September 2009
Small Church Ministry

Feeding your soul in the small church

Being senior warden is demanding, regardless of the size of your congregation. In a small congregation, though, the demands are magnified because church staff members are in short supply.

What is often done by paid staff in a larger congregation falls instead to the wardens and the vestry. There is an advantage in this — namely, that we, the members, are highly invested in and connected to the business of the congregation as well as to our worship, education and outreach. But there are also difficulties.

My greatest difficulty as senior warden has been this: that the church has become more a locus of endless projects, unmet administrative needs and personality negotiations and less a place of prayer and fellowship.

Ironically, deeper immersion in the business of the congregation has often left me feeling separated from the spiritual experience that drew me to the congregation in the first place.

I don’t have the definitive answer but here are six suggestions that may be helpful:

  • Focus on building an authentic relationship with the rector.
  • Use this opportunity to work on your own personal productivity and time management skills.
  • Get comfortable with unfinished business, incomplete projects and slow progress.
  • Pray for your congregation — out loud, in detail and at least once a week.
  • Take every opportunity to express appreciation, encouragement and gratitude to people who lead and serve.
  • As often as possible, find a way to ask the question, “What are we really about in this congregation?”

To be honest, I have only dabbled with each of these habits. I keep getting distracted by budget deliberations and choosing the finish on our new sanctuary seating. Even my limited attempts, though, have given some hint that it is possible to feed your soul as senior warden — not in spite of the demands of the office but through them.

Kevin Spears is the senior warden at Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta, Georgia, where most of the 90 or so weekly worshipers come from personal care homes for people with mental or physical disabilities. In his spare time, he is a freelance consultant to organizations that serve the human spirit and the common good.

This article is part of the September 2009 Vestry Papers issue on Small Church Ministry