inclusive, and non-ageist. They have no problem with the fact that the celebrant(s) at the altar is packing some years. (It could be noted, though, that many of our clergy leaders at the camp are younger clergy, and that the preachers through the week include counselors and younger staffers as well as clergy.) The celebrant doesn’t do that much, anyway, and the kids have gotten to know him or her along the way. Communion is distributed by those same rock-star counselors! The kids don’t even mind if there is a gray head in the orchestra. Nevertheless, that balance on the age scale has to be tipped toward youth for the miracle to happen. If we want meaningful worship for young people and young-at-heart people, we can’t over-simplify. If we just bring in a couple of guitars on Sunday morning at 10:30, or even at a special time later in the day, and impose Peterkin songs, projected or printed, on our regular congregation, all involved will be disappointed, and they will say so. To make it work, we have to have youth leadership, youth involvement all the way in planning and presentation, and a core body of youth to bring the thing off, even with the weight of some older, more restrained worshipers dragging on it. In most of our congregations, which have just a handful of young people to start with, unless they do some serious evangelism before beginning to secure the participation of their friends from beyond the church (or plan the worship ecumenically from the beginning), that Peterkin spirit is unlikely to happen. We all need to provide some variety in our worship experiences, as the bishop has challenged us to do. A more contemporary style of worship, in addition to, not replacing, traditional worship, is a great place to start. We just need to be sure to lay the groundwork first, and not assume it will be an easy transfer for us. We might do well to consider this, too: maybe God likes for the Peterkin worship experience to be special.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 115: Narrative Budget

A VOLLEY FROM THE CANON, NUMBER 115: NARRATIVE BUDGET Who wants to read a budget, church or otherwise? Most of us can hardly make heads or tails of all those parentheses and “year-to-dates.” They make us go all squinty-eyed. We also get bogged down in petty details, about how many dollars go here and how many go to whom. A way to express budgetary realities meaningfully and usefully is to translate them into a narrative budget. It is one thing to know that a staffer is paid X dollars, or that the electricity bill for the church was Y dollars, but what does that mean in terms of ministry? What are we paying staff FOR, and what are we heating and cooling and lighting the buildings FOR? Narrative budgets give us that information. We need only a few categories. How much staff time, and how much energy use, is used for EVANGELISM? How much for SERVANT MINISTRY? CHRISTIAN EDUCATION? WORSHIP? ADMINISTRATION? PASTORAL CARE? These areas are graspable and graphable. They also show, visually, what is really happening with our church budget. And they inspire people to support them, rather than quibble over nickel and dime details. We need to report dollar amounts in the interest of full and open disclosure. More helpfully, though, a narrative budget expresses real ministry. It should be part of all our budget reporting.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Volley from the Canon, Number 114, Reading Camps



The idea comes from the Diocese of Lexington, but it is being implemented in both Ohio dioceses and elsewhere. The isolated and impoverished areas of rural Appalachia have chronic problems with poor reading progress. Children clearly need more help than the school term can provide. So the church is offering reading camps for children at risk of falling behind. Lexington offers one-week camps at its Cathedral Close camp facility at Irvine, KY. There are also some parish-sponsored day camps, providing an alternative plan.

Reading camps are for children entering grades two to four. They are identified as slow readers by their schools. The children are invited to apply to the Reading Camps, and the camps are free, sponsored by churches. Trained volunteers run the program.

A typical day of Reading Camp would involve morning reading tutoring for three hours, with the children rotating through six learning stations, each featuring a different aspect of reading instruction. And they love it, typically having no idea they are being taught!

After lunch, the focus shifts to other life skills, one of which is swimming instruction: a high proportion of rural mountain children do not know how to swim, and are therefore vulnerable to drowning accidents. Additionally, they get lots of TLC and encouragement, which can be just as important as any of the instruction. A high staff-to-pupil ratio is required.

This is what Sunday School started out to be: extra attention to reading instruction for poorer children who suffered from lack or inadequacy of public schooling! If your congregation, ministry group, or deanery is looking for a cooperative ministry venture, consider Reading Camp. Now would be the time to begin planning for a start-up next summer.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 113, Hospice and Nursery



We Episcopalians should be good at handling generational shifts by now. We’ve had considerable experience, most of it negative, and now we get to find out whether we’ve learned anything or not.

We had a doozy back when I was the young generation. At that time, there was a vast chasm between my generation and that of our parents. We seemed to have nothing in common and talked right past one another, with little comprehension. We had huge altercations over tiny matters, which seemed of critical importance to both sides. In the Church, a “little” thing like revising the Book of Common Prayer, long overdue, split us right down the middle, and generationally. The only way bishops found to get the “new” BCP into pews in most churches was to require it, forcibly. Yet in so doing, we sacrificed a very large chunk of our membership, a great loss to all. It became as if the 1928 BCP was somehow bad, a harmful thing to be rid of a quickly and thoroughly as possible. In fact, though it needed revision and updating, that book and others very like it had inspired and sustained our church for generations past.

So now I’m the old guy. I have a modicum of sympathy now with my parents, but do I want to cling as desperately, arbitrarily, and belligerently to my ways of doing things, to the exclusion and rejection of the young people? Conversely, to make a fulfilling place in the church for young adults and their peers, do we need to alienate and run out all of the people my age and older? My hope is that this time, we can try harder to minister to both.

Oldsters, hang it up! We have to allow change in our church’s ways, if we are going to survive as a church past our own funerals. We aren’t going to comprehend or appreciate all of these changes, but neither did our parents respond favorably to ours. It is part of the natural order.

Youngsters, have patience with us relics. You need us, too, while we last. Create a space in church life for your tastes and interests, and leave us a space for ours, too. We need to find a way to be church together, even if we do it separately for a time.

As a church, we are going to have to multi-task for a decade or so. We are going to have to be “nursery” for The Episcopal Church 7.3, or whatever, that is a-borning, and put aside our anxiety long enough to let it become whatever it is to be. This calls for faith on our part, that God is indeed in charge, not us, and that God will abide with her church. At the same time, we are also going to have to be “hospice” for the old church that is passing away. We must provide a place of solace, peace, and comfort for those of us whose sensibilities are of an earlier time that is fading, but not yet past.

It is complicated, but much better than the alternatives before us. In the end, the gyres of the generations will turn, with us or without us. The ways of neither group are bad or objectionable, really. They are just different.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 112, Story Corps



You’re probably familiar with “Story Corps,” an initiative of the Library of Congress, best-known through the broadcasts of National Public Radio. The Library of Congress is recording and preserving the life stories, some episodes, anyway, of ordinary Americans. If you’ve heard the NPR broadcasts, you know that some of the segments are far from ordinary.

People in our congregations have extraordinary tales to tell, too. Some may be things they’ve never shared with anyone at all before, but that they’d like to leave with family members or friends, if they have the chance. So why not create your own parish “Story Corps” service—not necessarily for public consumption, but for private record. This activity can be a particularly effective ministry to persons in a hospice situation, whether in a designated hospice facility or not.

Just get a simple (i. e., easy for YOU to use) tape recorder with a URL port, so that the recording can be downloaded. Ask the person if they would like to be interviewed, and with whom they would like the story shared (that can wait until after they see what comes out, if need be). Have your questions ready (sample ones are on the “Story Corps” website at¬). Turn on the machine, ask a question, and enjoy.

If you like, and the interviewee agrees, you can make a video, and if they consent (a waiver is necessary), you can post it on YouTube. More likely, you’ll be producing a flash drive or CD for family members. Be sure to honor the instructions of the interviewee about sharing.

Through deliberate story-listening, pastors can be attentive to a church member at a very significant time, perform their pastoral ministry, and hear some great stories, all at once.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 111, Walking to Jerusalem



Here’s an idea that can help church members with their fitness goals, provide them some time for prayer and reflection, or for companionship, and build community spirit at the same time. As a congregation, “Walk to Jerusalem” (or someplace of your choosing.)

1) Find out how far is it to your destination, and have someone make a map showing the route as a mileage chart. Hang that in a convenient and visible place.

2) Invite members of the congregation (and non-members, too!) to sign up as walkers and keep a log of their own walking distances day by day. Members may walk whenever, wherever, and with whomever, they like. If they run, fine! This is about distance, not speed.

3) Every week receive reports from the walkers of miles walked during the week.

4) Mark on the map your group’s progress for all to see.

5) Set a goal for “reaching Jerusalem,” and plan a celebration for when you “arrive.”

6) Consider some Christian Formation possibilities along the way, about the Holy City, its sites and events, and the concept of pilgrimage in the Christian context.

7) Celebrate!

If you have a small group, maybe a walk to some other, closer holy place (like Peterkin, or Washington Cathedral) would be more appropriate. Either way, your congregation’s walking pilgrimage may be a significant event for your congregation, and it certainly will be significant for the health and fitness of members.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 110 Buy Local



Many of us are striving to buy more local produce, thereby supporting our neighbors, getting the freshest products, and saving all that jet fuel from ferrying vegetables and such across the globe. If you have such an interest, check out

Put your own zip-code into the search and find out what farms are listed for your area, and what produce they are offering.

Of course, the many local farmers’ markets are active this time of year, too.

Bon appétit!

Monday, July 25, 2011

From The Dayspring, Fall 2011: "Don't Give"

Don’t Give!

Of course, I don’t’ really mean ‘don’t give.’ I mean, ‘Don’t give--MUCH!’ It’s your money. You earned it, out of your own skill, your own time, your own strength, and your own effort. No one helped you. No one gave you anything . You are a self-made person, and you did it all by yourself. When did any door open for you that you did not bust open for yourself? Don’t ever let anyone chip away at that assurance, and get you to thinking that you actually got a leg up somehow, by the family or even country you were born into, or the help and attention, or opportunities, your family, teachers, or others gave you, or any God-given gifts, skills, or even personality traits you may have been blessed with. You’re you! You earned it! Take the credit!

You will give something, because you are a member of the church. Just in case. If there is a hell, well, the company there might be more fun, but if the church folks are right about it, the climate is not so great, and the work conditions are not exactly white-collar—so, on the whole, if there is a heaven, you might as well go, if you can’t live forever. You are aware that you’ve never seen a hearse towing a U-haul trailer. At least they won’t be shaking you down for money in heaven—not that there would be anything fun to spend it on!

But DON’T hand in a pledge card. Who knows what catastrophe may strike during the coming year, or what neat new thing you might want to spend your money on? There’s probably a wall-sized LED TV in production somewhere, and you know you gotta have it. Also, you’d have to give, then, every week or month, not just when you actually attend church.

No, you want to contribute only when you are present to place your gift in the offering, and others can see you do it. Here’s what I recommend: look in your purse or wallet, and see what is the smallest denomination bill you have in there. If it is a dollar, you could give two and look extra generous. But be sure to fold them several times so that the numbers don’t show. A five is about right for a single-bill donation. Never, under any circumstances, go to church with only a bill larger than twenty alone in your wallet. Even the twenty is for desperate circumstances. You know you are not going to put that fifty in, so then you’d be unable to place anything into the offering plate at all, if it’s all you have, and someone would be bound to see that. The change in your pocket is fine, though, as long as there is an envelope in the pew you can place it in, to cut down on that comical and embarrassing clatter in the plate--although they must be expecting change, because they have that velvet pad in the bottom of the basin. (And in the above instance, when you just don’t have any cash appropriate for a church offering, just hand in the empty offering envelope—without your name on it, of course.)

If you can swing it (like if you listened to announcements or read the newsletter at the right time to know when the Pledge Sunday would be), stay home that day. Otherwise, you might panic or succumb to guilt and pressure, and hand in a card. That would result in lasting grief for you.

In fact, don’t go to any stewardship programs or meetings. They are just not worth the free food. (See how clever these people are, how manipulative? They know all our weaknesses and they exploit them shamelessly.) You know they’re going to talk about money—your money. It will be cheaper for you, seriously, to buy your own lunch.

If you do accidentally get exposed to some teaching on Stewardship, don’t let them get you to begin to think of Stewardship in terms of other areas of life beyond just money. It’s a process of contagion and indoctrination, just a technique for tricking you into thinking that money is just another aspect of life, and that God is somehow involved in that.

Or, alternatively (and this will work almost as well), if they are talking about all that other life stuff, don’t let anyone bring money into the circle—if you can keep the focus on health, time, gifts, environment, not money, you can save thousands.

In the area of health—you’re doing the best you can. It’s mostly genetic anyway. You take your prescriptions. You watch your weight, so you can fit into your skinny jeans. (And you know fat people don’t get promoted.) So you’re taking care of yourself.

Time—what time? You don’t have any to spare. You hardly have time for a round of golf or a day of shopping, and you certainly don’t have time for any kind of activity that might be called “ministry.”

Talents, gifts—that’s an easy one, you don’t have any. Oh, sure, you have education, you have knowledge, you have skills. But those are yours, not God’s. Don’t let that camel stick its nose under your tent flap!

Concerning the environment—you don’t litter. What more can anyone expect? It isn’t as if you have any control over anything. How could anyone reasonably expect you to involve yourself in any ecological advocacy that could possibly reduce the value of your stock portfolio, even temporarily! Sure, it’s ironic, if you think about it, that one can take total credit for every aspect of one’s own success—none for God--and yet take no responsibility at all for the impact on the earth, of the economy that produced that success—lay it all on God—but don’t think about that. That sort of thinking is for wishy-washy, mamby-pamby, milque-toast people. You know that human activity cannot affect God’s creation: that is a theological principle, a matter of religious faith! And you are a religious person. Be strong!

So don’t put up with any talk about stewardship at any time of year other than the annual pledge drive, when it is a hard-to-avoid annoyance. You know it’s all about pledging, anyway, and if they spread it out, you may have difficulty avoiding the subject, or preventing “topic creep,” the expansion of the subject of stewardship beyond money and into other unrelated areas of life, which can be awkward.

Now this is very important: Don’t look at your own giving history. It’s depressing, if you are susceptible to that sort of navel-gazing. The only reason you would need to know your total giving would be to deduct it from your income taxes, but if you follow the rest of my suggestions carefully, you won’t give enough to make any significant difference anyway, so that is not really important to you.

Above all, don’t figure the amount of your giving as a percentage of your income. That is one of their sneaky traps to make us feel guilty. Guilt is bad for you! It is stressful and unhealthy. The shock, if you are in a vulnerable moment, could put you in the hospital. It could be dangerous to your health, and hospitalization would certainly be dangerous to your pocket-book.

When you let someone, or even yourself, lay guilt on you, you get to a point where the only cure would be, a) to stop doing what is making you feel guilty, and b) ask God or the person you wronged to forgive you. Since you have no intention to stop looking out for number one, and you’re much too proud and self-sufficient to seek forgiveness, by all means avoid feeling guilt at all times, even if it keeps you away from church and Sunday School for months at a time.

Thinking about giving in terms of percentage is fraught with other, more practical dangers. Keep it at the fund-raising level. Demand to know exactly what is the minimum amount the church needs to keep the lights on and the doors open—no raises, no extra staff, no frills! Fix the furnace when it breaks. Patch the roof when it leaks, not before. People who work for the church want to live simply and make sacrifices, so it is only charitable on your part to help them do it.

Remember—if everyone did give proportionally, particularly if everyone tithed, your congregation would have a brand new and unheard of problem: what to do with a large sum of excess money. You know they would only give it away! Most likely to poor people who might not even deserve the help. After all, didn’t Jesus always check whether people deserved to be healed or fed before he helped them? -- Well, even if he didn’t, that’s Jesus, not you. What does his response have to do with yours? You’re only human—he’s…whatever. And don’t ask him about that! That could just start up a conversation you don’t want to get into. Best not to bring it up.

Or, with all that money, they would spend some of it on useless items like formation programs, children’s and youth activities, care and activities for the elderly, that sort of thing—projects that either aren’t needed or that ought to pay their own way. When (and if) you ever have a few extra bucks to waste, like from a huge inheritance, or when your accountant recommends it to reduce your taxes, make sure you buy some piece of obscure liturgical paraphernalia that won’t get used much, so it will last a long time. Centuries, even. And be sure you get your name engraved on it. Don’t waste such an opportunity for earthly immortality.

Now, this is even above “above all:” Don’t pray about your own stewardship. Better yet, to be safe, don’t pray at all, unless you need to ask for something. What if God answers that prayer with questions of his own-- and challenges? If you don’t want to hear the answer to a question, don’t ask the question. Even with God. Especially with God.

Don’t ever forget that the practice of giving generously would change you! In ways you can hardly now imagine! Do you really want that? They tell us all the time that God loves us just as we are, so why mess with that? Becoming compassionate, non-judgmental, and generous-hearted now would be over-achievement. It would be like handing in your research project two or three weeks before it was due. Of course, in our case, we are not quite sure when it is due, or even when the semester ends…but don’t worry about that. Cramming for finals is a long-practiced Christian tradition, dating back at least to the Emperor Constantine, who was baptized on his deathbed. Now that guy had it down pat! Sure, you’re going to become harp-worthy one of these days. But why rush it?

If you follow these cautions very intentionally, you will succeed in keeping your money in your bank and investment accounts, where it belongs, and not in the hands of irresponsible church leaders who will only misspend it. This plan will guarantee that your church will remain lean and mean, like your business, the way you want it. It will stifle unnecessary and wasteful “ministries” that only coddle the irresponsible and idle poor, such as the homeless and the unemployed, at the expense of hard-working, home-owning, upright citizens. It will keep out the riff-raff, and hold down membership rolls to manageable levels. Also, the less money that comes in to the congregation, the less they pass on to the diocese, and that is always a positive side-effect.

I do not guarantee that you will always be able to pay the full salary of a seminary-trained, professional priest, a music director, a church secretary, or a sexton, and certainly you won’t be wasting money on a Christian educator or youth leader. But if you play your cards right, you can probably get as clergy someone just as good-- well-read, and experienced in practical clergying, for practically nothing, and you may be able to cut down on some of the clergy meddling and unrealistic expectations, if you can keep that role down to part-time. The other should be done by volunteers who haven’t much else to do, anyway.

It’s your money, and your mouth—put them both where you want them to serve you best. I’ve laid out the alternatives before you as frankly and plainly as I know how. Now ask yourself: what kind of church, and what kind of community, do I want to live in? What kind of God do I want to worship and serve, and what does God want for me? Surely, the very best! Am I really willing to drive the Camry or Avalon next time instead of the Lexus? Can I wear my outfits a few more times, or switch to some less fashionable brands without dying from embarrassment? Can I drink the Americano sometimes, rather than the Caramel Mocha Latte, and not barf? Could one of our long-weekend getaways be to one of the state resorts instead of Kiawah? If the answer to these and other questions like them is a resounding ‘NO,’ then I’ve just equipped you with resolve to hold your ground and keep up your standards for personal self-care.

But the choice is yours. You decide. Only you can.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 109, Negative Feedback



No guarantees on the World War, frankly. People vary in their sensitivity, and some people are poised to blow sky-high at the slightest whiff of criticism. But there are times when someone says or does something that is hurtful to us, and it is going to harm our relationship if we let that fester. Worse, If they don’t know of their fault (and we may not be talking about the most intuitive sort of person here), how could they reform their behavior? Why would they avoid doing it again?

Now, for starters, we are considering here someone with whom we do have a need to continue to have a relationship, preferably a good one. It may be a family member or friend. If it is someone we’ll never see again, then we might not choose to bother, unless we have the altruistic purpose of wanting to help spare some other person a similar hurt. However, another factor to consider might be whether the other person has any hopes of continuing to have a decent relationship with US! If not, then we’ll at least find that out in this little experiment.


One slight may not seem all that bad, on the face of it. In fact, we might feel awkward bringing it up, as if we are being too picky. If we don’t, though, and the word or deed is repeated or accelerated, that could lead to a real altercation later, with lasting negative consequences, perhaps drawing in the allied forces of both sides. It is better to deal with an affront when it is smaller and singular, and before it has had a chance to grow in significance within us over time and further damage the relationship. We can deal better with the PINCH (a small and isolated incident) before it becomes a CRUNCH (a serious matter, or a cluster of pinches).

When people share the terminology, it is relatively easy to say, at an appropriate time, “Hildegarde, may I speak with you about a pinch I have with you?” Even if Hiildegarde has not read this Volley, she’ll probably get the message easily enough. Hildegarde now knows two things: 1) You are displeased with something that she has done, and 2) it isn’t a huge deal. She may have an idea what it might be, but in any case, she will not be able to resist knowing for sure, and her castle drawbridge has no reason to be raised. She will HAVE to hear you out.

(Caution: if what you have is really a crunch, not a pinch, don’t down-play it.)

Now come the two all-important formulaic elements of the process:

1) State clearly and specifically what happened, and when. By all means, avoid generalities, especially “you always…” or “you never….” Those are incendiary devices not to be deployed here. For example, “Last Sunday, when you thanked all the people who helped with the church dinner, you didn’t even mention me or my famous ham loaf.” We are talking about one incident, not recorded history.

2) Then state precisely what emotion, not what thought, the experience evoked in you. Not, for example, “I felt you must not like me.” That’s a thought disguised in a feeling phrase. “I felt hurt at being overlooked,” would be much more accurate. If you need help, Google “feeling words.”

At this point, be quiet and listen. Hildegard will need to respond. Since you have not charged her with chronic or malicious behavior, the chances of her being able to rise above defensiveness or reactive anger herself are greatly improved. The opportunity exists for the air to be cleared between you, for some sincere and humble communication to take place, and for reconciliation to occur. At the very least, the two of you now have a greater understanding of one another and, it is to be hoped, a greater respect. I’m sure, at the very least, YOU respect yourself more!

Contrast this process with what we usually do—complain about Hildegard’s rude and inconsiderate behavior to all of our friends behind her back—and it’s easy to see how this more direct, yet measured approach holds the possibility of better results. More than that, though, it offers another benefit that may be even more important: it builds integrity, both ours and the other person’s.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 107 Job Number One


Unsolicited Advice (and Worth Every Penny of Your Subscription to This Remarkable Service)

“Job Number One”

We clergy spend a lot of time in study, training, and preparation for the job of clergying, whatever that may entail. Three years in seminary is just a warm-up to the many and varied tasks we get involved in. Yet nobody ever clued me in on (after “knowing Jesus”) the most important element—I had to figure it out all by myself (well, partly, perhaps by observing some expert practitioners). I think it is time someone just said it out loud.

Yes, it is important that we know how to preach and teach, to inspire and to motivate. It matters that we can run an efficient and productive meeting, negotiate with terrorists, comfort the afflicted, and tactfully afflict the comfortable. We have to plan, recruit, delegate, monitor, implement, analyze, evaluate, revise, and through it all be prayerful, collegial, and non-anxious. It helps to know something about the Bible, Christian theology and ethics, liturgy, and counseling. We can either be perfect in all of those things, and more, OR—we can practice just one special gift or charism instead, the most important talent of all.

We can love our people. Just love them, sincerely and honestly. That is the most important pastoral skill anyone can ever have, to give the gift of simple enjoyment of the company of other people. Quite frankly, it makes up for many shortcomings in some of those other departments. (It “cover many sins.”) And quite frankly, if we don’t have it, all those other skills are useless to us. If you ask me (and I know you haven’t), there is only one reason to accept the call of a congregation to come live among them and be their rector (or deacon, missioner, or bishop): we fell in love.

We can have law, or we can have grace. Which do we choose?

Donald K. Vinson (The Rev. Canon)
Canon for Congregational Vitality
Diocese of West Virginia
P. O. Box 5400
Charleston, WV 25361
304 541-9963

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Volley from the Canon, Number 108 A Sample Vestry Covenant



What follows is an example: each Vestry is encouraged to discuss it and edit it according to their particular circumstances and commitments.

Service on the Vestry of St. Winifred’s Church is an honor, a ministry, and a sign of the congregation’s trust and respect. As members of St. Winifred’s Vestry, we solemnly covenant with one another to exercise this ministry with diligence, mutual respect, and reverence for the mission of God’s Holy Church.

1. Attendance:
• I pledge to attend a minimum of ___% of vestry meetings.
• I pledge to be present from beginning to end, with more than thirty minutes’ absence constituting a missed meeting.
• I pledge to inform the rector/missioner/senior warden (whoever is presiding) as early as possible prior to any meeting that I must miss due to a major impediment such as illness, a work conflict, or a family emergency.
• I understand and support the Vestry’s need to replace me, in accordance with Parish/ Mission By-laws, if I fail to honor these pledges.

2. Leadership:
As a leader of St. Winifred’s I pledge to participate actively in the life of the congregation and in the work of this Vestry.
• I will be faithful and regular in attendance at worship and at parish functions.
• I will take up a fair and equitable portion of the leadership and work of the congregation’s committees, commissions, and task forces.
• I will make and honor a financial pledge to the support of St. Winifred’s. I acknowledge the Tithe as the minimum standard for Christian giving to God’s work, and I pledge to apply myself sincerely toward reaching or exceeding that standard.
• I will be dependable and attentive to the progress of the congregation in all activities.

3. Conduct at Meetings:
• I will speak my mind with both clarity and charity. I understand that I have an obligation as a church leader to express, in our meetings, my honest and sincere convictions on matters that come before the Vestry, and to do so with Christian love for those who hold another view.
• I will maintain civility and decorum in my speech at all times. Specifically, I will wait our turn to speak; I will be brief and to the point; I will address other members in a respectful and courteous manner; I will take care not to speak disparagingly to or of anyone because of their gender, age, perceived ability or intellect, beliefs, sexual orientation., or any characteristic that is part of the nature of the person.

4. Conduct outside of Meetings:
As a leader of St. Winifred’s, I will always strive to be supportive of our church, its Vestry, and its leadership. While maintaining the integrity of my own convictions, I will refrain from sweeping negative criticism of The Episcopal Church and its leaders, our Bishop and Diocese, our congregation, its clergy and lay leaders.

5. Accountability:
All Vestry members are accountable to one another for the keeping of this covenant agreement.
• We agree to examine, periodically, our common life and our adherence to these standards, and we pledge to amend our lives as needed to live into them.
• We agree to call one another to fuller observance of this covenant by gentle, loving, and supportive reminders when we stray from its standards of behavior.

A Volley from the Canon, Number 106 Vestry Don'ts


JULY 19, 2011

First of all, DON’T neglect last week’s DO’S list: it is much nicer to focus on positives rather than negatives.

But there are a few things NOT to do with regard to Vestry leadership that ought to be articulated. Some may not be easy to pull off in a very small congregations, in which choices can be very limited (in those instances, having the smallest permissible Vestry (as few as three!) can be a good start.)

1) DON’T nominate someone to the vestry just to placate them and make them “feel included.”
Vestry service calls for the most mature, responsible, committed team players the congregation can produce. Even one obstructive, obstreperous individual can seriously hamper the congregation’s ability to move forward, and the experience is frustrating for all, including the conflicted person.

2) THINK TWICE about steering a new church member to Vestry membership, even when she is very excited about her new church community. If the Vestry is in conflict or any form of dysfunction, a bad early experience could permanently hinder, perhaps even kill, that person’s spiritual growth in the congregation. With excellent tutelage and personal support, on a healthy, committed Vestry, on the other hand, it could be a good formative process.

3) When some in the congregation have conflicts with the clergy in charge, DON’T elect as Senior Warden someone whom the rector does not trust, as a sort of “loyal opposition.” It doesn’t work that way—you’ll get opposition, but not loyalty! The senior warden and the rector must work together closely as a team. Otherwise, all energy is directed toward internal conflict, and none is left for the mission of the church.

4) DON’T re-elect the same people as wardens or trustees indefinitely. While some continuity may be desirable, far better to have many in the congregation fully in touch with all the congregation’s financial affairs. Remember: a complete and transparent report on all property and funds managed by Trustees is required at every annual parish meeting. All church funds are controlled by the Vestry. Make sure terms of service as well as the manner of election (parish meeting or Vestry appointment), are clear and expressed in congregation by-laws, and practice regular rotation in leadership in these roles, as elsewhere.

5) DON’T let the tyranny of a long-term, domineering member kill the congregation by running off every potential new member, and by stymieing all new ideas and leadership. “If we confront him, he may leave!” people say. So what! Better the one that is causing all the trouble than a dozen or more others who need the church and who will be its hope for the future. Stand united as a Vestry for healthy and responsible church manners and for generous inclusion of new members, and make no peace with oppression—inside the Church as well as outside!

A Volley from the Canon, Number 105 Vestry Do's


JULY 11, 2011-- FIRST, TEN DO’S

1. Worship is not an option for a Vestry. It expresses who we are. Every Vestry meeting should begin and end with worship, and not just with a hasty collect. The bookends of prayer enfold and permeate the meeting itself. The Vestry will approach its work differently when it is prayerful. The Vestry meeting will be shorter when there is worship as part of it, not longer: worship eliminates some of the extraneous claptrap of a secular meeting.

a. I suggest appointing someone, not the rector, as “chaplain” to the Vestry. This person has specific responsibility for planning and leading the Vestry’s devotions, and may have license to call for a brief silence or prayer before a weighty decision is to be made. The Chaplain might or might not be a Vestry member, but should be someone who has the Vestry’s trust and respect.

b. As wonderful as Compline is, don’t fall back on it all the time. Vary the worship, and use props such as candles, non-objectionable scents, photographs, rocks, branches, flowers, music, art—anything to involve the senses beyond books and spoken words.

c. Include the opportunity for members to pray about their own needs and concerns, and those of the congregation. Make the Vestry truly a spiritual body, and it will behave like one!

2. Make sure the congregation has a concise, memorable, specific, and meaningful statement of its mission and vision, and that all vestry members, and the congregation in general, know them cold. Keep these up-to-date, and USE THEM to guide the Vestry’s planning.

3. Have a small “Executive Committee” to plan the Vestry meeting agenda. The Rector and Vestry officers would be usual members for such a committee. Send the meeting agenda out to all members at least a couple of days prior to the meeting, and always include an “other business” item so that last-minute or additional matters can be brought up if needed, and to ensure that others do not perceive their matters to be excluded.

4. Move the official Treasurer’s Report to the end of the meeting. That keeps nickel-and-diming everyone to death at a minimum. The Treasurer can still be consulted, during discussion of other agenda items, about where the money could come from to fund a particular proposal.

5. Have a budget, assign areas to particular ministry groups or leaders, and let them manage their responsibilities. It is not necessary for the Vestry to approve items that are within the budget and the scope of activity of a particular officer or committee, though they should keep the Vestry fully informed of their actions through their own regular reports. A Vestry might assign a cut-off amount above which specific approval of an expenditure would be required, and it certainly should require approval (and budget amendment) before any spending beyond the budget allocated.
6. Set a time limit for Vestry meetings. Ninety minutes should be sufficient. Require a two-thirds majority vote to extend the meeting beyond the allocated time (but don’t let worship get pushed off the end!) This discipline is only fair to members, who have other responsibilities, and it cuts down on unnecessary chatter. The pressure is on the presider, however, to gavel in pontificators and “compulsive communicators,” gently, but authoritatively.

7. Establish, and review annually, a Vestry Covenant of behavior that is acceptable in meetings. (A sample will be posted soon as a separate Canon Volley.) Don’t forget to include standards for attendance, and some tool for accountability. If a seat is to be declared vacant after a certain number of absences, that policy should be in the Parish By-laws.

8. Learn and practice effective communication to reduce conflicts, particularly how to state and how to receive negative feedback. (A separate Canon Volley on this is coming, too!)

9. Hold a Vestry Retreat annually, for all Vestry members. The content should be for personal and group growth, or for visioning, not for the conduct of regular Vestry business. A weekend away from home and church is great, but if that is not possible, an over-night or even a day-long get-together with a leader from beyond the congregation itself is better than nothing! Contact Congregational Vitality or Ministry Development Offices for ideas and leadership.

10. Conduct a Mutual Ministry Review approximately one year into a new pastorate, about two years after that, and at least every third year after that. Again, the Canon and the Archdeacon are very happy to assist.