On January 19 the parish held its Annual Meeting. The Vestry reported on mission priorities discerned through their work and members of the congregation gave feedback to the Vestry about what was missing, and also shared their vision and ranked priorities for the parish. The results have now been collated.
The congregation ranked the priorities in the following order:
- Development of ways to deepen spirituality outside of Sunday morning worship;
- Execute the Capital Campaign;
- Develop lay leadership;
- Engage in effective advertising and marketing efforts to enhance evangelism;
- Deepen our capacity for mission partnership with other organizations, beginning with our School.
This contrasted with the Vestry’s rankings:
- Advertising and marketing;
- Spirituality outside of Sunday;
- Lay leadership development;
- Capital Campaign;
The congregation identified an explicit commitment to outreach as missing from the Vestry report.
The vestry is taking the feedback to heart as it creates the strategic plan for the congregation through 2020 at its retreat on March 1. Keep our leaders in your prayers that they might have courage and discerning ears.
It’s Father’s Day. I can tell by the plaintive cries as the wee ones walk in line, holding their rope so they don’t get separated from one another in their sorrow. Daddy has come to be honored and now has left the house. What can one do, but cry?
My office sits right outside the classroom of our toddler class. One of the things I get to observe from this place of privilege is the formation of fathers. It is the annual observance of Father’s Day in our Orientation class. For many men, this is their first rodeo of parenting. Others are now old hands. They come to school to be present with their toddler, entering their child’s daily turf and filling it with wonder.
Fathers are made in the practice of everyday. The quotidian rhythms of remembering the lunch box and holding hands mold fathers. By their daily engagement fathers punctuate the lives of their children with novelty.
Such practice leads to children who are capable of walking on their own, even as they cope with their feelings of sadness and separation–trusting that joy comes in the morning or after a walk to the fish pond. Fathers invite play and responsibility for yourself.
This week St. Stephen’s begins the process of expanding our ministry to the youngest of our children and by extension to their parents. We are renovating our nursery to accommodate more children on Sunday mornings and an additional class of ten 15 months to 3 year olds during the week. The materials in the room will be in keeping with the Montessori pedagogy we practice to empower children to discover their strength and capacities, even as infants.
The room will be doubled, as a wall comes down and one space flows into the next. Workers will renovate on one half of the room at a time, installing new toilets, kitchen areas, play space and storage. Our Sunday nursery will be moved next week to the back half of the room temporarily. Check it out as our community empowers the nurture of children and their parents.
Men don’t just fall into fatherhood. While it is easy enough to sow seed, any real gardener knows that cultivation is a daily affair. I give thanks for the men in our community who practice this daily art of parenting, whether of their own children or our villages.
Last week a leader from a start up congregation dropped into St. Stephen’s to check out our space and to explore the possibility of their congregation worshiping in our facilities. He called me later to schedule a visit with their preaching pastor. The congregation is called Sojourner Church and they are currently worshiping in the Heights; they are part of the Acts 29 network.
The conversation with the worship leader was fascinating—he had visited our website and thought our congregations would be compatible. Quoting Augustine he stressed unity in essentials, tolerance in diversity, and love in everything. What was not to be open to here?
I told him that I would welcome an opportunity to meet him, but that he and his leader would need to know that St. Stephen’s did not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, fully included women in all areas of ministry, and embraced the ministry of LGBT folks. We scheduled the meeting.
And then they didn’t show…
This has led me to contemplate a new our identity as an Episcopal congregation. Denominational ties are loosening across age groups in the U.S. What does being “Episcopal” mean to us in mission now at St. Stephen’s Church? What about to our School?
These questions will be explored by the Vestry of St. Stephen’s and the Board of Trustees of St. Stephen’s School next weekend. As we prepare for common mission, this question of shared identity and core values is critical. Our convictions shape who we are and what we do. They inform our curriculum and our discipline.
We will welcome Dan Heischman, the Executive Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools, to lead us in prayerful reflection. I invite your prayers for this pivotal work.
The call came out of the blue; they often do. “Pastor, would you be willing to help Christians living in the Holy Land?” The man on the other end of the phone was not a native English speaker, but he knew Bishop Doyle and so I engaged him in conversation.
“Do you know of our plight?” Well, sort of…I knew that Christians in Egypt and in Palestine are experiencing economic and social pressures and that there is a mass exodus. “Do you mean those who live in the Occupied Territories?”
He was delighted to be able to talk about his reality. “I don’t approach with political language. Most Americans I talk to don’t know about the Occupation.”
We talked about the impact of the wall the Israeli’s have built and the difficulty of finding work in the West Bank. He talked of the sorrow of leaving his family to come to the United States so his children could have a better life.
I agreed to allow him and his companions to come to St. Stephen’s in July to share their stories and their wares. They will be here July 12.
Throughout the Easter season we have been reading the Acts of the Apostles. The missionary journeys of Peter and Paul were not unique to their time, I am finding. Christians are still on the move to bear witness; churches are still here to receive journeyers for the faith and to support them. May we be as open as Ananias and Lydia to receive the Word of God from afar.
One of the concessions I made to my husband, Bruce, a couple of years ago was that he could have cats. I hate cats. I am allergic to them. I think they are sneaky and obnoxious. They lay claim to spaces in my house which were formerly mine, places like chairs and sofas. But here’s the deal, they bring Bruce utter joy. He is a happy man with cats; they are ecstatic cats (as much as they care to be) with man.
I observe similar dynamics at work in our parish regarding space and new friends. From where I sit and stand on Sunday mornings I notice that those of us who have been around the parish for awhile have marked our territories. Some seats are ours and we will not be moved. The new friends come in, hoping for a seat, and we expect them to ask us to move to make room for them. Unlike my cats, they will not just leap in our laps and assert themselves, disabusing us of our claim to space. They will simply go away and not return.
Now, I know that St. Stephen’s seeks to be a welcoming place to all cats. As a congregation, we want to make room for new friends who have taken the risk to visit us. So here’s my proposal, keep the place you like in the room, but move to the center of the pew. This way we will be signally to the new cats that there is a welcome here. We’ve left space for them.
This week we focus on seats, next week…..parking!
Yesterday I met with our great staff at St. Stephen’s for a retreat. We do this at least once a year to get to know one another in different ways in a novel setting. We also reflect, evaluate, and plan for the coming year’s work. We go to the Cathedral so we can be away, but are still be in the context of our mission.
We spent a lot of time yesterday considering the mission of St. Stephen’s at this time. We are at a crossroads as St. Stephen’s Church and School grow ever closer together and expand the populations we serve. How will we use our space in new ways? What is our relationship to the broader community? How is the mission of the Church related to the mission of the School? How do we program so that we can draw on the strengths in both?
If you talk about mission, you have to talk about leadership. Who is being called into leadership? For what? What authority are leaders given to do their work? As we grow, the work of mission becomes less dependent on the rector and head of school to know everything and to approve everything. How will we share authority? How do we flatten our organization and empower folks to exercise their creativity in a way that is faithful to the calling of the community as a whole?
These are some of the realities which I think the new vestry members will be assisting our congregation to face. In a week you will be electing new lay leaders at the Annual Parish Meeting on January 27. I invite you to hold these questions in heart and mind as you discern your choice.