|Date Posted||March 5, 2019|
Central New York (Carrie Schofield-Broadbent)
|Health Benefits||Full Family|
|Communicants in Good Standing||105|
|Average Sunday Attendance||35|
Given Grace’s difficulties, survival itself has been a miraculous success. A common theme is what has risen from the ashes—from the stump of Jesse. In addition to several new ministries, over the past year, vestry members highlight the following: We combined two Sunday morning services into one. This was long resisted, but is now thought to be essential and fulfilling in that it has united the two congregations and worldviews into one fellowship. We have been very intentional about opening vestry meetings to all who are interested. To see people coming to understand that they are the church, as well as seeing vestry listen to voices they might not have otherwise heard, have both been transformative. With the traumatic dissolution of Grace’s past music program, no one could envision what could possibly come next. To watch a sporadic, tiny volunteer choir develop over the last few months—with some of the least likely of singers—has been awesome.
We have added a substantial hot meal following our monthly rummage sale. Both draw people from our community which we would not normally see. Partnering with a Baptist ministry a block away, we bring children from their after-school program to Grace for music lessons with our organist/choirmaster. Grace Church was one of the founding organizers of 2nd Place East, a community homeless shelter. We offer hospitality to small, organizations. These include Mothers Helping Mothers (grassroots, neighborhood resource group), SPAN (Statewide Peer [addiction] Assistance for Nurses), and Bone Builders (Osteoporosis Prevention Exercise). Significantly, we have begun to go about our ministries more mindfully. We are more aware that: e.g., Listening to the people who show up at the monthly rummage sale may be more important than whatever items they are able to take home. People just want to be known. On some level, if we know them; God knows them. We are able to encounter Christ in the many interactions we have daily. Some see parallels between our ministry and the “Sending of the 70” in Luke 10, a reading vestry now frequently uses in “Dwelling in the Word.”
Within the last year there have been significant changes at Grace. This is some of what we think we have learned about the process: Leaders lead change; Expect resistance and beware of conflict avoidance; Differentiate between a change that is vital vs. a gratuitous change based on someone’s preference; Is the change consistent with our mission? Educate the congregation to why the change is necessary and what to expect; Make decisions for change on a utilitarian rather than political ethos: i.e., what is in the best interest of the congregation as a whole rather than how to out maneuver or out-vote each other; Use “pilot periods” to test a concept; reevaluate and adjust; Transparency. Be skeptical of change made in isolation; talk about things in vestry several times, over time; there are frequently unintended and unforeseen consequences; Be supportive of change that is organic, that grows from proven, accepted, existing program. Error toward evolution over innovation; When you are confident you have feedback from stakeholders and done due diligence, execute accordingly. Have the courage of your research and convictions; Celebrate successes and learn from them.
Over the last year, we have tried to tamp down the oppressive seriousness, formality, drama, and “high stakes” that permeated all things Grace. This is a work in progress. Vestry badly needs a retreat, professionally and thoughtfully led from outside, to reinforce their life together, in Christ, as a community of elders.
We have had no formal stewardship program or teaching for years. We look forward to the next priest helping us connect to TENS (Episcopal Network for Stewardship) and other contemporary resources.
Grace experienced extensive conflict over the last decade. We have not handled it well. We have addressed it frequently by denial and secrecy, avoidance, smoldering resentment until the inevitable eruption, followed by someone leaving. We note that frequently our conflict revolves around pastoral leadership; has something to do with confusion about roles and boundaries on behalf of all parties; is frequently comorbid with illness, absence, addiction, or substance abuse; is frequently accompanied by high drama, alliances, “hostage taking,” and assertions of victimization. We know what does not work very well: Congregational meetings to air differences at the height of the conflict; attempts to “reign in” behavior by “performance reviews” and other disciplinary tools borrowed from the secular world. As many vestry members have had personal involvement, perceptions are still tender. It would be an understatement to say that “trust” is an issue. However, Vestry agrees: that we need help with this; wishes the diocesan assistance in addressing this deliberately and prophylactically; insists that incoming clergy be willing participants in such an outside program for conflict management.
Three years ago, Grace was known throughout the Southern Tier’s for its complex Anglo-Catholic liturgy and renowned for its music program with paid singers and high production values. Today we have one service on Sunday morning, clearly recognizable within the footprint of the Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, and the mainstream Episcopal Church. We retain a few respectful—through not fussy—elements of the high service (e.g., light incense, copious genuflection), but aim for joy, authenticity, and accessibility.
Our biggest step has been reconciling that we will not again achieve, nor is it realistic to even attempt, the status of “grand, high, Episcopal” house of worship that defined us for decades. We have redefined our mission… our reason for being here in the future. This has been painful. We have consolidated into a single congregation with a unitive worship service. We are using our mission statement as a lens through which to consider ministry activity for the future. Vestry has committed to joining “The Learning Initiative” convened by the Diocese of CNY. We are meeting with other congregations and coaches to answer the question: “When you consider the gifts you have been given and the needs of our world, what future do you imagine God is bringing forth in our midst?” We will put our heads together and come up with future projects no matter how off the wall they may seem. Everything will be considered, and we will each prayerfully go to God and ask to be led. We have no choice but to trust the Holy Spirit will issue forth to a sincere vestry. Vestry member: “I personally intend to set up a chair or two on the front lawn (of the church) this summer and invite people to tell me their story. I believe a lot can be accomplished by this.”
The Rev. Canon Carrie Schofield-Broadbent
Episcopal Diocese of Central New York