State of the Parish Address

November 17, 2013

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church

1833 Regent Street

Madison Wisconsin

 

Good Morning!  And welcome to an event that is surely the highlight of the church year…  Annual Meeting Sunday!

I know that you all are looking forward to a clearly articulated and well presented set of hard data points that will allow us all to immediately grasp the true state of the parish:

numbers, lists, dates,

asset and liability tables,  bank balances and accounting statements,

recent results, historical trends, and projected outcomes…

Yeah…   All of the stuff that makes for a scintillating and uplifting state of the parish report…  And I promise…  We will get to all of that today.  Well… We’ll at least get to some of it.

But before we do I would like to establish some context, to help grind and polish our interpretive lens a little, so that we can approach that data set with some shared understandings and perspective.

To do that I want to tell you about three extraordinary moments that I experienced in the last two weeks:

A Celebration of New Ministry at St James Milwaukee, a small downtown Parish that is facing some extraordinary challenges

A Gathering of the of the Clergy of the Diocese of Milwaukee and the presentation that we heard from two members of the Virginia Theological Seminary Faculty and Staff

And the first Church Development Institute training weekend of the 2013 – 2014 academic year

So first stop, downtown Milwaukee:

The Reverend Drew Bunting has been at St. James for over six months now and finally, after a lot of pastoral work, a season of relationship and trust building, and some serious calendar crunching, they planned a Celebration of New Ministry for November 5th

Drew and his wife April Berends, who is the Rector of St Mark’s Milwaukee, have been in the diocese for several years and, through our contacts at Clergy Day, Diocesan Convention and service on the Diocesan Executive Council,  I have come to appreciate him as a colleague and a friend.  Most importantly however I have come to respect and admire him as the Lead Vocalist and Bass Player of the Diocese of Milwaukee’s own Clergy Rock Band Monstrance in which I a play Lead Guitar.

I was a little intimidated but also deeply honored, when Drew asked me to preach at a service where the Bishop and a whole pack of Diocesan clergy would gather with the people of Saint James to mark a wonderful and tender moment in the life of Saint James Episcopal Church.

The moment came; the Gospel was proclaimed amongst the people, the Deacon and the acolytes came back to the chancel, I knelt before the Bishop for his blessing and then I walked to the crossing, stood at the head of the center aisle.  I felt honored and privileged to have been asked to speak to them in such a wonderful and tender moment.

            “Wonderful and Tender”

“Wonderful” – rich with symbolism and pageantry, laden with meaning and promise.

We had followed the cross into sacred space.  We had prayed for Drew, for the community gathered, for the larger church, and for one another.  The congregation was about to present Drew with Gifts symbolizing their ministry together in that place, formalizing the partnership and commitment to mission that they had been developing for the last six months.  The congregation and their Priest were making public vows to one another and beginning a new chapter in the life of that community. 

A truly wonderful moment.

Standing there in a building that had stood in that spot for 160 years, in a community with a rich and vibrant history, a parish that had once been the largest parish in the Diocese of Milwaukee but that is now struggling to maintain its crumbling building, that worships with fewer than fifty people on a Sunday, and that is only able to afford half time clergy, it was also a moment marked by great tenderness. 

It wasn’t tender because of the expressions of love and respect they would wear or because of the gentle grace with which they would offer Drew those gifts of ministry. 

That was a tender moment because the title of the event in which we were all participating included the word “new.”

“New…”  A celebration of “New” ministry.  Just say that word and watch people squirm. 

“New” by definition means that something else has become “Old.”  

“New” implies movement away from past, glorious or painful, and at the same time it announces movement towards the future… promising or frightening.

The real truth is that “New” is just a kindler gentler word for “Change.”  “Change”

Yeah…  So any event that has the word “New” in its title is a tender moment, the kind of tender you imagine when someone takes a meat tenderizer in hand.

Now be at ease…  As you can see I escaped that preaching moment relatively unscathed.  I didn’t use that moment to start swinging any threatening kitchen implements and neither did they.   

I instead pointed out to them the truth that our history as a church, our history as a people of faith, even the scriptures that they had chosen for that celebration… are filled with tender moments:

Moments of challenge,

Moments of movement away from something and toward something else,

Moments of change,

Instances and examples of “New.”

I made the assertion that the tenderness that they were feeling as they celebrated their “New” ministry together was, in some ways, not unique to their context and situation; that it is part and parcel of what we all experience as we live our lives as members of what our predecessors in first century Palestine referred to as “The Way.”   The Christian life is a journey, characterized by challenge, by movement, and by change – or to use our own lexicon, transformation and conversion.

What I didn’t share with them that night, because there was a reception to get to and we could all smell the food, was that, even if we disregard our corporate history, our legacy and heritage of challenge, movement, and change, their tender moment of “New” Ministry is not unique to their situation and context. 

 

This past Thursday the clergy of the Diocese of Milwaukee gathered at Saint Peter’s in Fort Atkinson to participate in a conversation with Dr. Lisa Kimball and The Rev. Kyle Oliver.  

Lisa is the Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, and Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Kyle Oliver is a priest of the Diocese of Milwaukee, a UW Madison and Saint Francis House Alum who has preached from this pulpit, sung in our choir, and who participated in the life of this parish in some significant ways while he was here in Madison.  Kyle is also the Digital Missioner and On Line Learning Lab Coordinator at the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at VTS.

They were here to help the clergy of this diocese to name a Tender moment that we are experiencing as a church.  They started out by talking about the “Nones.”

They weren’t talking about women in black habits who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  They were talking about the growing number of people in this country who, when filling out questionnaires that ask about their religious affiliation check the box that says “None.”

Recent studies tell us that:

1 out of 5 Americans are religiously unaffiliated.

One third, one in three, adults under the age of 30 are religiously unaffiliated.

Part of this isn’t new.  It’s really about people starting to be truthful about who and where they are.  They don’t have a tradition that they claim as their own.

27% of Americans surveyed don’t expect to have a religious funeral

            To them Church is irrelevant – it doesn’t sew their life together. 

44% of people spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom”

“I’m not even thinking about the existential questions – I am satisfied with what I am experiencing now”

 

A 2010 Study by Hartford Seminary shows that across the board:

Congregations are less healthy than they were 10 years ago

Congregations across the board have experienced Drops in financial health and attendance

There is continuing high level of conflict in 2 out of 3 congregations

Our membership is aging – 75% old line congregations are comprised of less than 10% young adults

Median worship attendance is down from 130 to108.

One in four congregations  have fewer than 50 people in worship on Sunday mornings.

 

But wait!  There is more!  How do young people see us?   A recent Barna group study says they see us as:

boring

judgmental

overprotective

exclusive

unfriendly towards doubters

antagonistic towards science

shallow

And the truth is that these statistics aren’t new.  We have been asking questions, polling people, sifting their responses, and crunching the numbers for a long time and the results I just cited aren’t going away.

 

So…  Are we having fun yet?  Remember the word “Tender?”  The whole church is experiencing a “Tender” moment.  The world around us is changing culture, society, economics, politics our world is changing.  And we have, in the church, spent a lot of time coming to grips with the truth that we need to change too!…  Yes a “Tender” moment indeed.

Which brings me to the third event of the last two weeks that I want to share with you this morning.

 

Yesterday fifty members of the Diocese of Milwaukee gathered at Holy Wisdom Monastery for the first Church Development Institute Training Weekend of the 2013 – 2014 academic season.

The Church Development Institute is a national program that the Diocese of Milwaukee underwrites here in Southern Wisconsin to bring Organizational Development theories and practices to the life of the church.  It appropriates and adapts ideas that are used in other contexts, it teaches and shares models and methods that have been developed specifically for the church, and it helps people to train fresh eyes on the life of their congregations.  CDI trains people to understand the emotional and relationship systems that are present in parishes and to help facilitate and manage change in ways that are healthy and productive.

The CDI curriculum is a two year cycle and every year a cohort graduates out and a new cohort begins. Yesterday we had a large group of first year students and we began as we always do, by introducing ourselves and giving offering one reason for the excitement that we were feeling as we began another year.  I looked around the room, I saw Henry Peters, one of four members of our parish who graduated from CDI several years ago and who is now interning as a CDI Trainer.  I saw Scott Wright, Peter Luisi-Mills, and Mary Hastings, all of whom are filling positions of leadership in this parish and who will graduate from CDI at the end of this year.  I had a lot of excitement to talk about!   

What I said was, “I am excited to be here because whether we like it or not, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, even if we try to insulate ourselves from it…  the church, just like the world around us, is changing all of the time.  And I am excited to be here learning how to manage and facilitate that change in healthy and productive ways.”

 

The church, just like the world around us, is “New” every day!  Changing contexts, shifting paradigms, broadening perspectives, and new discoveries make “New” a daily occurrence and reality in our lives.  The key is to recognize and embrace that reality in ways that allow us to do what Saint James Milwaukee was doing two weeks ago.

Mother Dorota and I were at Saint James for their “Celebration” of New Ministry.

They had, over the six months that Drew had been with them, moved to a place where they could begin to celebrate the newness, the movement, the change that they are experiencing.  It was a “Tender” moment but it was also a “Wonderful” moment.

 

OK.  So I understand if you are starting to feel like the victims of a little bait and switch here.  This particular moment has been billed as a “State of the Parish Address.”  When I started out this morning I promised, or at least alluded to data sets, numbers, accounts, trajectories and projections.  What you have heard so far this morning has focused on the condition and state of the larger church, and on our relationship to the world around us.

I am sorry if you are disappointed but I need to admit right now that I am going to leave the data sets for others to deliver when we get downstairs and have had something to eat.

What I want to do in the next couple of minutes, and I promise that is all it will take, is to help shift our focus from the “Tender” to the “Wonderful” so that we can all see why we should be celebrating this new, and I believe extraordinary, moment in the life of the church and of this parish. 

 

Back to the Barna Group’s study.  Young people see the “Church” as:

boring

judgmental

overprotective

exclusive

unfriendly towards doubters

antagonistic towards science

shallow

When Lisa Kimball and Kyle Oliver showed us that list of characteristics they said that there is not a word on that list that our tradition, Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church, is not well equipped to address.

I agree with that statement and I would say further that there is not a word on that list that we, the Body of Christ here at 1833 Regent Street are not especially well equipped to address.

 

We are a vibrant, spirit filled, parish that is moving forward on a spiritual journey with a joy and excitement that is palpable and contagious!

We are the fourth largest parish in the Diocese of Milwaukee, we are debt free, and our buildings are in reasonably good condition.

We are participating in the life of the larger community, hosting Girls Scout Troops, AA Groups, Community Association meetings, recitals, lectures, and offering our own Concert series to our neighbors.

We are actively engaged in study, gathering here in this building, in one another’s homes and in public spaces reading the Bible and stories of Christian Witness in the world.

We are reaching out to the broader community through a newly redeveloped web site and communications strategy that employs social media, printed materials and extensive sharing though word of mouth.

We are a parish that last year gave $40,000 a tenth of our operating budget to outreach, working to manifest God’s light and love in the lives of people whose circumstances have left them, in some cases, without the means to live the life for which we were all created.

We are working hard to engage and embrace the realities of our changing context and the changes in the world around us sending members of our parish to train with the Church Development Institute.

Our elected leadership is engaging in a process of Mutual Ministry Review that utilizes CDI concepts and practices, working intentionally to strengthen the structures and practices that make us a vital and growing parish.

We have been wise and faithful stewards of the tremendously generous gift that was given to us by Tom Shaw.  A bequest that has allowed us to engage a design firm to develop a master plan for our campus and buildings that will assure that our real assets will serve and promote our mission and ministry well into our future.

We have taken the extraordinarily mission oriented step of calling a second full time Priest to serve and minister among us in this place, becoming only the second parish in the diocese to staff such a position, but knowing that this is the way forward for our time, our context, and our community.

We are a parish that is on the move, working to answer God’s call to us, our vocation as the Body of Christ and that alone is cause for celebration.

The Church is changing, is in a constant state of adaptation, movement and evolution each and every day.  It has to change because the world around us, culture, society, economics, politics is changing.  And we, here at Saint Andrew’s, are in a place where we are able, each and every day, to celebrate the “New” ministry that is ours.  What a gift to be in a place like this!

 

But Wait!  There is more…

Hang in there.  I am in the home stretch now…

In one year we will be Celebrating our 100th anniversary as a parish here on the near west side of Madison Wisconsin.  We will recognize and honor all of the “Tender” moments that have gone before, the changes that we have made as our context has shifted and our circumstances have changed.

We will honor the people whose perseverance has brought us to this place, to this physical location and building, and to this spiritual place where we can celebrate and give thanks.  We will honor the sacrifices they made, the work that they did, and the faith that they expressed.

We will also celebrate the future that lies before us, the possibilities that God has placed in our path.  We will even celebrate the “Tender” moments that we will face together.  Because we will face them together, with the strength of a community that has a long history of facing and celebrating such moments; a long history of facing moments of challenge, moments of movement away from something and toward something else, moments of change, Instances and examples of “New,” and of allowing ourselves to be transformed and converted into an incarnate manifestation of Christ in the world.

I hope that you are looking forward to the next year as much as I am, to truly celebrating where we have been and to discerning our future and to growing as the Body of Christ through Worship, Service Learning and Fellowship right here at 1822 Regent Street. 

Peace,

Andy+

 

 

 

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