Saturday, June 30, 2012

Recasting Your Church's Building Assets for Congregational Viability

Congregational Seasons is very grateful for the following essay by Bob Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Spaces, 

Partners for Sacred Spaces New Dollars/New Partners for Your Sacred Space training program provides intensive, hands-on help to one or more parishes in a given diocese, encouraging them to identify their building assets (e.g. excellent acoustics, expansive kitchen, shareable parish hall), develop new partners in the community, and broaden their donor base. Partners have worked with hundreds of parishes nationwide, and with several dioceses in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, South and West.

In an urban setting, St. Martin's, a mission church in Chicago, would face closing without new ways to raise funds and use space effectively.  The parish took part in New Dollars, which helped parishioners organize, map out priorities and space uses and think more about their mission and purpose - within the diocese and the context of a struggling west side neighborhood.  The church is hosting more arts and music activities now, and is thinking about how it can take better advantage of its position on a charming plaza, complete with fountain, in front of the church. Thanks to Partner's encouragement, the parish is placing a church table in the plaza for a community block party this summer, to bring visibility and new visitors to the church.

Recognizing that many rural churches are small and could close without help, the Diocese of Vermont retained Partners to offer New Dollars training to several parishes, among them the Church of Our Saviour in Kilington. The church learned how to map its internal assets, as well as assets in the larger community. Recognizing its super acoustics, the parish is now hosting concerts sponsored by the local library when the weather is inclement.  Given its location in the countryside, it worked with the town government on a scenic byways initiative, bringing more visitors to the church.  These steps have brought new energy and visibility to the parish and have attracted new funding that has underwritten the replacement of the parish house roof.

Parishes that are looking for new funding and support for the repair and effective use of their buildings have an important resource at hand: Partners for Sacred Spaces.  Partners has been working with Episcopal churches (and congregations from all faith traditions) across the nation for 23 years, with a special focus on helping them raise capital funds in new ways and use their space more effectively for ministry.  Partners also works with the Episcopal Church Building Fund.

Note from Joe Duggan: Congregational Seasons will soon celebrate the work and ministry of the Episcopal Church Building Fund, so stay tuned...

For further information, contact:

Bob Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Spaces, 

The Rev. Christopher Griffin
St. Martin's, Chicago
773 378 8111

The Rev. Diane Root
Church of Our Savious, Killington, VT
802 422 9064

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three Parishes Experience Resurrection Out of Dire Straits

About our contributor: The Rev. Peter E. Bushnell, Rector Holy Trinity Church, Enfield, CT - see parish website,

There were four small churches in the North Central Episcopal Regional Ministry for about 15 years before three of the parishes voted to merge in 2007.  This was accomplished with a great deal of enthusiasm after about two years of intensive discernment and planning.  The fourth church opted to attempt to continue on their own, which they have done, with a fair degree of success. 

The three churches that emerged as Holy Trinity were St. Mary's (the current location of Holy Trinity), Enfield, St. Andrew's Enfield, and Calvary Suffield.  St. Andrew's was about 3 miles west of St. Mary's, and Calvary was another four miles west of that.  I found that it took about 10-15 minutes to drive from any of the locations in the regional ministry to any of the others. 

The merger was a wonderful outcome for the three churches involved.  By 2005, I had to report to the membership of the regional ministry that I had great doubts that God was being glorified in any way by the continued existence of churches in such dire straits.  The energies of nearly fifty people were being devoted, on four Vestries, to a grim struggle merely to keep the lights on and the doors open in four separate locations.  We began to experiment with combining our congregations for major services (Christmas Eve and Easter) to begin to test our strength together.  The experiences were like experiencing a resurrection.  More and more, in a variety of combined undertakings, we began to discover what coming together might hold for our future.

We were very fortunate in being able successfully to sell the surplus properties.  Today, the Calvary buildings house the Suffield Senior Center, and St. Andrew's property was purchased by Enfield Loaves & Fishes, which is a soup kitchen which has operated at St. Andrew's since its beginnings as a ministry of the parish in 1984.  So that was a happy outcome, which has contributed greatly to Holy Trinity's stability.

Holy Trinity, and the regional ministry benefited greatly from the fact that St. Mary's was a fairly large congregation, that I always identified as the "flagship" of NCERM.  With an average attendance of close to 100 most years, they formed a talent pool and resource of support over the years.  St. Andrew's had a moderate endowment, which enabled us to have a reservoir of income to help with the investment needed for the transition. 

Today, with growth of members and giving, we are a parish with an average attendance of about 125 per week, and we are close to balancing our budget each year.  We have taken care of a lot of deferred maintenance in the church building, and are looking to the future with hope and confidence. 

A huge part of our transition was centered in renewal around the Alpha Program.  There were a number of people who were opposed to the merger, and felt that the loss of their church was a breach of trust between themselves and the leaders of their parish and the regional ministry.  Many of them have taken their membership elsewhere since 2007.  A few have begun recently to return.  Others felt that the emphasis on spiritual renewal was not for them, and they either withdrew or transferred out.  Since 2007, Holy Trinity has managed moderate growth, replacing the losses, and becoming larger, in the bargain.  We are a parish focused on mission, in a large variety of ways, as God has inspired individuals and groups to bring needs near and far away to our attention for ministry.

For me, it has been an exciting time, that at moments, has seemed like a wild ride.  Overall, it has been a great experience, and one that I never could have imagined years ago at the beginning of my ministry.  I have been very blessed to have been called by God to lead this group of Christians.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this story.  Hope it will help another church or churches.


Monday, June 25, 2012

"Coming Together in Faith" - a parish merger story

Post contributed by Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas

"Coming Together in Faith" is the name of the parish's blog for communications about the merger,

Coming Together in Faith and Calvary Episcopal Church also have Facebook pages.

I serve Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers, Massachusetts. We first started to talk about merger over a year ago, when we gathered as a parish in late March of 2011 to have a frank discussion of our financial challenges. We had been running deficits and spending down our limited endowment, and we knew something would have to change within the next few years. I presented a list of options for our future, and after we talked about each one, I asked each member to raise a card of colored paper. Green meant “Yes, let’s explore it,” yellow meant “Maybe,” and red meant “No way.” Cutting staff and clergy time got a lot of yellow cards, and worshiping in a rented space produced a sea of red. I explained that Grace Church in Salem and Saint Paul’s in Peabody were facing similar difficulties and wanted to talk to us about working together. Hands with green and yellow cards went up, and a new chapter in our parish’s life began.

We have learned a lot this year. We began by worshiping together, moving from church to church over the summer of 2011. Our members jumped into the planning: advertising the schedule, making sure we had nametags to wear, volunteering as greeters and offering rides to those who might need one. We had a great turnout from Calvary at both Saint Paul’s and Grace, and our members enthusiastically welcomed our new friends during the weeks of worship at Calvary.

Then, in the fall, we began meeting with our partner churches to discuss ways to work together. Guided by our facilitator Phil Whitbeck, we learned about each other’s ministries and got to know members as individuals. We hosted an All Hallow’s Eve service with the choir from Grace Church. Our crafters invited folks from Grace and Saint Paul’s to have tables at our Fair. I met often to talk and pray with my two sister Rectors, Debbie Phillips of Grace Church and Joyce Caggiano of Saint Paul’s, and gained powerful support and inspiration from them. Step by step, relationship by relationship, we became more comfortable sharing our struggles and our hopes.

On February 12, 2012, the Rev. Canon Libby Berman, Canon for Congregations at the diocese, came to join our meeting. She encouraged all three parishes to think carefully about what we wanted to get out of our new relationships. Did we want to collaborate on a few projects? Or were we ready to seriously consider merging? After careful thought about where God is leading each of our parishes, Grace Church chose to focus on its distinctive ministry to its local community and not enter into a merger. Saint Paul’s and Calvary decided to talk about what it would mean for our two parishes to merge and carry out our ministry together.

Joyce Caggiano and I planned a meeting on March 24, 2012 where we would discuss all the questions we could think of that might be on people’s minds.  It was quite a list. Are we able to form one cohesive fellowship?? Would we have a balanced budget? How would we choose a priest? Which of the two buildings would we use for worship – knowing that the other one would be sold? A parishioner read the list before the meeting and said, “A lot of these questions are sad.” But then when we got into the meeting and started talking, they weren’t sad at all. They were opportunities to find common ground. The room was buzzing with energy and hope. Our closing Eucharist brought us into one circle, perhaps the beginning of being truly one family.

The conversation shifted from “Do we belong together?” to “How can we become one community?” People readily volunteered to start the work of planning a merger: meeting with financial consultants, arranging building audits, communicating with our members, bringing the vestries together for fellowship. We also shared two lovely and meaningful Holy Week services, a Maundy Thursday agape meal in Danvers and a Good Friday way of the cross in Peabody. Together we celebrated Christ’s love for us, his presence with us in the hard times, and his promise that beyond every death we will find new life.

Lay leaders from the merged parish Church of the Holy Spirit in Fall River came on May 6, 2012 to share with us their road map for a successful merger. They lit our hearts with their enthusiasm for coming together and their pride in their new, vital, growing parish.

Calvary’s Vestry met on Sunday, May 20, 2012 to talk about how far we’d come and what we thought needed to happen next. I was expecting the decision process to continue into the fall, but our leaders were very clear: they wanted to take a vote on the merger at their next meeting, and then bring the question before the whole parish. Everything came together quickly.  On June 3, our diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, met with members from both parishes to hear our plans and share with us his hopes and prayers for our future. On June 10, 2012 the Vestry voted to recommend a merger. Then on June 17, 2012 a meeting of over 50 members of the parish voted unanimously to merge with Saint Paul’s.

We’re currently forming an Inter-Parish Council with five members from Calvary and five from Saint Paul’s. The vestries have granted this council the authority to make to make the countless decisions required to turn this idea into a reality, including the choice of buildings, the staffing, and the name of this new parish. We hope to be worshiping together as one parish sometime this fall.
This work has taken a lot of time. We’ve had some bumps along the way, with the rumors and misunderstandings, anxieties and losses that can come up in any community decision, especially a change as large and lasting as a merger. But we’ve stuck together and kept communicating, and the positive energy has just grown and grown.

The new parish will need to choose the right clergy person to lead them on the next part of their journey. I can’t say it’s been easy to give up my job security, but I wouldn’t trade it for everything I’ve learned from this process. I’ve been able to grow in new ways as a leader, and I’ve had an incredible opportunity to witness the honesty, creativity, faithfulness and compassion of our two parishes as they’ve worked to become one.  It has been energizing, spirit-filled work, and it gives me great hope for the future of our church.

Author Notes: Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas is a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School. She was ordained in the Diocese of Massachusetts in 2005 and called as Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers, Massachusetts in September 2007.