Here is a story about what can happen when the people of a congregation unite around the love of their faith community, a vision to strengthen it, and the joyful inclusion of everyone.
In 2019, the leadership of Holy Family Episcopal Church in Angola, Indiana, faced a sad reality. If the congregation did not rally to financially support their new young and popular rector, they might lose him when the grant funding his curacy ended. So they got busy and creative.
The leadership surveyed of the congregation. All 33 responding households (a large majority of membership) said, yes, we appreciate having a full-time rector. The survey also invited input on new worship opportunities, communication, and asked what people appreciated about their church. Folks were asked if they would be willing to give more to keep their full-time rector.
One year ago, we watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered, those images still scarred in our memories, captured by a strong, faithful witness. We had been in pandemic lockdown for so long, so much festering and boiling over. Then face-to-face with a veritable series of pandemics – deep systemic injustice, especially around issues of race in our nation, and Covid-19, as well.
The Episcopal Church will mark and mourn this anniversary, and rightly so. Our church stood, then, and stands up, now, against “the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” and “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” The Episcopal Church, shaped as we’ve been these past several generations by the words of the baptismal covenant, not only knows the words by heart but carries them into the public square. Of this, I am proud to be an Episcopalian: striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human person.
Searching for a new Rector for your parish is a significant undertaking. Searching for a new Rector during a global pandemic amplifies the significance exponentially.
Our previous Rector’s final Sunday was our last in-person gathering for worship in March of 2020. No one knew how long that closure would last; most of us – myself included – assumed we’d be through the worst of the pandemic by last summer. How wrong we were.
Given video conferencing technology, the challenge we faced was not how we, as a Rector Search Committee would meet, but rather how we would define who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become.
I remember my grandmother talking about going to prayer meetings. Some faith traditions still hold them, and maybe some Episcopal congregations do too. It’s a wonderful concept, coming together to pray in community, possibly over something specific.
A recent Forward Day By Day meditation by The Rev’d Scott Gunn, Forward Movement Executive Director, offered a good reminder that any Vestry or other church meeting can turn to prayer when the way forward seems unclear. He realizes this might seem a bit odd as leaders take seriously their responsibility to find solutions:
“Indeed, we should do our due diligence to ensure we make wise decisions. It’s also true that we need to listen for God’s call to us, whether we are deciding things for ourselves or for our church.”