The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
The Report of the Rector to The Annual Meeting of the Parish
15 January 2017, being The Second Sunday after The Epiphany
Fifteen months ago I returned from my life changing sabbatical leave at The WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine. The remainder of 2015 was a lovely time of re-engagement both by parish and priest, and we kept a quiet Christmas 2015. Now 2016 is concluded, and we have a full year- a complete cycle of events- in the record book. It is appropriate to use those fifteen months of data to make first assessment of the effects in the parish of my sabbatical leave.
For my part, I know how my time away changed me personally. Given an extroversive personality, it is a safe bet that I have manifested to you some of the internal changes that began for me at The WoodenBoat School. Several of you have been kind to remark on these changes, the most frequent feedback being that I appear and act rested and refreshed, your feedback usually concluding with loving endorsement along the lines of “…and I am so glad for your sake as well as ours that you did it.” I treasure that affection; it has become over the years a hallmark of our relationships.
Of greater and wider use, however, are the observable effects of the sabbatical in our corporate life. When Lilly made their grant, it was technically to the parish, not to me, and expectations were set for you as well as for me.
The grant expected of course that I would go off and do what I’d proposed in my grant application. I did.
I wanted time away with Gretchen. In the early stages of the sabbatical we agreed that I would set aside private travel/away time with her in favor of more class time, meaning we were able to grab just a couple of sabbatical days in Maryland before I left for Maine. We thought we were giving away an important piece of the plan, and we were. However, as the sabbatical progressed, I was able ultimately to recover the other opportunities for time away with her that we’d set aside on the front end. This was a blessing.
I wanted to rest and write. For many years I have observed a discipline of writing for an hour each day. While on sabbatical that habit was expanded to 1¾ hours each day on average. That additional time spent writing was achieved in the context of working very hard every day for 8 hours, and then being quiet and reflecting on my work in the shop.
I wanted to spend as much of Summer 2015 as I could at The WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine. I arrived there in the third week of the Summer, and stayed until the last day of the last class. Among my instructors were Greg Rössel, Gary Lowell and Rollin Thurlow, the acknowledged, published experts in their respective fields. To their gracious company were added Myles Thurlow and Graham McKay, acknowledged leaders in their respective disciplines, and who need only to publish to achieve the same well-deserved notoriety that Rössel, Lowell and Rollin Thurlow enjoy.
The Lilly grant expected that you’d engage in renewal activities too. You did.
ARE WE SHIPSHAPE? provided several opportunities for reflection on you personal gifts, and how those personal gifts form a community of gifted people, capable of active Gospel ministry, serving The Lord now, and into the foreseeable future. Carroll Sheppard led you well, and you followed her well in those exercises.
In God’s gracious timing, ARE WE SHIPSHAPE? flowed seamlessly into The Way of Saint Paul- a diocesan program that at its inception sought to do precisely what we’d already planned for ourselves in our parish renewal portion of the Lilly grant. The Way of Saint Paul team did its own research, and invited the parish to see itself in some new ways. Those changes form a principal portion of this report.
But before I move to the ways the sabbatical time initiated sustained, observable culture-changing behaviors in the parish, let me summarize the sabbatical by saying:
We were able to achieve every goal planned and/or hoped-for for the parish, and able to achieve every goal planned and/or hoped-for by me for the sabbatical. Every feature of the plan was manifested. We were able to steward the money in such wise that when I submit my final paperwork to Lilly in a few weeks, I will be able to include a check, returning to them $929567 – grant money I didn’t need to get it all done- everything planned for you and everything planned for me. I am very proud of this- fully achieved and under budget.
When we try to assess the return on investment of the sabbatical, the quickest evidence can be found in basic parish culture. Parish culture develops as human personalities develop- over time and in ways that resist change, even when the change is for the better. We know people like this, and we know parishes like this. So when a cultural shift occurs in a parish, it is fair, indeed required, that we ask how and why it happened.
The Lilly grant gave us the sabbatical time to initiate work around ministry. The Way of Saint Paul team, led by Kay DeCicco, canvassed and had plenary meetings, where data could be gathered about how we are perceived in our community and how we perceive ourselves. From those data, an array of items emerged, and in working on some of those items the parish’s culture has fundamentally changed. Please permit three illustrations:
We now publish the entire prayer book text in the leaflet. This began in Lent 2016. This change came as a result of Way of Saint Paul data suggesting that the service would be more accessible to visitors if worshippers did not have to juggle a prayer book, a hymnal, and a leaflet. By printing the prayer book text in the leaflet, worshippers now have only to use their leaflet and hymnal to participate fully in the liturgy.
There is a downside to this- emergent illiteracy about The Book of Common Prayer. One of my tasks as your priest and rector is to lead you to become more and more conversant with the Tradition, and our second-greatest book; printing the entire service in the leaflet works directly against teaching these things. I agreed to do this because the benefits outweigh the hazards. Being incorporated into our worshipping community is first and foremost done in worship, and if doing this makes it easier for newcomers to become incorporated, I’d be foolish not to embrace it. The results have been positive, and even life-long Episcopalians remark that they enjoy this leaflet format.
We are a leading parish in ministry to end human trafficking. This was perhaps most graphically understood when the Bishop visited last September, and at coffee hour we heard from a young woman named Maura Flynn, whose work we support. The Bishop (himself a Lilly grant recipient) was sufficiently moved by what he heard and saw here that he invited Ms. Flynn to be his guest at diocesan convention. That invitation never would have happened without the on-going and substantive work of Gail South and Janine Kleber. They have put the parish on the map with this to be sure, but much more important, they have put human trafficking before us in ways we cannot avoid or ignore, and we are responding in ministry, whether giving money, or writing letters or signing petitions or talking to legislators. That’s a blessing.
We are now live-streaming the liturgy. We have had almost immediate and very positive feedback from seekers who have found us on the internet, as well as parishioners who Winter elsewhere, or who are travelling. I grew up in a culture where radio and television evangelists were suspect, and life-long prejudice makes me pause as I contemplate joining my ministry and yours to such technology. That said, never in my wildest dreams did I think that my preaching would be heard via electronic media in Poland, and I am glad to think that the parish has so long a reach in Jesus’ Name.
Aside from momentary ambivalence about televangelism per se, there is a spiritual downside to our liturgy having a presence on the web as surely as there is a downside to printing the entire service in the leaflet. When we make ourselves available via the internet, we encourage liturgy as a spectator sport, people watching Church in the way they’d watch a ballgame or the news. Liturgy is not a show we watch, it’s a show God watches. We are not the audience in liturgy, we are the actors. And additionally, there are sacramental barriers- the internet cannot serve you The Blessed Sacrament, or anoint you and lay hands on you for healing.
These concerns clearly stated, I am glad and grateful that we are doing this. It reaches people in ways that comfort them when they’re away from home, and it reaches strangers in ways that may nudge them toward Church attendance where they are, and toward us when they’re on Long Beach Island.
Kim Sparks, Gail South and Kay DeCicco have made this happen, and we cannot overstate the scope of their contribution. Please take the time to thank each of them personally for the work they have done and are doing to make the Gospel more available by making us more visible.
These are evidence of dramatic cultural shifts that have come as direct results of the Lilly grant. The parish stands as a vibrant exemplar of a Tradition that centers itself in worship, and fooling with the liturgy is something that we do with appropriate reluctance. The cultural shifts undertaken during the sabbatical are good changes; they welcome the stranger and comfort the afflicted and lonely in ways that we simply weren’t doing before. Thank God for the Lilly grant and our sabbatical time, and thank God for the work of our Way of Saint Paul team!
What we have begun has long-range implications. Current cultural shifts presage larger changes in the life of this and every other parish. The parish operates at a time in the life of the World and in the life of the Church where nearly every assumption we have is being challenged. This occurs in every generation, and ours is no different. Transitions feel pressing in our own time simply because we’re the ones alive to deal with them; we struggle to deal faithfully with those urgencies and priorities. We’re not necessarily answering new questions, we’re just answering our questions.
Amid the questions, lest we think that everything is up for grabs, please ground yourselves remembering that there are ancient and irreducible understandings of common life; there is now and always has been one Church - just one- and we as a parish are among >140 expressions of the ministry of that one Church. That reality joins us to sister parishes in our diocese whose lives are a lot more like ours than we imagine; we are all in this together- when one prospers we all prosper, when one suffers we all suffer. It has always been true and remains true that we gather at the Altar and the Font sustained by the sacramental life of the Church. It has always been true and remains true that full authorization for ministry proceeds from baptism, and all ordained ministry proceeds from the ministry of the bishop. It has always been true and remains true that the Church really does find a way to fund the ministries to which it is called, one way or another. These things remain as they have been for the entire life of the Church, and they won’t change. But how we organize ourselves for ministry either as a diocese or as a parish in this or any age are perpetually open questions.
Those perpetually open questions at our time in history re-examine the nature of Christian community, and the funding of parish ministry generally and of ordained ministry specifically. The average age of parishioners is going up, the number of them is dwindling slowly, and while we are blessed to live in an affluent community, it is precisely that affluence that prevents many young families from being able to afford living here. The Sunday morning Eucharistic assembly is losing its claim on millions, and how the Church gathers to be Church is no longer the ‘Sunday-best, 10am-service, lunch-afterwards” experience with which we were raised. These data are not unique to Beach Haven; we are just one among hundreds of parishes in this diocese and many other dioceses with the same limitations. These data project what may appear to be a declining arc into the future as we can see it. That can make us sad, or even despairing, as we contemplate the future; however, sadness and despair are choices. Sadness or despair are not thrust upon us, we choose them, and we let ourselves off the hook if we do.
We are blessed and fortunate to have some time. We have sound financial leadership, and vibrant ministries to offer; said another way, we are both vital and viable as a parish. Thank God for that! We really do have choices about how we meet our financial challenges as they come to us; we know this because we are already meeting the challenges our ministries bring to us now. When ministry is strong, money always seems to find it. Thank God for that!
Of course we depend each year on the pledged income received. Holy Innocents’ is one of the most generous parishes I know anything about. Year in, year out, the faithful offer back to God from their abundance, and that faithful base is the foundation upon which daily ministry here stands. Like other ancient features of the Church, our generosity will remain unchanged- we’ve been at it so long that it is not just what we do, it’s who we are. Thank God for that too!
The parish is blessed with substantial restricted funds; these are monies some of which can never be spent in principal, and some of which are to be spent as sparingly as possible. The Wardens and Vestry are able to provide balanced budgets because we have the capacity to authorize the funding of any annual shortfall with these restricted funds. We give ourselves that out each year, and with vigilance throughout the year, we usually do not need anywhere near as much as we thought we might at the beginning of any given budget year. But every time we make such resolutions, whether we use any of the money that year or not, we are asking our ancestors to pay our bills for us, and we permit ourselves the possibility of using a capital asset to pay an operating expense. We know how that game ends- sooner or later the capital asset is exhausted while the operating expenses remain. It’s not an optimal plan, but it is available to us in the short run as a way to balance the budget and move forward, and under those circumstances, I suppose it’s a rainy day fund that gets spent when it’s raining. But in the longer run, if we are to maintain the way we do business now, we will do so either with increased pledged income, or a slow diminution of the restricted funds.
In addition to the mindful, prudent work of King Sparks and the Finance Committee, Chuck Hall and the Stewardship Committee have begun several things that are positive, chosen responses to these realities. These responses include New Consecration Sunday, legacy giving, and the birthday club.
The birthday club is fun and it’s painless. That’s a good thing. It’s an opportunity to make a gift on a day when you are receiving gifts. My birthday club gift this year is $6400- one dollar for each year the Lord has given me. I hope you will join me as we cycle through 2017, and make gifts to the birthday club on your day. These gifts will be used in mission and ministry.
New Consecration Sunday has inspired us, friends. Now in our second year, we made a statement to ourselves on last New Consecration Sunday: more than half of the pledging households were physically in Church that day, and we added 10 new pledges for 2017. This is evidence that Chuck Hall and his committee prepared us to hear The Holy Spirit speak, and we responded.
Legacy giving is something we’ve been passive about- most parishes are passive about it. Not any more. The Stewardship Committee plans a couple of events later in the year that will encourage us to respond by making legacy provisions in our Wills…gifts that serve the life and ministries of the parish after we’re dead. The parish is in my Will; is it in yours?
In the big picture, we can of course choose complete retrenchment- do as little as possible so as to make our restricted funds last as long as they can, prolonging what we believe to be the inevitable. And another choice is a planned, multi-year draw-down of our restricted funds so that as pledged income very slowly contracts we can sustain our present parish life; this, like retrenchment, defines us by what we don’t have and what we’re afraid of, rather than by what we are doing now and hope to do in the future. Neither option has any joy in it. Both examples assume that the basis of how we do things remains unchanged, and in both examples we struggle to fit the money to sustain an unchanging pattern of life.
There is a third alternative, and it involves neither pledged income nor restricted funds. It involves changing our habits and how we do things.
Smaller and older, with less money than a generation ago, The Episcopal Church is re-tooling, and we are not alone. Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, UCC, and Moravian churches and so many others are doing the same, exploring alternatives. Among the most observable signs of these alternatives addresses ordained ministry. The era where a typical parish is served full time by a seminary trained priest, fully compensated by that parish, is drawing to a close. You and I are the last generation for quite some time to come of clergy and parishes that fit that profile. The so-called 20th Century corporate model for Church is giving way to the reemergence of older, smaller patterns of life; this does not mean we’re damaged or dying, it means we’re changing. There’s a difference between the two, but both damaged/dying and changing are choices, not inevitabilities.
This should not distress us, and it should not surprise us. Please remember that our founding missionary, James Hart Lamb, was a medical doctor who was also a priest, serving simultaneously as a physician and as rector of Trinity parish in Moorestown. It should comfort us to recall that from 1882 until 1936, Holy Innocents’ had no full-time resident clergy, and we did not become a parish until 1954. Emergent patterns concerning ordained ministry very often are not new; they are in many cases the recovery of older models. So, for example, we see that rectories were essential 100 years ago, and about 40 years ago many were sold off, and now once again, the rectory is the most valuable single asset any parish may have as they contemplate the presence of ordained ministry. How we recruit, form, deploy and sustain clergy now is not how we will do so in five years, never mind the next generation.
Holy Innocents’ is moving toward choices to be made, not eventualities to be endured. It is not inconceivable for example that in the next 5 to 15 years, Holy Innocents’ will be a smaller parish- not seasonal and remaining fully functioning- overseen by a priest-in-charge or bishop whose cash compensation from the parish is not full-time. Part-time ministry is an irrational concept- those of us in ordained ministry know that ministry is full-time even if the cash compensation isn’t, but the idea is that the expectations of such a person would not be ‘full-time’ in the way they are now. This anticipates a person for whom at least a portion of their income is a non-parochial source, perhaps a retiree or bi-vocational professional.
Another possibility is the notion that we open ourselves to The Holy Spirit to embrace a very old model, calling a bilingual priest to lead us in becoming a missionary outpost serving the immigrant population of the Island. As inspiring as I find that possibility, I do not sense the will or the strength in the parish to do this…no complaint, but a report.
Yet another older pattern suggests a person who simultaneously offers two ministries within the Church, sharing her/his time between Holy Innocents’ and some other Church entity, the compensation for such a person being shared by agreement between the two Church entities.
These and many other options are not evidence of failure, they are evidence of adaptation and evolution. It is a fair premise to assert that we’re no good to God if we’re not here; the only way our absence will happen is if we choose it by remaining unchanged in our assumptions, expectations and habits. Adaptation and evolution applies to the people of the diocese, the parish and the ordained leadership of the Church. It means that what has been is not what will be, and expectations on the parts of all persons will change.
Having this conversation is evidence that God gave us an opening during the sabbatical to begin cultural changes. Having this conversation and thinking about these things neither damns us, nor predisposes us to any particular path or outcome. The only danger this conversation risks is making money the ministry instead of making ministry the generator for the funding needed to do it. Having this conversation and thinking about these things makes us smarter and more faithful. It means we are prepared and not afraid. It means that we are willing to be honest about ourselves so that we make positive choices ahead of time rather than changing awkwardly by default.
When we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done,” it is an acknowledgment of present reality as well as future hope. The Kingdom has already begun but is not yet fully manifested. That’s another way to describe us- the Church….we, like the Kingdom, are already/not yet. We are in God’s hands, and we are in God’s heart as we always have been, and that Truth invites us to flourish now and in the days to come.
Love you. See you in Church.
My remarks to the Annual Meeting (our 20th together!) are never complete without expressing my thanks to so many. Our lay leadership is devoted, engaged and smart. Our Vestry leads from a place of deep spiritual awareness and joyful vision. There are dozens of people working through Flower Guild, Finance, Altar Guild, Stewardship, Buildings and Grounds, ECW, Vestry, Hospitality, Choir, Acolytes, Memorial Garden, Human Trafficking and IJM, and Church School to glorify God and bring Him more and more into the lives of people here in Beach Haven and in places none of us will ever see. I am grateful past adequate expression for all that is done by you here in His Name and for His sake. I am especially grateful to those who, though not daily, are very frequently co-workers in the vineyard: Buildings and Grounds Chairperson Richard Cashel, Minister of Music Ellen Dondero, Church Wardens Judith Hamilton and Bill Kehr, and our parish administrator Jean Paich….thanks y’all.
We are now recording our Sunday Mass. This service is available to anyone on the internet. Ads will appear in the stream, but most are easily closed by clicking the "X" at the upper right corner of the ad. Some are larger and are annoying. We are working to eliminate them.
| Sunday Holy Eucharist ~ with music
Perhaps you're a visitor on Long Beach Island. Maybe you haven't been in Church for a while and would like to start back. Whatever is going on in your life, you are welcome at Holy Innocents. Your past affiliations don't mean nearly as much to us as your present affiliation with us.
410 South Atlantic Ave
between Atlantic and Beach)
Beach Haven, New Jersey 08008